Tag Archives: science

Science Withteeth: Scientific Method.

Welcome to Science Withteeth

One thing I intend to do with this series is get into the nitty gritty of what science actually is, and how unclear that actually is. To do that it is important to discuss the methods that compose much of science.

More importantly though the scientific method, is poorly understood. I’m sure anyone with a basic science education has seen charts like the following.


These a great little over views a good way to explain the basic way science works, but generally you don’t revisit this idea unless your get into the second or third year of university. Let me tell you that while this is a good learning tool it’s does not actually tell you much at all. So rather then just assuming people understand the scientific method I’m going to examine what each point means, and how a scientist might go about creating or finding a question, or procedures.

The next post will be about where do scientific questions come from? Where do us scientists get our ideas from.

If you have any ideas you’d like me to examine comment below and I’ll start making a list.


I’m At a Loss

I’ve been finding it difficult to come up with ideas for blog posts, which is why this blog hasn’t been very active lately. As such, I’d like to leave it up to the readers: what would you like us to write about? Would you like to know something specific about our atheism? Do you have an argument that you’d like us to address? Would you like us to discuss a particular book? Do you have any questions about Philosophy, Biology, or History? Would you like to know our stance on a particular feminist issue? Is there something else you’d like us to write on? Let us know in the comment section.

Why the Heck Would Anybody Listen to Rob Schnider?

I just got home from seeing a talk given by Timothy Caulfield, the author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?. The talk was on celebrity culture and pseudo-science.

During his talk Timothy Caulfield mentioned how people are more willing to listen to celebrities than doctors where health is concerned, and how people are incredibly confused about health. I understand that confusion. There is a lot of information out there, and a lot of it is contradictory. But I can’t understand why anybody would turn to a celebrity for advice on anything other that what they are famous for. If you’re confused about what to eat, why wouldn’t you ask you doctor? They may not have all of the information, but they do have the training necessary to decipher the information. I can understand not fully trusting your doctor: Dr. Oz does apparently have a medical degree and he got rich off selling people “cures” that don’t do anything. But surely a doctor is more likely to give sound medical information than, say, Rob Schnider. Unless, of course, Rob Schnider has a medical degree that I’m unaware of.

Timothy Caulfield studied that very phenomenon. He looked into why people are so confused about health (surprise, surprise, the celebrities cause more confusion than anything else) and why people are so quick to follow them rather than their own doctors. His findings: it’s a culture thing. Celebrity culture is our culture. This means that we are more likely to follow the celebrity advice then the advise of those who actually understand the science. What’s more, this culture is caused by lack of social mobility. Americans often think of the United States as the land where all dreams are made possible. In the US, you’re supposed to be able to go from poor to rich with nothing more than hard work. But the fact of the matter is that this is not true. The United States has very little social mobility, so you are more likely to stay in the social class you were born into than anything else. So people idolize celebrities because they are seen as defying this odd (despite the fact that most of them have famous parents or relatives). In countries with more social mobility, this celebrity culture doesn’t exist. Which countries have the highest social mobility? The social welfare states! Denmark, Finland, Canada, and Sweden are the highest respectively.

So what does all this mean? I’m not really sure, but it certainly suggests that we have a lot of work ahead of us.

A Survey Update

I haven’t done an update on my surveys in a while. Here is how I’m doing so far:

Religion Surveys:
This survey deals with various situations that may be considered discrimination towards Atheists:
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=vvaqodd0equ2y21474850 – 2%
This survey deals with various situations that may be considered discrimination towards Christians:
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=pi387nzvmo8dklc474867 – 2%
This survey looks at whether or not the respondent feels they have been discriminated against for their religion:
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=3zolzpi3k1lwc7s470898 – 8%
This survey looks at whether or not people feel that Atheists are discriminated against:
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=t2k9uo23mlnmklk470896 – 7%
This survey looks at whether or not people feel that Christians are discriminated against:
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=85koff95iqwpme3470893 – 6%

Feminism Surveys:
Situations that may or may not be considered Feminist issues:
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=xxiz033c05yo72v472614 – 2%
Are various Feminist causes helpful or hurtful for the Feminist movement?
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=i8d3kq6z73ems49471695 – 7%
How do you perceive Feminism?
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=4p48z0rwjwooxpf471689 – 6%
Does Feminist have a bad reputation?
http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=r4t8nurh0tyxvqt470762 – 11%

Please help me out by doing my surveys, if you haven’t already, so that I can write my posts on the responses. And please share my surveys as well.

Science Depends On Philosophy, and practice at examining logical arguments.

This post will be severing two purposes. First as a review for an excellent video Gary Edwards put out on Sunday, and an examination of a deductive argument that I promised on my post about deductive and inductive logic.

Here’s the Video titled “Science Depends On Philosophy” for those interested the video does have a full transcript which can be read by going to the Youtube page clicking the ⚫⚫⚫ More button under the video title.

For ease I will include the definitions and the deductive argument here.


A = “The Hypothetical Philosophy Denialist”

P = “A is doing empirical science”

Q = “A has taken a conceptual and evaluative side” (You have agreed to certain definitions of what your looking at and looking for, that you won’t be redefining things as you go along and that you won’t be moving the goal posts if you don’t like any answers you might get. As well you value some thing, general try of evaluation, or forms of evidence, over other kinds.)

R = “A has engaged in appropriate discourse”

S = “A is Hypocritical and conceited”

T = “A is doing Philosophy”


1. “P” [assumption]

2. “NOT S” [assumption]

3. IF “P” THEN “Q” [premise]

4. IF (“Q” AND “NOT R”) THEN “S” [premise]

5.  IF (“Q” AND “R”) THEN “T” [premise]

6. EITHER “R” OR “NOT R” (This is a case of an exclusive or) [premise]

7. EITHER “S” OR “T” (This is also a case of an exclusive or) [deduction 4+5+6]

8. “T” [deduction 2+7]

9. IF (“P” AND “NOT S”) THEN “T” [deduction 1+2+3+8]

Well scared yet? Hopefully not! Though if your needing the refresher I’ll link back to my discussion of logical connectives here, and the the basic form of an argument here.

First I’m going to take this argument step by step and restate each step of the argument, and discuss it’s importance. If you had no problem following Gary then you may wish to skim though this part, but given this is formal logic and may reading this will have little to no exposure to this type of rather intimidating notation. It is best to try to make the argument as clear as possible.

First come the assumptions. For this argument we are assuming 1. Your doing empirical science (P), and 2. you are not a conceited hypocrite (NOT S). Both of these are build in to give the argument charitability to the philosophical denialists (A). I haven’t yet talked much about charitability and I’ll be writing a full post on it soon as it is very important. I won’t go into it much here other then to say that by being charitable Gray has made his fair, and respectful which is always a good route to go.


So we know “A” is doing empirical science and is not conceited or hypocritical. Now to the premises.

3. First premise is IF “P” THEN “Q”. Which translated back into English is saying:

IF someone is doing empirical science (P) THEN it is the case that that person has taken a conceptual and evaluative side.

Which is to say that someone has accepted some set of acceptable scientific and empirical methodologies in which they will base their conclusions upon. How do we know those methodologies are acceptable? For that we need to go on to the next premise.

4. IF (“Q” AND “NOT R”) THEN “S”

IF someone has taken a conceptual and evaluative side (Q), but has not engaged in appropriate discourse (NOT R). THEN it is the case that person is a conceited hypocrite (S).

What is means to engaged in the appropriate discourse varies some depending on the particular science in questions, but generally speaking this means that you agree to follow those definitions, and methodologies agree on by the scientific consensus, and to be clear about place where you diverge. As well in mean that you will engage in the peer review process allowing other to look over your work, and that you will do the same, taking into considerations and criticism you get, and make corrections as needed. I could go on, but I think that is a compete enough overview for our purposes here.

5. IF (“Q” AND “R”) THEN “T”

IF someone has taken a conceptual and evaluative side (Q), and engaged in appropriate discourse (R) THEN that person is engaged in philosophy (T).

This is the first place most might object to the argument, but I think this premise fits well for both science and philosophy.


EITHER someone is engaged in appropriate discourse (R) OR they’re not (NOT R).

Another place you might object and say there is nuance, but I’ll save arguments against for later.

Now that we have all 4 Premises. Lets move onto the three deductions.


7. EITHER “S” OR “T”

EITHER your a conceited hypocrite (S) OR your doing philosophy (T).

This deduction follows from premises 4, 5 and 6 as follows. First we know from premise 4 and 5 that if someone engaged in appropriate discourse (R) that they doing philosophy, and if they’re not engaged in appropriate discourse they are a conceited hypocrite. With Premise 6 we know you must either be doing appropriate discourse or not, there is not middle group on that issue. Because of that we know that “A” must with be “T” or “S”.

8. “T”

The Hypothetical philosophy denialist (A) is doing philosophy (T).

Due the deduction 7 we know “A” must be “S” OR “T”, and since assumption 2 is that “A” is Not A conceited hypocrite (NOT S) then we know the “A” must be doing philosophy.

9. IF (“P” AND “NOT S”) THEN “T”

This final deduction draws from all the premises and deductions some directly and indirectly. We know that “A” is doing Science from the first assumption. We also know that “A” is not a conceited hypocrite (NOT S) from assumption 2.

As also know that from Assumption 1 and Premise 3 that “A” is doing Empirical Science (P) so “A” must also have taken a conceptual and evaluative sides (Q). Based on deduction  8 and all that came before it we know that If “Q” then we must either have “T” or “S”, but not both. We also know we must have “R” or “NOT R” (6), and that they follow from “Q” (4, 5), and that “Q” follows from “P” (3). Because of all of that confusing mess we know that to do empirical science (Q) we must either do philosophy (T) or be conceited hypocrites (S). We already now we are doing both Science and that we are not conceited hypocrites so we must be doing philosophy! Hopefully that made sense!

Gary Edwards explains line 9 a bit differently and I suggest everyone who’s gotten this far go back and watches again. Both are correct, though his is more concise. My explanation is drawing out the logic more in hope it may help a few people reading this understand.

Though if some this doesn’t make sense, and anyone doesn’t understand why these deductions follow from the premisses and assumptions please ask questions. I’ll do my best to answer, though do try to be specific what line your having issues with. This is formal logic so if it doesn’t make sense the first time though don’t worry it did make sense to me at first either.

Okay know I’m sure people are going to have some issue with the argument and would like to address some of it’s failings, if it has any. I’ll explain the basics of how you would go about doing so, and give an example.

First this argument is sound, the premises guarantee the conclusion. So saying the argument doesn’t work is a no go.The argument does work, if you have an issue you’ll need to indicate why the premise or assumptions are incorrect and how they are incorrect. Another way to think of it is that you can not refute the conclusions of a sound argument. Those are a given and above reproach. Instead you must show that the argument is build on unsound foundations by picking apart the premises.

I pointed out two places, Premise 5 and 6, where one might object. Of these two premise 5 seems the most likely candidate for criticism. That premise was:


5. IF (“Q” AND “R”) THEN “T”

IF someone has taken a conceptual and evaluative side (Q), and engaged in appropriate discourse (R) THEN that person is engaged in philosophy (T).


This premise is largely undefended, while I do agree with it, it still remains a weak spot. This is an important point to remember, you can criticize your own ideas in this manner, and well as those ideas you like. In doing so all you risk is improving your argument by recognizing its weak points and strengthening them, or finding our your wrong.  And finding out your wrong for yourself eases that awkwardness of someone else doing it for you.


First and post obviously you could argue the “T” does not necessarily follow from “Q” & “R”, so far from the discussions those thing seem to be important only too doing “empirical science” (P). Though in order to make this an convincing counter point you must explain why “T” Does not follow from “Q” & “R” what about philosophy make those two things unnecessary? And when you think of that reason why do you think might be the response from Gary? I’m actually drawing a blank, on a good reason, but that might be because I biased anyone have some ideas?


I also suggest any interested parties try to tackle the argument from Premise 6 which in retrospect may have made a better example ;).

Next time I’ll be talking about charitability in arguments and more specifically counter arguments.



“Sex,” why I’m conflicted.

I’m a Biologist but I’m also an advocate for LGBTQA persons, and a Feminist.

So it has bothered me for sometime now to hear the growing idea that the word “Sex” is being seen by many to be nothing more then a social construct. A tool used to quickly label, but that sorely falls apart under scrutiny. Particularly under the light that is the diversity of humanity, and should probably be tossed out. Well I don’t completely disagree with that, but I also don’t want to throw out the word “sex.” To understand why I hold both of these opinions you have to understand that my definitions and understanding of “Sex” is radically different then how the general population tends to use the word.

In general, English speaking cultures, even our governments view the words Sex and Gender as synonymous. This is the root of my conflict because as a biologist I have a precise and well defined notion of sex, and one which does not tread into the territory of gender.

But as a feminist and an advocate for LGBTQA I understand that conflating these terms is dangerous. Both because is misses a wide variety of people who do not fit neatly in to the male and female genders, but worse of all it confused a whole bunch of biology, and physical structures, with social and cultural constructs. This is in no way to say we ought ignore these constructs or that they are not important. However, how you are conditioned, and taught to present as a child doesn’t have much relationship sex you might have.

Though I or Hessian will defend more fully the diffrences between gender and sex in a later post for now I’d like to focus on what I think of when I talk about a person’s sex.

Sex in biology is not a cut and dry, male and female affair. For the majority of biologists discussing sex female and male are only used when there are a few obvious traits that can be used to distinguish different types of gametes in a single species. In species with the male and female classification. Your male if the gametes you produce are smaller and/or more mobile. Your female if the gametes are larger and/or less mobile. That’s generally all there is too it.

You can probably already tell that this isn’t cut and dry by my use of and/or, but it does map nicely on to the general view with humans, since male humans produce sperm which are small and mobile, where the eggs produced by female humans are larger and lack the ability to propel themselves. Although quite often people who are called women, or men are not always female and male.

Sexual reproduction is an old trait, and exists in many forms. Many organisms have male and female style gamete production, but fungus and many sexually reproducing single celled organism being a key example have many sexes or as they are often called “strains” a whole variety of different sexes each often only comparable with  select few other strains. And even in organisms with gametes which fit neatly into the male/female divide such as plants you quickly realize that many organism, including most seed plants, contain both types of sex organs in the same individual (being hermaphroditic), not to mention the massive numbers of organism which can both reproduce sexually and asexually.

This plurality is the context I bring my understand of sex from. Sex is a really useful categorization for organizing reproductive capacity. Outside the frame work of ‘how can you produce offspring’ sex does not have much that is useful to say, and human’s are not exceptions to this rule either.

Certainty it’s true that there is some link between physical traits in humans and what gametes you produce, but these links are not cut and dry.  Not everyone can produce gametes,  and there are nor shortage of people (including trans* and intersex people) with physical traits which do not match what you’d expect by what gamete producing structures they possess. All of this is made more complex by the simple fact that the variety between even “typically” male and female people overlaps far more then in it differs, but if you willing to define sex by gametes like most biologists do, the vast majority of ambiguity goes right out the window.

Though there is a bit more of a downside from a social acceptance perspective. There are no shortage of people whom are for a variety of reasons unable to produce gametes. Now in cases where you  have lost the ability to produce viable gametes, such as people who go through menopause. I’m entirely willing to grant them the sex that they would otherwise have, but in the chance of people who can’t and could never produce gametes? Well I’m force to say they are sexless. Now from a biology perspective I have no problem accepting this, but I can understand that others might not be so happy about it.

Further because of how male and female have become conflated with man and woman, there are not shortage of people, largely intersex, Trans*, and gender nonconforming people who wouldn’t be too happy  if I was to start calling them male, female or sexless based on the gametes they do or don’t produce (assuming I could tell).  That and I don’t blame them for a second. There is tons of baggage tied up with these terms so one can not just ignore the history. Though it happens to not be something that should come up in conversation often, since really you shouldn’t be trying to find out what gamete a person produces. It’s rather personal and you can’t even figure it out just by knowing a persons genitalia, which is also something you shouldn’t be asking people about anyway.

But this is why I’m conflicted, I use sex in the scientific manner, so I’m not talking about the same thing as most people when I’m discussing sex. But I don’t want sex to be thrown out of the common dialogue either. Rather I want more people to discuss the ideas of female and male in term of gametes. It’s simple and it’s clear, but best of all it doesn’t conflate sex and gender. It might ignore issue of secondary “sex” characteristics, but those aren’t actually controlled by your gamete production, so when we are talking about breasts, voices, body hair, muscle mass, and the like we aren’t actually talking about sex we are talking about a whole swath of biological controls. Most notably hormones.

I’m interested to see what questions and ideas everyone has, I couldn’t be a through as I’d like given the breadth of these topics, but for those new to most of this I hope I’ve at least opened your eyes to the complex nature of life on our planet and within our species in nothing else.



Labeling Genetically modified food, why it’s a waste of time and money.

Anyone who has read my posts about GMO’s (Genetically modified organisms) and the anti-GMO movement know I am a proponent of genetic modification.

I suggest those who are not actually sure what genetic modification is go read the post I’ve previously written explaining the types of genetic modification in broad terms. Link below.


Now this demand for GMO labeling, from my understanding, is largely a byproduct of the anti-GMO movement and the massive ignorance surrounding the fields of biology related to genetic modification. People really just don’t understand what is going on in the production and modification of food crops. Even Bill Nye The Science Guy is a proponent of these labels, but this is only further proof that people don’t understand the biology. Allow me to defend these statements, and explain why the labels will not help consumers.

Genetic modification, and what kinds of genetic modification are considered “problematic,” is poorly defined, and even more poorly understood by the general public and most policy makers. Much like how people think Organic food means no pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizer (this is actually true in some areas, but not all), and healthier (which it isn’t). People think GMO means “bad” and unhealthy, but this is childish and flatly wrong. Why? because genetic modification refers to a wide array of methods, some of which have been used for hundreds or thousands of years. That, and genetic change occurs all the time. When advantageous mutation spring up, farmers and horticulturists have jumped to capitalize on these mutations. The only difference now is some times we are able to take a well understood (if it isn’t well understood then you simply don’t have the necessary information to transfer the genes) advantageous trait from one crop and put it into the other without mucking about with hybridization or artificial mutation.

But this is the biggest problem: genetic modification is massively complex. I’m 5 years into my degree and I have only in the last year and a half become competent in speaking about this topic. So to expect the lay person to understand is unreasonable without first devoting some serious resources to publicly educating the population. But moving along, why are the labels likely to be ineffective at communicating anything useful?

Because almost everything is genetically modified. If you read my other blog post about about the kinds of genetic modification here, you will quickly come to realize there is a lot going on with everything on the shelves, and I think it very probable that labeling will result in either a whole lot of things been labeled or very few, and the problem is that all that will accomplish is a reduction in sales of those things labeled, since there is a strong anti-GMO bias in much of the population. But that bias is not based in the science, so we will not see a direct health benefit, nor will we see a better informed populous.

Why won’t we see a more informed population? Because the number of potential combinations are unfathomable. Just sticking a label on a fruit isn’t going to tell you anything, and even if you do add a much more substantial label to the fruit telling you what genes and methods were used and how to get more information, people in general don’t have the biology, or specifically genetics knowledge to make effective use of that knowledge.

This, as far as I’m concerned, is the realm of government regulation and independent researchers to test the safely of these foods and products. And you know what? It’s already happening. There are many thousands of research papers published and many more each year that indicated the safely of, as far as I’m aware, all genetically modified food organisms currently sold in the west.

As for those papers, here are a selection of over 600: http://gmopundit.blogspot.ca/p/450-published-safety-assessments.html

So why would we spend money (any expenses will ultimately come out of us consumers) on labels that won’t help a damn thing?


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