• Assaults on Border Patrol agents have been decreasing for years, but as Debbie Nathan of the Intercept reported earlier this week, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in fiscal year 2015, started quietly […]

  • US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appeared on 60 Minutes earlier this month, in part to plug her latest pyramid scheme: for-profit school choice.

    Yet DeVos couldn’t answer basic questions from host Leslie S […]

    • So the Secretary of Education is an ignoramus. And the Secretary of Defense is offensive. The Secretary of the Treasury is a bank robber (well, a banker and a robber). The Secretary of Agriculture is an herbicidal maniac. The Secretary of Health and Human Services is malignant and inhumane. The Secretary of State is, uh, what’s the opposite of stately? Someone want to help me? I don’t want to google the whole cabinet!
      BTW, welcome back, Melanie :-) I’ve missed you guys.

      • Berlusconian? Though the centrists are now trying to convince me Five Star Movement’s a leftist party.

        At the same time, there’s more and more Clinton’s cult of personality striking back. Now opposing anything either Clinton did is becoming a dealbreaker, yes, including things like DOMA and the Iraq invasion.

  • ThumbnailIt’s a new year, and that means it’s time to start getting excited about another SkepchickCon! As you’ll remember, last year was pretty sweet, what with our Science Salons, our interactive Sandbox activities, our […]

    • 1) The donation form and receipt say “SkepchickCon 2014”. Shouldn’t this be 2015?

      2) Also, is Skepchick LLC (the organization receiving the donations) a 501(c)3? (In other words, are donations tax-deductible?)

      3) Buzzed Aldrins are tiny and delicious. This makes it easy to drink hundreds of them. DAMHIKT.

    • Thanks! I must have deleted it while changing the order of the links. Fixed now.

  • ThumbnailRoman Bystrianyk and Suzanne Humphries have a cherry to pick with proponents of vaccination. Their article on the measles vaccine was recently published on Health Impact News’s Vaccine Impact website under a […]

    • Our Skeptics in the Pub reboot on Monday watched Invisible Threat, a DVD about vaccines made by some amazing high school students. They included the first chart (or one very similar) and explained exactly what was wrong with it (conflating morbidity and mortality). Well worth watching if you get the chance. (You can download it for $5 from Vimeo; I would try to watch it with some friends or a class or other group so you can discuss it. There’s a lot of material to digest in 40 minutes.)

      BTW, we had 12 people show up in the midst of a blizzard (12″ of snow, single digit temps), so this is definitely a topic a lot of people are interested in.

    • Mr. Spock has got his shots. Your kids should too. It’s the logical thing to do.

      Mr. Spock Wants You to Vaccinate Your Kids

  • ThumbnailSo you want to make a point about Americans’ skewed perceptions of race?

    Step One: Don’t use a racist chart. Even if your heart is in the right place. Even if you really, really didn’t mean to be racist while […]

    • Okay, so according to that chart, am I white, black, Hispanic, or Muslim? I mean, I know, mitochondrial haplogroup X is related to Kurds, but still…

    • Of course, the number of Americans who think ‘Muslim’ is a race is significant. Along the the flat-earthers and climate change deniers.

      Still, wow! No Asians, including South Asians, no non-Hispanic Native Americans….? Who took the survey? Who were the people questioned? Hobby Lobby shoppers?

      • I can’t help but point out that James Abourezk and Darrell Issa are both Arab Christians. (And that Christians are one of the groups targeted by ISIS.)

        Then again, they probably don’t even realize not all Middle Eastern ethnic groups can be called Jews or Arabs.

        In other MENA news, fuck yeah!

    • The silliness of the chart is astonishing. Aside from the fact that, biologically speaking, race is a bogus concept, neither Muslim nor Hispanic is a race by any reasonable definition. Asian is usually considered a race, and in my neighborhood a highly visible one. Some of the Asians are Muslims, and some aren’t.
      There might be some value in a good study of general perceptions of the distributions of different groups versus the statistical reality. This is either not a good study or a terrible presentation of the data, probably both. And a pie chart is only useful if it includes ALL the possibilities and the possible groups don’t overlap. Aside from those issues, it’s great.

    • I actually thought the research showed that in general most people overestimate the percentage of the population of their own ethnic group. It makes sense when you consider the fact that we live in segregated areas, so the people you live around are likely to look just like you.

      A lot (A LOT) of the Hispanic population is going to overlap with the “white” population since the U.S. census includes Hispanic in “White” with hispanic being a separate question. White Non-Hispanic was 64% in the 2010 census, so it looks pretty clear to me that about 10 percentage points of the “White” are overlap.

      Also, the Muslim population overlaps a ton with both White and Black. I mean, perhaps the person making the chart meant “Arab.” However, in the 2010 Census Arab Americans self identified as about 0.5% of the population, half of the 1% claimed here, but perhaps he rounded up? Muslims as a religion do make up about 1% of the population, but even if you assumed all American Arabs were Muslim (hahahaha yah no but just role with me here), then the other half of all Muslims still overlap with the other ethnic groups. Not to mention there are plenty of Asian Muslims who apparently are imaginary according to these charts.

  • ThumbnailThe State of the Union now comes with full-color illustrations, which is nice for the kids, Powerpoint addicts, and anyone who wants to add another layer to the SOTU drinking game. Don’t worry, you can just create […]

    • The fraction of income chart makes it look as if, at some point around 1990, the percentage of income of the top 1% actually overtook that of the bottom 90%. Incredibly misleading.

      • You’re right. It does look like that. I found it such a confusing mess to look at that I didn’t even draw that conclusion, but that is exactly what it looks like, Very misleading in a chart people see only briefly.

    • That Iran chart’s like something on Buzzfeed. But yeah, most of those are simple things.

    • “Up to” is only my second favorite spin phrase. My favorite is “up to … and more!” (it always has to include the exclamation point), because that not only includes $5.50, but also $550 trillionquadrillionquintillion. Phil Rizzuto used to advertise some high-interest loan company on late night TV that could lend you up to 30 thousand, 40 thousand, 50 thousand or more! Could I borrow <twist-pinkie-at-corner-of-mouth>ONE MILLION DOLLARS? </twist-pinkie-at-corner-of-mouth>

  • ThumbnailShocking news from the unironically named website The Mind Unleashed: “MIT Researcher’s New Warning: At Today’s Rate, Half Of All U.S. Children Will Be Autistic By 2025.”*

    Autism: a fate worse than death for […]

    • Bonus benefit of getting rid of your calendars and clocks: you won’t age!

    • “Is it the use of two y-axes whose values can be adjusted to make the data fit as closely as you like?” Just elaborating on this point a bit, both overlaid graphs show approximately exponential growth. Lots of things show approximately exponential growth. E.g., Moore’s Law describes the change in processing power of computer chips as exponential growth. And, when rescaling the y-axis, all exponential growth curves can be made to look the same.* So I could construct a similar graph to show that the rise in autism follows a similar curve to the rise in computer processing power, and by similar reasoning argue that faster computer chips are causing autism. This point should be extremely obvious to any research scientist, so creating a graph like this one displays a willingness to use numbers to distort rather than inform. It is not inconceivable that chronic low doses of environmental toxins like pesticides could contribute to autism, but this is not evidence for that, and I’m not aware of any such evidence that is actually based in solid research rather than irresponsible speculation.

      * Explanation: the general exponential growth formula is y = b * e^t, where y is the response variable, t is the independent variable (usually time), and b is a growth constant. Rescaling the y axis of any graph is equivalent to replacing y with c*y, where c is the amount by which to rescale. But this gives c*y = b * e^t, or y = (b/c) * e^t. Since b and c are both constants, this is the same as the original growth formula with a new value for b. So if I have two approximately exponentially growing phenomena with growth constants b1 and b2, I can always make them look the same by rescaling the graph of the second one by c such that c = b1/b2.

      (BTW, sorry if there’s a double post on this — the site is really slow and from Cloudflare it looks like Skepchick might be getting DDOSed, so I’m not sure if my first post took.)

  • ThumbnailI took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality inventory, in high school, and when I got my horoscope results, I admit that I was pretty amazed at how well it described me—and, apparently, Hitler.

    Then I […]

    • I am ok with *maybe* being a potato. The existential uncertainty is riveting and makes me want to write poetry to express the unending struggle of my inner possible-potato demons.

      • I feel that answering the Great Potato Question only leads to further questions. If I am a potato, what kind? Red, new, Idaho? If I am not a potato, am I a squash, a sandwich, a Pez dispenser?

    • When I was a ICI sponsored student I got sent on a course where they gave us a Brigs-Myers type test then put us into two role playing sessions. In the first they put the like personality types together, in the second they had balanced teams.

      The bogosity of the test was evident from the names they gave the groups, ‘Resource Investigator’, ‘Chairman’, ‘Completer-Finisher’, ‘Plant’. I scored in the last one which was an incredibly silly and demeaning name to give to the group that the engineers fit into. At the time the test was written, engineering had second rank status in the professions. In a company built on engineering like ICI, engineers were never second rank, most of the senior managers were engineers. The principal objective of the event was to recruit engineers because they were in greatest demand.

      So anyway, the point of the experiment was meant to be that people are happiest working in a balanced team. And that was true for five out of the six teams because all the imaginative types that drive a project along were in the ‘plant’ group. And we were having a great time thank you very much. So the intended lesson was a flop.

      When it came to the second exercise, found the group rather dull and just wanted to get through it as fast as possible. So I dropped down into my chairman persona despite the fact that I (and everyone else pretty much) had essentially scored zero on it.

      • The strict dichotomies of the MB types are the worst flaw, as though we all always fit into perfect categories, unchanging, discontinuous. When I took it in high school, the teachers used it similarly, to put us in diverse groups for projects. I don’t remember it making any difference at all. We were always changing groups for different projects, and it was a class of motivated students who got along well, so any group was fine. The idea of it being used in employment is pretty scary to me.

    • I’m a corporatist Summer Xander non-Potatohead. No wonder I didn’t fit in well with the rest of my college’s SDS chapter steering committee. I guess I should have eaten more starchy breakfast food (i.e. home-fries.)

      • I don’t fit neatly into a quadrant if I take everything into account (even with the original chart). I suspect I’m the hamster inside running on the wheel.

        You raise an interesting question, though, about self-identified potato cannibalism.

    • The more I look at that original chart, the less sense it makes. Thank you.

    • They validate personality tests by the takers’ self-assessment? I thought it was by looking at answers’ correlation over large samples, and at individual takers’ consistency over time.

      • I wasn’t talking about validation. Takers’ self-assessment just points to the flaws in these types of tests. I’m not sure how they would look at the correlation over large samples without getting some kind of self-assessment from the takers, though.

        And the MBTI does have a problem with consistency over time, largely because it sets up personality types as dichotomous and discontinuous. If you barely fit into the E category on one test, you could easily fit into the I category on the next, for example. This paper talks a bit about the problems: http://melindabrackett.com/Myers%20Briggs%20article.pdf

    • So, being a mathematician, I guess that makes me an extremely conservative fascist?

    • Social conservatism and the Christian right are in the quadrant associated with rationalism?
      OH! So is anti-environmentalism!
      Yeah, seems legit.

  • ThumbnailThis week’s chart is not recent, but I missed it the first time around, and it’s so terrifically bad, I have to share it in case you missed it too.

    The chart depicts election results from the 2013 presidential […]

    • Nice takedown Melanie!
      I love the way Moros in his photograph appears like a shining white angel while Radonski is made to look like the dark horse.

    • It’s a perfectly cromulent chart. It’s just been cropped. The bottom 4 feet 2 inches (1.27 meters) have been chopped off*. Can’t you tell from the vertical scale on the side? Oh, err, never mind. No vertical scale. But the numbers make it mathy. Don’t they? Huh?

      [*] You just need to get a new 132″ monitor (like they use at sports stadiums) to see the whole thing.

  • ThumbnailAll over the media, people are shaking their virtual fists at kids today for undervoting in the US midterm elections.

    Clearly, millennials are too busy taking selfies, texting, and playing on their Ataris or […]

    • Having just stumbled into the swing space (I didn’t intend to, but I wasn’t paying attention and forgot to die in time), I want to know: Is it good or bad that 60 is the new 65? I don’t care about elections, I just want to know how does this affect ME?

      BTW, the most important reason for voting is to prevent your reactionary future clone from going back and voting in elections you missed. If you voted, your name would be checked off and they wouldn’t let the clone vote.

      If you think back and hate your younger self, remember that means your older self hates you too, and your younger self would hate you if they knew you. So it is important to undermine their votes by voting first. This is the origin of the phrase “vote early and often”. If you’ve ever shown up at the polls and discovered they already had you checked off, this means your future clone got there first. Don’t let this happen; he’s an asshole! Did you know that McGovern actually won 39 states in 1972 (and we had decades of peace and prosperity, amnesty, acid and abortion), until the Reaganite clones reversed history?

      • Holy crap, the clone conspiracy goes deeper than I thought. I am in my forties, so I think I can safely say I don’t have a clone out there, or that if I do, it’s based on early seventies technology and I’ll spot it a mile away by its 8-track player.

  • ThumbnailSo you want to make a deliberately misleading chart by doctoring a genuine one and you don’t really care how fake it looks because OBAMA?

    Maybe you have a poor-resolution monitor from 1993 and think a screen […]

    • I think you’re onto something. Because Halloween eve and werewolves are kinda like vampires, I tried looking at the chart in the mirror, but COULDN’T SEE anything AT all!!! All I could see was my face and the other side of THE bathroom! NO chart!!11!!111 So I went back to my desk and looked at IT again on my pc. The top AXIS of this vampire chart is “CONTROL BUDGET” Its written right there!

      Its not a bad chart because it DOESN’T MAKE any sense at all. ITs a BAD CHART because it was made by VAMPIRES.

      PS. The chart has an AXIS. Hitler led the AXIS. Coincidence? I think [email protected]@[email protected]!!!

      PPS. “Guv’ment”… My brother once wanted to attend a Tea Party rally, but he couldn’t figure out the right way to misspell Gubbermont on his “Keep your Meddling Goobermunt Hands Off My Medicare” sign. I think he forgot to include an apostrophe.

    • Melanie, that’s a pretty evil chart alright.
      Don’t stare too long at it, Demons will come to drag you down to the Pit.

    • That is one weird fucking graph. The X-axis doesn’t exist, but the graph still depicts movement in the X-axis and the Y-axis has two separate legends, tracked by the same graph lines.

      Even internally, the axes make no sense. The time axis tracks presidents as equal intervals, despite having served for different time spans. The money axis can’t decide whether the graph lines are equal or not and the numbers on the axis explicitly contradict the helpful tags on the lines themselves.

      Finally, the graph seems to claim that Nixon spent less than $0 on drug enforcement. Maybe there was a federal budget item for promotion of drug use?

  • I don’t know about you, but the first question I ask when hearing about a tragedy on another continent is WHAT ABOUT ME?

    So naturally, when I read this Forbes article, “4000 Deaths And Counting: The Ebola Epidemic In 4 Charts” (the 4000 referring to deaths in West Africa alone), I thought immediately of the United States and my own safety, much like the bulk of the commenters on the article.

    Perhaps the most shocking illustration of the danger to me personally is the article’s “Ebola deaths in West Africa” chart, showing the cumulative death toll over the months since the epidemic started this year for Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. I mean, if the situation is getting worse in Africa, it can only mean that a US epidemic is just around the corner (if we ignore minor details like disease transmission and other biological facts, how probability works, differences in culture, healthcare, and infrastructure, etc.). Oh, and it’s terrible news for Africa too, of course.

    Perhaps JV Chamary, the author’s article, thought that a little visual exaggeration of the death toll in West Africa would lead to increased worldwide concern for and action on behalf of Africans in the affected areas who are actually experiencing this real horrible situation rather than concern for a highly unlikely hypothetical danger in the US. But highly unlikely isn’t the same as impossible. I mean, it’s highly unlikely that a piece of satellite will fall from the sky, bounce on my neighbor’s trampoline, and shoot right into my bedroom window at night, impaling me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t sleep in a titanium pod JUST IN CASE. Wouldn’t I feel foolish if I didn’t and then it happened?

    So what’s the visual exaggeration I’m talking about? In the chart below, the deaths are cumulative, meaning that each successive month includes not only that month’s new deaths but the total deaths so far from previous months. So the death toll will always rise except in months when there are zero deaths (but even those months would still appear to be showing deaths).

    Forbes Ebola deaths chart
    Ebola deaths in West Africa (Data: WHO / Chart CC BY 4.0: JV Chamary / Source: http://onforb.es/1sCVxE1)

    For example, below is a chart of the cumulative deaths in 2011* from what the CDC categorizes as “Exposure to other and unspecified animate mechanical forces,” which most likely refers to cyborgs (although other theories about what an “animate mechanical force” could possibly be are welcome in the comments).

    Cumulative cyborg deaths chart

    But if we chart each month with only that month’s death total, the chart looks like this:

    Cyborg deaths per month chart

    Cyborg deaths did in fact increase, as shown in the first chart, but only after decreasing, and the per month chart shows that the increase is not quite as alarming as shown in the first chart.

    Still, we had more deaths from “Exposure to other and unspecified animate mechanical forces” in 2011 in the US than we’ve had from Ebola this year, so I would not rule out cyborgs as being an even more significant threat to all of our lives than Ebola is. Or a cyborg with Ebola. Fortunately, we can counter both threats by moving into underground bunkers. Except for the danger from giant moles mutated by eating GMO corn. But that’s obviously ridiculous.

    *The CDC Wonder database includes data only through 2011 because they are already overrun by cyborgs clearly attempting to keep us in the dark about causes of death until it’s too late.

    • The CDC are such liars! The cyborgs are merely “converting” people! That’s way different than death (and I assure you, much, much worse than death.)

    • This is why many sources are also presenting logarithmic presentation of the same data to demonstrate that the increase in total cases and deaths over the last few months has been exponential, even though there are obvious fluctuations and surges in the spread of the disease; a couple of months ago about 25 people were dying every day; then a month ago it was about 50 p.d.; now there are about 100 deaths p.d., and the WHO is warning that the inability of Liberian authorities to manage contact tracing may mean the surge in cases there might be under-reported.

    • Melanie Mallon,

      Oh now, our machines will kill us much fast than Ebola. It will be worse than Terminator, Terminator 2, Terminator 3, Terminator whatever! We are all going to die!!!! :O

      Speaking of bad charts, here are some really funny ones guys.

      Atheism causes obesity, teen misbehavior, contraception and sharks!

      Atheism causes obesity, teen misbehavior, contraception and sharks!

      • “It be Shark Week!
        It be Shark Week!
        It be Shark Week all week through
        Chomp! Chomp!”
        Marian Call

        Also, the Cyborg chart only includes mechanical force. This includes crushing, explosions and collapsing buildings, but death rays are explicitly excluded.

    • So, in that graph with cumulative deaths from ebola, what happened in mid-September? Did some of the dead people come back to life?

      • My guess would be that something caused a hiccup at the Liberian Bureau of Statistics (I wonder what that could have been?)

      • Lukas, the medical diagnosis of Ebola (as a process that requires blood analysis) lags behind the number of people who present with symptoms resembling Ebola – some people turn out to have ordinary influenza or some other viral infection. Having said that, the apparent decrease in the number of deaths in Liberia around mid-September is probably a statistical artifact, perhaps due to changing the way the data is reported by the regular governmental Situation Reports – on Wikipedia from 14 September onwards they are adding together confirmed, probable, and suspected deaths to get the total figure. However they are doing that, the disease is outstripping their ability to monitor and track it.

  • Jug framed When I first saw the headline “The fastest-growing alcoholic beverage in the US isn’t a beer, wine, or spirit,” I immediately assumed the simplest, most obvious interpretation—that some kind of gigantic mystery drink, no doubt the result of a fermentation experiment gone horribly wrong (probably involving GMOs), was about to wreak havoc in the streets á la the Stay-Puft marshmallow man from Ghostbusters.

    But no, the article’s subject is much more mundane, about the resurgence in popularity of hard cider (which incidentally could be paired quite nicely with an enormous roasted marshmallow man, but I digress).

    This seems like just your typical seasonally inspired fluff news. Hard cider is the latest thing, experiencing rapid sales growth. Even the big beer companies are getting in on the action.

    But all I can say to this is, well played, Big Cider. Well played. Maybe you and your shills can fool Heineken, but I am on to you.

    I first became suspicious when I saw this almost indescribable chart in the article:

    cider growth

    I spent several minutes staring at that xy-axis. Why those bizarre random number choices? Why don’t the intervals match? Is 80 the only percentage, and if so, what are the other numbers measuring? Is this just a spectacularly bad chart, or is hard cider so powerful that it is changing the very meaning of numbers?

    The bars make it look like hard cider is pretty much taking over the alcoholic beverage market. Of course, in the context of actual sales dollars, beer, wine, and spirits each probably bring in millions if not billions more dollars annually than hard cider.

    To illustrate, let’s say I start a lemonade stand, and my first year, I make $30; my second year, I make $45; my third year, I make $75; and in my fourth year, I rake in $200 after extorting the kids running the competing neighborhood stand. In those same years, Country Time makes $20 million that first year, $20.5 million the second, $22 million the third, and only $21 million the fourth (no doubt due to competition from me).

    Mellonade growth

    My hypothetical growth is obviously quite impressive in comparison, even without random points on the xy-axis. I could even topple Big Lemonade, except I value my life. Those people don’t mess around.

    So what is Big Cider’s end game? Money? Power? Worldwide mathematical illiteracy?

    The article mentions that they are lobbying to raise the legal alcohol-per-volume percentage. Is this part of a long-term plan to lull the populace into a stupor? A percentage point here, a percentage point there, and pretty soon we’re living a modern-day Snow White on a massive scale.

    Sure, I might be “leaping to conclusions” and “fear mongering,” but what if it’s all true? Are you willing to take that chance?

    • Where do Bud Light Lime-A-Ritas rank?

      I see their Lionel Richie spewing commercials all over the damned place and they make me nauseated just thinking of them, I can’t even listen to All Night Long anymore. Good thing it was a bad LR song, the product that destroys Hello will have my wrath forever.

      • Lime-A-Rita + All Night Long is pretty much the most sadistic combination I have every heard. I’ve never liked that song, in part because a mild dislike gets magnified by how it gets stuck in my head so easily. Ugh.

    • Well, I for one am very fond of cider and I welcome our new hard cider overlords. Although I look forward to the upcoming export grade Mellonade!

      Where I come from x represents the independent variable (time). Is the US convention different or was that a slip of the keyboard?

      You are right, the percentage intervals are weird and. to cut to the chase, I would blame auto scaling by the bloody software and repeated fruitless attempts by the author to make it behave. It’s no excuse for a shit graph to be published tho!

      Finally, I fully agree with your point that percentages can be misused to spin data just about any way the author wants to push.

    • I went to a hard cider release event last week at which the cider purveyors spent a great deal of time emphasizing that their cider was dry. Very dry. No one else does dry cider the way they do dry cider. Let me tell you about the dryness of this cider. By the time we got around to tasting it, I expected to be handed a glass of sand.

      But no. It was actual liquid hard cider. Pretty good too. “It’s really dry, isn’t it?” said the cider guy, his eyes fixed and bulging.

      It wasn’t THAT dry though. It was kinda sweet, in fact—though not cloyingly so. But I didn’t want to say that because, well, this cider is supposed to be dry. Really dry. Really REALLY dry.

      So—cowed into submission—I said, “Yeah, it’s pretty dry.”

      And that, I submit, is the power of Big Cider.

    • Okay, I get that hard cider is served at bars, so the bar chart might seem appropriate, but didn’t we establish in a previous BCT the fundamental postulate of chart theory that all food related charts should be pie charts? Now I’m confused.

    • I should warn you, Mel: At that rate, you won’t be able to fill all the orders. (That’s an actual issue for a business on Pine Ridge right now. Who knew the market for buffalo jerky with cranberries was so large?)

  • I announced a little while back that I would be leaving Skepchick for the Freethought Blogs network. Now that the FtB redesign has been implemented, Heinous Dealings (with its lovely banner designed by Alex […]

    • Heina – I enjoy your writing immensely, and will continue to follow you. So many people speak highly of you with good reason. Best wishes with wherever the future takes you!

    • I’m sorry you’re leaving Skepchick, but I’m looking forward to reading your new blog. Take care.

    • Heina,

      I’m sad to hear that you’ll no longer be at skepchick. Maybe you could at least drop by and leave comments from time to time?

    • I wish you well Heina, I’m always learning new things here at Skepchick and your writings have been the most informative to me over the last few months. I will need to keep up with your blog because I still don’t know nearly enough about women of color in the skeptical movement and especially about Islam and ex-Islam atheist concerns.

    • Best wishes, and have fun at FtB!

    • Good luck. I’ll try to remember to check in!

    • Awesome and good for you! Hope all goes well at FtB.

    • May you continue being as badass in your future endeavors as you have been here.

    • (Psst! Is she gone yet? Party time!)

      Oh, err, best of luck with your new blog. It was great meeting you again at Convergence/Skepchickcon. Now you’ll have to hang out next door with all those boring biologists. :-)

    • I will miss you Heina. Totally a wordsmith, always compassionate and always comprehensive. I wish you all the best for the future.

  • Hey, did you know that the leading cause of DEATH in the United States is not heart disease? It’s true. I saw it on Facebook, thanks to a tip from Deek over at Grounded Parents.

    According to this chart from the National Pro-Life Alliance, the leading cause of death is abortions.

    Abortion pie chart

    They aren’t talking about the death of women having abortions because the number is too high for that. They are talking about the death of potential people, the aborted embryos and fetuses. Oddly, they don’t include deaths from miscarriage, a number that would be much higher.

    Now, before you start rolling your eyes at how nonsensical this is, keep in mind the opportunity this kind of logic presents. Consider the example of house fires. According to FEMA, there were 364,500 house fires in the United States in 2011. But what FEMA doesn’t realize is that the number is much, much higher when we take into account fires that burned down potential houses.

    Consider wildfires, for example, which burned down 8.7 million acres in 2011. If an average house uses 30,000 square feet of lumber, or .69 acres of lumber, then we lose 12.8 billion potential houses in wildfires each year.*

    Or how about the wood used in fireplaces and wood stoves? People actually burn potential houses within houses, which is really kind of sick when you think about it. According to the US Forest Service, we used 7.8 billion cubic feet of wood in 2011 for this purpose. That’s 179,063 acre-feet. Unfortunately, converting that to houses is more difficult because we’re talking volume vs. area measurements, but for our purposes, let’s just say we know that it’s at least 263,000 potential houses. That we deliberately burn within our own homes.

    Add campfires and bonfires to the mix, and we have an epidemic of houses burning down in this country.

    To chart this with wildfires included is ridiculous:

    Annual House Fires

    Without wildfires, though, we can see the significant chunk of houses lost in fireplaces and woodstoves alone:

    Without Wildfires

    In fact, how do we know that a particular person isn’t burning down our own potential house when they throw those logs on the fire? I smell lawsuits, or at the very least, criminal charges for arson. It’s no more ridiculous than criminalizing abortion. It’s no less ridiculous either.

    *These are all rough calculations. Not all of that acreage is wood, of course, but this also doesn’t take into account tree height lost.

    The idea for this post was inspired by neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga’s discussion in The Ethical Brain.

    • THank you for the afternoon laughs! This is great.

    • Jokes. Feh. Laughter. Not laughing.

      I saw the chart and thought about miscarriages right away. (You beat me to it.) Then I was going to make a comment about “What abouts teh Menz?” Every time we … ahem… Billions of Buzz Jr.’s lost Oh, the huMANity!” or maybe “Every time you use Purell®, you kill trillions of bacteria, any one of which, transported to a suitable lifeless planet, could have evolved into an entire world of sentient beings. Murderer!”

      Then I read about the forest fires. That was brilliant, but made me a little too sad for jokes. 12.8 billion homes. That’s enough for a mansion and 4 vacation homes for every family on Earth Every year. What a sorry waste.

      But then I got to people heating their homes with wood. And worse, fireplaces for entertainment. In wooden houses. That’s just sick. Shades of cannibalism. Words can’t express my disappointment and disgust with the human race. Even Beavis and Butthead would be ashamed if they only understood.

      • “But then I got to people heating their homes with wood. And worse, fireplaces for entertainment. In wooden houses. That’s just sick. Shades of cannibalism.”

        If that bothers you, you’ll really empathize with this.

    • Also, the 1.6M figure is a lie, According to the anti-abortion web site Abort73.com, the correct figure was 1.06M in 2011 (est 1.04M in 2012), and has been declining slowly but steadily since the peak year, 1990, for which they don’t provide figures. They claim they get their data from the Guttmacher institute and the CDC.

      Several sites claim 1.6M in 1990 (the peak); the CDC says 1.43M that year. But in any case they are citing the peak from 24 years ago, not current figures. On the other hand, the cancer and heart disease deaths appear to be current figures (though my Googling didn’t work very well), and deaths have declined significantly since 1990. According the National Cancer Institute the overall cancer death rate declined by almost 20% between 1991 (peak year) and 2008 and appears to have declined more since then. So if the chart is supposed to be 1990, then the Cancer slice should be 20% bigger. I spent less time digging into the heart disease figures, but did find that the total deaths in 1986 was 765,490 and other sites claim the number of heart disease deaths has declined significantly since then. So either the heart disease slice is way too small for 1990, or they are lying again.

      I don’t know if the decline in abortions is do to better availability of birth control or worse access to abortion services or various demographic changes (fewer women in the right age group, though that seems unlikely?) or chem-trails or what. I couldn’t find any obviously relevant, non-biased web sites (e.g., not the NPLA) in a very brief Google search. Someone who actually knows something about this topic and has decent statistical skills should weigh in. (Probably turns out someone posted about it on Skepchick a few months ago and I’ve completely forgotten…)

    • About 25% of implanted zygotes spontaneously result in miscarriage. Since there are about 4 million births in the U.S. per year, that means that there are 1.3 million miscarriages per year, almost as many as the abortions in the chart and more than the actual current number of abortions. And of course many pro-lifers count that life begins at conception. Since over 50% of zygotes fail to implant at all, that means there are about 5.3 million deaths from natural failure to implant and 1.3 from natural miscarriage. I’d like to see those numbers added to the chart.

      • And what about all those millions of potential humans that are lost every year from people not having sex? Can we see a chart with those numbers included?

    • Add the two numbers together, better still.

    • Mel, you’re the best. <3

    • Using the pie chart renders the whole thing nonsensical anyway… are they implying that people ONLY die from Cancer, Heart Disease, Accidents or Abortions?

      • Clearly homicide, drug overdose, malnutrition, suicide, infections because you for some reason can’t get a vaccine for a good reason and your neighbor won’t for an idiotic reason…none of that exists. Oh, and cancer is one disease, not a catchall for many separate genetic disorders, all of them characterized by abnormal growth.

    • Well, I’ve certainly never died from any other cause so I can’t see why anybody else would!

    • Done! A chart including the 33% of confirmed pregnancies that end in miscarriage. It took me a while to find out how many pregnancies occur in the US.


  • Hey, ladies. Are you tired of men using complicated charts and graphs to convey their brilliant man brain thoughts deliberately so that women won’t understand them?

    Because everyone knows women “need our male colleagues to understand that if you can bring it down to a woman’s level and what everything that she is balancing in her life — that’s the way to go,” as US Congresswoman Renee Ellmers explained at a recent Republican women’s quilting circle or something.

    I know, there were some big words in that paragraph for those without a penis to translate for them, but don’t worry. Ellmers provided more detail about what she means.

    “Men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level. Many of my male colleagues, when they go to the House floor, you know, they’ve got some pie chart or graph behind them and they’re talking about trillions of dollars and how, you know, the debt is awful and, you know, we all agree with that.”

    At a glance, this all seems extraordinarily sexist. I mean, women totally understand charts and graphs. How else would we track our ovulation and periods? Or know how to convert measurements for our potluck recipes? It’s not like we can actually do the math.

    But let’s face it. Ellmers is wrong about one thing—putting the onus on men to talk down to our level. Why should men do all the work? They already do all the work in every other area of life while we eat bon bons and shop (using size charts ALL THE TIME).

    Ladies, it’s about time we step up and take responsibility for how naturally stupid we are because vagina. At the very least, we can learn to understand that most complicated of visual presentations—the pie chart.

    Let’s start with the obvious. It’s just like a pie, except you don’t even have to bake it! I know, right?! Plus, pie charts have none of those fattening calories that threaten your market value.

    The trickiest part of these charts is that the pieces represent numbers, usually percentages. Don’t freak out. If you can calculate 20 percent off on an outfit, you can totally understand percentages in a pie chart.

    Traditionally, all percentages in a pie chart should add up to 100 percent, but if you’re Republican, that rule is optional. But let’s start with how a pie chart should be done, because you really need to know that before you can learn to manipulate it effectively. (I’m assuming, as a woman, you are already an expert in manipulation, from your first baby cries to coerce your mom into feeding you. Male baby cries are manly expressions of anger at their mother’s inadequately slow food service times.)

    It will probably be easiest for us to learn about a pie chart if we use a subject women actually care about. Again, going back to Ellmers’s sage words about what women really want: “more time in the morning to get ready.” Here’s a typical breakdown of a woman’s morning, minus the things she does for others, because those are non-negotiable, like cooking breakfast and cleaning up, ironing her husband’s shirt, etc.

    Getting ready

    Now consider how you could use this chart to get Congress to pass legislation to give women more time in the morning, as Ellmers seems to be suggesting. That is clearly the hidden subtext behind women wanting to control their own bodies.

    If this isn’t enough to make all women Republican, nothing is.

    H/t to Buzz Parsec for the Ellmers link.

    • Genius. I especially love the translation of male and female baby cries. How could I have failed to understand them properly for so long? Thank you! I would work on my pie chart skills, but I’m still a little afraid that there might be hidden calories.

    • Yeah, it’s good thing we had that proper, Manly man Florence Nightingale to pioneer the use of graphic visualisation of statistics!

  • ThumbnailHey, Twin Cities people and CONvergence goers, don’t forget to get your tickets to Quiz-o-Tron for tomorrow night (Wednesday). Starring CONvergence favorites Bill Corbett, Molly Glover, Joseph Scrimshaw, Sharon […]

  • ThumbnailCONvergence is this weekend! Which means we are going to SCIENCE. In addition to hosting several panels and workshops as part of SkepchickCON, the science and skepticism track of CONvergence, we are also hosting […]

  • It’s a World Cup Ramadan, the first one since the 1980s. It’s like a White Christmas? Kind of? Except Ramadan is more like Lent than Christmas.

    Never mind.

    Today marks the third day of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. This weekend, concerns over the Muslim World Cup players made their way across the internets. I happened across posts of the Vox and Mashable links and observed much speculation and questioning regarding the rules of fasting during Ramadan, as well as talk of exemptions to fasting.

    There are indeed exemptions to fasting, just as there are exemptions to any and all Islamic practices, in the interests of survival. Refraining from all food, drink, and medicine is often not medically viable for people with health conditions, pregnant people, and/or the elderly, who are considered exempt from fasting. People on their periods or experiencing post-partum bleeding are not permitted to fast (as in they could stay hungry and thirsty all day if they wanted to, but it wouldn’t count as a Ramadan fast day) and are supposed to make up their missed days afterwards.


    Travelers are also explicitly named as exempt from fasting. Based on that alone, I had assumed that all of the Muslim World Cup players had considered themselves exempt. Some are still choosing to fast, it seems.

    Some Muslims claim that since the players are doing their jobs, and their jobs require hydration at the very least, Muslim soccer players are permitted to make up their fasts later. When I was a Muslim living in a non-Muslim-dominated world, I understood that it was my job to find employment that complied with my religion rather than to alter my beliefs to fit my employment — unless I was in a life-or-death situation, which, as mentioned before, grants exemptions from any and all religious practices. On the other hand, I did find one scholar whose opinion is that fasting exemptions are granted to those engaged in hard manual labor.


    As for Luis Suarez? There is actual precedent for the question of whether or not his biting would break his fast if he were a Muslim. If he had swallowed any skin or blood as a result of his gnashing, he’d have nullified his fast. If not, his fast would still count. Of course, if you don’t believe his account of how he “lost [his] balance, making [his] body unstable and falling on top of” the player he bit, then he was clearly demonstrating deliberate aggression, which is against the rules of fasting.

    * I don’t know of a better term for them than “moderate”, but I dislike it because it paints more literal Muslims as “extreme”, which, for those who follow Islam, “extreme” often implies terrorism and violence. Also, there are Muslims who will claim that their less literal version of Islam is still “real” Islam, while others who don’t practice literal Islam will say that they are imperfect Muslims rather than followers of a less literal but equally valid interpretation.

    • Heina Dadabhoy,

      Personally I’m far more concerned with whether or not he committed assault than if he broke his fast. I would bet that most Muslims and non Muslims alike would feel the same. I don’t want to rush to judgement and find him guilty without a trail, but It sounds like he may well have.

      • To be fair, it’s Vox. Vox has a history of explaining the news in condescending terms. Condescending means they talk down to us because they think we’re stupid.

        (I think that explains everything wrong with Vox, in the style of Vox.)

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