Friendly reminder: We are ALL affected by the Dunning Kruger effect. (Vaccines work)

Briefly, in case you didn’t get it from the title, this is a post about the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and our confidence in them. Most of us (correctly) trust these vaccines, but some people, having fallen victim to their own overconfidence in knowledge they do not possess (but think they do), do not trust the vaccines. I’d like to remind you how the Dunning Kruger effect works and affects us all.

I’m writing this while on leave for a week. I’m mostly playing Diablo 2 Resurrected, which was recently released with enhanced modern graphics. I did go for my second vaccine jab on Tuesday though, and like most people, I experienced zero side effects. (All I got was a slightly sore shoulder that’s already completely healed two days later.) I’m writing this because I’m amazed that people are choosing not to trust science. [Full disclosure – I was directly exposed to COVID-19 in December 2020 at a work function, where I stayed indoors for a while and assisted someone who had it but didn’t know. Unfortunately I only found out months later. So in theory I may have been infected already but was asymptomatic. I guess I’ll never know.]

Let’s start with the simple definition of the Dunning Kruger effect as per Wikipedia:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a hypothetical cognitive bias stating that people with low ability at a task overestimate their own ability, and that people with high ability at a task underestimate their own ability.

Notice that it refers to everybody. That’s important. We all have limits to our own area or areas of expertise. As a software developer, I know quite a bit about software development – bot not so much (zero) about vaccines. So why do I say you must trust them? Simple: I recognize my own lack of knowledge about this subject, and thus I defer to experts. The best I can do is go with the broadly held scientific consensus. As it happens, I do a little more than that, and read widely about certain subjects, including science based medicine. But it remains an interest of mine, not something I am an expert on. I would never give you medical advice other than to go to relevant experts, and in general, trust in science, including vaccines. It’s as simple as that.

You defer to the relevant experts when you don’t know something. You do not refer to a bunch of idiots on YouTube who parrot widely debunked anti-science nonsense. That’s not how it works.

The Dunning Kruger effect also notes that when we are experts on a subject, we doubt ourselves. Since we doubt ourselves, we double check with other experts to make sure we’re right. That’s what clever people do. Doubling down and telling everybody about a subject we know fuck all about, and should not be talking about, is not what clever people do. That’s what stupid people do. Anti-vax is a position borne of ignorance. Don’t be stupid. Trust science.

Recently I tried to get through to an anti-vaxxer on Facebook, I tried for several days, until he unfriended me for “spreading vaccine misinformation” and “facilitating genocide”. I kid you not. But before he unfriended me, he shared an interesting (OK, I lie. It’s not interesting) rambling and mostly incoherent video on YouTube, which revealed the gist of his position… a conspiracy theory where his opposition to vaccines is really because he opposes “blind trust in authority”.

Here’s the thing: Nobody says you must blindly trust authority. Nobody. Trust the science. Trust the broadly held scientific consensus. Trust the experts – the same ones that multiple governments are relying on in the middle of a pandemic. It’s the obvious, correct, sensible position.

OK, I’m sorry… I’m not doing this to shame him. I’m not going to embed his video, but since it is public, here’s a link to it. I think it shows quite clearly what I mean. It’s rambling and barely coherent. It’s like the poor dude is talking off the top of his had about something he knows nothing about. It’s sad, but don’t forget, people like him are not only a danger to themselves… It’s easy to dismiss them and suggest “Darwin” takes care of them. The real danger they pose is to slow down or stop herd immunity, and I don’t mean the term as used by science deniers a while back… I mean real herd immunity that comes when most of us are immune and the disease is eradicated. Herd immunity is necessary to protect those whose immune systems are so compromised, they really can’t take the vaccine for valid medical reasons. I work with one such person – a guy in his early twenties with a heart condition. He was recently off work for a while because of an enlarged valve in his heart and he is in genuine danger from anti-vaxxers. Him and many others for valid medical reasons. They are the ones whose lives are placed in danger by these overconfident YouTube buffoons.

Dinosaurs disprove god

Today I answered a question asked in a Facebook group, and I’d like to share my answer a little further by expanding on it here.

Firstly, I’ll start with the Facebook post and then go from there. Apologies for the messiness – the tool I used to use for screen grabs, where I then deleted the border colour so it matched the background here, is now broken on my machine, so this was made with the built-in Windows snipping tool.

Screenshot 2021-08-18 191054

To put it into context, this somewhat silly group, Dinosaurs Against Christians Against Dinosaurs, is a parody/meme group, of the group Christians Against Dinosaurs, which itself is a parody of Christians who are against dinosaurs. So it’s a bit of a baffling group, an atheist group filled mostly with atheists who don’t realize that what they are parodying is already a parody. (Poe’s Law then.) At least that’s what it was, but at some point it became a pretty standard atheist group where atheists share atheist memes. And then it got funnier because it was infiltrated by hordes of Christians who constantly complain that the memes are mocking Christians rather than being about dinosaurs. To make things even more confusing, the last few days have seen posts by atheists mocking Christians complaining about the lack of dinosaurs as well as atheists writing posts that parody Christians mocking atheists – meanwhile the comments are filled with comments by other atheists who think they are responding to actual Christians, because presumably they don’t get sarcasm/parody/irony.

So imagine my surprise when I saw a question that, whether asked in good faith or not (it doesn’t matter) – can be answered seriously.

You see, the whole mess and all the parodies of it came about because at the root of all this, Biblical literalists are actually onto something. If the Bible were truly the word of “God”, who knows all things, and this god somehow wrote through the men who put pen to paper, it would certainly contain information about the dinosaurs. But it doesn’t. Further, the way Biblical literalists who call themselves Young Earth Creationists have calculated the age of the Earth, is more or less accurate if one assumes the Bible is literally true. Again, they’re onto something.

If the word of the Bible were truly inerrant, the planet should be about 6 000 years old. Dinosaurs, the last of which went extinct around 69 million years ago, thus prove two things:

  1. The Bible can’t be true. At least not literally.
  2. The Earth can’t be only 6 000 years old.

OK, maybe that’s not really two things. The main thing is, dinosaurs aren’t in the Bible because the men who wrote it didn’t know about them. And thus their imaginary god didn’t know about them either. But of course not. God doesn’t “know” anything because god isn’t real at all. But regardless, Biblical literalists are way smarter than most of us give them credit for… They’ve realized that dinosaurs being real proves their Bible isn’t literally true, and they are above what most Christians do with their cognitive dissonance… They know that once one bit of the Bible isn’t true, the narrative ball of string unravels, and the more you look at it, the more clear it becomes that all of the Bible is untrue. Therefore they invent their own “science” which makes leaps and bounds of ad hoc reasoning to claim that either dinosaurs aren’t real at all, or that they somehow existed less than 6 000 years ago and their god fakes the fossil record as some kind of test of their faith.

I find the whole thing quite hilarious. For an example of what Young Earth Creationists say about dinosaurs, you can head over to the page about it on the Answers in Genesis site. I must warn you though, their years of “study” don’t come close to the stuff I’ve written in a few minutes here off the top of my head.

Do you need to be dewormed? Are you a horse? Neigh? Then you probably don’t need ivermectin.

People are galloping to take this new miracle cure for COVID-19 and some of them are poisoning themselves in the process!

Sigh. This is the second time I’m writing about ivermectin. Last time somebody commented claiming it does work. And yes, there have been studies indicating it might work against COVID-19, but there is no evidence supporting it working in humans. So maybe it works and maybe it doesn’t. But… my approach is to look at who says it works, and who is being skeptical.

At the moment, the same people who are pushing for it were once advocates for vitamin C and hydroxychloroquine. The people pushing against it believe in vaccines. I’m no expert, but it looks like this is another quack cure and that’s why I was sarcastic when I wrote about it last time.

When sources I read often, and trust, such as Dr David Gorski, use the word “quack” in relation to an unproven remedy, I tend to sway towards believing them. In science and medicine especially, relevant authorities matter.

But hey! It’s apple flavoured!

Seriously, folks… This is your life. There are times to fuck around, but when it comes to life and death, don’t be stupid. Don’t be hasty and take unproven medication because the people pushing it may very well backpedal later. “We made a mistake”, they might say (or more likely they won’t, but either way they won’t be held accountable) – meanwhile you could be dead.

And while it may be true that ivermectin hasn’t been tested in humans, that is a double-edged sword… I mean, it works on SARS-CoV-2 in a petri dish, and while I can’t find any articles about its toxity in humans, I did find one that lists the symptoms of its toxicity in dogs, and they don’t look good:

Ivermectin is a drug commonly and safely used in many dogs to treat a variety of parasitic infections. This drug is also commonly used in cattle and horses at much higher doses — which can be toxic to dogs, if they are exposed to the medication. Certain types of dogs, including but not limited to collies and Australian shepherds, are also far more susceptible to the toxic effects of the drug.

Toxicity signs include depression, disorientation, nonresponsiveness, blindness, drooling, tremors, and walking like he/she is “drunk.” More severe signs, especially in the susceptible breeds, include low heart rate, low breathing rate, coma and death.

And considering that the people who typically want to take this substance are trying to use it preventatively, that is they don’t have COVID-19, it seems like a terrible risk to me. Why take a substance that might cause blindness or death to treat a disease you don’t have, when you don’t know if a safe dosage is even possible or that a dosage high enough to be effective is safe at all, when there is a vaccine?

I hope I’ve made a strong case for not using it this time around…

The law of conservation of magic – a follow-up to my previous post on the law of conservation of energy

A while ago I wrote about the contrived creationist argument that abuses the law of conservation of energy to reach for an excuse to imagine that science confirms life continues after death. It’s been on my mind again since the subject came up recently, this time raised by a supposed atheist. Looking back on that old post, I don’t think I gave enough context then, so it is worth revisiting.

Briefly, the law of conservation of energy states:

Energy can neither be created nor destroyed – only converted from one form of energy to another. This means that a system always has the same amount of energy, unless it’s added from the outside.

Makes sense… Imagine the universe as a closed system of finite energy. Over time, that energy changes form many times but is never destroyed. Unfortunately this opens a door for magical thinkers to misstate this law as “evidence” of their magic. This argument generally comes in one of two forms, only the second of which I mentioned last time.

  1. It is a convenient excuse to assume that the energy for the beginning of the universe must have come from outside, and this outside force is then presumed to have been god. (Here is an example.)
  2. It is used to assume that consciousness, assumed to be some kind of energy, lives on after death. Since energy can’t be destroyed, proponents of this argument insist the soul lives on.

Tackling the first type of argument is easy – it’s yet another “I don’t know; therefore god” argument. God is a synonym for magic here. Like many supposed arguments for a creator, it relies on the believer already assuming that their creator exists, in which case it is just an excuse to work backwards to what they already believe. In reality, the law simply makes an observation about the universe, and the law only applies to a snapshot of the universe right now. It doesn’t say anything about where the energy came from. The universe could contain a finite amount of energy that expands and then collapses over many billions of years in a cycle, which is roughly what I believe. Note that my belief contains many gaps. No need to fill those gaps with deities or other magic.

The second kind of argument is the one I’ve often encountered, and is the one I wrote about last time. This summarizes what I wrote then:

Law of Conservation of Energy lame argument for an afterlife Example of begging the question
Premise Assume the existence of a “mind” separate to the brain, that controls the brain. (Let’s call this a soul, shall we?) Assume A.
Inference Energy is never lost, blah blah blah, some verbose crap here that distracts you from the assumption made up front. Introduce B, C, & D.
Remove B, C, & D.
Conclusion Therefore a soul exists and lives on after the body dies. Therefore A.

And I stand by that… The insistence that our soul lives on after death presupposes the existence of the soul, so it is just begging the question. Those who make such an argument use the term energy very vaguely. They assume consciousness has some source outside of the brain. So in their argument, consciousness is the energy they would like to imagine survives death. But consciousness isn’t energy. We don’t fully understand what it is, but it is clear that when our brains stop working, after our hearts stop pumping oxygenated blood into it and our nerve synapses stop firing, our consciousness, in other words our awareness and perception, ends. Consciousness is a function of our brains, a side effect of us being alive.

When we die, our bodies die. Energy does indeed change form, through decomposition, or in the case of our bodies being cremated, combustion. No energy is destroyed and there is no excuse to imagine the existence of a soul to explain some magical energy that you made up in the first place. As in my HTML table that illustrates the point from last time, you start with the assumption of a soul, a body lives and then dies, and you use a vaguely defined “energy” referring to the soul you made up and conflating it with consciousness, and then assume it lives on after death. Again, energy is just another word for magic here.

Hence I sarcastically refer to this as the law of conservation of magic. Assume magic exists. Add life. Subtract life. And what remains is the magic you assumed to begin with. Well done. All magic has been conserved. Twat!

Note: I can’t actually refute the existence of a soul. It is unfalsifiable because a soul, like a god, is assumed to be incorporeal and something that exists outside of the material universe. But in a not so strange twist, it’s unfalsifiability and it being assumed to exist outside of the material universe is exactly what makes this abuse of the law of conservation of energy a self-defeating argument. Energy in science is clearly defined, unlike this wishful thinking. The creationist argument is a poor attempt to use a pretense of scientific logic as an excuse to indulge in magical thinking, but the pretense is easy enough to see under scrutiny.

What I believe–Part 2–What I believe

This is the second part of a series intended to answer the annoying accusations often made against atheists (me in particular) that complain my atheism doesn’t answer where we came from – not that it should. Part 1 explained my position as a gnostic atheist, and this part, quite separate from my atheism, is about what I do believe.

What I believe about the origin of the universe and life is really quite simple. There’s a lot I don’t know. Some of this is my own thinking, based on a rather superficial understanding of science. I’m no scientist. I’m just a lay man who happens to not believe in magical explanations for where we come from, and take my cues from science and science fiction.

I can’t emphasize enough though, that what I believe is in no way related to my atheism, and is subject to change because I do change it when I learn new information. There are a lot of gaps, and I’m OK with “I don’t know”. I see no reason to fill the gaps with god(s).

We know the universe started with the Big Bang. This is fact. We can measure when it happened and we can speculate about it. But we know it happened.

So this universe started with the last Big Bang, the one we know about and can detect the radiation from. It all started with a singularity, a high temperature place of immeasurable density where time did not exist. The maths is complex and I don’t understand it but time is just a variable in an equation, and under certain conditions, it doesn’t exist. This singularity, I believe was left over after the collapse of a previous universe. But I’ll get back to this when I describe what I believe will ultimately become of this universe.

The universe exists in space. But space itself is nothing. Just emptiness. An endless void without light or anything. It has no bounds and no limit. So imagine our universe as nothing more than a tiny spark that explodes in a night sky, except there is no air, no external force like gravity acting on that spark. All the energy contained in that spark, is contained and not acted upon by any outside force that we can yet detect. After it explodes, after all that energy is released, it burns up as it expands outwards from the point where it all began, and eventually it will cool down again. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Imagine you could zoom in on that spark, because after all, when nothing but a spark exists, we have no idea of scale. As the spark expands and releases all the gasses and elements that exist, massive energy is released, forming sparks within those zoomed in sparks. They cool down and form spirals, clusters of energy and burning particles, which we call galaxies. Zoom into those galaxies and you observe stars forming, surrounded by dust and debris that forms planets and asteroids.

The process of carbon-based entities that we call life forming from inorganic elements is what we refer to as abiogenesis. I don’t know how it works. All I know is the name of it, hence when creationists post their jargon and nonsense filled “refutations” of it – which they often conflate with evolution, I really don’t give a fuck. The alternative to “I don’t know” is not your preferred magical thinking. It gets even worse when they start discussing consciousness. We, and I mean all life in existence, are probably an accident. There is no rhyme and reason, no purpose, only chaos. We came about by fluke, we exist for the briefest of time, and like everything else here, we burn for a few moments, then fizzle out and are gone. To think otherwise is great if it gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling, but it’s all just make believe.

Evolution is the process where life, that started out here from one cell that got it right, gradually changes over time. Tiny changes over millennia, from that one cell that somehow split initially into the two branches that formed plants and animals, into many different and complex varieties, and driving the process over time into multiple different life forms. It most likely hasn’t only happened here. There are probably millions of planets supporting similar life, but we’ll never know about the others, because they are simply too far away for us to ever get there.

All that energy that was released at the time of the Big Bang is finite and eventually everything cools back down. Our own planet has a molten core, churning around as the world turns it produces a magnetic field, which we use for direction, among other things. But what it really does that supports life is it protects the planet from harmful solar radiation that we call solar winds. The magnetic field deflects the most harmful of them around our planet, while letting light in. Without it, the sun would literally blow our atmosphere out into space, leaving this planet as lifeless as Mars. Theoretically given enough time, our planet core would cool down, Earth would lose its magnetic field and then its atmosphere, and all life would perish. But this planet won’t be around long enough for that to happen, because our sun will change into a red dwarf in roughly five billion years, completely enveloping and burning whatever is left here by then.

Ultimately everything cools down. Every sun will die. And here, my knowledge is sketchy, but I do know that we believe there’s a massive black hole in the middle of every galaxy. As every sun dies and the universe loses heat, perhaps they will all collapse into their galaxy’s black hole, or black holes, and then every galaxy will eventually collapse. Just as everything expanded, it will all collapse and converge back in on itself. The entire universe – back to one singularity, one point of unimaginable heat, pressure, density, where time does not exist. And boom! A new universe begins. But the time for all this to happen is so long, we can not even conceive of it.

Maybe in that new universe that forms, somewhere intelligent life will come about. And just like us, maybe they will make up a creator to explain how they got there. But their creator will be bullshit too.

Maybe there are multiple universes. But not multiple dimensions, which is nothing more than wishful thinking and magical thinking in science fiction terms. They’re all just like ours, little sparks in the blackness of space. Maybe if we could get into a space ship and fly far enough away, and in our imaginary space ship could somehow escape the time part of the equation too, we could observe them, like fireworks in a night sky, universes exploding into existence and fizzling out.

So that’s it. For what’s it worth, that’s more or less the gist of what I believe. As you can see, there are gaps. I don’t propose an alternative to creation. I don’t claim to know how life came about from inorganic elements. I don’t know what consciousness is. I don’t answer why there are singularities in space, just like you don’t know where your gods came from. But at least singularities are plausible. I simply take what I do know and put it together and the unknown remains unknown.

In support of transgenders

OK, so I was going to write “You are my sunshine (Part 2)” about my son, but this can’t wait. The last few days I’ve read all about Harry Potter author, JK Rowling,  and her support of somebody who was fired for transphobic comments, and feel like it’s important to take a side here. There is only one side that I could ever support though, and I feel this with such conviction that I refuse to focus any further on anti-transgender rhetoric or Rowling herself. Suffice to say, anti-transgender rhetoric is either religious or anti-scientific.

My son and I have been watching Supergirl season 4, and a new cast member there is Nicole Maines, who plays new hero, Dreamer. She’s beautiful. Check out that second link to the video interview with her.

My view on transgender people is really quite simple: Imagine being born with a gender that mismatches the gender of your brain. Just imagine how difficult that must be. Then imagine living a lifetime where you are discriminated against because of who you are.

Remember that case a few years ago when when a teenager was barred access to a female bathroom because she was transgender? This was Nicole Maines, who takes that part in Supergirl. Now she’s making a name for herself as an actress.

I’ve used her as an example to try explaining what transgenderism is to my eleven year old son and I hope that he can grow up to be tolerant and fair, to treat everybody with respect as they deserve. Mind you, that will be easy for him since I’m raising him without religion, which it seems is the main source of hatred everywhere.

The world is not flat, and nobody needs to say that.

Even in this day and age, there are still people who believe the world is flat. To say that such a person is not the brightest crayon in the box, is an understatement. Their box is empty! Empty vessels make the most sound, and the internet is their echo chamber for this flat Earth madness.

These people, who don’t accept gravity and don’t believe in satellites, read and write on the world wide web, often connecting and sharing their locations via GPS technology on their smartphones. GPS – Global Positioning System. Let that sink in.

GPS isn’t the only navigation system that requires knowledge that the planet is not a fucking disk, but I figured it’s a good example to use, since it depends on connecting to satellites that convey coordinates (geolocation) and time data, which allows us to position ourselves, or navigate to, anywhere on the planet. To deny the existence of satellites while using technology that depends on them is, well… fucking stupid. There is no polite way to phrase it. A flat Earth, despite such technology working (and let’s pretend that satellite TV doesn’t exist, OK) would mean that every engineer, every university and college lecturer, every student, was in on the conspiracy. There’d have to be some other explanation for why such technology works, and millions of people would have to be involved, motivated for reasons that I cannot imagine, to hide the truth and perpetuate the hoax of a spherical planet. To think this, you must be mind-bogglingly stupid, and are implicitly unable to work in any one of many fields that requires understanding some pretty basic concepts.

They call us normal people globe heads. Well, even when I smoked meth for nine years out of a globe, I didn’t believe that the planet was a fucking disk. It’s difficult for me to imagine how anyone could think this.

I was going to go on, and explain how they hang on to dogma written thousands of years ago, and compare their beliefs to that of religions in general, but I won’t go there today. Suffice to say, if you are a flat earther, this post was not written to convince you of the truth; it was written to call you an idiot.

Very cool: Biological wheels and motors imaged for the first time, and the old chestnut, the argument from complexity

No time to write today, so a quick share instead… This is fascinating. “Wheels and motors” of bacteria have been imaged for the fist time. (Image is taken from the article without permission. Sorry.)


And of course, there are creationists who cite the existence of such natural wonders as evidence of God. Read the first link… The second one is too long, what with their irrational need to rationalize it as being evidence of a creator.

Of course it is not evidence of god. It’s the same old story… Ooh, something is complicated, therefore it must have been created by God. But God is just a name for magic. If you don’t understand something, fabricating a magical explanation for its existence does not make that magic true, even if the magical explanation was accepted by primitive people thousands of years ago and then handed down through the generations by brainwashing children before they were old enough to think critically.

The argument from irreducible complexity has been used for a long time for many different things, and it still doesn’t make sense. It boils down to saying, “This is so complex, it must have been designed.” The concept only works if you already assume that god exists, and that there is no need to question how this being came about (without recognizing that your assumption solves nothing and that your god is just another name for magic). The fact is, the same line of reasoning can be applied to the creator too, in that surely a being capable of creating such complex things couldn’t just exist. Only through special pleading can you expect this not to be questioned. Of course this fallacious argument is once again an example of begging the question, albeit a subtle one because the existence of god is implicitly assumed, and you might not notice the implication. But it’s still there, and the entire argument is formulated around this starting point. (Thus you have a circle.) So no, still no creator required, thank you very much.