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The origin of Lufthansa’s blind spot about mental illness among pilots

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The NY Times has an interesting article by Nicholas Kulish and Nicola Clark about how a suicidal man was allowed to pilot a plane containing 149 people. The comments also are interesting. A few of the comments:

Henry Pinsker – Hackensack NJ

We will never understand the problem if we continue to couch discussion in terms of depression and suicide. The individual who straps on an explosive belt ends his life, but his objective is murder. His own death is collateral damage. Anger and paranoia may be important in determining which depressed person (a common problem) will commit mass murder (a rare event). These words do not appear in the article.

Carlo 47 – Italy

As defined by the Herder’s and Fichte’s original nationalist theories, Germans must defend firmly their ideas for love of national culture, otherwise they cannot fulfill the mission which history entrusted them as uncontaminated people.

Germanwings and Lufthansa will therefore never admit free-willingly their full responsibilities.

Not because they don’t know them, but simply because as Germans they cannot fail or admit to have failed by definition and national proudness.

dcl – New Jersey

This has nothing to do with ‘pilot suicide’ and I’m bewildered why the media continues to frame it in this way. 9/11 wasn’t framed as “pilot suicide” and neither should this; and if this man were a Muslim, I have no doubt the media would be talking about terrorism. At the very least, this is mass murder.

Pilots and all human beings deserve support for mental illness, but to conflate this with this mass murder is disingenuous at least and dangerous at worst. I think the motive to do so is complex and involves the desire for easy fixes. If only we had proper mental healthcare and the ability to fire anyone we wanted who had a whiff of mental illness, this wish goes, no pilot would be able to murder hundreds. In this way, by framing this as suicide rather than murder, you shrink the problem to an clinical office visit and a couple of pills and a check mark in a box.

The reality is that you are determined to murder hundreds of innocents that cannot be prevented in a psychologist’s office. Tragically, mass murder can happen anywhere in any number of scenarios.

Better communication is important but there are many depressed or otherwise ill people who are in positions of authority all the time. I think in the urge to find a simplistic ‘solution’ we will ironically cause pilot morale to plummet even more, which in turn will screen out qualified applicants, exactly what we don’t want.

C. Sparks – Nashville, TN

2 quick items:

1) In re: first photo caption— not to be obtuse, but those are not “rescuers”. They are recovery workers. Clearly, this was never a “rescue” operation.

2) What are American profilers, like Cliff Van Sant, concluding, as to mass murder v. suicide? Do the Germans have the equivalent of the BAU or New Scotland Yard, to address this, from a Germanic ethnic/cultural POV?

rude man – Phoenix

Airlines couldn’t care less about their passengers. Leave us sitting for hours stranded on the tarmac with no a/c, overflowing toilets, etc. Continually reducing seat space year after year. Canceling flights at the last minute if they’re not completely filled to sardine capacity. And now refusing to even enforce seat reservations. And you expect them to ensure our safety by spending money on medical background checks? What a laugh.

This situation will continue to deteriorate until the airlines are re-regulated, with fares controlled and high enough to enforce competition for safety, comfort and schedule adherence rather than the lowest price.

Milo – Dublin, Ireland

Pilots are like all of us, subject to flaws. It’s been well known for years that many have problems with alcohol. Long haul layover, where do you hang out? Hotel bar. It’s been brushed under the carpet because the consequences are too difficult to deal with.

The article itself begins:

When Andreas Lubitz sent an email in 2009 seeking reinstatement to Lufthansa’s flight-training program after a months-long absence, he appended what in retrospect was a clear warning signal about his fitness to fly passenger jetliners: an acknowledgment that he had suffered from severe depression.

Lufthansa put the young German back through its standard applicant-screening process and medical tests. But it did not, from everything known about the case so far, pursue any plan to assure that he was getting appropriate treatment. Nor did it impose special monitoring of his condition beyond that required for any pilot who had a flagged health issue.

Instead, Mr. Lubitz haltingly made his way through the training program and ultimately was entrusted as an Airbus A320 co-pilot for Lufthansa’s low-cost subsidiary, Germanwings. Lufthansa was so unaware of the extent of Mr. Lubitz’s psychological troubles that the company and its medical staff had no idea of the tortured drama playing out in his mind, peaking in the two or three months leading up to his final flight. Investigators told The New York Times that he visited a dozen or more doctors as he frantically sought treatment for real or imagined ailments.

In the days just after Mr. Lubitz, 27, flew himself and 149 other people into a French mountainside last month, Lufthansa’s chief executive confidently pronounced that Mr. Lubitz had been “100 percent“ fit to fly, highlighting how little the airline knew of the pilot who shook confidence in the company’s reputation for training and management rigor.

Mr. Lubitz’s journey to the moment when he found himself alone at the controls of Germanwings Flight 9525 from Barcelona to Düsseldorf on March 24 exposes a series of failures and weaknesses at Lufthansa and throughout the industry and its regulators in dealing with mental illness among pilots. And it shows how little the industry and its regulators have done to acknowledge and address the most extreme manifestation of those psychological strains: pilot suicide.

Mr. Lubitz’s increasingly troubled behavior in the period leading up to his final flight raised no alarms at the airline.

Although he had passed his standard medical exam by a flight doctor last August, he had more recent notes from specialists declaring him unfit to work that he never shared with his employer.

In the days before his final flight, he seems to have methodically plotted his own demise and that of his passengers. He researched methods of committing suicide, investigators say, and looked into cockpit security procedures. When he left for work on the morning of March 24, scheduled to fly from Düsseldorf to Barcelona and back, his iPad browser, according to one investigator, still had tabs open about two recent airline disasters. They were the mysterious disappearance last year of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and a Mozambique Airlines flight in 2013 in which the captain was found to have intentionally crashed in Namibia, killing himself, five other crew members and all 27 passengers.

“The airline management, the supervisors, the dispatchers — they do not see the pilots very much,” said André Droog, a former psychologist with the KLM Flight Academy in the Netherlands, who is now president of the European Association for Aviation Psychology. “It puts a lot of responsibility on the individual pilot to be responsible and self-critical and to manage their lives very well.”

Lufthansa had, at most, only a partial sense of the severity of Mr. Lubitz’s condition and how long he had been dealing with it.

Information about Mr. Lubitz’s history remains sketchy, but there is evidence that his psychological problems were well established by the time Lufthansa was training him to fly. Just days after Lufthansa’s chief executive, Carsten Spohr, vouched for Mr. Lubitz’s flightworthiness, German prosecutors disclosed that Mr. Lubitz had exhibited suicidal tendencies and been treated by psychotherapists over a long period before earning his pilot’s license. . .

Continue reading. It’s a lengthy article and worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2015 at 12:57 pm

A Tale of Two Therapies

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At Motherboard Steph Yin describes how therapies are judged: cost-effectiveness of studies—things cheaper to study are favored:

At the turn of the 20th century, Sigmund Freud pioneered modern psychotherapy in the form of psychoanalysis. He believed that talking to a therapist could help patients work through repressed conflicts driving pathologies such as depression, neurosis, and anxiety. But by the late 1900s, psychoanalysis had fallen from favor. Critics accused Freud of relying too heavily on what were seen as unscientific interpretations of patients’ dreams and streams of consciousness.

In the decades since, so-called neo-Freudians or post-Freudians have recast psychoanalytic principles while retaining Freud’s practice of unearthing the past to expose unconscious conflicts. But others have staked out their own ideas, arguing that psychotherapists need a better way to scientifically test their treatments. This new emphasis on experiments—what came to be called “evidence-based psychotherapy”—spawned the notion that some therapies are more scientific than others, a contention that has etched deep divides within the psychology community.

Now expanded access to mental health care under the Affordable Care Act gives the label of evidence potentially even more power. Evidence-based therapy is increasingly sold to patients on multiple fronts, said Jonathan Shedler, a psychologist and professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. He believes designating certain therapies as “evidence-based” can affect what type of research gets funded, how insurance companies justify spending, which treatments physicians recommend, and how the public perceives psychotherapy in general.

One concern that Shedler and others psychologists have is that over-emphasizing neat experiments of standardized treatments detracts from the ultimate goal of psychotherapy: making sure patients get the best intervention, rather than the one that lends itself to scientific research most easily. Rigid, controlled conditions tend to focus on outcomes that are easy to measure, such as symptom relief, instead of abstract benefits such as personal growth and fulfillment, said Shedler.

Some psychologists also believe that the uniform therapies studied in research are too artificial to draw conclusions about real-world therapy. “No two minutes of any human interaction are identical,” said William Stiles, a retired psychologist and professor emeritus of Miami University in Ohio. “This sort of responsiveness is essential clinically, but it wrecks the scientific logic of outcome studies.”

The main approach to claim the scientific mantle is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a strain of modern psychotherapy that diverges hugely from Freud’s ideas. Since then, CBT has become an industry standard and is often the default treatment doctors recommend for conditions such as depression or anxiety disorders. Many celebrities, including J.K. Rowling and the Dalai Lama, have publicly spoken out in support of CBT.

Cognitive behavioral therapy arose from experiments done in the 1960s by Aaron Beck, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. At the time, Beck was a psychoanalyst looking to empirically study his field’s methods. He analyzed the dreams of depressed patients, expecting to find anger and hostility as predicted by Freud. But instead of validating psychoanalysis, Beck concluded that Freud’s theories did not hold. Wanting to design a more empirically testable and effective psychotherapy, Beck developed CBT.

CBT practitioners believe that faulty thinking patterns, or cognitive distortions, cause people to adopt unhealthy behaviors. Rather than looking to the past, CBT providers focus on behavioral changes that patients can make to resolve present-day problems. As a result, CBT is highly instructional: therapists work with patients to set agendas and assign homework. A CBT practitioner might treat a depressed patient by helping them create a plan for waking at a reasonable hour, making a friend at work, or going out during the week.

Meanwhile many other therapists practice a form of psychotherapy resembling Freud’s, called psychodynamic therapy. Psychodynamic therapists rely heavily on individualized relationships they develop with each patient. To treat someone with depression, a psychodynamic therapist might help the patient identify and dissect painful childhood memories. While CBT tends to be short-term, often lasting just eight to twelve sessions, psychodynamic therapies tend to be much longer, often lasting at least forty sessions or a year.

Scientific research on CBT has proliferated from its inception. “CBT evolved from academic learning theory,” said Stiles. “A lot of the early contributors were academic scientists, used to designing research and publishing, and they built a norm of data-gathering and scientific reporting into the treatment paradigm. Psychodynamic therapy grew from clinical practice and hasn’t had that ethos.”

Whereas research on psychodynamic therapy has only come into the picture in the past decade or so, thousands of studies done over the last 40 years have shown that CBT can effectively treat an impressive range of conditions, including depression,anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and addiction.

But many psychodynamic proponents argue that evidence-based assessments might lead psychologists to dismiss potentially useful therapies that simply haven’t been studied enough.

“Absence of evidence doesn’t mean evidence of absence,” said Michael Thase, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Psychologists can’t conclude a therapy doesn’t work just because it lacks supporting evidence, he cautioned. Studies show that CBT works for suicidal patients, for instance, but that doesn’t necessarily mean other therapies don’t also work—their effectiveness just hasn’t been demonstrated yet.

There’s academic incentive to study CBT over psychodynamic therapy, said Colorado’s Shedler, because studying brief therapies allows researchers to perform and publish more experiments. “It would be professional suicide to study therapies that resemble real-world therapy, which might last a year or two,” he said, and this research bias might encourage insurance companies to neglect long-term therapies. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2015 at 9:41 am

Therapy in another language via Skype

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Very interesting article in the NY Times by the therapist Anastasia Piatakhina Giré:

I have a psychotherapy practice in Madrid, but I often receive email requests for counseling from people in other parts of the world, since I also practice psychotherapy online, via Skype, in several languages: English, French, Italian and Russian. Alex’s email looked like spam, and I nearly deleted it. He wrote in an abrupt English, with neither a greeting nor a sign-off. When I read more closely, I saw that he was seeking therapy, though he didn’t say much else. In his brevity I sensed hesitation, a shade of doubt.

Some hide-and-seek is not unusual in the early phase of the therapy process. Asking for help involves a degree of exposure, which can trigger feelings of shame. For those who are wary about psychotherapy, the online format often appeals, as it avoids the physical, face-to-face confrontation of a classical consulting room and offers the option, or at least the illusion, of anonymity.

I wrote Alex back, asking if he might say a little more.

His second email was a bit longer, perhaps because he now trusted that behind my web page there was in fact a real person available to listen. He alluded to his “continuous work on overcoming my homosexuality.”

At this stage, I would usually invite a client to meet me via Skype to talk at greater length. But I was curious (I am only human): Where was Alex from? Something about his brisk, straightforward and slightly aggressive mode of address felt familiar to me, and I suspected he was Russian. But I am Russian, too. Why didn’t he avail himself of our common native language?

I wrote another email to Alex, listing the various languages in which I practiced therapy, and noting that Russian was my first language. It turned out that he was indeed Russian, and lived in a remote city many miles away from Moscow or St. Petersburg. At that point, we switched to speaking Russian. And we set up a time to talk via Skype.

At the beginning of our first Skype session, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2015 at 9:20 am

Common Parasite Can Manipulate Our Behavior

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Gustavo Arrizabalaga and Bill Sullivan report at Scientific American:

Imagine a world without fear. It might be empowering to go about your daily life uninhibited by everyday distresses. You could cross highways with confidence, take on all kinds of daredevilry and watch horror flicks without flinching. Yet consider the prospect a little more deeply, and the possibilities become darker, even deadly. Our fears, after all, can protect us.

The basic aversion that a mouse has for a cat, for instance, keeps the rodent out of death’s jaws. But unfortunately for mice everywhere, there is a second enemy with which to contend, one that may prevent them from experiencing that fear in the first place. A unicellular organism (a protozoan), Toxoplasma gondii, can override a rodent’s most basic survival instincts. The result is a rodent that does not race away from a cat but is instead strangely attracted to it.

Toxoplasma‘s reach extends far beyond the world of cat and mouse. It may have a special relationship with rodent and feline hosts, but this parasite also infects the brains of billions of animals on land, at sea and in the air. Humans are no exception. Worldwide, scientists estimate that as many as three billion people may be carrying Toxoplasma. In the U.S., there is a one-in-five chance that Toxoplasma parasites are lodged in your neural circuits, and infection rates are as high as 95 percent in other countries.

For most people, this infection appears asymptomatic, but recent evidence shows that Toxoplasma actively remodels the molecular landscape of mammalian brain cells. Now some researchers have begun to speculate that this tiny single-celled organism may be tweaking human health and personalities in stealthy, subtle ways.

What the cat dragged in
Researchers first discovered T. gondii in 1908, and by the end of the 20th century they had a good grasp on how people could pick up this parasite. The story starts with cats: for reasons that scientists have yet to unravel, Toxoplasma can sexually reproduce only in the feline gut. The parasite breeds within its feline host and is released from the feline’s tail end. Cats are such obsessive groomers that it is rarely found in their fur. Instead people can become infected from kitty litter or by ingesting it in contaminated water or food.

Within a new host the parasite begins dividing asexually and spreading throughout the host’s body. During this initial stage of the infection, Toxoplasma can cause the disease toxoplasmosis in immunocompromised or otherwise susceptible hosts, leading to extensive tissue damage. Pregnant women are particularly at risk. If a woman is infected with Toxoplasma for the first time during pregnancy, the parasite may invade the developing fetus, cutting through tissues and organs as it spreads from cell to cell. Infection early in pregnancy can result in miscarriage or birth defects.

In otherwise healthy individuals, however, the only symptoms during this period are brief, flulike discomforts such as chills, fever and body ache. Within days the immune system gets the parasite under control, and Toxoplasma retreats into a dormant state. It conceals itself within a hardened wall in the host’s cells, a structure called a tissue cyst.

This stage of the infection has no other discernible symptoms, but individuals with dormant infections who develop compromised immune systems—because of AIDS, an organ transplant or chemotherapy—may experience severe complications. With the body’s defense systems weakened, Toxoplasma can reactivate and grow uncontrollably.

Once infected, a person will remain a carrier for life. Our immune system is apparently incapable of eliminating the tissue cysts, nor can any known drug. Nevertheless, the infection, detectable with a blood test, has long been viewed as relatively benign. After all, many people carry this parasite with no obvious ill effects. Only recently have scientists begun reexamining this belief.

Eat me, Mr. Kitty
In the 1980s researchers noticed unusual behaviors in Toxoplasma-infected mice. The rodents became hyperactive and groomed less. In 1994 epidemiologist Joanne Webster, then at the University of Oxford, observed that rats harboring tissue cysts behaved differently from their uninfected counterparts. Instead of fleeing from cats, the infected rodents moved toward them—making them easier prey.

Webster suspected that this “fatal feline attraction,” as she called it, was a crafty way for the parasite to get back into a cat’s belly to complete the sexual stage of its life cycle. In the years to follow, this idea gained ground: a large body of work now shows that the parasite can indeed manipulate rodents’ behavior by altering neural activity and gene expression.

Several well-controlled experiments have shown that although uninfected rodents avoid areas that have been infused with cat stench, infected rodents do not seem to mind. Even more bizarre, in 2011 neuroendocrinologist Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University, molecular biologist Ajai Vyas of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and their colleagues found that—at least in terms of neural activity—infected rats appeared to be sexually attracted to cat scent.

In the mammalian brain, the “defensive” and “reproductive” neuronal pathways run in parallel. These pathways start at the olfactory bulb, involved in odor detection, and ter-minate at the limbic system, an area critical to basic reactions such as fear and arousal. Their proximity may partially explain how the parasite manipulates rodent behavior. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2015 at 2:26 pm

Teaching evolution at closed minds

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Fascinating article by James Krupa in Orion magazine:

i’m often asked what I do for a living. My answer, that I am a professor at the University of Kentucky, inevitably prompts a second question: “What do you teach?” Responding to such a question should be easy and invite polite conversation, but I usually brace for a negative reaction. At least half the time the person flinches with disapproval when I answer “evolution,” and often the conversation simply terminates once the “e-word” has been spoken. Occasionally, someone will retort: “But there is no evidence for evolution.” Or insist: “It’s just a theory, so why teach it?”

At this point I should walk away, but the educator in me can’t. I generally take the bait, explaining that evolution is an established fact and the foundation of all biology. If in a feisty mood, I’ll leave them with this caution: the fewer who understand evolution, the more who will die. Sometimes, when a person is still keen to prove me wrong, I’m more than happy to share with him an avalanche of evidence demonstrating I’m not.

Some colleagues ask why I bother, as if I’m the one who’s the provocateur. I remind them that evolution is the foundation of our science, and we simply can’t shy away from explaining it. We don’t avoid using the “g-word” when talking about gravitational theory, nor do we avoid the “c-word” when talking about cell theory. So why avoid talking about evolution, let alone defending it? After all, as a biologist, the mission of advancing evolution education is the most important aspect of my job.

TO TEACH EVOLUTION at the University of Kentucky is to teach at an institution steeped in the history of defending evolution education. The first effort to pass an anti-evolution law (led by William Jennings Bryan) happened in Kentucky in 1921. It proposed making the teaching of evolution illegal. The university’s president at that time, Frank McVey, saw this bill as a threat to academic freedom. Three faculty members—William Funkhouser, a zoologist; Arthur Miller, a geologist who taught evolution; and Glanville Terrell, a philosopher—joined McVey in the battle to prevent the bill from becoming law. They put their jobs on the line. Through their efforts, the anti-evolution bill was defeated by a forty-two to forty-one vote in the state legislature. Consequently, the movement turned its attention toward Tennessee.

John Thomas Scopes was a student at the University of Kentucky then and watched the efforts of his three favorite teachers and President McVey. The reason the “Scopes Monkey Trial” occurred several years later in Dayton, Tennessee—where Scopes was a substitute teacher and volunteered to be prosecuted—was in good part due to the influence of his mentors, particularly Funkhouser. As Scopes writes in his memoir, Center of the Storm: “Teachers rather than subject matter rekindled my interest in science. Dr. Funkhouser . . . was a man without airs [who] taught zoology so flawlessly that there was no need to cram for the final examination; at the end of the term there was a thorough, fundamental grasp of the subject in bold relief in the student’s mind, where Funkhouser had left it.”

I was originally reluctant to take my job at the university when offered it twenty years ago. It required teaching three sections of non-majors biology classes, with three hundred students per section, and as many as eighteen hundred students each year. I wasn’t particularly keen on lecturing to an auditorium of students whose interest in biology was questionable given that the class was a freshman requirement.

Then I heard an interview with the renowned evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson in which he addressed why, as a senior professor—and one of the most famous biologists in the world—he continued to teach non-majors biology at Harvard. Wilson explained that non-majors biology is the most important science class that one could teach. He felt many of the future leaders of this nation would take the class, and that this was the last chance to convey to them an appreciation for biology and science. Moved by Wilson’s words, and with the knowledge that William Funkhouser once held the job I was now contemplating, I accepted the position. The need to do well was unnerving, however, considering that if I failed as a teacher, a future Scopes might leave my class uninspired.

I realized early on that many instructors teach introductory biology classes incorrectly. Too often evolution is the last section to be taught, an autonomous unit at the end of the semester. I quickly came to the conclusion that, since evolution is the foundation upon which all biology rests, it should be taught at the beginning of a course, and as a recurring theme throughout the semester. As the renowned geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky said: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” In other words, how else can we explain why the DNA of chimps and humans is nearly 99 percent identical, and that the blood and muscle proteins of chimps and humans are nearly identical as well? Why are these same proteins slightly less similar to gorillas and orangu­tans, while much less similar to goldfish? Only evolution can shed light on these questions: we humans are great apes; we and the other great apes (gibbons, chimps, gorillas, bonobos, and orangutans) all evolved from a common ancestor.

Soon, every topic and lecture in my class was built on an evolutionary foundation and explained from an evolutionary perspective. My basic biology for non-majors became evolution for non-majors. It didn’t take long before I started to hear from a vocal minority of students who strongly objected: “I am very offended by your lectures on evolution! Those who believe in creation are not ignorant of science! You had no right to try and force evolution on us. Your job was to teach it as a theory and not as a fact that all smart people believe in!!” And: “Evolution is not a proven fact. It should not be taught as if it is. It cannot be observed in any quantitative form and, therefore, isn’t really science.”

We live in a nation where public acceptance of evolution is the second lowest of thirty-four developed countries, just ahead of Turkey. Roughly half of Americans reject some aspect of evolution, believe the earth is less than ten thousand years old, and that humans coexisted with dinosaurs. Where I live, many believe evolution to be synonymous with atheism, and there are those who strongly feel I am teaching heresy to thousands of students. A local pastor, whom I’ve never met, wrote an article in The University Christian complaining that, not only was I teaching evolution and ignoring creationism, I was teaching it as a non-Christian, alternative religion.

There are students who enroll in my courses and already accept evolution. Although not yet particularly knowledgeable on the subject, they are eager to learn more. Then there are the students whose minds are already sealed shut to the possibility that evolution exists, but need to take my class to fulfill a college requirement. And then there are the students who have no opinion one way or the other but are open-minded. These are the students I most hope to reach by presenting them with convincing and overwhelming evidence without offending or alienating them.

Some students take offense very easily. . .

Continue reading.

And Phil Plait in Slate offers some answers to questions asked by creationists:

After writing yesterday about the now-famous/infamous debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, I don’t want to make this blog all creationism all the time, but indulge me this one more time, if you will. On BuzzFeed, there is a clever listicle that is a collection of 22 photos showing creationists holding up questions they have for people who “believe” in evolution.

These questions are fairly typically asked when evolution is questioned by creationists. Some are philosophical, and fun to think about, while others show a profound misunderstanding of how science works, and specifically what evolution is. I have found that most creationists who attack evolution have been taught about it by other creationists, so they really don’t understand what it is or how it works, instead they have a straw-man idea of it.

Because of this, it’s worth exploring and answering the questions presented. Some could be simply answered yes or no, but I’m all about going a bit deeper. With 22 questions I won’t go too deep, but if you have these questions yourself, or have been asked them, I hope this helps.

I’ll repeat the question below, and give my answers.

1) “Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?”

I’m not Bill, but I’d say yes, he is. More than just giving them facts to memorize, he is showing them how science works. Not only that, his clear love and enthusiasm for science is infectious, and that to me is his greatest gift.

2) “Are you scared of a Divine Creator?”

No. In fact, if there is a Judeo-Christian god, that would have fascinating implications for much of what we scientists study, and would be a rich vein to mine. Perhaps a more pertinent question is, “Are you scared there might not be a Divine Creator?” There is more room for a god in science than there is for no god in religious faith.

3) “Is it completely illogical that the Earth was created mature? i.e. trees created with rings … Adam created as an adult ….”

It might be internally consistent, even logical, but a bit of a stretch. After all, we can posit that God created the Universe last Thursday, looking exactly as it is, with all evidence pointing to it being old and your memories implanted such that you think you’re older than a mere few days. Consistent, sure, but plausible? Not really.

4) “Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove evolution?” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2015 at 3:26 pm

How Thatcher’s Government Covered Up a VIP Pedophile Ring

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Given the profound psychological harm pedophiles wreak on children, there really should be some serious punishment handed out. Nico Hines reports at The Daily Beast:

A newspaper editor was handed startling evidence that Britain’s top law enforcement official knew there was a VIP pedophile network in Westminster, at the heart of the British government. What happened next in the summer of 1984 helps to explain how shocking allegations of rape and murder against some of the country’s most powerful men went unchecked for decades.

Less than 24 hours after starting to inquire about the dossier presented to him by a senior Labour Party politician, the editor was confronted in his office by a furious member of parliament who threatened him and demanded the documents. “He was frothing at the mouth and really shouting and spitting in my face,” Don Hale told The Daily Beast. “He was straight at me like a raging lion; he was ready to knock me through the wall.”

Despite the MP’s explosive intervention, Hale refused to hand over the papers which appeared to show that Leon Brittan, Margaret Thatcher’s Home Secretary, was fully aware of a pedophile network that included top politicians.

The editor’s resistance was futile; the following morning, police officers from the counter-terror and intelligence unit known as Special Branch burst into the newspaper office, seized the material and threatened to have Hale arrested if he ever reported what had been found.

More than 30 years later, an inquiry into allegations of child sex abuse rings, murder, and cover-ups has been launched by the British government after Scotland Yard detectives said they believed statements by victims who claimed they were systematically abused as young boys at sex abuse parties attended by judges, politicians, intelligence officers, and staff at the royal palaces.

In 1983, a controversial MP, Geoffrey Dickens, had made a series of incendiary claims about active pedophiles in the corridors of power. He handed a file containing the names of alleged perpetrators to Leon Brittan; publicly the authorities shrugged off the claims and no trial or prosecution would follow. The dossier mysteriously disappeared.

Decades later, Brittan claimed he had simply handed the papers to his subordinates to investigate and heard no more about it. Last year, he was forced to clarify his statement when it emerged that he had later written to Dickens to say the initial investigation had been deemed “worth pursuing” by investigators.

It is now claimed that confidential Home Office papers collated by Baroness Castle of Blackburn and passed to Don Hale, editor of her local newspaper, the Bury Messenger, claimed that Brittan had played an active role in overseeing the investigation into the pedophile network. “Leon Brittan was mentioned in everything you picked up, his fingerprints were over everything, he was the instigator,” Hale said. “He really had his finger on the pulse, he wanted to know everything about it; all the documents were cc’d back to Leon Brittan or it was an instruction directly from Leon Brittan.”

Brittan, a protégé of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, had been promoted to Home Secretary at the age of 43, making him the youngest person to preside over Britain’s domestic law enforcement and national security apparatus since Winston Churchill before the First World War.

Brittan, who died in January, has been accused of raping a woman and sexually abusing boys. He denied the allegations and was never charged, although police investigations have continued after his death. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 March 2015 at 3:06 pm

Red Barns and White Barns: Why Rural Crime Skyrocketed in the Late 1800s

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Fascinating post by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones.

Here’s a fascinating little anecdote about lead and crime from a recent paper by Rick Nevin. It shouldn’t be taken as proof of anything, but it’s certainly an intriguing little historical tidbit about the association between lead exposure and increases in crime rates.

Here’s the background. Homicides increased dramatically between 1900-11, but most of that appears to be the result of increased rural homicides, not urban homicides. If lead exposure is part of the reason, it would mean that rural areas were exposed to increasing levels of lead about 20 years earlier, around 1880 or so. But why? Nevin suggests that the answer to this question starts with another question: Why are barns red? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2015 at 2:35 pm


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