Why can’t atheists leave the religious alone?

Often you see the question come up, usually by a religious believer, of why atheists challenge other people’s beliefs. Shouldn’t we all be tolerant and just leave each other alone? I think you’ll find most atheists would be fairly happy with that state of affairs (it’s called secularism). That’s not to say they will be completely satisfied but at that point, where religion becomes a private matter, there will probably be far fewer clashes. I would still think they are wrong but I also think they should be free to believe what they will. Why, then, aren’t we at that point? Simply put it’s because religion is still so ingrained in society and shown such deference that it’s impossible to get away from it. It’s so tightly woven into society that at times it’s probably not even noticed. Continue reading

Quicklinks: Bacteria, seafood and dolphins

I’m fairly busy this week so I’m not likely to have time to post anything substantial before Sunday. I don’t like this sitting empty though so I’ve found some more interesting links to share.

You might remember from earlier that I’m rather interested in how we live with bacteria. On that topic I saw two interesting articles lately. The first suggests that the bacteria living in your gut may play a role in your susceptibility to melamine poisoning and the second looks at how the bacteria living on our teeth have changed and what the effects of that have been.

Then there’s a bit about whether seafood feels pain. It’s interesting for me because I became a vegetarian for just those concerns. I’m confident other mammals feel pain and suffer just like us but it’s much harder to say anything about creatures that diverged much further back in time. In the end I decided it was just easier to cut out the grey areas by not eating any animals but it is good to know for certain.

Still in the sea, here are some more entertaining links. 10 reasons why dolphins are undeniably awesome and 10 reasons why dolphins are assholes.

Quick links: Animal thought

There’s a BBC article on whether animals are capable of imagination. It looks like they have limited powers of imagination, similar to small children. Most of the examples seem to be from other apes.

Also from the BBC is a piece on how dogs can understand situations from a human’s point of view.

Still on dogs, here’s an interview with a scientist who studies dog cognition. It covers the launch of his company to help people evaluate the intelligence of their dogs and, at the same time, benefit science. It’s also got a few questions on how smart dogs are, what people wrongly assume about dogs and a bit about the history of their domestication.

Coming to terms with randomisation

Hugh Laurie as House (Source: Wikipedia)

In my previous post I wrote a bit about RCTs and how they help us to know what does and doesn’t work. This is a very powerful tool for finding out what works but it requires a lot of effort in paperwork, analysis, recruiting participants and controls and in monitoring them. What’s nice is that this effort isn’t always needed. There are times when you can do RCTs with almost no effort and still learn a great deal. The problem is that there can be reluctance to do so.

The inspiration from this is drawn from chapter 5 of Bad Pharma, so if you want more details then you should go read them there. Continue reading

How do we know if something works?

There was an interesting news story in Nature recently about using clinical techniques to analyse international aid projects and see whether they actually work. Obviously this is important because if you’re spending a huge amount of money to uplift people you want to know that it’s actually doing that. If it’s not then you’re wasting your money and aren’t helping anyone. So how do we know if something is working? Continue reading