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March 13, 2009

China offers applications to officially protest, harasses everyone who fills one out

In China, Would-Be Protesters Pay a Price - washingtonpost.com

ZHANGZHOU, China -- When Ji Sizun heard that the Chinese government had agreed to create three special zones in Beijing for peaceful public protests during the 2008 Summer Olympics, he celebrated. He said in an interview at the time that he believed the offer was sincere and represented the beginning of a new era for human rights in China.

. . .

In the end, official reports show, China never approved a single protest application -- despite its repeated pledges to improve its human rights record when it won the bid to host the Games. Some would-be applicants were taken away by force by security officials and held in hotels to prevent them from filing the paperwork. Others were scared away by warnings that they could face "difficulties" if they went through with their applications.

Ji has spent the past eight months in various states of arrest and detention. In January, he was sentenced to three years in prison, the maximum penalty allowed, on charges of faking official seals on documents he filed on behalf of his clients. Ji is appealing.

March 04, 2009

Do doctors hate science?

Begley: Why Doctors Hate Science | Newsweek Voices - Sharon Begley | Newsweek.com

If bureaucrats were in charge, physicians might have to prescribe the newest hypertension drugs as a first-line therapy, do MRIs to diagnose back pain and give regular Pap tests to women who have had total hysterectomies. Oh, wait—they do. All these medical practices are common, despite rigorous studies showing how useless or wrongheaded they are. Definitive studies over many years have shown that old-line diuretics are safer and equally effective for high blood pressure compared with newer drugs, for instance, and that MRIs for back pain lead to unnecessary surgery. And those Pap tests? Total hysterectomy removes the uterus and cervix. A Pap test screens for cervical cancer. No cervix, no cancer. Yet a 2004 study found that some 10 million women lacking a cervix were still getting Pap tests.

It's hard not to scream when you see how many physicians, pharmaceutical companies, medical-device makers and, lately, hysterical conservatives seem to hate science, or at best ignore it. These days the science that inspires fear and loathing is "comparative-effectiveness research" (CER), which is receiving $1 billion under the stimulus bill President Obama signed. CER means studies to determine which treatments, including drugs, are more medically and cost-effective for a given ailment than others. A study in February in the journal Lancet, for instance, compared treatments for severe ankle sprains, concluding that a below-the-knee cast is superior to a tubular compression bandage. A 2006 study of schizophrenia drugs found that old-line antipsychotics were as effective as pricey new ones.

March 02, 2009

NYPD targeting gay men in NYC

Gay men in NYC targeted by NYPD - Feministing

The Gay City News reports that at least 27 men were arrested for prostitution in eight porn shops in Manhattan in 2008. Since 2004 there have been 52 such arrests in eight difference businesses.

According to a statement by the group, the arrest is usually set up so that an attractive younger officer is sent out to approach middle-aged gay men. The officer allegedly entices the man to have sex. If the man agrees, the undercover officer says he wanted to pay the man for sexual favors, and then, before the man can accept or reject the transaction, he is surrounded by police to make an arrest.

How to: Spot a hidden religious agenda

How to spot a hidden religious agenda - science-in-society - 28 February 2009 - New Scientist

AS A book reviews editor at New Scientist, I often come across so-called science books which after a few pages reveal themselves to be harbouring ulterior motives. I have learned to recognise clues that the author is pushing a religious agenda. As creationists in the US continue to lose court battles over attempts to have intelligent design taught as science in federally funded schools, their strategy has been forced to... well, evolve. That means ensuring that references to pseudoscientific concepts like ID are more heavily veiled. So I thought I'd share a few tips for spotting what may be religion in science's clothing.

Red flag number one: the term "scientific materialism". "Materialism" is most often used in contrast to something else - something non-material, or supernatural. Proponents of ID frequently lament the scientific claim that humans are the product of purely material forces. At the same time, they never define how non-material forces might work. I have yet to find a definition that characterises non-materialism by what it is, rather than by what it is not.

The invocation of Cartesian dualism - where the brain and mind are viewed as two distinct entities, one material and the other immaterial - is also a red flag. And if an author describes the mind, or any biological system for that matter, as "irreducibly complex", let the alarm bells ring.