Comprehensively refuting the antivaccinationists

For anyone interested in the controversy over MMR vaccines and autism, David Gorski’s comprehensive fisking is a must-read. The exposé of that sleazy fraud Andrew Wakefield is particularly detailed.
After presenting the unambiguous findings of the various “special masters”, Gorski points out what’s really going on here:

Special Master Hastings recognized one of the main drivers of the scare over the MMR and vaccines in general as a “cause” of autism: Money. Indeed, a veritable cottage industry of “biomedical” quackery, dubious therapies, and pseudoscience depends upon keeping the idea that vaccines cause autism alive. “Luminaries” of this cottage industry include the aforementioned Andrew Wakefield, who has now infested the United States (the State of Texas, specifically) with his brand of quackery at Thoughtful House, now that the U.K. is investigating him. Also included are Mark and David Geier, who have been touting the use of a powerful anti-sex steroid medication to treat autistic children, and, until recently, Dr. Rashid Buttar, who is now facing sanctions by the North Carolina Board of Medical Examiners and has been banned from treating children. Add to that ambulance-chasing lawyers like Clifford Shoemaker, who have been raking in money hand over fist, thanks to the fact that the VICP actually pays the petitioners’ attorney fees regardless of whether the petition results in compensation, and it is easy to see why this industry won’t easily let parents be disabused of the fears over vaccines that it has stoked.

To those parents who are dealing with the devastating effect of autism on their families: please don’t be taken in by the charlatans and snake-oil salesmen who are trying to recruit you to their causes. They’re simply trying to use you for their own purposes. They are wrong.

Ken Binning, RIP

I just learned from my mother that an old friend of ours, Ken Binning, died last weekend. Ken was an extroverted, larger than life man, with a booming laugh, a firm handshake, and a slight stutter which enhanced rather than interrupting his jovial repartee. I first met him when I was a child: Ken was a colleague of my mother’s at the UK Atomic Energy Authority, and we visited him, his wife Pam, and their children several times.
In 1968, when I was trying to decide how to spend a “gap year” between school and university, Ken suggested that I join him at the UKAEA. By that time he was running a small research group at Harwell, the Programmes Analysis Unit (PAU). Their mission was to perform a cost-benefit analysis of the various science and technology programmes funded by the British government, in areas such as computer technology, energy, aerospace, materials science, nuclear medicine, and atomic power. I spent a year with the PAU as a mathematical assistant, as I discussed recently. By the time I was next working at Harwell, in 1971, the Conservatives were in power, and I think the PAU had been dissolved.

Ken Binning (right) with Gerald Kaufman

Ken Binning (right) with Gerald Kaufman

After the UKAEA, and the controversies over nuclear power, Ken moved to an even more contentious project: Director-General of Concorde. As he described in a BBC documentary in 2003 [22:20 into the program], “I had a very uncomfortable morning in Delhi, in front of the Secretary for Transportation, attempting to explain why it was perfectly sensible to overfly six million Indians supersonically, and wake them up in the middle of the night, but we didn’t do the same thing to Europeans.” [Full transcript here.]
Ken was also involved in the hearings on Capitol Hill in 1976 about whether Concorde should be granted landing rights in the USA. [27:05 into the program]; he remembered it well because it was his birthday (January 5th). The preparations were intensive, including a mock cross-examination of the Minister, Gerald Kaufman, and the outcome was eventually successful; in May 1976 Concorde finally went into Transatlantic service.
Ken and Pam retired to south-east London, and I visited them there several times, usually with my mother. I’ll miss him.
Ken Binning

Ken Binning

The Art Instinct

I’ve just posted a review of Denis Dutton’s wonderful new book “The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution”:

If you’re reading this, you probably enjoy books. You take pleasure from good writing, compelling insights, and the kind of well-turned argument that gives you that “aha!” moment of recognition, identification, and delight.
Imagine then the pleasure of reading a book which not only has these characteristics, but provides a convincing explanation of why you feel that way. And not just of why you enjoy that kind of experience, but why (for example) you would feel disappointed if you learned that the author had plagiarized the material. (Why should you? It’s the same text, isn’t it? There’s something else going on here.)
This is a wonderful book. It’s not just about art, in the same way that Pinker’s work (cited in the blurb) isn’t just about language. It’s about being human, and how the last few hundreds of thousands of years of evolution made us that way. It’s about the complex interplay between natural selection and sexual selection in this process, an interplay which Darwin captured so well in The Descent of Man. It’s about philosophy, too: about ontology and category.
The book draws on art as a rich source of facts and paradoxes about human nature. Does intent matter? Why do artists sign their work while plumbers don’t? What is the relationship between artistic value and monetary price? And (notoriously) can a urinal on a plinth be thought of as art – and why do people get so worked up about it?
I hesitated to choose this book, because I feared that it was going to be just another book on art theory. (And why would that make me reluctant? Hmmm….) I’m really glad that I overcame my hesitation. In fact I’d rank this as the best non-fiction book that I’ve read over the last year – and it’s been a good year. (Best fiction is, obviously Fulghum’s Third Wish, a book that I want to re-read in the light of some of the insights I’ve gained from Dutton.)
Highly recommended.

"I want everything he does to fail"

Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly waxes incredulous at Rush Limbaugh’s latest piece of… well, treason is about the only word for it:

The right-wing host went on a similar tirade yesterday when talking about the economic recovery package: “I want everything he’s doing to fail… I want the stimulus package to fail…. I do not want this to succeed.”

Limbaugh is, without ambiguity, rooting for failure. In the midst of an economic crisis, Limbaugh quite openly admitted that if Obama’s economic policies are successful, it would undermine the talk-show host’s worldview. As such, Limbaugh wants desperately to see more Americans suffer, more workers unemployed, more businesses close up shop. […] Limbaugh would much prefer a suffering nation than a reevaluation of conservative ideas.

Keep in mind, of course, that such talk under Bush’s presidency would force someone from the airwaves. If a prominent progressive figure said, just as the president was sending troops into war in early 2003, “I want everything he’s doing to fail. I want the war in Iraq to fail. I do not want the president’s national security agenda to succeed,” he or she would lose all advertising revenue and be fired. In the midst of a crisis, Americans rooting against America, based on nothing but ideological rigidity, are pariahs.

Or, at least, they used to be.

Are there any limits?

Digby at Hullabaloo:

But the fact that the white house consciously and knowingly used anal rape to control, interrogate and punish prisoners and went to some length to protect those who were doing it from scrutiny, still has the power to stun me.
Are we really just going to let this stuff go? Really?

Quote of the day

[w]hen the GOP enforces a party line vote against the stimulus bill and then goes on Sunday morning talk shows to complain about the lack of bipartisanship in the White House, it’s like a shopkeeper complaining that he’s got no sales while he’s waving a gun at anyone who tries to enter the store.

John Scalzi at Whatever.

An odd "things you've done" blogmeme. OK, I'll play.

Via Susan Claire at Facebook:

Place an X by all the things you’ve done and remove the X from the ones you have not, then send it to your friends (including me). […]

Well, it’s very US-centric, and I’m not going to tag other people, but I’ll still have a go at this in my blog.
Things you have done during your lifetime:
(X) Gone on a blind date
(X) Skipped school
( ) Watched someone die
(X) Been to Canada
(X) Been to Mexico
(X) Been to Florida
( ) Been to Hawaii
(X) Been on a plane
( ) Been on a helicopter
(X) Been lost
(X) Gone to Washington, DC
(X) Swam in the ocean
(X) Cried yourself to sleep
(X) Played cops and robbers
(X) Recently colored with crayons
( ) Sang Karaoke
(X) Paid for a meal with coins only
( ) Been to the top of the St. Louis Arch
(X) Been to the top of the Empire State Building
(X) Done something you told yourself you wouldn’t.
( ) Made prank phone calls
( ) Been down Bourbon Street in New Orleans
(X) Laughed until some kind of beverage came out of your nose
(X) Caught a snowflake on your tongue
( ) Danced in the rain-naked
( ) Gone skinny dipping
( ) Written a letter to Santa Claus
(X) Been kissed under the mistletoe
(X) Watched the sunrise with someone
(X) Paid it forward
(X) Blown bubbles
( ) Gone ice-skating
(X) Gone to the movies
( ) Been deep sea fishing
( ) Driven across the United States
( ) Been in a hot air balloon
( ) Been sky diving
( ) Gone snowmobiling
(X) Lived in more than one country
(X) Lay down outside at night and admired the stars while listening to the crickets
(X) Seen a falling star and made a wish
( ) Enjoyed the beauty of Old Faithful Geyser
(X) Seen the Statue of Liberty
(X) Gone to the top of Seattle Space Needle
(X) Been on a cruise
(X) Traveled by train
(X) Traveled by motorcycle
( ) Been horseback riding
(X) Ridden on a San Francisco CABLE CAR
(X) Been to Disneyland OR Disney World
( ) Been in a rain forest
(X) Seen whales in the ocean
( ) Been to Niagara Falls
(X) Ridden on an elephant
(X) Ridden on a camel
( ) Swam with dolphins(sea turtles)
( ) Been to the Olympics
( ) Walked on the Great Wall of China
( ) Saw and heard a glacier calf
( ) Been spinnaker flying
( ) Been water-skiing
( ) Been snow-skiing
(X) Been to Westminster Abbey
(X) Been to the Louvre
( ) Been to a bull fight in Spain
(X) Swam in the Mediterranean
(X) Been to a Major League Baseball game
(X) Been to a National Football League game
(X) Been moved to tears
(X) Done something to change someone else’s life

The "pretentious" books meme

Over at Facebook, my old friend John Sundman displayed his results for this BBC-initiated meme….

Apparently the BBC reckons most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here.
1) Look at the list and put an ‘x’ after those you have read ENTIRELY
2) Add a ‘+’ to the ones you LOVE.
3) Star (*) those you plan on reading.
4) Tally your total at the bottom.

Here’s my response:
1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen X
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien X+
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte X
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling X
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee X
6 The Bible X (yes, all of it)
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte X
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell X+
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman X+
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens X
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy X+
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller X+
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (Not all, but most)
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien X+
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger X
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy *
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams X+
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh X
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky *
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck X
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll X+
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame X+
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens X+
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis (Not all, but this is silly…)
34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen X
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis X (… because this is one of the “Chronicles of Narnia”)
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne X+
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell X+
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins X
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy X+
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood X+
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding X
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert X
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons X+
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen X
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens X
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley X+
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon X
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov X+
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy X+
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding X
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville X+
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens X
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett X
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson X
75 Ulysses – James Joyce X+
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome X+
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens X
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert X
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White X
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Alborn
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle X+
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams X
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute X
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare (As John wrote “Well I haven’t read all of Shakespeare but this gets…) X
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
Total: 50
This is obviously a “pretentious fiction” list, but there are some puzzling omissions. Where’s Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”, for example? And I’d be curious to do the same thing for non-fiction. “A Brief History of Time”. Bill Clinton’s autobiography. “Civilization”. That kind of thing….
UPDATE:joined in.

The extraordinary cluelessness of the Republicans

When politicians use mutually incompatible arguments to attack the same proposal, it’s safe to say that they are more interested in scoring political points than actually participating in a meaningful debate. Here’s Andrew Sullivan on RNC posturing about the stimulus bill:

On the one hand, they seem to be saying (a la McCain) that this is long-term spending, not stimulus; then they are complaining it’s a short-term stimulus that will not create long-term jobs (a la Steele). One can only presume this is mainly about politics, not governing. Like so much of the last eight years.

And the public seems to have rumbled them. Sully cites Gallup:

Gallup on the Stimulus

Gallup on the Stimulus

Daniel Larison, himself deeply skeptical of any stimulus proposal, skewers the consistency of the RNC’s stupidity:

During the bailout debate, the House Republican leadership voted for creating the TARP, which was also bad policy, and they were oblivious to the political toxicity of that measure among their own constituents. It’s not as if the leadership had some deep reservoir of populist credibility before the bailout. Even if the TARP had been a good idea and even if it had already had some success, it would still be perceived as nothing more than the scam and the giveaway to banks that it actually was. Even though the stimulus bill will probably have no desirable effects and will add vast sums to the debt, the stimulus and its supporters are going to continue to be perceived as acting on behalf of the public. Boehner and Cantor have twice managed to put themselves on the wrong side of public opinion on major pieces of legislation in the last five months, so again I have to wonder why it is they remain in the leadership. I have to assume it is because the members of the conference are as politically clueless as they are.