Friday, June 12, 2009


{via ERV}

Since I'm not, you know, a real scientist, this tool is of limited real use to me... but it's still awfully fun!

Time Tree will allow you to enter the name of two species and you'll get an estimate of when the branches leading to each species split form each other, based on collected molecular data. The more data collected on the two species, the better the estimtes, of course...

How long ago did koalas split from tree sloths? 160 million years ago, give or take.
Chimpanzees and bonobos? A mere 3 million years ago.
Humans and "magic mushrooms"? about 1.3 billion years ago.

I am, of course, somewhat dismayed that none of the results I've found to date are 6000 years. Obviously, science is broken.

Check out the Time Tree!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Newsweek: Not the Antichrist afterall; jury still out on McCarthy and Oprah

[FYI: this post's title is a reference to this post.]

Thank you Newsweek. :)

In case you hadn't heard (And if you only get your news from this blog, you hadn't), Oprah Winfrey recently inked a deal with Jenny McCarthy, giving the latter her own TV show from which to spew the unscientific, harmful and dangerous rhetoric she is so fond of dispensing (which I've blogged about before). In the long and sordid history of horrid ideas, this ranks near the top.

Oprah's show has always mixed its trademark life-affirming stories with some new age pseudoscience, much of it related to beauty and medicine. But with her embracing of Jenny McCarthy (which extends long before the new show deal was inked), Oprah crosses over, as Phil Plait puts it has said, into outright antiscience.

This move has been roundly derided around the blogs, the best and most heartfelt I've seen in this open letter to Oprah. And McCarthy's vaccine/autism nonsense is just the tip of the iceberg. Watch the Oprah show, and nearly every single time that any topic comes up with a vaguely medical aspect to it, you'll see the pseudoscience creep in.

Now, I happen to think Oprah does do some good. Her book club is kind of awesome, getting millions of people to read literature (including a few of my favorite books) they otherwise wouldn't. I'm sure a lot of people get a lot of benefit out of the positive life-affirming stories, too. Some of the new age stuff is fairly innocuous, if ineffective. (The Secret, though, totally works! And I have the fleet of helicopters in my 12-acre back yard to prove it!)

But the moment she starts recommending unscientific treatments as medicine -- when efficacy and evidence are shunted aside in favor of unproven crap -- that crosses the line. It leads to injury, delay of real treatment, exploitation of the credulous by bogus practitioners, and death. Oprah readily jumps on the bandwagon of just about every new nonsense medical treatment out there. Some are ineffective, some are harmful to the person being treated. Some, such perpetuating the vaccine -> autism myth, are harmful to society as a whole.

Somehow, Oprah has had a free pass from most of the mainstream media. But this week, Newsweek entered the fray with a cover story -- A COVER STORY!!! -- on the dangers of taking medical advice from Oprah's media empire, including her show, her magazine and Jenny McCarthy's upcoming fiasco.

Go Newsweek!

And now YOU go: Read the article! Then write Newsweek and thank them for publishing it! I know I will :D