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JREF Swift Blog
Swift, named for Jonathan Swift, is the JREF's daily blog, featuring content from James Randi, the JREF staff, and other featured authors.

God's Thoughts PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

godsthoughtsI was at an open house at my oldest son's middle school tonight, and I saw this poster. There is much debate over Einstein's beliefs, and though it seems clear from his writings that he was not a Christian or practicing Jew, he did proffer quotes about "God" fairly often, and these are widely used by religious groups today. The full quote:

I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element; I want to know his thoughts; the rest are details.

This particular quote is intriguing, because I cannot find a definitive source for it. He supposedly said it to a young student, in the context of some experiment or other.

But what did he mean by it?

Einstein claimed to believe in Spinoza's God, which is basically "nature." This is an impersonal God, who has no more regard for humans than for birds, bacteria, or boulders. For Einstein though, this "god" was a puzzle for him to figure out. He wanted to learn what nature was, take it apart, determine how it was put together and why. Taken in this light, he was simply saying something akin to "I don't care about rainbows, I care about why they exist."

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WOO IN REVIEW: Lost - 'Because You Left' and 'The Lie' (TIME TRAVEL CONTEST) PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Alison Smith   

WOO IN REVIEW TIME TRAVEL CONTEST - Lost: 'Because You Left' and 'The Lie'
(ABC)

This review contains information on the plots of 'Because You Left' and 'The Lie'. If you have not yet seen these episodes and do not want spoilers, read no further. The episodes are also available online here. HOWEVER, for those who HAVE NOT SEEN THE SHOW: YOU CAN STILL ENTER THE CONTEST. Scroll to the very bottom of this article and read numbers two and three for information on how to enter with no Lost knowledge whatsoever.lostintro

Lost, if you haven't seen it, is pretty impossible to explain – especially now that we've entered season five, and the lives of the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 are so muddled with random eerie island crap that watching an episode in the middle is the equivalent of flipping open a Bible repeatedly, citing a single random word from each page, and then trying to moosh them together into a storyline that makes comprehensible sense.

Things happen so quickly during each episode that you may find yourself stranded on your own island of confusion. So, if you have never watched the show you may want to go ahead and rent the DVDs rather than tune in now. 

The series was created by J.J. Abrams, and Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse are the main writers for the show. I assume the whole group dropped acid a few moments prior to the show's creation, because that's the only way I assume a person could fathom of genetically altered polar bears that hang out on a tropical island and a smoke monster that shows you your past, judges you, and then either kills you or apparently gives you superpowers – or, at the very least, an uncanny ability to tell when it's going to rain, and an irrepressible urge to hold your hands skyward when you're right.

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Science was Wrong! PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

pandaTaxonomy is a tricky subject. There are many ways to classify things, and all of them are valid in their own way. In the animal kingdom, organisms were historically classified by phenotype – how they look. This was fairly effective… it showed us that apes were related to each other more than they were related to monkeys, and they were related to monkeys more than bears, etc.

I was surprised to learn recently that pandas are actually bears again. Phenotypically, they look like bears, and some people still call them “panda bears.” When I studied them in high school in the 80’s, we were taught that this phenotypic classification was wrong, and that they’re actually more closely related to raccoons. However, more recent testing has shown that the original idea was actually correct! The panda didn’t change, but we learned more about them and discovered that they shared a lot more genes with the bear family than we suspected.

It would be easy to look at this and say, “Wow, science sure gets things wrong a lot.” And if you said that, you’d be right.

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Obama on Science: Hope or Hype? PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

There may not be a blog in the world that isn't talking about Obama today. His speech included two important things for our community: nonbelievers and science. While we at the JREF are thrilled that a president actually acknowledged that nonbelievers are welcome in this country, it's his comments on science that we'll look at here.

We have a reason to be happy that Obama mentioned science from the podium, and in a supportive light, but what did he really say?

Remember: Obama's speech was written by a team of writers. He directed them, but he is not solely responsible for these words. Every syllable of this speech was checked for clarity of purpose and meaning. It was an extremely scrutinized eighteen minutes of text.

Obama said:

We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost

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Every Outbreak has a Silver Lining PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Joe Albietz   

Every time we have an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable illness, medical journals, the skeptical blogosphere, and even one oddball astronomy site seize the opportunity to re-iterate two related points: 1) Vaccines are safe, and they are unrelated to autism. 2) When rates of vaccinations drop, diseases return.  These incidents are exceedingly salient to the current public debate surrounding vaccination and more than worthy of the attention they receive.

And yet, in spite of the evidence, in spite of our vigilance, people still fear vaccines and outbreaks continue.  Faced with a frustrating and seemingly perpetual battle, it is easy for skeptics to become jaded and cynical, feeling as though we are either preaching to a silent choir or an unfortunately vocal brick wall.  That’s why I think it is worth taking another look at the most recent measles outbreak to have gained skeptical attention because the situation may not be as bleak as it sometimes appears.1

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