Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dihydrogen monoxide...

Ever heard of dihydrogen monoxide? No? That is probably because your government has covered up all the dangers associated with this toxic chemical. Here are some of the reasons why you should be concerned (find more at DMHO fact).

Dihydrogen monoxide...
  • Is a highly reactive chemical
  • Is one of the main waste products from nuclear power plants
  • Is used in the production of pesticides and is an ingredient in spray oven cleaners (!)
  • Has been used by ALL students responsible for school shootings in the United States in the past
  • Is used by athletes to improve performace
  • Contributes to the greenhouse effect
  • Have been found in large amounts, in children who live near factories

Trust me, the list goes on and on. If you don't trust me, listen to this girl at you tube, or visit DMHO facts, or "Ban dihydrogenmonoxide".

Fooled? I hope not, though if you were you are certainly not alone. The common name for dihydrogen monoxide, or DMHO, is water (di=two, mono=one, two hydrogen and one oxygen makes H2O=water). This hoax which I rate almost as highly as the Sokal hoax which I have written about here, was popularized by a 14 year old american high school student as a part of a science project. He came up with this alternative name for water and listed statements such as the ones above, all of which are of course true. He then went around and asked fellow student to sign a petition to ban DMHO, 43 out of 50 signed it.

According to wikipedia more influential people have also been fooled. In 2001 A staffer at the New Zealand green party was asked to support the campaign to ban dihydrogen monoxide, in response she wrote that she was "absolutely supportive of the campaign to ban this toxic substance". In New Zealand 2007 (are they lacking scepticism in New Zealand?) Jacqui Dean a member of parliment wrote to the health minister asking whether there were any plans to ban DMHO.

I think that this hoax illustrates that scepticism is more often than not a virtue. This hoax was very transparent compared to many of the stories that are circulating in the world which are also not true, and yet, people fell for it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Top ten blogs that I read

I am proud to announce that my blog has just been honered as being among the ten best by my blogfriend fresh brainz. It is not often that I join this type of campaign but I thought this was a nice initiative and a good opportunity to show my appreciation of a few blogs that I like. Instead of a top ten I will do two top five blogs, one for english blogs and one for swedish blogs:

English blogs:
1. Bayblab: Unfortunately I miss many of the posts that they write, but when I happen to read a post, and it can be any post on this site, it is categorically thought inspiring
2. Fresh Brainz: A very nice mix of different subjects here, great writing which makes you stay.
3. Rationally speaking: Always interesting and thoughtfull. Written by a real professor to...
4. A blog from hell: A blog which is more radical than my own, yet when I have read it I have always found something of interest.
5.Life before death: Good writing focused on biology, atheism, and a few surprises here and there.

Swedish blogs:
1. Allotetraploid (Swe): Hard hitting atheism from a former Christian.
2. Anna Does Life (Swe): Posts about almost everything with admirable values as the central core
3. Z (Swe): Great blog from someone I tend to disagree with. Always willing to take part in discussions, not dogmatic, model christian (in my view)
4. Orsakverkan: In many ways similar to my own blog.

The above are all brilliant blogs. It was hard to rank them...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

New circumcision study

I have previously written quite a lot about circumcision. See for example (1) here, (2) here, or (3) here. Circumcision proponents use different arguments when they try to spread this surgical procedure. Sometimes they say that your hygiene benefits, which may be true if you never ever clean yourself under the foreskin - hardly a reason for removing the foreskin. Another rather medievil argument is that circumcision will make it harder for the child to masturbate, and after all sexual pleasure is something you should avoid!

The only potentially valid argument for the use of circumcision, an argument which has only been around for perhaps five years (before that circumcision was conducted for irrational reasons entirely), is that it may reduce the risk of getting HIV if you have unprotected sex. Based on this some people argue that we should use mass circumcision to prevent the spread of HIV. There are many arguements against this.

First of all, people normally don't make their sexual debut when they are still in diapers, so let them choose themselves whether they wan't to be circumcised when they have reached an age where they can actually make such decisions. Secondly, condoms work much better than having your penis circumcised, so why not spend all the money advocating the use of condoms and handing them out for free instead? Furthermore, people who have been circumcised may feel safer and therefore have more unprotected sex, thus cancelling the potential gain...

Another serious argument against circumcision is that circumcision may cause serious problems for the patient in terms of penile function and penile sensitivity. The foreskin has a lot of sensory nerve endings. According to estimates that I have read, 50% of the nerve endings in the penis are in the foreskin. Just recently a study investigating the consequences of circumcision came out.

The study seems to show that people who have been circumcised do not suffer from reduced pleasure, at least that is what they say. However, as Mary Crewe points out, studies like these do not take into account psychological biases which are very likely to be at work. If you go and have yourself circumcised (the people in the study voluntered of course), then you will want to justify that decisions afterwards. As a result, minor troubles are likely not to be reported. The patient will simply bite together and say "I am fine, and my sex life is great".

For this reason I think it would be a mistake to start circumcising people based on this type of questionnaire evidence. Some sort of medical examination of penile function (or dysfunction) would be preferred.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Nokia Sports Tracker

I remember when I was little and my mother wanted me to go get some eggs in the store or just have me run off some excess energy. First I would not be so enthusiastic, "why don't you do it", or "no I don't feel like it" I would say. But then my mother uttered the magical words which would, without exception, cause me to dart of in my maximum velocity. The words were "I will time you"! Perhaps this is a powerful argument against the concept of free will, or maybe it is just evidence that I was a very stupid little boy. In any case, it was extremely motivating to know that I was being timed, and it did not matter that my mother probably just made up some number when I came back.

Now I am older and new synapses have been formed in my brain. Telling me that I am being timed when going to the store doesn't do it for me anymore, in fact, until recently it was hard to get me running at all. Throwing me a soccer ball has always worked and it still does, but my jogging career was all but over until I discovered a little piece of software which you can download for free onto your Nokia phone: Nokia sports tracker. It has been working flawlessly with my Nokia N95 8Gb which I got in Christmas present. I should perhaps make clear that I am not a Nokia employee…

Nokia sports tracker records your GPS position while you are running, cycling, walking or skiing. It also calculated your speed, altitude, calorie expenditure, number of steps, and a lot of other interesting statistics. When I have finished my run I upload my workout to Nokia sports tracker online and then I can see my workout online on a map (see picture). I can also export the route to Google earth and see the route in this wonderful piece of software.

But the wonders do not end there. Next time I am going to run the same route, I open Nokia sports tracker and I tell the program that I want compare my new workout with my old workout. When I start running I see myself as a little blue dot, and I see my opponent (me two days ago) as a little red dot. When that little red dot on my screen gets ahead of the blue dot it is as if I am five years old again and my mother says "I'll time you", amazingly motivating. I almost ran myself to death the other day because I did not want to lose to my past (I did eventually lose, but I will correct that soon). It the dots are too close to distinguish, don't worry, the program continuously tells you how far behind or ahead you are in meters and in seconds (or minutes).

To sum up. Good work Nokia! Via this piece of software you have increased my predicted life span by a couple of years.

Ps: I will soon start writing about more pressing matters such as religion, brains and free will vs determinism again, so no worries there…