March 30 2009

Is PETA really euthanizing most of its shelter animals? Yes.

This image doesn’t really have anything to do with this story, but I made it a while ago and I think it’s funny.

Here’s one I heard about a few months ago, but didn’t think about much until it popped up again today on Digg, as most things do.

As the story goes, PETA (the animal rights group) euthanized 95% of all the animals it took in during 2008. Wow. But, is it true?

While researching, I quickly found my way to a site called “PETA Kills Animals”, which seems to be the source of this claim. They have the data they used all wrapped up in a nice PDF file and a table of data showing the exact numbers, from 1998 to 2008. And yes, the data shows, without a doubt, that PETA is euthanizing huge numbers of animals. Case closed, I’ll share the site on Facebook to make myself feel good. Right?

However, someone on Digg doubted the numbers, and claimed the numbers were much lower. Another poster chimed in with links to the data directly from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. (PETA’s headquarters are in Virginia.) That site has PETA’s data from 2004-2007, so that’s the date range I’ll be sticking with for the rest of this article.

I looked at the exact numbers, and at first glance something seemed wrong. In 2007, PETA took in 8362 animals, and euthanized 1815 of them. That’s definitely not 95%; it’s 22%. Huh?

Continue Reading

March 21 2009

Energize your mind with new-age bullshit

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When I started this blog, I thought I’d be writing primarily about cool science news items, and shedding light on the latest scams, and maybe even writing about politics and religion if I had time. Well, as you can see by the Categories box to the right, I had that completely backwards. The problem is that I really don’t have much to contribute to a scientific news item, besides “this is cool”.

However, I think I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying pseudoscientific claptrap when I see it, and this certainly qualifies for that description:

If you watched that video, you’re probably either thinking “that’s obvious nonsense” or “wow, maybe I should start doing that”. Actually, you’re probably also thinking “that’s the worst reporting I’ve ever seen” and I agree with you there.

A classic joke among us skeptics goes something like this:

Q: “What do you call alternative medicine that actually works?” A: “Medicine.”

A lot of people are inclined to believe in alternative medicine, because they see it as a viable alternative to modern medicine. What many people don’t realize is that there’s really no such thing as “alternative medicine”. There’s medicine, and then there’s unproven and disproven treatments. This “Superbrain Yoga®” seems to be a mixture of both unproven and disproven treatments. Continue Reading

March 4 2009

Richard Dawkins returns

Richard Dawkins, biologist, retired Oxford professor, writer, and the most well-known atheist in the world, is back in Minnesota to do a lecture at the U of M. That’s today, so obviously I’m not writing this to break the news. In fact, I’ll be there tonight; I bought my ticket the day it was announced. I’ll also probably write about it here in the next few days.

But anyway, I wanted to point to an interview he did just this morning on MPR (Minnesota Public Radio, the local branch of NPR) that I think was pretty good.

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One thing I’ve noticed about Dawkins, and I’ve heard/watched many of his interviews, debates, and discussions online, is that he sounds almost exactly the same regardless of his mood. He often sounds irritated, and he may very well be, but I think that’s mostly just the way he talks. He’s also very careful with what he says, and for good reason: there are lots of people out there who are looking for him to slip up somehow so they can take his words out of context.

I think the best way to hear the “real” Dawkins is to listen to his audiobooks. I’ve read both The God Delusion and The Ancestor’s Tale, and both via audiobook, and he’s much more relaxed in those. You get a much better sense of the wonder he feels about science, and he doesn’t come off as the angry fundamentalist atheist that many of his opponents seem to think he is.

Of course, what he’s talking about goes against what many people believe, and Dawkins doesn’t sugar-coat anything.