Friday, October 31, 2008

More fun with internists

What is human life? The first third a good time; the rest remembering about it.

--Mark Twain

I just came back from the doctor and boy are my arms tired!

Well, one arm. It's sore.

I stopped being a dumbass and got a flu shot.

I also discussed the results of my bloodwork with my doctor. My internist is a professional which means he didn't jump up and down and make AAAOOOGAH! noises at me. Instead, he said, "Yeah, your triglycerides are really high. You're gonna have to make some changes."

Good news: I'm not diabetic and I don't have kidney disease.

Bad news: I can never do anything fun again as long as I live.

Basically, I've got a bad case of "Being Almost 40". My metabolism has changed and I'm paying for my earlier wicked ways. So, it's back to:

  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Cutting sweets (nearly) completely out of my diet
  • Pretending I don't like eggs or ice cream
  • Imagining that eating fresh fruit is like a rock concert on the moon with fireworks and trained sharks and the cast of Firefly.

OK, it's not all that bad. My doctor said, "I've got a big book with lots of details and pages but here's the one I give to guys." He handed me a single sheet of paper. One side lists the foods I am 'strongly encouraged' to eat. The other one lists the ones I should avoid. It's all common-sense stuff for the most part but there are some things I wasn't aware of. Like the fact that avocados are Satan's death fruits.

So, I'll follow the instructions and get exercise and do all the stuff you're supposed to do and when I go back in a couple of months I'll let you know about my progress.

A question to any doctors reading this: When you make recommendations to your patients, what are your expectations that they will follow them?

I plan to stick to the new diet because the number on that paper scared the hell out of me. I'll keep you posted as to how I'm doing.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Autism Links

If you've been reading this blog much you've noticed that Autism Awareness is kind of a big deal for me. If you're just joining, "Hi! Welcome aboard. Autism Awareness is kind of a big deal for me."

Here are some links to help spread the word:

Dave Angel from the Parenting Asperger's blog has some excellent advice for teens who want to explain Asperger's to their friends.

Casdok describes herself as a "single parent of C a 20 year old non verbal autistic young man". Her blog Mother of Shrek contains beautiful, honest writing about what that entails. She also runs the Faces of Autism blog which is comprised of pictures of autistic people (mostly kids) from all over the world.

I can't pick a single post from A Life Less Ordinary? because they're all good. Emily's posts are well-written, slices-of-life with which I identify. Her experiences are a lot like mine.

Then there's Hammie. Her blog is so much fun to read. One of my favorite things she's done is her series which interprets AA's twelve-step program in terms of being the parent of an autistic child.

John Elder Robinson, the author of Look Me In The Eye talks about his trip to the TMS lab.

A Photon in the Darkness has a post called Secretin Rises from the Grave just in time for Halloween.

Orac keeps bringing the truth with posts such as David Kirby admits that mercury in vaccines is no longer the smoking gun.

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Just a quick note which I'm sure that my threes of readers in the U.S. don't need but just in case:

Vote early or ON ELECTION DAY because voting is never extended past election day.

Thank you.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Vogue Bible

Scandanavians are not known for being heavily religous but some of the ones who are kinda creep me out. Swedish advertising executive Dag Soderberg has put out The Illuminated Bible: The Book.
WARNING: The official site begins playing a video upon loading.

Here's an article with some pictures from the tome which features Angelina Jolie, Martin Luther King Jr., A Guy Who Is On Fire, and some weird picture of a person breaking the necks of dead birds. Or something.

Well, I guess it makes as much sense as the one without the pictures. Though, it does look like it should be filled with perfume ads and subscription cards.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Debunkings In The News

50 Students Agree: Astrology is crap. A Radford University physics professor and fifty students are going to conduct an experiment using a gravity meter to show that there is no scientific basis for astrology.

It's old news by now but Talking Points Memo has the most concise piece I've seen about how the Ashley Todd attack was a hoax. More information about Ashley Todd can be found on the internet.

Elyse from Skepchick posts a touching, personal account of how she stopped believing in psychics.

Popular Mechanics discusses the way the events in a recent episode of Fringe would work in the real-world (spoiler alert: they wouldn't). And they quote Bob Park who is one of my favorite scientists ever.

Speaking of favorites, Scientific American is my favorite science publication ever. Their online version has an article about researchers exploring what happens in the brain to convince someone they're seeing ghosts. This is excellent science reporting. Adam Marcus, the article's author, talks to (gasp!) more than one source.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Skepticblog and The Skeptologists

The cast and producers of The Skeptologists, a pilot skeptical reality show, have put together a blog called Skepticblog.

It should be pretty awesome because the participants are a supergroup of skeptical bloggers. They're like the Power Station or Temple of the Dog for critical thinkers!

Check 'em out:

  • Brian Dunning
  • Kirsten Sanford
  • Mark Edward
  • Michael Shermer
  • Phil Plait
  • Ryan Johnson
  • Steven Novella
  • Yau-Man Chan

I mean Damn!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Consumer Health Digest

Most of you probably already know about Consumer Health Digest but it is such a valuable resource I want to help spread the word.

They put out a newsletter via email which is edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by the NCAHF and Quackwatch. It "summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; other news items; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; research tips; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making".

Subscribe here!

Consumer Health Digest Archives.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Atheist Meme

I read Intrinsically Knotted's answers to the Atheist Meme that's going around and, boy, is she a tough act to follow. Here are mine:

Can You Remember The Day That You Officially Became An Atheist?
I can't point to a specific day but it happened a few months after my son was born. My wife and I were Wiccans and we had discussed raising our son in the same tradition. Our committment to the rituals and practices had been waning for a while and the more we thought about it, raising our son in any sort of religion made us feel like we were lying to him. Read my wife's detailed account.

Do you remember the day you officially became an agnostic?
On this point, there was something closer to a flash of "Hey! I'm an agnostic". Actually calling myself an agnostic was a gradual process that started when I went to college. Before I became a Wiccan I was a Christian. An Episcopalian, to be precise. I even went to a college with strong ties to the Episcopal church. However, it was not a university which preached at students. There is a seminary there but the undergraduate college is not a religous school. Sewanee taught me to think.

I had been an acolyte (that's "altar boy" in Catholic-ese) at my local church while I was in high-school and I was reasonably observant (I was baptized at 13 and I went through confirmation around the same time) but my belief had not been strong for years. The combination of a good public school education, being on my own for the first time ever, and learning how to think about things rather than blindly accepting them led to my letting go of Christianity.

I remember walking in front of Sewanee's beautiful chapel one day and saying, "I do not accept Jesus Christ as my lord and savior". That was a wonderfully freeing moment because it meant I no longer believed in Hell or any sort of punishment for not playing by the rules of the church. I filled that gap with paganism shortly after graduating from college but that was just the next step towards my atheism. See the answer to my first question for how that went.

How about the last time you spoke or prayed to God with actual thought that someone was listening?
That would have been some time during high school but I cant remember the year. Perhaps when I was around 16 or 17. I remember praying during church services and I know my belief that there was an entity on the other end waned but, again, it was a gradual process.

This is a good time to mention that, for me, prayer was replaced by 'positive visualizations' and other new-age substitutes. So, even though I didn't believe that God was going to help me, what I was doing was functionally the same as prayer. Then, when I became a Wiccan, I believed that 'The Universe' was going to respond to my entreaties.

I've let go of all that.

Did anger towards God or religion help cause you to be an atheist or agnostic?
No, I was never angry about religion. It just didn't have a place in my life anymore. I'm still not angry about religion even if certain of its practitioners piss me off. People can believe what they want as long as it doesn't hurt others. Also, don't try to convert me. I've been there and done that.

Here is a good one: Were you agnostic towards ghosts, even after you became an atheist?
I stopped believing in ghosts before I stopped believing in God.

Do you want to be wrong?

Not at all.

I will be unpleasantly surprised if I discover that all of the things we have done on this planet (for good or ill) aren't our own doing. All the beauty and wonder and science is ours, damnit. We did this. There is no Satan. Some people are just assholes. There is no God. Some people are just altruistic and those gorgeous mountains grew out of natural geologic processes.

I won't tag anyone in particular but if you're reading this and you want to answer the question, please do! I like reading other people's stories. If you post about this, please let me know in my comments.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mind Links - Advertising and Religion

Actual, factual content is on the way but until then, enjoy these two stories from Mind Hacks:

Towards a neuropsychology of religion focuses on Pascal Boyer's essay in Nature in which he explores the cognitive restraints on religion and how the need for spiritual belief may have come from the way our brains evolved.

Then they discuss advertising statistics and how they're all a load of crap. Millie would be proud.

EDIT: This just in: Dumbass Creationists try to use neuroscience to prove that souls exist.


98th Skeptic's Circle

The 98th edition of the Skeptic's Circle is up and, holy crap!, I'm on it.

I'm in some good company. Check out all the entries. It's like getting a woo shot.

Many thanks to The Uncredible Hallq for including my last-minute submission.

EDIT: Corrected the edition number.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Another lesson from Millie

Homologous Trend's spokesmodel Millie is back with a think-piece about advertising and consumerism.

Thanks, Millie, for highlighting the hypocrisy rampant in celebrity endorsements. Caveat emptor, folks.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Please Keep Your Hands Inside The IEP At All Times

The roller coaster metaphor isn't just for things directly involving raising B. It applies on a macro scale, too.

Yesterday's IEP meeting went much better than the last one. The primary reason for this was the attendance of the county Autism Specialist. We love her. Once she arrived she asked questions that no one else in the room had considered.

Such as, "Where was he when the incident occured?".

We know B has problems with transitions from one part of the building to another and we know that P.E. is a stressful class for him. But it took the awesome Autism Expert to point out the fact that he was standing in line waiting to go into P.E. and that was probably a major factor.

Also, the horrible counselor turns out to not be as horrible as we thought.

Everybody in the meeting was on the same page and we added some behavioral items to his IEP along with ways to reinforce the behaviors both negatively and positively.

B is smart and very high-functioning in so many ways that it is often easy to forget that he simply doesn't make certain connections. Yet. So, it is surprising when he freaks out about something or can't calm down after a reasonable amount of time because he spends most of his day looking and acting like the neurotypical kids.

I'm going to push for the Autism Specialist to be at all of our IEP meetings from now on. She and his special-ed teacher work well together and we need her on his team. She stressed the need for the reinforcers to be consistent and immediate and she had the best, most practical advice anyone has provided at one of these things.

We're going to have to change the way we do some things at home and I might post about that later. For now, suffice it to say that we are coordinating with the teachers and other staff members at B's school to make sure he gets everything he needs.

. .

Skeptical Parent Crossing #1


The first issue of Skeptical Parent Crossing is up! It's a new blog carnival begun by Blake, the Domestic Father and there is some great stuff over there.

Reading the posts in the carnival has made me even more sure than I was before that raising my child to the best of my ability requires a combination of evaluating the evidence and observing his specific behavior to see what works for him. Every child is different and that goes double when it's your own kid.

Check it out even if you don't have kids. The links are full of good advice and entertaining stories that can be applied to all sorts of situations. And if you have a post you'd like to submit for the next issue, send it here by November 14th.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Revenge of Homologous Links

Stephen Geddes' exhibition at the Sandra Small Gallery in Covington, KY will feature a piece called "Jurassic Ark," (pictured to the left). It just so happens that it's down the road from the creation museum. Go, Stephen!

I've been meaning to link to What's the Harm? for a while now. If you've ever had anyone ask you what the harm could be in believing in some bit of woo-woo or another, point them to this site.

Peter Lipson and Orac have lots to say about Jenny McCarthy and Dr. Jay. No, not the awesome basketball player, the lame anti-vaccination apologist.

Finally: Maybe Jesus was a snail.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Stop Jenny McCarthy

Stop Jenny McCarthy is a new site which seeks to, well, stop Jenny McCarthy. "Stop her from what?: you may ask. Check out Friday's post for a hint.

Thanks to Skeptico for mentioning this on his site.

EDIT: Liz Ditz from I Speak of Dreams is compiling this awesome list of anti-Jenny resources as well as a bunch of anti-vaccination organizations and their boards of directors. Go, Liz!

EDIT #2: Kimball Atwood provides even more information about the AMAB. The AMAB is the fake certification board that has Mrs. Michigan on it.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Focus on the Real Problem

I left a comment on this post by the awesome Emily of A Life Less Ordinary?. My comment, which contained an agreement with someone else's, made it clear that I am not fond of Jenny McCarthy and her anti-vaccination crusade.

This caused someone to reply with the following:

Why rip into Jenny? You may disagree with her beliefs about the cause of autism and the best way to treat it but she is a loving mother who works tirelessly for her child and others like him. She doesn't spew hate for innocent children and their distressed parents.

Why not keep the focus on the real problem: unfunny so-called comedians who say cruel and hurtful things about disabled children.

I say 'someone' because this brave soul remained anonymous. I am responding to this comment here because I don't want to crap up Emily's comment thread with an argument. Also, this response is a little long.

Let's look at the comment:

I agree with the first paragraph almost entirely. I have no reason to believe that Ms. McCarthy is not a "loving mother who works tirelessly for her child and others like him". And I have seen no evidence that she has spewed hate.

The second paragraph, however. Hoo, boy! Dennis Leary is the "real problem"?

No, I don't think so.

Dennis Leary's words will piss some people off (they sure made me livid) but they won't cause anyone physical harm. Anti-vaccination campaigns led by people such as Jenny McCarthy and Andrew Wakefield, on the other hand, have harmed innocent children.

There is no scientific evidence that the MMR vaccine causes autism. The fear that these people have spread has driven down vaccination rates and increased cases of measles in both the UK and the US. This is unconscionable.

Also, people searching for a cure for autism are unwittingly harming their children and there are lots of doctors who are taking advantage of the fear to rake in tons of money.

I am the father of an autistic child and I understand the helplessness and fear that goes with it. I love my son more than words can express which is why I would never do anything to harm him. I don't think Jenny McCarthy is a bad mother but I do think that she is horribly misguided and that she is unintentionally doing great harm to all kinds of children. Some of the doctors who subject children to harmful treatments are well-meaning but that does not mitigate the harm.

So, "Anonymous", that is why I'm ripping into Jenny. I will take a thousand ignorant assholes like Dennis Leary over a single loving mother who is doing real, physical harm.

. .

Son of Homologous Links

Wow. Dennis Leary really IS an asshole.

Hey, creationists! I got your transitional fossil right here!

National Geographic Online has a spread of the winners of the 2008 Small World Photomicrography Competition. Spectacular!

I don't usually get political here but since John McCain is pandering to the anti-vaccination crowd, I have to say that's one more reason not to vote for him.

Finally, The Friendly Atheist posts a list of atheist and secular organizations that could use donations along with a sickening list of how much the top Religious Right organizations rake in.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

And the Roller Coaster Continues

Yesterday morning, my wife came home with a cute story about B. She was taking him to his kindergarten classroom when he ran across a group of 4th-graders. He impressed the older kids with his spelling and reading abilities and he made them laugh when he called one of them 'Airplane' because he thought the other child's name sounded like that. Soon, they were all saying, "Give me a nickname, too!" He totally charmed them.

Things have been up and down all week. His latest IEP has met with mixed success but it's clear that he is behaving better in the CBIP classroom than he is in Gen-ed.

I was on a sort of high after the cute story when I got a call from my wife at work well before the end of the school day. I knew something was wrong when I heard B in the background and realized the call was coming from our house. B was sent home today for something I'm not going to go into but he's been suspended until next Monday when there will be another IEP meeting.

Friday is picture day at his school so he'll miss that.

He is so smart and creative and charming and high-functioning in so many ways but he still doesn't understand the difference between major and minor infractions of rules. I don't know what to do.

The principal at his school is wonderful. She just called a few minutes ago to tell us what the policies and procedures are and to let us know what to expect. The horrible counselor continues to be horrible. I am not looking forward to seeing her at the meeting.

We'll get through this but it doesn't make it suck less. What does help is that I know he's a wonderful boy and that he will eventually learn what to do and when to do it. I just want to make things as easy for him as possible until then.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Homologous Trend Gets a Mascot!

Over on Noetic Concordance I just spent a fair bit of time making fun of Millie the Model. But it is important that I point out the good that Millie has done for the skeptic community:

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Homologous Trend's new spokesmodel. Millie!

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Skeptrack at Hypericon

I am the vice-chair for a sci-fi/gaming convention in Nashville, TN called Hypericon. We are looking to set up a programming track similar to DragonCon's SkepTrack and we need your help.

If you would like to come to our con and talk about critical-thinking-type stuff, email me at Gaming AT Hypericon DOT Info and we'll work something out. The con isn't until next June so we've got plenty of time to get you set up.

We are also looking for people to talk about science. Any kind of science. The lovely and talented Rob Knop gives a couple of talks each year and they are awesome. Come join him in the awesome.

The picture in this post is the promotional art for Hypericon 2008, painted by my awesome wife!


Sunday, October 12, 2008

How To Argue With A Creationist and other links

The radically awesome Dr. Steve Novella of The Rogue's Gallery and Science-Based Medicine (which just added two new bloggers) tears apart three lame arguments against evolution.

(See also: How to argue with a creationist)

Orac of Respectful Insolence has an excellent post discussing the anti-vaccination crowd and why they have been able to gain such a strong foothold in the public discussion. He also has some good ideas for things that those of us with more rational minds can do to combat them.

EDIT: There is a follow-up post which addresses even more concerns and solutions regarding vaccines. Orac is not only very knowledgeable about the subject of vaccines and their actual side effects, he is one of the best writers I've run across.

Chanson from Rational Moms dives in and helps instill a love of learning in her child. That rocks.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

The American Medical Autism Board

From the latest Quackwatch newsletter:

Autism "pseudo-board" launched.

Practitioners of "biomedical" autism treatments have formed the American Medical Autism Board (AMAB), whose stated mission is "to promote safe, ethical, efficacious medical autism treatment to the public by maintaining high standards for the examination and certification of physician as autism medical specialists." The relevant treatments, none of which has been scientifically proven to be effective, include chelation therapy, dietary supplements, and various dietary approaches. AMAB is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), which is the recognized standard-setting organization for physician-certifying boards in the United States. AMAB is little more than an attempt by unscientific practitioners to make their credentials look better.

--Stephen Barrett, M.D.
Board Chairman, Quackwatch, Inc.

I couldn't improve on what Dr. Barrett said so I quoted the whole thing. I did, however, do a little digging of my own.

The first odd thing that I noticed about this board is that Heidi Scheer serves on it. Heidi is Mrs. Michigan United States 2008. I'm not sure how that qualifies her to be on a medical board. She is an advocate of biomedical treatments for autism but I'd think you'd want doctors on a board that certifies, y'know, doctors. But, if the ABMS doesn't recognize it I guess they can put whoever they want in there.

Next up is the board's chairman, Dr. Phillip DeMio. I found a few references to his practice online but the most damning evidence is from Dr. DeMio's own website. His treatments page contains a list that looks strikingly similar to the ones Dr. Offit listed as being ineffective "cures" in Autism's False Prophets.

Also, the VitalChoice Healthstore site (which sells homeopathic remedies) lists Dr. DeMio on their Find a CAM Practitioner page. Nuff said.

Related link: Autism Watch.


Skeptical Parent Crossing

domestic father has started up a new blog carnival called Skeptical Parent Crossing. Raising kids to think for themselves is a Big Deal to me. So, I put my money where my mouth is (so to speak) and submitted a post. If you've got a post about the topic, send it in.


365 Days of Astronomy

2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. The International Astronomical Union and UNESCO said so! I think this is a marvelous idea and so do a bunch of podcasters.

365 Days of Astronomy is a project that will publish one podcast per day, 5 to 10 minutes in duration, for all 365 days of 2009. This is awesome! I'm going to volunteer. If you're a podcaster, if you've ever wanted to be a podcaster, or if you just want to talk about the stars for a few minutes, sign up and send something in.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My Visit To The Doctor

I'm back from my first visit with a new doctor. It had been six years since I had been to see a doctor and it took some unspecified lower-abdominal pain to get me to go back. I took my mother's advice (like you're supposed to) and found an internist. This particular internist (henceforth referred to as Dr. S) is new to the area and is just building a practice. He has joined a clinic with an excellent reputation and he comes highly recommended.

This visit was more of a 'getting to know each other' thing since the lab work will have to wait until next week. He checked me out and asked a bunch of questions. He's sure that it's not a hernia but doesn't know what else it might be. Hence the appointment to see the lab folks. The good news is that he doesn't believe it to be anything serious or in need of urgent attention. The severity and frequency of the pain have decreased dramatically so I share his opinion.

This appointment was different from previous ones for me. I blame the fact that Perky and I have been reading a lot of medical blogs. The accounts of various doctors along with watching my mother's triumphs and heartbreaks as she dealt with (and beat) lymphoma have made me very conscious of the need to give medical professionals the proper information.

I like Dr. S. He seems like a good guy and we have a lot in common. I know that liking one's doctor isn't a requirement for getting good medical care but I believe that GPs, Internists, and others on the front lines of patient care who are friendly make a positive difference. There was a study about chatty doctors not long ago that suggested that doctors who talk about themselves a lot during appointments lose focus. So, it seems like they have to tread a fine line between friendly and ineffective. My conversation with Dr. S was mostly geared toward learning enough about me to get an idea about my habits and general health.

So, this visit was inconclusive but left me feeling pretty good about my health and about my new doctor. The real information will arrive in a couple of weeks once I've had the lab work done.


Autism Shirts

I was poking through the links on Hammie's Blog (which is excellent) and I ran across a CafePress Store with tons of autism-awareness shirts. Some of the designs are visually atrocious thanks, in part, to the Autism Awareness symbol being comprised of multicolored puzzle pieces. Others make it work, though.

So, I'm flipping through the pages, nodding in agreement and laughing, when I run across a couple of Mercury In Vaccines Causes Autism shirts.


No!, It fucking doesn't. If you believe this to be true, please go to my post about Autism's False Prophets to get pointed towards some resources which use actual scientific studies to back up their claims.

Anyway, there are only a couple of those lame shirts among a few thousand cool ones. Here are some of my favorites:

Duck Family

My child has autism. Questions are appreciated. Parenting advice is not.

This is a cat.

I have an IEP.

I'm with neurotypical.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Comic-Book Physics and Accidental Education

At last, all three of my active blogs have converged in a single link. James Kakalios is a physics professor at University of Minnesota where he teaches a class called Everything I Know About Physics I Learned from Reading Comic Books. He puts it best when he says, "As a physics professor and a comic book fan,” he said, “I am simultaneously a nerd and a geek.” Amen, brother!

The Perky Skeptic and I are often looking for ways to show our son, B, how cool science is. That physics course sounds like just the thing. When he's a bit older, of course. But it got me thinking about the ways we have already begun to help him learn about the world.

Perky is a great teacher. Even before B could walk on his own, she would take him with her for walks around the neighborhood and along the way she would point out the various plants and flowers. She's wicked smart and knows the binomial nomenclature for most of them as well as the common names so B (who has an amazing memory) learned them quickly.

Once, when he was not quite three years old, he and I were in the front yard together and I saw him pick something off the ground and eat it.

"What do you have in your mouth?" I said in the way fathers have been saying to sons for eons.

"Oxcalis," he replied

I paused for a moment and said, "Fair enough."

Now, I didn't know that it was edible but I trusted that Perky did. And I figured she had passed this information on to our son. He also went on to correctly identify clover, poison ivy, and yucca (which when he was really little used to pronounce "gucca").

B is now five years old and I am amazed just about every day by something new he has learned and processed that I didn't even know he was exposed to. It's going to take a few more IEP meetings, I think, to get his school environment to be as tailored to his needs as his home environment but we're working on it.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Why I Am What I Am

It is only in the past few years that I have self-identified as a skeptic or critical thinker. I didn't just wake up one morning and start evaluating things in light of available evidence, though. It was a gradual process and I have a few people and things to thank for it.

Here's the first list.

My Mother: I was raised to think about things rather than just blindly accept them. My mother taught by example more than by lecture. She also presented me with evidence whenever she was trying to make a point. Before every major purchase (car, VCR, appliance) she broke out the Consumer Reports guides and did her own research. She and I both had our woo-woo phases but even through all that she made sure I looked into things before making any decisions. Here's her blog.

My Son: My wife and I were still nominally Wiccans when our son was born. That didn't last long. My wife's post on the subject describes the process of our 'conversion' better than I can. It's amazing how the welfare of a child can turn things around. And I'm not the only one. Dr. Val Jones mentions that seeing children harmed and killed helped turn her from a passive observer of pseudoscience into an active crusader against it.

My Wife: You try not going along with what The Perky Skeptic says.

Seriously, though, she is my rock. She has one of the finest minds I have ever encountered and I'm lucky she's my friend and wife. Her decision to raise our son to think for himself (see above) is one of the best things she could have done for him.

The Internet: There is a lot of misinformation on the internet and I've been burned by some of it. I've never sent money to a deposed Nigerian prince or anything but I have been fooled by various rumors in forwarded emails, etc. This sort of thing didn't start with the internet, of course, but the sheer volume of information makes it more likely that a given person will be fooled eventually. You throw enough crap at a wall, something's bound to stick.

That same volume also sped up my journey towards skepticism. Tale after tale proved to be false or heavily embellished. Eventually, I learned to run things past sites like Snopes and that helped immensely. The 'don't believe everything you read' concept was blasted into my brain through several brute-force attacks and finally took.

Thanks, Internet!

Roleplaying Games: I have been an avid gamer since I was 12. One of the first things a gamer learns to do is to implement house rules. These divergences from the official rules of a game can be as small as ignoring encumbrance ratings to as large as creating a new magic system. RPGs taught me that just because something is written in a book you don't have to follow it to the letter.

I leave the discovery of any similarities with other "rulebooks" as an exercise for the reader.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Homologous Links

From The Onion AV Club: Dan Aykroyd spouts woo-woo bullshit in the name of selling vodka. WTF? Not only do they mention crystals as part of the filtering process, the guys at the distillery are apparently taking advice on how to do their jobs from an actor. Once I heard a supposed expert on booze-making say the words "No one can explain why..." I realized that I only thought it could get more preposterous. Scroll down a bit on the AV Club page for a quote from the company's website. Or visit it yourself. WARNING: It plays the wacko video immediately upon loading.

A half-assed Google search yielded no hits for the company's website. Also, the site that the AV Club page links to contains no ordering information or anything else that one would expect to see on a corporate site which leads me to believe hope that it is a practical joke or some sort of marketing weirdness for Ghostbusters 3. So, Aykroyd is either buying into the woo or he's using it in a clever manner. If you have any further information on this, let me know.

In sadder but no less absurd news: a 16 year-old died of complications from a urinary-tract blockage on June 17. He didn't have to die. His family prayed for him rather than taking him to a doctor. Now his parents have been arrested and face charges of criminally negligent homicide.

I picked up my local, free, alternative weekly The Nashville Scene today to find this chilling cover story about Mercy Ministries whose headquarters is down the road from where I work. They are now worldwide and they are extremely dangerous. Also, check out this blog which exists to let the world know what goes on at Mercy.

From Mindhacks: Feeling out of control sparks magical thinking. I know it does for me.

Finally, The Rogue's Gallery has the following advice at the end of this article about the Paleo Diet:

The basic rules of skepticism apply to this book - be wary of anyone claiming to know the hidden truth, be suspicious of simplistic reasoning applied to complex questions, or simple answers to complex problems, and of course critically analyze all claims made by someone who wants to sell you something.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Autism's False Prophets

We recently received a copy of Autism's False Prophets by Dr. Paul Offit which is currently the subject of the Science Blogs Book Club.

Also, here's The Perky Skeptic's take on it (with rant).

There's not much I can say that the two links above won't cover but I want to get another plug out there for it. Dr. Offit knows what he's talking about with regards to vaccines and I believe him over people like, say, Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carey. The man is a vaccine expert. Check his credentials.

Oh, and all the profits from the sale of this book are being donated to autism research.

I implore you not to be taken in by the anti-vaccination crowd. I am not in the pocket of 'Big Pharm' (neither is Dr. Offit). I am the father of an autistic child, I am able to think for myself, and I have seen the evidence that autism is not caused by the MMR vaccine. The evidence is out there. Not just in Autism's False Prophets but on many of the blogs in my blogroll. Especially, Respectful Insolence and A Photon in the Darkness.

Here's a short promo for the book followed by two more YouTube links; parts 1 & 2 of an interview with Dr. Offit on Science Friday.

Science Friday Interview Part 1

Science Friday Interview Part 2

. .

Saturday, October 4, 2008

IEP Meeting

Yesterday, my son's teachers called for an emergency IEP meeting. IEP stands for Individualized Education Program and is a method for determining how to address the education of special-needs children. My son (hereafter referred to as 'B') has Asperger's.

His original IEP called for him to be placed in a regular class for most of the day and a CBIP class for autistic kids for a couple of hours. This is not working. B is high-functioning and is ahead of the curve on reading and writing but he has some behavior issues that are disrupting his regular (or 'gen-ed' as they say in the special-needs biz) kindergarten class and making it hard for his teacher to get anything done.

This is hard for a parent to hear. No one wants his or her kid to be the one who is causing problems. His teacher doesn't think he's doing it maliciously, of course, but he is still making things difficult. Hence the meeting. And the start of today's roller coaster.

The first IEP meeting we had when he was about to make the transition from Pre-K to kindergarten was wonderful. We were surrounded by friendly people who addressed the challenges facing everyone involved with warmth, good humor, and honesty. I left that meeting feeling great about the future. Birds landed on my shoulder as I left the school under a rainbow-filled sky.

Yesterday's meeting was not that good.

This is not to say that anyone was mean to us but there were two participants who really need to work on their bedside manners. Present were both of B's teachers (Gen-ed and CBIP), the school's principal, the school counselor, the school's special-ed coordinator, my wife, my mother, and me. First, let me state that it was obvious that everyone there was concerned about B's welfare as well as that of the other children in the school. However, the counselor and the coordinator had off-putting personalities that did nothing to relieve the anxiety that my wife and I were feeling.

We went into the meeting nervous because we truly had no idea what to expect. Well, that's not true. My wife gets daily updates from B's teachers so we knew that there had been some problems. We did not, however, know what the recommendations would be and the counselor's comments put us on edge.

But you know what? Despite, or maybe because of, her bluntness the counselor was the only person to bring up a few things that needed to be addressed.

For example, she brought up the subject of medication for B which we had not seriously considered. We still have serious concerns about it but since she mentioned it we will now bring it up with his pediatrician and at least explore the option. She also asked "What kind of respite do you get?" showing that she understands that parents' needs should be addressed, as well.

Then the big one. The counselor advised us not to let the fact that he is advanced for his age in many respects blind us to his deficiencies. I'm not going to go into the details in this post but she was absolutely right and I absolutely did not want to hear it. I felt myself throwing up mental walls so her words wouldn't reach me. I got over it and finally listened to what she was saying but it still stung. However, if I am unable to listen to an honest evaluation of my son's abilities I am not going to be of any help to him and I love him too much to hold him back like that.

The meeting was productive in that B's schedule was adjusted so that he will be able to better integrate himself into the Gen-ed class and some suggestions for addressing his behavior issues were tossed out to the teachers. This whole thing is going to be a gradual process and, intellectually, I understand that but what I really want is the magical solution that will instantly make things better for everyone involved.

Is that too much to ask?

. .

Hello, World


I've been running Noetic Concordance, my comic-book blog for a while now and I am a contributor to Geekzor. They are both a lot of fun but lately I have discovered a need to blog about some more personal things. Namely, my son and my health.

My son is five years old and he is the most wonderful thing that has happened to me since I got married. He has Asperger's syndrome which is a form of autism. This is an aspect of who he is, no different from his hair color or his height but it brings its own set of challenges when it comes to parenting. I'll be talking about the roller coaster that is being the parent of an autistic child.

I'll also spend some time talking about my health which, until recently, has been fine. Unfortunately, I am almost 40 and my body is letting me know it. There will likely be more blog posts regarding that roller coaster after my doctor's appointment next week.

Finally, I intend to use Homologous Trend to throw some critical thinking your way. As I get older, I have less and less tolerance for magical thinking and bad science. I have been a Christian, a Wiccan, and a member of the 'AMA = Evil' school of thought. I am no longer any of those things. Some of my posts will give insight as to why that is.

So, welcome to my new blog. Here are a few other blogs that have inspired me to start this one:

The Perky Skeptic: Quite simply one of the best personal blogs out there. You might notice some similarity between her posts and mine (hint, hint).

Babble On: My mother's blog. Mom started her first blog in 2002 to keep people updated on her fight against cancer. She is one of the best people I know and I hope I'm doing half the job raising my son that she did with me. You'll see plenty of posts about her, here. Check out her new blog as well as the archives on her old one.

A Life Less Ordinary? is the most direct inspiration for me to start this one. Emily is the mother of an autistic child, too. Her posts could be about my child and she is the first person I heard refer to the experience as a roller coaster. Check out her blog. She's a good writer and a kindred spirit.