Skepchick Quickies 9.10

On this day in 2008, the Large Hadron Collider booted up for the first time. Ever since then the world has been driven into chaos by the mad scientists who control the tiny black holes! Wait, oh, nevermind.


Mary Brock works as an Immunology scientist by day and takes care of a pink-loving princess child by night. She likes cloudy days, crafting, cooking, and Fall weather in New England.

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  1. Re: Secularists are not atheists

    Hear, hear.

    As someone who considers himself a secularist, a free-thinker, and a skeptic (which in my mind are three distinct things), but not an atheist, I’ve been bothered by the habit of people who call themselves these things to treat them as synonyms for “atheist.”

    One may, of course, be all four, but they are not the same.

      1. I don’t think the “New Atheists(TM)” do secularism any favors either. Neither end of the belief spectrum seems to be able to accept that there is a fundamental difference between secularism and atheism.

        Most of the Christians I know are secularists to one degree or another, coming own strongly on the side of separation of Church and State. The theocrats lump us all in with the atheists, and the New Atheists seem to think we are no better (and maybe worse) than the theocrats!

  2. Jezebel.com has a section called “Lady McGyver”. This business with saving the ISS using a toothbrush while setting the women’s record for spacewalk experience (have I got that right?) deserves mention there. Does anyone here have a way to communicate with the folks who run Jezebel.com?

  3. I love the fact that the creationist attack in South Korea actually ended up leading to more accurate textbooks. Full disclosure, though. I read this:

    details about the evolution of the horse and of the avian ancestor Archaeopteryx

    and thought “wait, since when is Archaeopteryx an ancestor of the horse?”

  4. How on earth does Grothe get the notion that an effective (sexual) harrassment policy is somehow ‘promoting feminism’.

    A (sexual) harrassment policy is about treating your guests with respect, and that is its only political characteristic.

    Tolerance for harrassment of any stripe is saying “The harrasser is welcome here, the harrassee is not”.

    1. Yeah. The comment about JREF not focusing on gay rights, either, was pretty beside the point. We’re not talking about the goals of an organization. We’re talking about how people are treated at your cons.

      1. Yeah. If someone were using homophobic slurs against an attendee at a conference, I would stand up for the victim and would also want the conference to instate an anti-harassment policy. That’s not being a gay activist, that’s about being a decent human.

      2. @ quarksparrow: That is indeed the point, and where/how DJ seems to misunderstand a number of issues that have been raised to him in the past. It’s a bit like saying my children are healthy, safe, and have enough food so why should I care about the abused, hungry, and sick ones.

  5. Mary,

    I heard about what happened in South Korea. I’m really glad the forces of reason won out, over the forces of pseudoscience.

  6. Yes! I wrote a whole post on secularism after I became sick of being TOLD I am an atheist on atheist websites.

    I do not believe in gods. But that does not give people the right to label me as an atheist, which means one hell of a lot more than just “doesn’t believe in God”.

    I’ve always told people that I simply have no religion. I celebrate the change in seasons as Wiccans do, and if you look up the defenitions you’ll know that my indifference to religion is secular, not atheist.

    Atheism: a disbelief in the existence of a diety; the doctrine that there is no diety. Secularism: indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations. (Merriam Webster)

    1. That’s not what Atheism is.

      I once had a vision of a being with omniscience that told me that there were no gods. She made a pretty darn good case, to the point that I’d feel confident arguing for the non-existence of gods even if I was arguing with an entity that has all the qualities of a God.

      Most atheists haven’t had that experience and don’t really believe in the lack of gods. They just see no reason to believe that there is one. You don’t believe in unicorns, is that really a dogma?

      1. Victoria20 sure – just to be clear, I wasn’t using that as a defenition, but rater to demonstrate that secularism and atheism are not the same thing. The point of the post I wrote is that people don’t have the right to tell me I’m an atheist just because I don’t believe in gods. The fact is, the word atheism has come to mean far more than just that narrow defenition.

    1. I avoid organic when I can for the opposite reason — I’m not convinced it’s any better for the environment. Using ‘natural’ pesticides over ones that were specifically engineered for their purpose (this includes targeting only specific pest organisms, or being more effective with less application, or other advantages that, if present in a ‘natural’ pesticide, are there entirely by chance), or insisting on using manure over synthetic fertilizers, or rejecting GMO benefits over the usual ‘frankenfood’ fears. Not to mention that organic methods produce less yield — meaning more land, more irrigation, more exhaust from farm equipment, etc, etc.

      I’m all for sustainability, but organic needs to make a better case before I’ll spend the extra money.

      1. @Quacksparrow well that sort of depends, some organic coffee farmers that grow in the shade actually save land with agroforestry.

      2. @quarksparrow

        Unfortunately organic means many different things to different people, but it certainly means more than pesticide choice. I don’t know a good way to evaluate supermarket labels. I prefer to talk to my local farmers and ask what it means to them. I am much more interested in sustainable agriculture which will certainly cost more in the short term than unsustainable practices. Unfortunately sustainable is rather loosely defined as well, but I know it when I see it.

      3. I think the organic label is defined differently here in Germany. I am pretty sure it is better for the enviorment in many ways, for the soil, etc. That’s pretty much the point of the rules. I must be honest I dont know what the laws look like in the USA.


        I also just found a German meta study. I will quote:

        “Ecosystem: This category comprises the review of research results on floral and faunal biodiversity, habitat diversity and landscape conservation. The main findings are that organic farming clearly performs better than conventional farming in respect to floral and faunal diversity. Due to the ban of synthetic pesticides and N-fertilisers, organic farming systems provide potentials that result in positive effects on wildlife conservation and landscape. Potentially, organic farming leads to a higher diversity of wildlife habitats due to more highly diversified living conditions, which offer a wide range of housing, breeding and nutritional supply. However, direct measures for wildlife and biotope conservation depend on the individual activities of the farmers. Furthermore, research deficiencies were ascertained in connection with the measurement of habitat and landscape diversity. It needs to be stressed, that organic farming, as well as each form of agriculture, cannot contribute directly to many wildlife conservation goals. However, in productive areas, organic farming is currently the least detrimental farming system with respect to wildlife conservation and landscape.”

        “Results show that organic farming tends to conserve soil fertility and system stability better than conventional farming systems. ”

        “The research results reviewed show that organic farming results in lower or similar nitrate leaching rates than integrated or conventional agriculture. Farm comparisons show that actual leaching rates per hectare are up to 57% lower on organic than on conventional fields. ”

        “Organic farming does not pose any risk of ground and surface water pollution from synthetic pesticides. Although incorrect organic farm management practices could indeed bear some potential risks for polluting ground and surface water, the detrimental environmental effects from organic farming tend to generally be lower than those from conventional farming systems. Thus organic farming is the preferred agricultural system for water reclamation areas.”

        “Due to the fact that synthetic pesticides are not permitted in organic farming, significantly lower air contamination is ensured than in conventional farming.”

        1. Many organic pesticides are as or more toxic than synthetic ones, and given the lower crop production per acre, having a significant portion of the world’s food supply come from organic farms would require more deforestation and more water resources diverted to agriculture. Also organic food has a larger carbon footprint than non organic foods so the alleged gain for the environment with organic appears to be based on wishful thinking and a belief system and is not supported by the available research from what I’ve read.

  7. I don’t know who dreamed up the whole cockeyed idea that we buy organic because it has more nutrients. Pesticides are the main concern. Lymphoma (according to Mayo Clinic) and insectivore (bird / bat) decline are a concern with pesticides.

    And by the way, let’s not be lazy. Organic is only one step. Organic food grown on multicrop land or that’s shade-grown is beneficial to everyone.

  8. Another concern about how our food is produced is worker safety. Although pesticide safety training is required for agricultural workers, it doesn’t always happen, and there are a lot of health issues that result from that. Buying organic does not guarantee worker safety, but I do believe it helps.

  9. I have four friends who are farmers. One farms wheat and barley, one blue berries, and another manages a very large commercial ornamental flower operation, and the fourth one is paid by the government to not grow anything except a particular type of grass that encourages wildlife which gives him time for his art which is how he supports his family. I mention this with regard to many inaccurate perceptions about farmers and the whole organic low impact earth friendly notions that many people have. I’ve had many extensive conversations with all of these guys about organic farming, pesticide issues and the business side of farming. Firstly farmers run a business with generally very small profit margin, significant risks and soaring operating costs. Not one of these farmers would have a problem with organic farming if it was economically viable and they have crunched the numbers and will continue to do so in the future. They use the absolute minimum amount of pesticides necessary and are more than happy to not use one if a certain pest is not a problem. Most farmers are acutely aware of the dangers of the chemicals they use and are as careful as any responsible business person would be, especially when it is often family members and friends who are working for them and could be harmed by unsafe exposure. Hydroponic and greenhouse farming can have an incredibly low impact on the environment and if it’s a sealed greenhouse no pesticides are necessary; but on occasion fungicides are necessary and organic fertilizers’ are not a commercial option given the relative intensity of the cultivation. Also most commercial greenhouse operations must by law process their waste water and most recycle as much as possible and make sure any water discharged in safe. I think greenhouse vegetables are a great option and they can also be environmentally responsible, but they will never be an organic option except in small mom and pop operations where there is no hydroponics. The grain farmers are especially careful about how much of any chemical they use because of the hundreds and often thousands of acres they have under cultivation. And there is absolutely no shade or organic option known or developed that will provide a reasonable income and still provide the necessary quantity to produce your bread, beer, cake, chicken, pork, and beef. Also has anyone ever wondered why there seem to be fewer organic potatoes and potato products around than other veggies? Production cost per acre for organic potatoes is ten percent more and the yield is one third less than conventional farming practices. For the organic potato farmer to only break even he would need an increase in wholesale prices of between twenty five and two hundred percent depending on the variety being grown. One friend told me that if he were to get an exclusive agreement with Whole Foods to buy his stuff, he’d be happy to be an organic farmer, otherwise going organic would be a one way trip to bankruptcy given he has to compete and sell his produce on the open market.

    1. JacobV, good comment. I actually wish Skepchick would write more about agriculture and the environment because it’s such an important topic. I also am close with several farmers, including a coffee farmer in the Philippines (who was invited to the White House for his service in international volunteering).

      It’s true that there’s not much profit in the farming of regular produce; whose fault is that? If we Americans want to kill ourselves on cake, pork, wheat, that’s fine. But we can expect sub-optimal health and total decimation of ecosystems for our own greed.

      Naturally that’s catching up to us, did we really expect we could get away with ruining other species’ homes when most living things need similar resources?

      The Native Americans grew corn, beans, squash (and sometimes pumpkins) as the Three Sisters method of growing. Some progressive chefs in our area are adopting that method and even kitchen gardening.

      It’s risky but if chefs and farmers can be aggressive about getting people on board, and if the American public can finally get their @#$&*% heads around what’s healthy, we can move forward.

      People need to learn how to grow gardens, try container growing, foraging, we need to learn where our food comes from and its impact on life. We have a choice of course, instead we can sit around eating pork and cake and wheat supporting monocultures. We’ll see soon enough how that choice plays out.

    2. I don’t think that a sudden shift of all agriculture to organic is feasible or even desirable, If trends continue, however, the average diet will become more vegetarian and organic farming methods will become more feasible and more cost competitive.

      There are a lot of assumptions baked into this, but I think they are reasonable:

      – fuel will get progressively more expensive as reserves run down and global competition increases
      – water will become more scarce due to climate change and aquifer depletion
      – both of these will combine to make food more expensive and meat unaffordable to most
      – costs of fertilizer will go up making options like compost and less intensive agriculture methods more competitive

      I also think that you have a over-simplified view of organic farming. I think mine is too, but it is equally valid. The organic farmers I know sell very expensive produce to tree-luggers and granola eaters like myself. They only use compost for fertilizer and skip pesticides entirely. These people don’t operate at the scale as the farmers you know, but they are profitable. I do not think the farmers I buy from are a perfect model for general agriculture, but I hope the final model is somewhere between the organic farmers I know and the ones you know.

  10. It always makes me mad when I see separation of church and state posed as an issue that only affects the nonreligious. You know who else is trying to trick your child into believing things that will get them sent to hell? All of the other denominations of Christianity.

    We should correct them when they fail to qualify the phrase “The Ten Commandments”. They’re the Ten Commandments of Augustine. That’s what Lutherans chant when they sacrifice babies to their heathen gods. And now they want to teach it in your school!

  11. It’s OK with me if the mad scientists at CERN get all the credit for making gazillions of tiny black holes, but did they have to steal a chunk of Fermilab’s beam pipe?

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