Tuesday, August 18, 2009

2010 Atheist Global Convention

The 2010 Atheist Global Convention will be held down under in Melbourne. Speakers include Richard Dawkins and Philip Adams.

They are currently taking expressions of interest to estimate numbers, so go over to the site and express yours. Oh yeah, someone called PZ Myers will also be there.

The Wilkins will also probably be there. He will even sign his book if you ask him.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Badges Wot I Have Earned

Go over to science scouts and check out how many you've earned.

Troop Badge. This is a natural. I woz a geologist therefore I drank.

The talking science badge. Another easy one. used to be on Talk.Origins, and just this week regailed co-workers with the fact that swine flu is long and thin and not spherical (thanks to ERV)

The “Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah, I’ve got a TV gig” badge. The latest one is here.

The “I blog about science” badge. Well duh!

The “destroyer of quackery” badge. I spent way too much of my academic life on the Talk.Origins newsgroup.

The “I can be a prick when it comes to science” badge. Just ask the geology mapping student groups I used to lead. "No we will not be using the formation names so you can cheat by looking up the geological maps" - bastard!

The “inordinately fond of invertebrate” badge. Not many vertebrates in the Ediacaran and Lower Cambrian. Besides, many say it was a mistake to come down from the trees, some say the move out of the oceans was a bad idea. Me, I say the stiffening of the notochord in the Cambrian was where it all went wrong, it was all downhill from there.

The “respect me - I’ve published at an upper tier publication for popular science readership” badge. This is a bit tricky as I don't know the circulation figures, but I nominate the journal Geology and this paper.

The “have used a dental drill and I’ve never been a dentist” badge. Used to clear matrix away from fossils - WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. Used for several years with no ill effects. What? WHAT? YOU'LL HAVE TO SPEAK UP . .

The “science has forced me to seek medical attention” badge. Well there was 10 kilos of fossils in the backpack, a trail bike and a sheep. Please I don't like to talk about it. Can you say Bennett's Fracture?

The “has done science whilst under the influence” badge. In geology, the most productive field work is done after dark under the influence of alcohol and a raging fire.

The “science deprives me of my bed” badge (LEVEL III). Got this one easy with field work in the Flinders Ranges and on Kangaroo Island.

The “rock licker” badge. Still the best way to tell claystone from siltstone.

13, and there are a couple of ones I could have gone for. I beetz the ethical palaeontologist who still is a palaeontologist! I don't think she's really trying . . .

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sam the Koala dies

Sadly, Sam the Koala was put to sleep at 1.00 pm this afternoon.

She was supposed to undergo surgery for abdominal cysts associated with chlamydia. However, the vet treating Sam found that her condition was worse that thought, with inoperable damage to her urinary and reproductive tract. As she was in considerable pain, it was decided to put Sam to sleep.

Sam the Koala - a turn for the worse

Sam the Koala, rescued from the Victorian bush fires earlier this year and famous for taking a drink from a passing fire fighter, will under go a serious operation today (Thursday), and the prognosis is not good.

Sam has been diagnosed with abdominal cysts associated with urogenital chlamydiosis. This is not associated with the injuries Sam received in the fire, from which she has been making a good recovery.

Urogenital chlamydiosisa is, unfortunately, a common disease amongst Koalas and can be fatal, hence the decision to operate.

The people treating Sam are not optimistic for her survival.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Religion in Australian Politics

There is an opinion piece in today's Australian Financial Review by Geoffrey Barker, visiting fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, about religion in Australian politics. It's behind a fire wall, and much of it relates to specific Australian examples, but some is of general interest and is excerpts are provided below.

It is time Australians paused to consider the possible adverse consequences of unleashing the politics of faith on the essentially secular activity that is democratic politics. They include intolerance, authoritarianism and poisonous social division.

Some religious teachings are doubtless important in informing some political views. But allowing political conflict to be expressed as clashes of secredly ordained beliefs rather than of socially acquired interests is a recipe for non-negotiable disputes that defy the necessary compromises of political life.

A democratic society should respect the faith-based commitments of citizens; it should respect their views of religious leaders on contentious issues like abortion, censorship and social justice. It should also respect the views of non-believers.

What it cannot do is concede that any faith group possesses a monopoly on truth and virtue and allow it to impose its attitudes on the entire society. Politics arises from diversity; to eliminate diversity is to legitimise authoritarianism.

It is not necessary to have religious convictions to be tolerant and compassionate and to observe high standards of moral responsibility. Indeed, so-called humanists (much maligned by religious authoritarians) can reasonably claim to have views grounded in logic and experience rather than in rules revealed by divine intervention.

Tolerance to opposing views, and the willingness to accommodate them, are defining characteristics of democratic politics that are anathema to religious fundamentalists.

[. . .]

Sadly many Australians seem willing to swallow uncritically the religious avowals of politicians. Yet it is hardly cynical to conclude such politicians often use religion opportunistically to advance their political careers.

Moreover, those seriously demanding spiritual virtues have absolutely no appeal to politicians pursuing personal glory and earthly power.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

RU486 approved in Italy

The BBC is reporting that the drug RU486 has been approved by the Italian Pharmaceuticals Agency for use in Italy.

Nothing special about a state pharmaceuticals agency approving a drug for use, except this is Italy and RU486 is otherwise known as the morning after pill, or the abortion pill.

RU486 available in Italy! Wow!

Kudos to the Italian Pharmaceuticals Agency, who in a 4-1 decision to approve, stated that "the task of protecting the well-being of citizens ... must take precedence over personal convictions."

The drug will not be available over the counter, but will only be available in hospital under the supervision of a doctor.

The Catholic Church has, of course, come out strongly against the decision. They could not threaten the Italian Pharmaceuticals Agency directly to influence the decision, as that's, like, illegal. So it's done the next best cowardly thing. The Vatican has threatened to excommunicate any doctor, nurse, or woman involved in taking RU486.

Well done the Italian Pharmaceuticals Agency. Another small step in removing the Catholic Church from women's uteruses