Taxonomy is a tricky subject. There are many ways to classify things, and all of them are valid in their own way. In the animal kingdom, organisms were historically classified by phenotype – how they look. This was fairly effective… it showed us that apes were related to each other more than they were related to monkeys, and they were related to monkeys more than bears, etc.
I was surprised to learn recently that pandas are actually bears again. Phenotypically, they look like bears, and some people still call them “panda bears.” When I studied them in high school in the 80’s, we were taught that this phenotypic classification was wrong, and that they’re actually more closely related to raccoons. However, more recent testing has shown that the original idea was actually correct! The panda didn’t change, but we learned more about them and discovered that they shared a lot more genes with the bear family than we suspected.
It would be easy to look at this and say, “Wow, science sure gets things wrong a lot.” And if you said that, you’d be right.
There may not be a blog in the world that isn't talking about Obama today. His speech included two important things for our community: nonbelievers and science. While we at the JREF are thrilled that a president actually acknowledged that nonbelievers are welcome in this country, it's his comments on science that we'll look at here.
We have a reason to be happy that Obama mentioned science from the podium, and in a supportive light, but what did he really say?
Remember: Obama's speech was written by a team of writers. He directed them, but he is not solely responsible for these words. Every syllable of this speech was checked for clarity of purpose and meaning. It was an extremely scrutinized eighteen minutes of text.
We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost
Every time we have an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable illness, medical journals, the skeptical blogosphere, and even one oddball astronomy site seize the opportunity to re-iterate two related points: 1) Vaccines are safe, and they are unrelated to autism. 2) When rates of vaccinations drop, diseases return. These incidents are exceedingly salient to the current public debate surrounding vaccination and more than worthy of the attention they receive.
And yet, in spite of the evidence, in spite of our vigilance, people still fear vaccines and outbreaks continue. Faced with a frustrating and seemingly perpetual battle, it is easy for skeptics to become jaded and cynical, feeling as though we are either preaching to a silent choir or an unfortunately vocal brick wall. That’s why I think it is worth taking another look at the most recent measles outbreak to have gained skeptical attention because the situation may not be as bleak as it sometimes appears.1
Hooray! Newsweek reports that Alison Singer, executive vice president of communications and awareness at Autism Speaks, has determined that the question of whether or not there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism has been answered. And that answer is no. Faced with disagreement from others in the organization, Ms. Singer chose to step down from her post. There are a few things to discuss here.
James Randi is back with the second entry in his YouTube vlog. This week's entry, "It's Not In the Name" deals with the specialized wording used by different groups who may or may not be reality-based. And don't miss a minor miracle performed by Randi himself.
This, and all of the JREF's videos are available at our YouTube account. To see it larger or leave comments, click here.