Damned Heretics

Condemned by the established, but very often right

I am Nicolaus Copernicus, and I approve of this blog

I am Richard Feynman and I approve of this blog

Qualified outsiders and maverick insiders are often right about the need to replace received wisdom in science and society, as the history of the Nobel prize shows. This blog exists to back the best of them in their uphill assault on the massively entrenched edifice of resistance to and prejudice against reviewing, let alone revising, ruling ideas. In support of such qualified dissenters and courageous heretics we search for scientific paradigms and other established beliefs which may be maintained only by the power and politics of the status quo, comparing them with academic research and the published experimental and investigative record.

We especially defend and support the funding of honest, accomplished, independent minded and often heroic scientists, inventors and other original thinkers and their right to free speech and publication against the censorship, mudslinging, false arguments, ad hominem propaganda, overwhelming crowd prejudice and internal science politics of the paradigm wars of cancer, AIDS, evolution, global warming, cosmology, particle physics, macroeconomics, health and medicine, diet and nutrition.


Henry Bauer, Peter Breggin , Harvey Bialy, Giordano Bruno, Erwin Chargaff, Nicolaus Copernicus, Francis Crick, Paul Crutzen, Marie Curie, Rebecca Culshaw, Freeman Dyson, Peter Duesberg, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, John Fewster, Galileo Galilei, Alec Gordon, James Hansen, Edward Jenner, Benjamin Jesty, Michio Kaku, Adrian Kent, Ernst Krebs, Thomas Kuhn, Serge Lang, John Lauritsen, Mark Leggett, Richard Lindzen, Lynn Margulis, Barbara McClintock, George Miklos, Marco Mamone Capria, Peter Medawar, Kary Mullis, Linus Pauling, Eric Penrose, Max Planck, Rainer Plaga, David Rasnick, Sherwood Rowland, Carl Sagan, Otto Rossler, Fred Singer, Thomas Szasz, Alfred Wegener, Edward O. Wilson, James Watson.

Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

Skepticism is dangerous. That’s exactly its function, in my view. It is the business of skepticism to be dangerous. And that’s why there is a great reluctance to teach it in schools. That’s why you don’t find a general fluency in skepticism in the media. On the other hand, how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don’t have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy? – Carl Sagan (The Burden of Skepticism, keynote address to CSICOP Annual Conference, Pasadena, April 3/4, 1982).

It is really important to underscore that everything we’re talking about tonight could be utter nonsense. – Brian Greene (NYU panel on Hidden Dimensions June 5 2010, World Science Festival)

I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing ever interfered with my learning was my education. My name as you already perceive without a doubt is George Bernard Shaw, and I certainly approve of this blog, in that its guiding spirit appears to be blasphemous in regard to the High Church doctrines of science, and it flouts the censorship of the powers that be, and as I have famously remarked, all great truths begin as blasphemy, and the first duty of the truthteller is to fight censorship, and while I notice that its seriousness of purpose is often alleviated by a satirical irony which sometimes borders on the facetious, this is all to the good, for as I have also famously remarked, if you wish to be a dissenter, make certain that you frame your ideas in jest, otherwise they will seek to kill you.  My own method was always to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine) One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. – Bertrand Russell, Conquest of Happiness (1930) ch. 9

(Click for more Unusual Quotations on Science and Belief)

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Obama gains power to change world

January 19th, 2009

Service, accountability, responsibility in a new era of just goals

Rare mix of ideals, ideas, and freedom from partisan ideology

Bush loots till, shutters operation after pawning furniture

Obama speaks in front of his own idol
As George Bush smiles atop his tattered 22% approval base, and waves off his last round of deregulation as a parting gift to his successor, our new grown up President has arrived in Washington to deal with the mess – the smoking ruins of the US and world economy, the collapsing global environment and the dysfunctional military operations abroad – that is his inheritance. But is Obama up to the job?

We believe he is more than up to it. We still believe that Obama is possibly the only man in the world that can and will save us from ruin.

Obama’s cool warmth

Not only is he notoriously cool, calm, collected and determined in the face of possibly the greatest challenges ever to face a new President, but as we never tire of celebrating, this man has the independent intellect to develop his own ideas and the vocabulary to express them, drawing on the best information, proposals and ideas from the contacts and advisors he has harvested over the years from seemingly every strata of society in widely disparate regions of the world, including even his political opponents, such as John McCain.

Of course, worrywort progressives who are infatuated with Ralph Nader and other truthtellers, who Alas have little or no idea how to win the power needed to implement their idealistic vision of human behavior, have already given up on Obama for choosing a largely centrist, Clinton graduate and often hawkish Cabinet, with the sole exception of the Labor secretary.

What they don’t seem to appreciate is that now that Obama has received proper briefings as to what is really going in at the top echelons of US and world government and politics, he has swiftly adjusted to the new data. Naturally laptop critics on the Web and in armchairs around the world, lacking these insider briefings, will not understand why Obama has changed, as they see it, from the man they imagined from his campaign pledges.

But as the New York Times has made clear, in a front page article yesterday by David E. Sanger, Obama’s change in image is merely the result of tacking before the winds of reality that are invisible to outsiders. Or only partly visible. Many of the changes that have taken place over the 710 days since Obama announced his brilliantly successful run for the Presidency are obvious enough, since at that time the ticking time bomb of subprime mortgages and the global credit freeze it harbingered had not exploded on the front pages:

2 Years After Campaign Began, a Different World

The Dow was at 12,580, on the way to 14,000 that summer. General Motors was making money selling cars even while reporting some concerns about “nonprime mortgages” held by its financing division. And the greatest worries about China and India were that their economies were growing so fast they could overheat.

Obama reassesses

In support of our argument that Obama is adapting to cold reality in the privileged context of proper briefings, we have these lines in the same article:

But the shifting reality has done more than force a change in focus. It also led Mr. Obama to re-examine his assumptions about a range of issues, hone his thinking and reach out to new advisers, some of them drawn from Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign, some of his aides said.

When it comes to national security in particular, some of his aides see a subtle but distinct shift over the last several years, opening him to the influence of advisers who sound significantly more hawkish than he did two years ago.

So while the world has changed, Mr. Obama has changed with it. But how much?

Aides to Mr. Obama since his arrival in the Senate say his views have not changed as much as some liberal supporters and commentators contend. From the day in 2002 when he stated opposition to the Iraq war, he has said he is not against all wars. And on some issues, including that of striking at terrorism targets in Pakistan, he has sometimes been to the right of both Democratic and Republican rivals.

Yet while he might have been less ideological all along than his initial campaign positioning suggested, his emphasis since the election has been on pragmatism. It is particularly striking that he has signaled, without saying so, that his breaks with the Bush administration will not be as complete as many liberals are hoping. In response to Vice President Dick Cheney’s admonition not to turn his campaign rhetoric into policy until he has taken office and learned “precisely what it is we did and how we did it,” Mr. Obama told ABC News last week that it was “pretty good advice.”

Not that Obama with his varied background is a sucker, as Sanger notes:

Two years ago, Mr. Obama’s views on Iraq dominated the headlines as he began his campaign by emphasizing his differences with Mrs. Clinton.

That day in Springfield, Mr. Obama animated his supporters with talk about how Iraq was the wrong war. “It’s time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else’s civil war,” he said.

Then, it would have been hard to imagine that in less than two years he would ask President Bush’s defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, to stay on, along with the White House “war czar” for Iraq and Afghanistan. Or that he would choose a secretary of state who portrayed herself as more hawkish than himself and a national security adviser who is a former Marine commandant.

In March, as it was becoming increasingly evident that he would prevail over Mrs. Clinton for the Democratic nomination, Mr. Obama began talking about Iran as the nation that “poses the greatest challenge to American interests in the Middle East in a generation,” and he vowed a few months later never to let the country obtain a nuclear weapon.

His openness to a broad range of viewpoints on national security has become more pronounced with each daily presidential briefing and with deeper dives into National Intelligence Estimates, which his staff says he reads with some skepticism. That is not only because of what the intelligence agencies got wrong in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

“He approaches the intelligence reports the same way he approaches a lot of the things he reads, whether it’s a story in The New York Times or a report from the ground,” said Denis McDonough, a longtime foreign policy aide who is often charged with finding answers to questions Mr. Obama raises. He contends that those who think Mr. Obama has drifted toward more hawkish views were not listening to what he said during the campaign about Iran or Pakistan or Hamas.

In other words, Obama is a literate man who has learned to take what is written by anybody within a system with a pinch of salt. Added to this is the fact that he has to take over whatever President Bush has implemented secretly, such as the covert effort to undermine Iran’s nuclear program.

As far as we are concerned, a thoughtful family man with a way with words is a President we can trust.

From Books, New President Found Voice

Mr. Obama’s first book, “Dreams From My Father” (which surely stands as the most evocative, lyrical and candid autobiography written by a future president), suggests that throughout his life he has turned to books as a way of acquiring insights and information from others — as a means of breaking out of the bubble of self-hood and, more recently, the bubble of power and fame. He recalls that he read James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and W. E. B. Du Bois when he was an adolescent in an effort to come to terms with his racial identity and that later, during an ascetic phase in college, he immersed himself in the works of thinkers like Nietzsche and St. Augustine in a spiritual-intellectual search to figure out what he truly believed.

In the same front page article in the Times today, Michiko Kakutani reports dead pan that President Bush “raced through” 95 books in 2006.

Nice comparison, Michiko.

The practical idealist

<b>President Bush greets Liberty, the lucky turkey he pardoned </b>Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Gaza – Obama will have his hands full on the foreign policy front as soon as he ascends the Oval Office throne. None of this is our business, of course, except that we wanted to point out how it all signifies Obama’s essential pragmatism, and a not unscientific tendency to act on information and evidence rather than pure and often petty ideology.

Anyhow, that is why we think it is appropriate here at this point to list the basic parameters of the problem which concerns us most of all, the economic fizzle. How much air has been let out of the balloon so far? How much money has the government/will the government devote to reinflating the barrage balloon of hopes and expectations and will it succeed and when in lifting it off the ground?

But before that, we wanted to celebrate once again the literacy, the open mindedness, the empathy, the wide and deep roots and the informed scientific practicality of our new Pres, whose chief overriding virtue is his evident desire to bring the country together and serve the whole community of the country and the world, and not narrow interests.

Tomorrow, we fully expect 27 minutes of an address to equal Lincoln’s in word and spirit.

Dying of thirst on a drowning planet

January 7th, 2009

The vital importance of water in life and death

How drinking revitalizes old people

Albatrosses and lions are dying, but cleaning the air may sink the planet faster

The death of Christine Maggiore not from HIV but at least partly from dehydration and associated causes draws attention to the part played by water in human survival. On an individual level, dehydration can weaken and kill rapidly, much faster that starvation. Humans – 68 per cent water – may not survive a loss of even 10% of bodily fluid. Even a 2% deficit causes fatigue, dizziness and fainting, depending on the temperature.

Research by ‘American College of Sports Medicine’ shows that more than 300 people die of heat related illnesses every year. The study also confirmed that children are more susceptible to dehydration and heat illness than adults and once the children are dehydrated its almost impossible for them to regain their health

Dehydration exacts a deadly toll on Mexican immigrants crossing the US border on foot in the desert:

Today, because of increased enforcement elsewhere along the U.S.-Mexico border, it’s the busiest corridor for illegal immigration. It’s also the deadliest.

The Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office in Tucson last year received 205 bodies of unidentified migrants. The number is at an all-time high, 10 times the annual rate back in the 1990s.

“Something has funneled people into the Sonoran Desert,” says Dr. Bruce Anderson, the office’s forensic anthropologist, who oversees the autopsies.

“They used to cross in Texas or California or New Mexico, in safer places. The Sonoran Desert is not a safe place to cross any time of year. In the summertime, it’s lethal.”

One of the concerns raised by the Israeli pounding of Gaza going on as we write is the nightmarish prospect of as many as 500,000 people running out of water completely. If they do, they will have no more than roughly four days to live.

This is what happens in the desert to those who would pick our fruit and tend our gardens:

In the dry desert heat, a hiker can lose half a cup to a pint of fluids every hour. To avoid dehydration, you would need to pack five or six gallons of water — at least 50 pounds — for a three-day trip. The most anyone can practically carry is four gallons, immigrant advocates in Tucson say.

As dehydration becomes severe, the body goes into hypovolemic shock in which multiple organs fail, shutting down in stages like someone turning off the lights in a house.

The blood thickens. Water stored between tissues in the arms and legs is robbed for use in the vital organs. The eyes lose water and go blurry.”

Then the gastrointestinal system shuts down, making it difficult to eat or drink.

“You can’t hold down water, and you just start puking anything you drink,” says Gerry Carrasco, a paramedic with the Border Patrol’s Border Search Trauma and Rescue team — BORSTAR for short — in southern Arizona.

The heart may begin to lose its rhythm as the body loses electrolytes such as sodium and potassium.

As the fluids become depleted, sweating stops and the body loses its ability to cool itself. Heatstroke sets in when the body temperature reaches 104 or 105 degrees. At 108 degrees, severe damage begins.

“At that point, the victim is unconscious, and it’s basically cooking brain cells,” Carrasco says.

For a diabetic, the cascade of failure is accelerated. The stress of dehydration can hasten a diabetic episode, in which blood sugar can soar to dangerous levels. The body begins urinating and sweating to get rid of the sugar.

As the body shuts down, the mind may also begin to go.

“People go into seizures and start hallucinating,” Carrasco says. “I’ve found guys hugging saguaros. I’ve found people completely naked. I’ve had females try to fight me.”

All this is risked for the golden opportunity to work for minimum wage (if paid at all by contractors) in the Greatest Country in the World amid local hostility to “illegals” who “don’t pay taxes” and “can’t speak English”.

Elixir of vitality

Many people would be healthier if they drank more fluids, it seems clear. This especially applies to oldsters, who tend to lose their sense of thirst as they grow older. Death is often preceded by refusal to drink.

The BBC News drew attention to the vital role of water in human health in June with its story about an effort to get seniors in a “care home” in Bury St. Edmonds, England to take more of the magic elixir which had dramatic efforts on their health and well being:

How care home keeps elderly healthy,
Monday, 23 June 2008 02:07 UK
BBC News
By Jane Hughes
Health correspondent

A year ago, 88-year-old Jean Lavender used to find walking any distance a struggle.

Now she is keen to get outside for a walk most days.

And she puts the transformation down to the most simple of medicines – water.

She is one of a group of residents at a care home in Suffolk who have been encouraged to increase their intake of water.

And they have all reported dramatic results.

Jean says she feels 20 years younger.

“I feel more alert – more cheerful too. I’m not a miserable person, but it’s added a sort of zest.”

Staff at The Martins care home in Bury St Edmunds started a “water club” for their residents last summer.

Residents were encouraged to drink eight to 10 glasses of water a day, water coolers were installed, and they were each given a jug for their room.

The views of some residents after drinking more water

They report significant improvements in health as a result – many fewer falls, fewer GP call-outs, a cut in the use of laxatives and in urinary infections, better quality of sleep, and lower rates of agitation among residents with dementia.


Doctors have long highlighted the risks of dehydration for elderly people. It can cause dizziness and potentially serious falls, constipation, and confusion.

The whole home buzzes now; there isn’t that period after lunch when everyone goes off to sleep.

While most people’s systems can adjust to insufficient water, frail old people are far less equipped to cope.

So when Wendy Tomlinson, a former nurse, took over the management of the charity-run home, she suspected that drinking more water might help the residents feel better.

Even she has been surprised by how much difference it’s made, though.

“It’s been fantastic,” she said. “The whole home buzzes now; there isn’t that period after lunch when everyone goes off to sleep.”

For Baroness Greengross, a cross-bench peer, it reinforces a conviction she has had for some time now – that many old people simply are not drinking enough, and it is harming their health.

She wants to see tougher regulations in care homes across the UK, so that staff have to make sure residents drink enough.

“We hear a great deal about malnutrition among old people,” she says.

“But we forget about the need for them to have enough water. It shouldn’t be very difficult to change the habits of care staff.”

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/06/23 01:07:08 GMT

The world as toilet

Meanwhile, water is a problem on several planetary levels, due to pollution. The global shortage of water threatens to become catastrophic, and the seas are plagued with permanent plastic pollution which in the center of the Atlantic now is more plentiful than plankton.

Something is amiss in our global world water supply: Striped bass are succumbing to flesh-eating bacteria in Chesapeake Bay; seabird chicks are starving in Hawai‘i; coral reefs are weakening under a growing assault of invisible contaminants and an increasing variety of aquatic animals are showing signs of developmental disorders. Experts and citizens are racing to find clues to the causes—and the solutions. Find out how we all can make a difference.

That’s the teaser for our latest PBS viewing, the dramatically presented Dirty Secrets, a National Geographic special, according to which the seas off Africa are so short of fish that the natives of Ghana have eaten most of the wild life as “bushmeat” and lions and elephants have been replaced with baboons so aggressive they raid the chickens of villagers at night.

Then there is the rise in the sea level which global warming threatens. According to scientists such as Jim Hansen in tonight’s Nova episode of planetary doomsaying on Channel 13, Dimming Sun, our polluting the atmosphere (which now kills a million Indians a year) has actually slowed global warming up till now by sheltering the earth with extra, polluted cloud cover. If we succeed in cleaning up the atmosphere, the rise in sea level may be far greater than we ever imagined – nine feet or even higher, or “several meters per century” (Hansen).

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