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Comment Re:Why E.coli? (Score 1) 86

In fact, having a robust normal microbiota is associated with health and commensal E. coli (like those from which typical lab strains are derived) are part of that. They hang out, digest materials you wouldn't, make some vitamins, keep your immune system up to snuff (these interactions are essentially 'expected' by your system), and most importantly take up space and nutrients that potential pathogens could use.

In addition, the pathogenic E. coli have several virulence factors that lab strains don't (except when studying the disease-causing strains, of course). Finally, you, yes YOU or maybe YOU over there are chock full of bacteria that are directly associated with disease and full of nasty virulence factors. You are for all purposes a walking disease-passing machine which is simply capable of keeping these microbes in check. One errant cough could have you passing on an antibiotic-resistant S. pyogenes and causing someone who is immune compromised to come down with Scarlet Fever. In short, you are much more dangerous than these E. coli, yet a lot of you probably don't even wash your hands properly.

Comment Re:The interesting part of this article (Score 1) 86

Why is that frightening? Every in vivo molecular bio lab has hundreds (thousands?) of 'unique' bacterial strains, particularly E. coli. They are less viable in your system than the billions of bacteria hanging out on your skin (some of which are probably Staph. aureus) right now. In addition, they're usually derivatives of E. coli K12. Similar E. coli are in your colon right now, being nice, normal microbiota.

I may have misinterpreted your comment, though. It's mostly the last sentence that makes me think you're saying that the bacteria are dangerous or something. A sufficient quantity of bacteria for this experiment would involve 16 small tubes of broth and one day, so I don't see how it's... frightening. Your refrigerator is more diverse and vastly more likely to spread disease.

Comment Bad Article (Score 1) 86

Outside of this article, there's no indication that these E. coli actually exist. Check the U Tokyo iGem page: http://2010.igem.org/Team:UT-Tokyo/Sudoku_construct

I guess it's difficult since their page keeps talking about 'our E. coli', but we also never see any results from 'their E. coli'. I think they're more hypothetical at this point.

They have an interesting model and system, but nothing on their actual E. coli or their results. Everything is idealized and simulated. I think there must have just been some kind of miscommunication. If they had actually created bacteria that solved sudoku, they would have done better in the contest.

Comment Re:Damn right! (Score 1) 677

Umm, no. A mosque is pretty trivial, it in no way compares to large-scale human rights violations and is a drop in the bucket in terms of social weight. Incidentally, preventing people from privately building structures for practicing their religion directly violates basic principles of individual ownership and liberty. You seem too eager to sell the principles we should be defending just to trivially smack something Islamic.

Comment Re:Damn right! (Score 1) 677

No, my attitude is that everyone should be held to basic standards, including human rights. If you want to have crazy personal beliefs that don't significantly impact others, go right ahead. If, like fundamentalist Islam, they entail violations of human rights, you should be opposed legally and punished internationally. If you're 'in between' and forward the violation of human rights with your speech (but not in actions), you should be loudly criticized.

That is *not* a justification for knee-jerk violence and vague prejudice, however.

Comment Re:Damn right! (Score 1) 677

Perhaps they're too preoccupied dealing with overreactions like this: "Where is the opposition from the left to the celebratory mosque being built overlooking the 9/11 site?"

I mean really, who cares? I am simply not the kind of person to get pissed off by offensive private speech/ownership. You'd think 'the right' would also be in favor of that, but when it comes to Islam they have clearly positioned themselves in irrational prejudice. Now, despite my criticism of your statements, some of which are easily bash-able, I am vehemently opposed to Islam intellectually and to fundamentalist Islam (which is very popular) on a human level. It's used to back actions diametrically opposed to basic human rights and freedoms and it has a clear and straightforward substrate: the Quran. With the Quran, it's easy to find justifications for killing people for what we rightly consider minor crimes (or not crimes at all) or for the subjugation of women. Now, my part in my opposition to Islam is to criticize it publicly on an academic level and based on its opposition to human rights. I also participate in rational skeptic and humanist groups which oppose Islam on both fronts as well with political advocacy and by showing alternatives. What do you do?

In fact, your whole last paragraph unintentionally makes one good argument for why 'the left' (and the center...) tends to focus on being diverse. You seem to be condemning all Muslims and treating them as dangerous or offensive and 'the right' will play that card much as they've appealed to racists since the '60s. In response, acknowledging that there's plenty of 'good' Muslims is a good political play and is more accurate, while the whole ordeal is distracting from the real issue due to hyperbole. This happens to a much greater extent in Europe where it does an even greater disservice, as they have much more serious problems with Muslim immigrants who oppose the core of Western beliefs in those countries (freedom of speech, equal rights, etc). They have to deal with the actual xenophobes and racists who use Islam as a proxy for their intolerance, which pushes some people to think that attacking Islam is just veiled xenophobia. Both 'sides' are at fault for being irrational, but at least one's irrationality is the product of an aversion to prejudicial hatred.

And what does the facebook debacle have to do with "the other side"? If you're implying that any bending over backwards for Muslim intolerance is something only for 'the left', you're dead wrong. In fact, it often (as in this case) has a direct monetary incentive, something a non-lefty should sympathize with!

Comment Re:Makes sense (Score 5, Insightful) 1123

I can't defend everything said by the GP, but I disagree with some of what you said.

First, science is not silent on the issue of ontology. It has a fairly clear methodology for the rejection of hypotheses and by practicality, those which do not meet rigorous standards are treated as effectively false (e.g. moon leprechauns). It is often silent when it comes to religious claims, however. There are a few obvious reasons (and I certainly couldn't name all the reasons):

1) We grow up in cultures where NOMA is stressed and religion is supposed to be private (except in politics and innuendo... and when it violates the status quo!). This is a comfortable scenario (in some ways) for both science and society in general - conflict is avoided. Science could be taught to anyone and there isn't supposed to be a fear of losing your religion. Religious people can be scientists without fearing that conflict (and they do very good work).

2) Science is usually fairly silent when it comes to pseudoscience or otherwise false/unpredictive claims. There isn't going to be a lot of discussion of religious claims in the primary literature (aside from polls) because they aren't useful in science. They're less productive than a confused undergrad's failed experiment (like mine...).

Of course I agree that most members of religions (and most people) are basically decent, or at least average, and that extreme members of any group can unfairly give them a bad name. This is true for any group, as you point out. However, context is important here. First, by discussing well-verified claims as on the same level as fanciful stories and myths (which we do in NOMA), we indulge in a kind of epistemological relativism that gives the extremism some undeserved legitimacy. When claims don't have to be defended but can be waved away as personal, religious beliefs, shouldn't you expect very strange beliefs to be considered acceptable (to an individual)? But I'm starting to rant again... sorry.

I am not saying that extremists are the only people reading their religions correctly or who are honest about their beliefs. However, they at least take the questions very seriously, I would say more seriously than most, and they have very clear religious substrates for their beliefs and actions: religious social movements and sacred texts, which will often call for sacrifices, ostracization, discrimination, and inequality right along with calls for peace and charity. It is not coincidence that someone can find their religion to support almost anything they'd like to do and receive the tacit social support that comes with NOMA- and religion-positive societies.

tl;dr: if a religion simply asked that you treat others as you would like to be treated and to give charitably, no one would have any basis for criticizing religion for the atrocities of the religious. Instead, there are oftentimes vague, fairly inconsistent religious instruction manuals with built-in prejudice supported by society and social groups. We can thank basic human decency for the fact that most people ignore the horrible parts of their religions.

Comment Re:There is nothing wrong with being spiritual (Score 1) 1123

"Denying or affirming religion is the same action. By GGP asserting that the being in people's beliefs is "imaginary," it is denying not merely the reality, but the very possibility of it becoming reality."

No, it's calling them imaginary, as in false. I know everyone likes to pretend that in science, everything is tentatively true or reasonable until data comes in to explicitly support or deny it, but that's simply not true. In science, fanciful ideas with no predictive value do not receive respect, they are treated as false until shown otherwise. The null hypothesis and all that. If you claim that leprechauns cause tidal shifts, I will gladly tell you it's imaginary, despite having done no original research on the subject. If you claim a fanciful, capricious creature created the universe, I'll do the same. It's shorthand for, "that has no empirical support and seems more like speculation than serious academic thought".

"Denial of anything unknown, whether it is asserted by a theorist or a scientist, is denial of potential knowledge"

What does that even mean? Who is denying "potential knowledge"? Rational skepticism holds that you wait for the evidence. Go ahead, bring evidence, scientists are completely open to it! Do the work! Until then, your claims will be treated as putatively false, certainty in their falsehood increasing with how little they have to do with empirical research.

"Science, which posits that knowledge is unprovable absolutely, only deny assertions that observations deny. That which is unobservable can neither be denied nor affirmed by science."

The confusion here stems from mixing layman's terms and the philosophy of science. Let's say I claim that purple space creatures seeded life on earth. The way to state an objection in philosophy of science terms is this: such a claim is supported by no empirical observations, or if there are observations, they are of a questionable nature (as tends to be the case with fantastical claims). It also doesn't make any predictions, and is thus fruitless. It could be true. Any fantastic claim *could* be true, even when it conflicts with a mountain of data. It is for precisely this reason that you'd simply say, "that's imaginary" instead. It communicates the same idea - your claim (or my claim) is implausible, supported by nothing, is useless, and fits the pattern of imaginary things.

"Your GP isn't being critical, he's being intolerant and narrow-minded."

How so? They're being obviously critical, calling religious claims imaginary and stating that efforts could be better spent on other activities. How are they being intolerant?

tl;dr: science doesn't work like you think it does, it does not tentatively respect nonsense claims but treats them with the lack of respect they deserve. This can be pedantically stated as, "claims with no supporting data or apparent predictive value are not entertained without strong criticism." It's actually quite a harsh environment, for good reason.

Comment Re:Not real science. (Score 2, Interesting) 1123

Let's not forget that the results overwhelmingly show atheism/agnosticism and 'liberal' religious attitudes to dominate the "elite" scientists' opinions, whereas the societal context has overwhelming theism and a huge amount of religious conservatism. Yet the author is stressing the amount of religion among scientists? It just keeps decreasing and decreasing, *despite* the society in which scientists were raised. I haven't read the book, but the choice of emphasis in these articles is very silly.

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