Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Crosshairs, Truthers and Birthers

CNN reports that 56% of Democrats believe that Sarah Palin's crosshairs map was at least partly responsible for the Tucson shooting. This sounds ridiculous to most reasonable people, but we should remember that 61% of Democrats either believe that George Bush knew in advance of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers or are not sure.

This indication of loose marbles rolling around in the collective Democratic psyche should be kept in mind the next time an MSNBC host or newspaper columnist makes sport of the fact that some on the right are skeptical of Mr. Obama's provenance.

At least there's some reason to wonder where the President was born. There's no reason to believe that Sarah Palin had anything to do with Mr. Loughner or that George Bush had anything to do with 9/11. Sadly, some people don't need reasons.

Atheism and the Status of Newborns

Atheist biologist P.Z.Myers is considered one of the top 25 most influential living atheists. Myers has recently stated that he does not regard newborn babies as fully human nor as persons.

This rather unsurprising admission has given vjtorley at Uncommon Descent the idea for what I think is a brilliant challenge. After identifying the twenty five most influential living atheists he poses this series of questions to them:
(a) Do you believe that a newborn baby is fully human?

(b) Do you believe that a newborn baby is a person?

(c) Do you believe that a newborn baby has a right to life?

(d) Do you believe that every human person has a duty towards newborn babies, to refrain from killing them?

(e) Do you believe that killing a newborn baby is just as wrong as killing an adult?
He poses these questions, and invites those twenty five most influential atheists to respond because, he says, the world has a right to know the practical consequences of atheism.

Indeed. I don't know how many of them will take up the challenge (There are more details at the link, including a clever set of responses he offers in anticipation of questions people are likely to have), but I doubt many of them will. As atheists the answers they would give if they were honest would appall most people. Of course, as atheists, nothing obligates them to be honest.

Anyway, the value of vjtorley's challenge is that it gets the atheist's cards out on the table. The quality of an idea is judged, at least in part, by the fruit it bears. Let's see what most atheists think about whether it's okay to kill newborn babies and then, if there's a trend, let's see if we can discern a correlation between the trend and the philosophical assumptions of atheism.

Read the rest of vjtorley's proposal and see if you agree with his prediction of the answers that most atheists will give to his questions.


Multitudes of Americans suffer from a condition called tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ears, or, for some, an unrelenting hissing sound like that of steam escaping from a kettle. There's no cure, but researchers have been working on finding effective treatments. Now comes word of a development that may offer hope to millions of people who live with this maddening affliction every moment of every day of their lives:
Scientists have found a way to ease chronic ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus, by stimulating a neck nerve and playing sounds to reboot the brain, according to research published Wednesday.

There is currently no cure for tinnitus, which can range from annoying to debilitating and affects as many as 23 million adults in the United States, including one in 10 seniors and 40 percent of military veterans.

Scientists believe the disorder is caused by hearing loss or nerve damage, to which the brain tries but fails to adjust.

"Brain changes in response to nerve damage or cochlear trauma cause irregular neural activity believed to be responsible for many types of chronic pain and tinnitus," said Michael Kilgard of the University of Texas, co-author of the study in the journal Nature.

"We believe the part of the brain that processes sounds -- the auditory cortex -- delegates too many neurons to some frequencies, and things begin to go awry," he said.

To fix that, researchers used rats to test a theory that they could reset the brain by retraining it so that errant neurons return to their normal state.

In rats with tinnitus, they electrically stimulated the vagus nerve, which runs from the head through the neck to the abdomen, in combination with playing a certain high-pitched tone.

When stimulated, the nerve can encourage changes in the brain by releasing chemicals such as acetylcholine and norepinephrine that act as neurotransmitters.

Rats that underwent the pairing of noise and stimulation experienced a halt to the ringing sounds for up to three and a half months, while control rats that received just noise or just stimulation did not.

An examination of neural responses in the auditory cortexes showed normal levels in the rats who were treated with the combination of stimulation and sound, indicating the tinnitus had disappeared.
The rest of the article can be found here. For the sake of the millions of people who are afraid they'll go insane if they can't stop the noise, let's hope the procedure works.