Beeing an Atheist

Yesterday afternoon, it was my privilege to teach a class about bees to a group of young after-school students at the Eagle Heights community center on the UW-Madison campus. Ariela and I taught the same class last year, and although she was not able to make it this time, it was just as fun as ever.

First, the kids sat down (give or take) for a half hour discussion about bees, as I showed them pictures of bees doing various things with a PowerPoint presentation. I taught them how to tell a bee from a wasp, I showed the three different bee castes and what they do, and talked about how important bees are and how they make honey. It was not only a visual presentation but also tactile and olfactory experience. When it came to talking about beeswax comb, I passed around a large piece of natural comb I pulled out of one of our hives. The kids got to smell some beeswax candles, and I showed them the tools we use out in the apiary and all about the frames that make up a hive.

When we were done with questions, we adjourned to the community center’s stainless steel (yes I am jealous) kitchen where my pressure-cooker-turned-steam-generator had already been warming up. The steam powers an uncapping knife to slice open the combs and release the honey. As the layer of wax cappings dripped off, the glowing, golden cells of sweetness awed the group – who lined up to take a turn at spinning the frames in the centrifuge. After showing the gathering pool of honey in the centrifuge, I lifted it up onto the counter to let the honey flow out through the filters and into the waiting bucket.

I kept some honey from the last harvest in the bucket, so it had already settled and lost its bubbles. And one by one the kids filled their little 1/2 cup jelly jars from the spigot, excited to have a treat to take home.

Many of the kids wanted to see the bees themselves, which wouldn’t have been possible this time around, but next year, we might be able to arrange that. Ariela and I look forward to doing more classes about bees for kids – it’s great to see and hear their excitement about something that we as beekeepers are perennially privileged to experience, and I always delight in sharing a little knowledge. We were almost going to have a second bee class this year. Almost. Which is what this post is about. Continue reading Beeing an Atheist

The anti-HFCS campaign in Slate

(Hat tip to the Ethicurean.)

Daniel Engber writes in Slate about the campaign against High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Delving deep into not only the science of sweeteners, but also the sociology of foodies, he concludes that HFCS is on the decline not because of what it is, but what meanings are imparted upon it.

Read Dark Sugar.

Here are some of my favorite parts:

There may be other reasons to blame obesity in the United States on high-fructose corn syrup. According to a critique popularized by Michael Pollan, the development of HFCS allowed cheap, subsidized corn to be converted into cheap, subsidized sugar. Food processors plumped up with empty calories, and America got fat. But it’s not clear we’d be consuming any less sweetener if corn weren’t so cheap and plentiful. Since the corn content of HFCS contributes less than 2 percent (PDF) to the cost of producing a can of soda, the effect of the subsidies amounts to just a few pennies in the retail price. And while the price of corn syrup is kept artificially low by farm subsidies, the prices of other sweeteners are artificially inflated by tariffs and quotas on imported raw cane sugar and refined sugar. In other words, if we wiped out all of our subsidies and trade restrictions, we’d still have plenty of cheap sugar around, and processed foods would be just as caloric. As Tom Philpott points out in Grist, you don’t need high-fructose corn syrup to rack up American-style obesity rates: Australia manages similar numbers with a food industry based largely on cane sugar.

And the following paragraph:

The unwholesome reputation of HFCS has no doubt been exacerbated by the general view that it’s less “natural” than other forms of sugar. The notion that anything natural is healthy—and anything artificial is not—seems especially silly when it comes to added sweeteners. If fructose is indeed the problem, we’d do well to avoid the all-natural sweeteners in health-food products and fruit drinks, which often include concentrated apple or pear juices. These are almost two-thirds fructose—and might be significantly worse for your health than HFCS. (Organic, raw agave nectar could be even more dangerous, containing 90 percent fructose.)

That’s one of the things that I’ve been telling people – if the fructose content of HFCS is a problem, then look out for the fruit juices sweetened by concentrates made from apple, grape, and apparently pear. Continue reading The anti-HFCS campaign in Slate

Human-Chimp Hybrids?

As part of the annual Edge Question, Richard Dawkins suggests that Human-Chimp Hybrids will change everything. It’s an interesting article, check it out. It certainly builds upon what I said before about human-chimp combinations.

I’d like to point out that a Human-Chimp ancestor derived from sequence data would not be a human-chimp hybrid in the same sense as a mere mixture of chromosomes, or cells in one organism. But one of the most fascinating points that Dawkins illustrates is that if all human ancestors existed in an afterlife, there would be a chain of possible interbreeding stretching from us to them. Ewww. Continue reading Human-Chimp Hybrids?

Contrast these two debates

Previously, I engaged in a discussion with someone who helped put on an anti-evolution event in Florida. He came on displaying classic trollish behavior, and as soon as I pointed him out on that, he laid out some of his arguments. Following that, I responded to the arguments in kind. The discussion trailed off, and at least one thing was resolved. A couple people chimed into what was primarily a debate between John and myself.

Contrast it to this recent discussion, just finished, between Bonnie (and Walter) at The Ethicurean and myself. As I mentioned previously, Bonnie posted an interview with anti-GE activist and lawyer, Claire Hope Cummings. I immediately responded by pointing out that the interview was riddled with factual errors and one glaring logical fallacy employing a form of linguistic bias. How did this one turn out? Continue reading Contrast these two debates

Did Hume destroy Empricism? Did Kant save science?

John McDonald, the Director of Student Ministries at Westminster Presbyterian Church, has stopped by my blog to drop a few comments. He has been seen previously at the Florida Citizens for Science blog prodding them with taunts and ill-informed criticisms of evolutionary science.

One of the interesting claims that he has been making repeatedly is that David Hume destroyed Empiricism, and that Immanuel Kant saved science from the pickle Hume put it in. This seemed rather odd, considering that Hume was himself an empiricist – he believed that knowledge derived through observation, rather than pure reason (Descartes et al.) was the way to go. Here are John’s comments on this topic on the KCS blog: Continue reading Did Hume destroy Empricism? Did Kant save science?

McCain’s semi-endorsement of Autism Alarmism Redux

A listener just sent me a comment about McCain’s statement on autism over a month ago. I answered it, and here’s my response, reproduced so everyone can benefit! (They were probably responding to my comments in Episode 78)

It sounded to me as if McCain was taking
the same position as you, that vaccines
aren't the source of autism.

My response: Continue reading McCain’s semi-endorsement of Autism Alarmism Redux

Monday Madness: I’m a stalker!

The month of March began just like any other month. I submitted my latest progress report to my advisor, I flew back from Washington D.C., well, ok not every month starts with me flying back from Washington DC. Actually, this was the only month where this was true. Anyway, March began like any other month, but then something odd happened. Call it a feeling that something was not right about my website statistics. A post of mine, called Return of the Science Guy, written two years ago, suddenly had 100 hits and climbing. In terms of a whole month, that’s not too significant for your average recent post, but 100 hits already on the 4th of March, and an old post like that that never got too much attention? Had to be a referral. But from where?

At the same time, there was a similar rise in people linking over from one page, a forum called The Magic Cafe. It would seem that a magician took notice of my take-down of Mentalist Adrian Saint, a stage magician who claimed that he predicted the Super Bowl two years ago using statistics, when it was all just a trick stereo. Intrigued, I took a look at the forum page in question, titled, Why We Should Be Careful.

The forum topic was discussing whether or not they thought open magic forums were a good idea, given that people can look up how tricks are done. It started when one magician did a google search and my website popped up. They talked about code words to use to fool people who aren’t “in the know,” suggested that I’m a boring writer, or defended online magic forums. But then, someone named magicman02 swoops in to attack me personally. They claim they are a friend of Adrian Saint, and that they know something about me:

Hey guys, I know this performer who the article is about. He did a great job with the publicity of this event. This guy who wrote the article is an a**hole and stalked the poor guy. He told numerous times that he didn’t have any supernatural powers, but this guy keep stalking him over and over again. Some people are just a**holes

Hey readers, I know this commenter. The handle, magicman02, belongs to Amir Ghasri, Mentalist Adrian Saint himself. Oh no! He called me a stalker! It’s time for some Monday Madness. Continue reading Monday Madness: I’m a stalker!

99.7 percent confidence

It turns out that 2007 WD5, the asteroid heading toward Mars, will not hit the red planet. (Darn!) Here’s the story on the matter, but what I particularly liked was this part:

The new odds were released one day after astronomers with NASA’s NEO office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., lowered 2007 WD5’s chances of striking Mars from 3.6 percent to 2.5 percent, or about a 1-in-40 chance, on Tuesday. After analyzing results from a new round of observations between Jan. 5 and Jan. 8, scientists now estimate the asteroid will make its closest pass by Mars at a maximum distance of about 16,155 miles (26,000 km).

JPL researchers said that they are 99.7 percent confident that 2007 WD5 will pass no closer than 2,485 miles (4,000 km) from the martian surface.

What you’ve just read was their confidence interval, a statistical concept. Continue reading 99.7 percent confidence

Whole Foods rejects biodegradable plastic?

I was searching around the ‘net this morning looking for some pictures of corn fields for the re-theming of my website (you can check the progress by selecting “damuhan” in the theme switcher on the bottom right), when I came upon an interesting page. A company called Peeled Snacks was celebrating that its fruit and nut products that would soon be available in Whole Foods stores, but were lamenting the fact that Whole Foods was forcing them to use non-biodegradable packaging? How the hell? Continue reading Whole Foods rejects biodegradable plastic?