Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why I Don’t Believe in Gods

Please note the title of this post. In writing this, it is not my intention to convince anyone to “deconvert”. Though I do hope that what I say here might provoke readers to think more deeply about what they believe and why they believe it, my main goal is simply to outline my reasons for becoming an atheist so that people close to me who are interested might understand why.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

If You Absolutely Have to Run Linux...

When you are in the world of science, every now and then you will run across a piece of code that only runs on Linux. If you don’t know what Linux is or ever have to use it, be grateful. The only good thing about Linux, as far as end-users are concerned, is that there are versions of it that are free and works fairly well in general. Beyond that, it is an overcomplicated, confusing, and poorly documented system where anything beyond the basic usage requires intimate knowledge of command lines, configuration files, and environment variables. Further, I think it encourages those who write Linux-specific code to also adopt these non-intuitive practices, which can bleed into Windows ports of these programs.

This post is dedicated to those like me who would like to be able to run Linux programs when we need to, but otherwise to shove it in a dark corner of our computers where we never need to see it again. I will introduce the basics of Linux and describe how to install it inside a virtual machine on Windows 7.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Value and Danger of Anecdotal Experiences

xkcd 842: Mark
Why anecdotes shouldn't be trusted. (xkcd #842: Mark)
I would like to share with you an anecdote.

For a long time, I kept my cell phone in my left pants pocket. After some time, I began noticing that the muscle just underneath it would occasionally twitch.

Feeling curious, I moved my phone to my right pocket. After a while, I noticed that the twitches in the left muscle weren’t happening anymore. And just recently (about 6 months later) I noticed some twitches occurring under my right pocket.

Ah-ha! you might think. Long-term exposure to cell phone radiation has some effect on muscles!

Well… no. It’s a curious correlation at best, but there are a number of problems with making any sort of conclusion from this single experience:

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Young Girl Walking

Scene: A sidewalk along a busy Atlanta street. The sun is out, and the heat and humidity prowls the mid-morning air, biding its time. A seemingly young, petite girl with long, light brown hair is casually walking. She wears a form-fitting striped light green-and-white dress just barely long enough to serve its purpose. A silver stud sits above her right upper lip, and a large, intricate tattoo rests on her outer left thigh, partially occluded by the fabric of her dress. Held up in her left hand is an iPhone, playing music from its speakers, and in her right hand dangles a half-spent cigarette. People pass her from behind and she just turns her head, smiles at them slightly, and continues on walking, unperturbed.

(This is a scene I observed while walking by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, on Clifton Rd., on Friday, August 20th. I felt it deserved a narrative treatment because though no single element was particularly unique, the juxtaposition was simply too intriguing.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Debt Ceiling is Unconstitutional Under Article I

Amid this debate over the debt ceiling, I realized something important: refusing to raise the debt ceiling to account for Congressionally-appropriated funds is nothing less than an unconstitutional abdication of Congress’s power to direct government spending.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"The Death of a Tax Collector" and Other Republican Bedtime Stories

You don’t have to be an economist to know that tax cuts, especially for the wealthy and for corporations, can only produce a small short-term benefit to the economy, if any benefit at all. It’s actually common sense, but sometimes common sense takes a back seat to the back pocket, and public good to personal greed.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt

I never really paid attention to the whole Casey Anthony case until today, but this comment from the defense attorney Jose Baez struck me:

We should all take this as an opportunity to learn to realize that you cannot convict someone until they've had their day in court. We have the greatest constitution…If the media and other members of the public do not respect it, it will become meaningless.

This is an unfortunately common problem. The whole point of "beyond reasonable doubt" and "innocent until proven guilty" is to make sure that potentially innocent people aren't railroaded by overzealous prosecution, especially when it is defined by emotions and gut feelings rather than by evidence. Especially when the prosecution usually has the upper hand in getting it's story out to the public.

Casey Anthony and her family are screwed up, there's no question about that. But that doesn't automatically mean she is guilty of all the crimes she was charged with, and the jury decided that there wasn't enough evidence for a guilty verdict on the most serious counts.

We should all be thankful for that: just because society may disapprove of you and considers you to be a horrible person in general, you are still going to be treated more or less fairly by the judge and jury. The system isn't perfect, but isn't the attempt to remove prejudices from the decision something to admire about our legal system?

She may be actually guilty of the crime. We in the public have a right to an opinion on that matter, if we care enough to have one. But please, be sure you know the difference between thinking something is likely true and knowing that something actually is true. Understanding this distinction is what makes the difference between civilized disagreement and a lynch mob.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cutting Without a Cause: The Less Than Compelling Case for Routine Infant Circumcision

You may have heard something about circumcision in the news lately. This is because there have been active ballot initiatives to ban routine male circumcision, first in San Francisco and then Santa Monica (though it has since been dropped there due to association with charges of antisemitism). I looked into the arguments surrounding the issue, and I’ve come to the conclusion that routine circumcision should not be allowed to continue.

Note: Due to the nature of the topic, some of the links in this post include explicit images of male anatomy, though no images are embedded in the post itself.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Rethinking Choice: Human Personhood and the Abortion Debate

Fetal Development
Update: It has come to my attention that the timeline I'm describing has an error by a week or two. I don't have time to fix it, but the underlying idea is sound.

One of the most politically important questions of our day is defining the bounds of a human life, and who has control over it. This is in large part because it is so divisive, a treacherous landscape governed mainly by religious and political motivations, rather than by empirical truths, and serves as a distraction from the truly critical issues facing our country. It is therefore imperative that we formulate and proactively support a definition of human life that accounts for both fetal development and the fact that the mother and fetus are a single, integrated system.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The World is Safe For Now: 2012, Harold Camping, and Why the Biblical End of the World Won’t Happen

The Death Star's superlaser about to hit Alderaan.
How worlds ended in Star Wars.
Doomsday. It’s a frightening and captivating idea which has held firm in the imaginations of humans for as long as we’ve been telling each other stories. Indeed, one only needs to look to the big summer movies which routinely threaten humanity/the earth/the universe with every imaginable form of destruction.

Talk of the real end of the world has heightened in the last few years, first with the idea that the Maya supposedly predicted 2012 as the end, and most recently with Harold Camping’s extraordinarily well-publicized biblical ‘calculation’ that the rapture would occur this year. Both of these ideas were ludicrous, and I’ll briefly explain before discussing the biblical end of the world in general.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Celebrating the Death of a Terrorist

The announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death around 10:30 pm on May 1st, 2011 came as a surprise, and some details of the operation were similarly surprising, not the least of which is the fact that he was hiding in plain sight, right in the midst of a Pakistani military town near the capital. His death certainly won’t mean the immediate end of efforts against terrorism, and it may even lead to an initial increase in attempted attacks.

But the details of the operation aren’t really what I want to talk about right now. I want to talk about our reactions to his death. Though I’m certainly not alone in discussing this.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Homeopathy: The Make-Believe Medicine

While I was watching TV last weekend, I saw an odd commercial.

Oscillococcinum. That’s a long word that sounds a lot like the technical name that you might associate with many other medicines: acetaminophen, pseudoephedrine, fexofenadine, and so on. You would logically think that it is a new drug to treat flu symptoms.

What is oscillococcinum (oss-sillo-kok-sin-um), exactly? According to the website for this particular product, it is "anas barbariae hepatis et cordis extractum 200CK” with added sucrose and lactose (that is, sugar).

Nothing like a dead language to obscure what the ingredient really is: “Muscovy (wild) duck liver and heart extract.” Notice that nowhere on the product’s website do they actually explain this.

White Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata) with wings outstretched
(Photo by Steven H. Keys, from Wikimedia Commons)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Astrology of Allstate Insurance: Statistics Fail Edition

Picard Facepalm

Very few things make me more discouraged than news stories and pronouncements that are so badly wrong. Captain Jean-Luc Picard knows how I feel.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Scientific Astrology

You may have heard about a story circulating around the internet about astrology being wrong. In short, an astronomer named Parke Kunkle talked to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star-Tribune about how astrology’s dates bear little relation to actual positions of the constellations and that there is a 13th constellation that isn't included. It doesn’t seem like he intended it to be big news, but it made quite an impact on the internet all the same; doing a Google News search for "astrology" turns up hundreds of articles on the topic.

If you are like me and don’t pay any attention to astrology, this did come as a revelation: why wouldn’t a system with the prefix “astro-“ and using the names of constellations have to do with the positions of the stars?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Free Energy of Salvation

Free Energy of Salvation

This piece was inspired by a typo from a talk at the 11th International Workshop on Radiation Damage to DNA in Atlanta last May which converted “solvation free energy” to “salvation free energy.” I couldn't resist bringing to life the imagery that phrase conjured.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Disentangled Reality: Yet Another Blog

The current internet is a world littered with blogs. A major site without a blog is quite a rarity these days, and there are very many individual and group blogs that cover a wide range of topics. In some ways adding my voice to the cacophony would seem to be a waste of time. Indeed, running a successful blog—one with relatively regular posts maintained from its founding to the present date—is a time-intensive effort, and the internet is littered with the ruins of barely-started and long-abandoned blogs.

So why found yet another blog?

Quite simply, I want an outlet to record my thoughts on important and interesting topics in a public way for a general audience, and to practice the online communication skills that are becoming so necessary in the modern era. If people beyond my close friends and acquaintances find this to be intriguing and begin to read it, that would be wonderful, but it is not my original goal that this become a highly-trafficked destination.

What will this blog cover?

I plan to discuss an array of issues, all centered around examining this reality that we find ourselves in. Sometimes these discussions will be very deep (e.g. "Why existence?"), sometimes controversial (e.g. "What can we say about whether God exists or not?"), and sometimes mundane (e.g. "Why marzipan is a horrible food"). Often I may discuss a newly-published scientific article or current, especially political, event. I may also draw inspiration from my personal life, but I do not intend for this blog to become a personal journal.

Some good examples of the sort of material I will post on can be found at my old blog Talking to a Wall, listed under "My Favorite Posts."

Who am I?

My name is Nicholas Bauer, and I am a 25-year-old biochemistry Ph.D. graduate student at Emory University studying the regulation of DNA repair in eukaryotes (that includes us humans).

Why the ads?

Honestly, why not? Of course I don't endorse anything that is displayed in those boxes (at the right and at the bottom). Though if you ever see a distasteful ad come through, tell me about it so I can block it.

Update 4/25/11: I decided to remove the ads. Not nearly enough traffic to make anything, so they were just an annoyance.