Archive | August, 2013

FF Podcast (Audio) 012: Million People March

FF Podcast (Audio) 012: Million People March

Screen Shot 2013-08-30 at 6.52.30 AM

We took a break last week due to the bad weather but we’re back! This week’s show is on the Million People March against the Pork Barrel and the PDAF Scam.

You may also download the podcast file here.



Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in Audio, audio podcast, Media, Politics, Society0 Comments

FF Podcast 012: Million People March

FF Podcast 012: Million People March

Screen Shot 2013-08-30 at 6.52.30 AM

We took a break last week due to the bad weather but we’re back! This week’s show is on the Million People March against the Pork Barrel and the PDAF Scam.

You may also download the episode file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Podcast, Politics, Society0 Comments

Filipino Freethinkers Meetup: Sep. 1, Sunday, Holy Trinity Church

sept1-01Location: Holy Trinity Church, 48 Mckinley Road, Forbes Park, Makati
Date: Sunday, September 1, 2013
Time: 2:30pm – 5:30pm

Google Map: http://goo.gl/wCMAl

Topics
1) Introvert vs Extrovert: Sense and nonsense
2) Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance: art or crap
3) Smart people vs. dating
[www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-ali-binazir/why-the-smartest-people-h_b_169939.html]
4) Scrap pork: Updates and next actions
5) 8 Million Peso Flagpoles, why bother?
6) Raunchy topic of the week

After the meetup we usually go for dinner and drinks somewhere nearby. If you’re not a meetup regular and can’t make it for the meetup but would like to go for the post meetup, please indicate on a post in the wall or comment so we can contact you.

Got questions about the meetup? Contact us at 0927 323 3532

* Newbies are welcome.
* Look for the FF sign (or the group of smart, sexy people).
* There is no required age, religion, philosophy, or IQ level.
* Discussions are informal yet intelligent (most of the time).
* You don’t have to talk; you can just sit in and listen

RSVP here.

Posted in Meetup0 Comments

Hiwaga and Humbug on Philippine TV

In recent posts on Facebook and Twitter, the social media accounts of the ABS-CBN show Hiwaga asked the following question: “Ayon sa teorya ni Charles Darwin, nagmula ang mga tao sa unggoy… kaya maari bang bumalik uli tayo dito? (According to the theory of Charles Darwin, humans came from monkeys… so is it possible that we will go back to being monkeys?)”

Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 10.15.47 AM

 

This leading question, even if not representative of the entire content of the episode, is still reprehensible for its sensationalism of the theory of evolution, a sensationalism that can contribute to worsening the public’s misapprehension of Darwin’s theory. However, given the new show’s track record so far, it is likely that the people in charge of the show, including host Atom Araullo, will make monkeys out of themselves in their treatment of the monkeys-to-men question.

In this article, I will start by fleshing out my criticism of the post on Darwin’s theory, then I will go on to criticize the very spirit of shows like Hiwaga. I will extend this criticism to cover all forms of superstition, pseudoscience, and sloppy science in Philippine TV. Finally I will appeal to the show’s host Atom Araullo, who is an alumnus of Philippine Science High School and the University of the Philippines, an applied physics graduate, and an activist, to find it in his conscience to leave the program and criticize it publicly.

 

Of Monkeys and Men

So what about monkeys and men? According to the theory of evolution, apes, including humans, share a recent common ancestor with modern monkeys. Careful comparison of bones and body structure, as well as analyses of genes and biomolecules, helped establish the phylogenetic tree (a sort of family tree of species) of apes and monkeys. The tree below showing the relatedness of apes (like chimps, gorillas, and humans) and monkeys (like the Philippine macaque) explain why they have many similarities and important differences.

A tree showing the relatedness of monkeys and apes (including humans). [Image credit: www.swcs.us]

Does this say we come from monkeys? Sinasabi ba nito na nanggaling tayo sa unggoy? No and yes. What this says is that apes and monkeys share a fairly recent common ancestor. The last ancestor shared by the Old World monkeys and apes lived a bit more than 20 million years ago (mya). This ancestor probably looked more like modern monkeys than like apes, and if it were still alive today we would probably call it a monkey. In other words, we humans descended from monkey-like ancestors that lived more than 20 mya. But we did not come from modern monkeys or chimpanzees; the fellow shown in the picture below is a relative of ours, not an ancestor nor a “primitive” form of human.

The Philippine macaque, a local species of monkey. [Photo credit: en.wikipedia.org]

Why is this issue of the exact relationship between monkey and man so important as to lead me to criticize the post on Hiwaga’s social media accounts? Here’s why the theory of evolution is important.

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, independently discovered by Alfred Russel Wallace, explains the origin of diversity in the living world. It tells us that all living organisms on Earth are related, but by different degrees. The modern version of the theory of evolution can also explain many aspects of living things, such as why many plants have colorful flowers, why certain bacteria produce very potent toxins, and why animals behave in certain ways.

The theory of evolution is important because we and the flora and fauna we depend on are products of evolution; to understand ourselves and the organisms around us, a correct understanding of evolution is necessary. To provide a concrete example, the rice we eat is a product of artificial selection, a process very similar to natural selection, and some genetic engineering. The recent attacks on ‘golden rice’ research in the Philippines is partly due to a serious lack of understanding about how artificial and natural selection work.

Then you should’ve listened closely in biology class. But don’t worry, it’s not too late. You can always demand more informative shows from our TV and radio stations.

Evolution also affects us not just in geological time but also in real time. The critters that plague our farms and the viruses and bacteria that make us sick undergo evolution within our lifetimes. Failure to grasp the effects of evolution on the scale of a few years can lead to unscientific and dangerous positions such as being against vaccines.

In addition to the direct importance of understanding evolution, sensational simplifications contribute greatly to the spread of misunderstandings such as that embodied by statements like “So why are there still monkeys around if we came from monkeys?”  Science sensationalism also gives fodder to anti-scientific movements like creationism.

These are but a few reasons why the theory of evolution is important, and why its sensationalism by Hiwaga and other media outlets deserves criticism. I understand that the journalistic intention behind the post is to catch people’s attentions using a language familiar to them, thereby increasing the probability that they will watch the show. That is no excuse for sensationalism. I just hope that the people behind the show, especially its host Atom Araullo, will redeem themselves during the episode itself. And this show needs a lot of redeeming, as we will soon see.

 

Superstition and Sloppy Science

Several studies have shown that the science and math aptitudes of most Filipino students are dismal. It does not help that the few science-related shows on TV exhibit sloppy thinking in their explanation of scientific concepts. Kim Atienza’s Matanglawin is a good example of this, but since using it as an example is too easy, let me use another. This clip from the GMA show iBilib demonstrates the fact that water and oil do not mix. Host Chris Tiu shows the viewers how the hydrophobic properties of oil can be use to make a “dagat in a bottle”. The show’s aim of making science accessible to Filipino kids is admirable. Unfortunately, the show, at least to me, lacks the philosophical dimension necessary to make students interested in science and not just in the tinkering of household stuff. Spectacular and cute phenomena are a great way to pique kids’ interest, but the focus should not be on the spectacle. The wow factor must simply be a means to get kids to be curious, skeptical, and scientific. If Bill Nye can make a science program just with these specifications, then I believe iBilib must do it too.

Bill Nye the Science Guy, proof that you don’t have to be sloppy to be interesting.

My beef with iBilib and similarly sloppy science programs like Kim Atienza’s Matanglawin, however, is with its frequent use of sloppy or even erroneous scientific explanations of the phenomena. The clip showing the sea-in-a-bottle demonstration is just one of the many instances where Tiu throws a sloppy or erroneous explanation at the curious people who watch his show. In the clip, the host is wrong in saying that oil and water do not mix because of their different densities. Water and alcohol mix even if their densities are different. Fresh water and saltwater also mix even though the latter is slightly denser than the former. If a science show claims things that can be contradicted by kids’ experiences, what will that tell the young viewers about science’s role in describing nature?

To Chris Tiu: Density is the reason why the oil layer is above the water layer, but it does not explain why water and oil do not mix. The actual explanation of non-mixing is more subtle and marvelous. Next time, double check and triple check your script before you say it in front of an entire nation of admiring young viewers. This is not the only instance in which you relayed wrong information to those kids. You owe them an apology and you need to make amends.

Chris Tiu, I bet your chem teacher is mad at you right now. You should’ve listened to her more. [Photo credit: teachengineering.org]

And now back to Atom Auraullo and Hiwaga. If Chris Tiu in iBilib frequently exhibits haphazard thinking, Atom in Hiwaga is mostly just peddling superstition and pseudoscience on Philippine TV. The woo starts from the very title of the program. I’m already worried about the title of iBilib, because it seems to imply that science is a matter of belief.  So you can imagine my reaction when I heard that there was another show entitled Hiwaga, a Filipino word that means “mystery”. When I saw promotional videos of the TV program, my worries about it were confirmed. In this episode of the show, for example, Atom interviews an “expert” on Feng Shui. In another episode, Araullo discusses so-called out of body experiences and “astral projections”. Still another episode entertains the possibility of premonitions.

Hiwaga is unfortunately just the latest incarnation in a long series of shows and segments on Philippine TV clearly capitalizing on Filipino supernatural and unscientific beliefs. Shows like Rated K hosted by Korina Sanchez and Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho are just a few of the other programs that ride the sensational wave of superstition and pseudoscience. The use of “umano” and “daw” in the reporting of supernatural claims rarely help, as these program hosts regularly fail to amply discuss the lack of scientific merits of the claims they report. In the end, these shows’ ‘di umanos just remind us of Pontius Pilate. What these umanos and daws effectively do is to allow the TV programs to throw mountains of claptrap into the viewing public while absolving the show runners of the guilt of misinformation. Well, I’m sorry Korina and Jessica, what you and many other journalists are doing is still misinformation. Why? Because the discussions on the value of skepticism in your shows are frequently inadequate, sometimes even watered down by closing messages that go along the along the lines of “let’s be open minded about these things” or “science does not know everything and life is full of mysteries woooo…” Your umanos and daws do not absolve you.

“There, I said ‘umano’. Now it’s time to report about ghosts hauntings, demonic possessions, and faith healing.”

To the writers, researchers, producers, and hosts of TV programs that promote superstition among Filipinos, I ask you to rethink your values. I believe I don’t need to preach the importance of science and the dangers of superstition and pseudoscience to the lot of you, you should know it by now. Hence, let me just remind you that your aim is to inform the Filipino people, not befuddle them. You should never sacrifice the truth in the name of higher ratings. I understand that most Filipinos are ignorant and superstitious, and that a show about superstition will appeal to them more than a show about skepticism. But you should give them programs that they need, not programs they want.

 

A Request to Atom Araullo

As promised in the start of this article, I will end my piece by making an appeal to Atom Araullo’s better judgment.

Dear Atom,

As a good-looking Pisay and UP alumnus working in media, you have great powers. Your responsibilities are therefore equally great, and chief among these is your responsibility of informing the public on correct ways of thinking about the world. As a science graduate, an activist, and a reporter, your duty to seek, fight for, and relay the truth demands that you rethink your role in the show. Try educating the writers and executives of the program on the proper ways of reporting supernatural claims. The local superstitions and ghost stories you tackle in the show are excellent entry points into critical thinking, skepticism, and scientific reasoning, and you should use them as such. Intriguing questions that the Filipino public can relate to are excellent in catching their attention, but since your subject matter is very sensitive, the writers should be very careful with the wording of your script. You should not forget to stress the value of skeptical inquiry and the importance of demanding extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims.

Finally, if those writers, researchers, and executives cannot be convinced, I appeal to your better judgment as a person to please leave that show and criticize it publicly.

Thank you.

Yours,

Pecier C. Decierdo

Science Advocacy Director

Filipino Freethinkers

Posted in Science, Society10 Comments

A Quick Guide to Detecting Quantum Quackery

The world of quantum mechanics is strange, that much is true. Quantum theory paints a world where tiny particles can get entangled over cosmic distances, where teleportation is possible, where uncertainty is not simply a product of experimental imperfections but is fundamental in nature, and where vacuum is a seething broth of virtual particles popping in and out of existence from nothingness. 

Unfortunately, the strangeness of the quantum world has been grossly abused either by those who do not understand quantum mechanics, or those who wish to benefit from this lack of understanding. Merchants who sell crystals claimed to have “healing quantum vibrations”, writers like Deepak Chopra who preach about the mind’s power in influencing events via “quantum consciousness”, and proponents of farming methods based on “quantum agriculture” are just a few examples in the long list of people who peddle quantum quackery. In fact, most of these charlatans altogether forgo trying to understand what quantum theory is about. For them, the word ‘quantum’ is a shroud of mystery, a veil of ignorance behind which lie phenomena forever beyond the reach of scientific scrutiny. These people not only spread bad science, they spread a value that is antithetical to learning. In other words, they promote a mindset that is anti-scientific. This is why we cannot cut these guys any slack.

Deepak Mechanics

How do we distinguish quantum quackery from genuine studies in quantum theory? In an interview with NBC News science editor Alan Boyle, physicist Lawrence Krauss gave a few tips in detecting quantum quackery. What follows are some additional quick guides to quantum baloney detection.

 

Rule of thumb #1: Quantum quacks rarely, if at all, refer to the basic principles of quantum physics.

Quantum theory involves a lot of laws, equations, and principles, although some of these are so basic and fundamental to the field that they are referred to in almost all discussions. A good example would be the concept of the wave function. The wave function is a mathematical entity that contains everything we know about the particle, like its energy or the probability of finding it somewhere in space. When something uses the word “quantum” but does not depend on the concept of a wave function or a similarly fundamental quantum concept, it probably has nothing to do with quantum theory.

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Rule of thumb #2: Quantum quacks misapply the weirdness of quantum phenomena at the wrong scale.

Soccer balls, unlike electrons, don’t diffract if you make them pass through slits. And unlike a small particle, you cannot walk through a solid wall by continuously bumping against it. There is no real-world Platform 9 ¾.

Quantum mechanics, being our best theory of matter and forces to date, governs the behaviors of electrons and soccer balls alike. However, even though the laws of physics don’t change across different scales, their manifestations do. This is true even in classical physics, and is the reason why you can’t have ants as big as elephants, or why the physics of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is all wrong (because, you know,  square-cube law). The predictions of quantum theory agree with classical mechanics in the scale of the everyday, a scale that includes soccer balls, fruits, and vegetables. You cannot treat a tomato as both particle and wave, and you cannot treat crops as if they are “entangled” with the the stars.

Um, that’s not what quantum entanglement means guys.

 

Rule of thumb #3: Quantum quacks love making vague statements that, upon close inspection, actually mean nothing.

The Random Deepak Chopra Quote Generator drives this point humorously.

Random Deepak Wisdom

In infinite potentiality Deepak Chopra breeds the light for a new chaotic harmony.

Science, as opposed to pseudoscience, is distinguished by the precision of its language. We want scientific statements to be precise because we want to know how we can prove them wrong. In other words, we want to know if they can be falsified, and how, which brings us to the next rule of thumb.

 

Rule of thumb #4: Quantum quackery does not make falsifiable claims, which is an indication that it is in fact pseudoscience.

Quantum physics, being a science, makes claims that can be proven wrong by experimentation. That is something you cannot say about “quantum consciousness”. More importantly, the claims of quantum physics can be compared against measurements obtained through experimentation. This brings us to the next red flag of quantum quackery.

 

Rule of thumb #5:Quantum quacks don’t make quantitative predictions.

Quantum mechanics, like most of modern physics, is heavily mathematical. The point of all this math is to be able to make predictions that come in the form of measurable quantities. This is important because a quantitative prediction is the best form of falsifiable claim.

Shit happens. Bullshit, too. Magic doesn’t.

 

Rule of thumb #6: Like most peddlers of woo-woo, quantum quacks confuse criticism with persecution, and thus hate being criticized.

But science thrives because of skepticism and criticism. Like all scientific paradigms, quantum theory has passed the scrutiny and very high standards of the scientific community (and it has done so with flying colors). Also, like all scientific principles, you can convince yourself that it is true by performing your own experiments and calculations. And you can do this without fooling yourself or others. You cannot say the same about fields like, say, quantum agriculture.

QA

“Plants have feelings too!” Ooookay.

tl;dr: People who use quantum jargon to make their woo-woo sound legitimate fail to understand that the quantum world, though weird by the standards of classical physics, is lawful. Quantum phenomena may be baffling, but they’re not magical. So when anything involves magical thinking, it’s probably pseudoscience.

 

Posted in Science3 Comments

An Open Letter to All RH Supporters: A Response

Dear Pro-Life Philippines,

It is undeniable that in the protracted fight for women’s rights, both sides of the RH debate have had their fair share of mudslinging and cynical caricaturing. I do not doubt at all that the anti-RH mean well. I believe in the sincerity of your positions, though I do believe that these positions are often misleading and often scarily absurd. I have no illusions that your side will reconsider any of these positions regardless of evidence, but in the interest of goodwill, I will sincerely address the statements in your open letter.

First of all, you claim that you share our concern for the health of women. Again, I do not doubt this, but I do question the way you act on this concern. The RH Law does provide for increased funding for maternal health services. You do not seem to be opposed to that, only that you are hung up on the matter of contraceptives.

It is totally unnecessary to lie about cancer links to oral contraceptives, since your opposition to the RH Law is founded on dogma, not medicine or scientific research. You would oppose the law even if it would only provide for barrier contraceptive methods, such as condoms. If you want a civil discussion, let us not pretend that the argument is really about abortion or about cancer concerns.

Citing cancer links only serve to weaken your position, when better studies have refuted then. You cite the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s classification of oral contraceptive pills as group 1 carcinogens. As the Mayo Clinic clarifies, this classification was based on studies on old OCP formulations. While studies did show links between breast cancer and OCPs, these links completely disappear in studies on modern formulations.

In the largest modern study on current lower estrogen and new progestin formulation oral contraceptive pills involving over 9000 women, no breast cancer links were found. It is plainly intellectually dishonest to pass off old data as current.

Science improves through time, and old positions are discarded in the face of contradictory evidence. I understand that this method of revising and improving ideas is foreign to faith, but it is no excuse for when anti-choice advocates try to speak on matters of science.

Second, you claim to respect the right to choose. This is simply not true. Forgive me for lumping the actions of the Catholic Church hierarchy and its government allies with yours, but let’s not pretend that your ideals are not identical. If this is an inaccurate statement, then feel free to denounce the following.

The Catholic Church and its members have worked tirelessly to restrict access to contraceptives, even just in recent memory. The city of Manila, under the mayoralty of then-Pro-Life Philippines President Lito Atienza (your president), banned the provision of contraceptives in city hospitals and health centers, which the poor had relied on. A stronghold of the Opus Dei and the Saint James the Great Parish, the Ayala Alabang Village, banned the sale of all contraceptives to anyone without a prescription, even for barrier methods. There were also several copycat ordinances in other parts the country.

With your own then-president implicated, as well as your Mother Church, saying that you are not against choice and the freedom to acquire contraceptives is clearly a sin against the eight commandment. (That’s the one about lying.)

The issue of choice is also not simply having contraceptives available for sale. To pretend that it is betrays a level of privilege that is inexcusable for a supposedly charitable organization. It goes against the very notion of social justice. This is like pretending that any poor person has the free choice to be a doctor or a lawyer, without the assistance of scholarships and educational subsidies.

You seem to be oblivious to just how deprived of choice the poor are. Otherwise, ignorant statements like, “A law cannot give the people something the people already have,” would never even merit a moment’s consideration. But if it needs to be said, let me say it. The poor cannot afford meals, let alone contraceptives. No, they did not have a choice before the RH Law, and they still don’t, thanks to the status quo ante order against the RH Law.

Third, you claim not to be against the poor or progress. You claim that the solution to poverty is job creation, feeding programs, and education. I am certain that these are not bad ideas, but to advocate these to the exclusion of reproductive health is absolutely short-sighted and unsustainable.

Six out of every ten pregnancies is unwanted. This is particularly relevant to poor women who have a greater problem of achieving their desired family size. It takes little logical effort to figure out that abortions stem from unwanted pregnancies. If you are truly against abortion, reducing unwanted pregnancies should be your primary concern.

Poor women are especially burdened with having to provide for, feed, and educate unplanned children, when they do not even have the resources to feed themselves, let alone the other children they already have. I’m sure many of these parents grow to love their unplanned children, but this does not diminish the fact that families suffer because of having even less to divide among family members. This is a recipe for abuses, such as child abandonment and child labor.

Let us have a society where every child is wanted and is born to a loving family that will care for their well-being. That doesn’t have to be a controversial wish, but it is in the Philippines.

Women deserve a life where they can pursue happiness, however they define it. Incidentally, that definition usually does not include having a child too young or when finances are tight.

It is true that both sides of the debate share the goal of seeing the Philippines flourish. I do not believe the caricature that the anti-RH are against the law for the selfish reason of putting more people on pews. I believe that you want to help people, but understand that we want to help people in this life, not in some imagined afterlife that punishes people for all eternity.

Your concern for the faith of Catholics is not, and should not, be shared by the State. Your concern should not burden the Filipino people who, by an overwhelming majority, baptized Catholics and non-Catholics alike, want to take control of their reproductive choices.

You claim that it is “so easy” to distribute condoms and pills to the poor. On the contrary, it is not. Reproductive health advocates have fought for the right to do so for over a decade now because of the oppressive tactics employed by you and your Church. What is easy, though, is to pay lip service to providing education and employment to people without considering the realities of unwanted pregnancies. It is easy to misrepresent the RH movement as deludedly offering a silver bullet to poverty. That is not what the RH Law is about. It is not supposed to address all the problems of poverty. The law aims to help families achieve the family size they want. It aims to provide economic and personal freedom to women who cannot afford the opportunity costs of pregnancy.

It is easy for a privileged and powerful institution to talk about “empowering” the poor, then oppose one of the surest ways to achieve empowerment—freeing a society’s women from the shackles of forced pregnancy. People of means never have to worry about carrying a pregnancy to term while worrying about how to feed yourself and your already starving other children. If you want to talk about easy things, compare your lives to those who have less than you.

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Posted in Advocacy, RH Bill4 Comments

FF Podcast (Audio) 011: Pinoy Racism and LGBT Rights

FF Podcast (Audio) 011: Pinoy Racism and LGBT Rights

Margie, Red and Pepe host Filipino Freethinkers Podcast Episode 11
Margie, Red, and Pepe are back for episode 11 of the Filipino Freethinkers Podcast. This week, we talk about racism in Filipino culture. Then we take a closer look at the claim that LGBT rights “trample” on the rights of religious people.

You may also download the podcast file here.



Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in Audio, audio podcast, Freedom of Expression, Media, Politics, Religion, Society0 Comments

FF Podcast 011: Pinoy Racism and LGBT Rights

FF Podcast 011: Pinoy Racism and LGBT Rights

Margie, Red and Pepe host Filipino Freethinkers Podcast Episode 11
Margie, Red, and Pepe are back for episode 11 of the Filipino Freethinkers Podcast. This week, we talk about racism in Filipino culture. Then we take a closer look at the claim that LGBT rights “trample” on the rights of religious people.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

 

Posted in Gender Rights, Podcast, Politics, Secularism, Society, Video0 Comments

Filipino Freethinkers Meetup, Aug 18, Sunday

1119795_10151564510262686_419757076_oRSVP on Facebook (optional)

Location: 7th Floor, Amberbase Solutions, Eastwood Cyberpark, Bagumbayan, Quezon City, 1110
Google map: http://g.co/maps/eprjn

We’re meeting in Eastwood, Quezon City. Please head to the Amberbase Solutions building reception and say you’re going to the Filipino Freethinkers meetup on the 7th floor.

Discussion Topics:

  • Boycotting the Russian Olympics
  • Building a Better Secular Movement
  • Social Media: Sadness and Stalking
  • Rebranding Bigotry: St. Francis and friendly fundamentalism
  • Raunchy Topic of the Week: Sex in a Progressive Future

After the meetup we usually go for dinner and drinks somewhere nearby. If you’re not a meetup regular and can’t make it for the meetup but would like to go for the post meetup, please indicate on a post in the wall or comment so we can contact you.

Got questions about the meetup? Contact us at 0927 323 3532

  • Admission is free!
  • Newbies are welcome.
  • Look for the FF sign (or the group of smart, sexy people).
  • There is no required age, religion, philosophy, or IQ level.
  • Discussions are informal yet intelligent (most of the time).
  • You don’t have to talk; you can just sit in and listen

Posted in Meetup0 Comments

GMOs and Science Denialists: A GMO Primer

Liberals often have a smug sense of superiority over conservatives when it comes to science literacy. True enough, a lot of conservatism is coupled with antagonism to science, which we have seen throughout the RH debate, locally, and evolution and climate change denial, globally. But this smugness is unwarranted, as progressives have their fair share of science denialists.

An anti-GMO group that calls itself “Sikwal-GMO” destroyed GM crops in Camarines Sur, last Thursday, August 8, 2013. The plants were Golden Rice varieties being studied by the International Rice Research Institute.

While the use of terror and violence to derail scientific research is not unknown in the history of science, it is exactly this sort of thing that belies any rational motive from the anti-GMO. If indeed there is all evidence pointing toward the harmfulness of GMOs, why not counter research with that evidence? Well, it’s because there is none, so violence and terrible argumentation is exactly what we should expect from them.

There is broad scientific consensus that currently existing genetically modified foods pose no greater risk to humans than regular old food. This is backed up by global science bodies such as the World Health Organization and the International Council for Science, whose members include 111 national academies of science all over the world. It is important to note that this consensus refers to currently existing GMOs, because that is how GM foods are assessed—as individual products.

Genetically modified organisms are used by anti-science luddites as a catch-all for “scary Frankenfood” but, in reality, genetic modification methods vary and gene targets vary. Therefore, the products vary in features, as well. There are many variables that affect how confident we can be in assessing the safety of a GM variety. But, the bottom line is, these products go through years of evaluation, when the latest fad diets and small-scale locally grown crops and breeds can go through none.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about what GMOs are. It is critical that we remove all of these misconceptions, not to blindly support genetic modification, but to cut out all the terrible and nonsensical reasons we have against GMOs. While anti-GMO beliefs are not exclusively a progressive issue, it is a strangely popular one among the left, which is traditionally more scientifically literate.

The genetic modification of food has been critical in the history of human beings. None of the food we regularly eat today existed before humans and they would never exist outside of “unnatural” human intervention. Our foods today were selectively bred to produce traits that we found ideal—traits such as size, taste, resistance to pests, and ability to grow during more times during the year.

What were selected and bred here were genes, since genes dictate traits. Problem is, with this rudimentary form of genetic manipulation, we don’t exactly know what other genes we are bringing along. We see a trait we like; we breed them to multiply their numbers.

 

The genetic history of the potato

The potato that we eat is the root part of the plant. It is a swollen mass where the plant collects the sugar it produces as starch. It didn’t always look like the large Idaho potatoes we now consume. They grew in South America and used to look like thin finger-like growths. They were very bitter and not at all tasty. Through selective breeding methods, our ancestors picked the fattest and tastiest spuds. After generations of breeding, we now have the modern potato.

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This is basically blind genetic engineering. We have a vague idea of what we like (we want a large tasty potato) and we plant the potatoes that reflect these traits. Our ancestors didn’t have the technology to isolate the genes that produced these traits, so the breeding process also magnified some unwanted genes. For the potato (as well as its cousin, the tomato), the breeding also came along with glycoalkaloids, a naturally-occurring pest tolerance compound. It is a steroid that is harmful to humans, which can be produced post-harvest by potatoes in lethal doses due to simple stresses such as sun exposure and insect presence. Regulatory bodies and large-scale producers of potatoes have to test whether the strains they produce create a toxic level of glycoalkaloids. These regulatory bodies and large-scale producers are often painted as corrupt or misguided by proponents of small-scale and unregulated “natural” produce.

Glycoalkaloids make potatoes more likely to survive, regardless of whether they kill people, which is why the heartiest potato varieties create the toxin. After all, the only concern of potatoes is to survive long enough to make more potatoes. This makes opposition to another GM crop, the Bt corn, particularly ironic.

 

Bt corn and “toxins” in GMOs

Corn had a history much like the potato. Our modern strains of corn descended from the American teosinte, a grain no bigger than a pinky finger. Selective breeding gave us the plant with several rows of large golden kernels.

Maize-teosinte

The European Corn Borer is an invasive species that has been wiping out corn crops for decades. It is an insect, which used to feast on European millet, but has since migrated to the Americas due to human activity. It has destroyed the livelihoods of many corn farmers because the insect, being an invader, has no natural predators in America.

To combat the corn borer larva, which eats through corn plants, scientists have employed another foreign organism. The bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis produces a protein-based toxin that selectively targets a subset of insects, such as flies, beetles, and moths, including the corn borer. Scientists used the bacterium’s gene coding for this toxin and inserted it into a variety of corn, creating Bt corn.

Unlike glycoalkaloids and broad-spectrum pesticides, the GM Bt toxin has no harmful effect on humans. Though the bacterium itself produces toxins that are toxic to humans, the specific insect toxin gene inserted into corn genetic material makes sure that only the insect-specific toxin is produced by the GM corn. This is a result that is impossible for conventional breeding, not only for being cross-species. It is impossible because modern genetic engineering, as opposed to conventional breeding, only introduces genes we want to introduce.

Scientists in the Philippines are also studying Bt eggplants.

 

What is Golden Rice?

Golden Rice, which is being researched here in the Philippines, is even far less problematic as it provides a nutrient, rather than insect resistance. And yet, it is the target of many anti-GMO groups such as Greenpeace. When New York University Dean for Science Michael Purugganan asked the lead Golden Rice researcher about their methods, they said that they introduced beta-carotene enzyme genes into the rice—a gene carrots have. This beta-carotene is metabolized by humans to produce Vitamin A, a nutrient that is sorely lacking in the diets of many poor children. Beta-carotene also gives the rice (and carrots) its characteristic orange color. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to blindness, a weakened immune system, and even maternal mortality.

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Arguments inevitably crop up that suggest that poor children have other sources of Vitamin A, such as fish and vegetables. Of course, such suggestions betray embarrassing privilege, since, no matter how cheap vegetables may be, the poor often can only afford rice as a daily meal. Such arguments are so reminiscent of conservatives pointing out the cheapness of contraceptives that it is shocking when these anti-GMO justifications come from pro-RH liberals. The International Rice Research Institute expects Golden Rice to cost the same as regular rice, once it has undergone proper regulatory tests.

 

Conspiracies and corporations

Sikwal-GMO defends their destruction of scientific research by branding Golden Rice as “nothing but a ploy of agrochemical transnational corporations like Syngenta to satisfy their monopoly on seeds and rake more profits.” While Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas justified their actions as “legitimate resistance by farmers against Golden Rice.”

Some more thoughtful critics of GM technology often concede, as they should, that the science shows that regulations have kept GMO foods safe. They instead criticize oppressive practices by large biotech firms such as Monsanto, particularly regarding patenting genes. I share much sympathy for these criticisms as I believe patenting genes is a rather odious practice. I see it as having little difference from pharmaceutical profiteers that inflate costs for life-saving treatments. Not to mention, many patented genes were simply found in already-existing organisms, without significant modification.

However, it is not a rare occurrence that opponents of big corporations use the science denialists as shields to “legitimize” their opposition, by failing to criticize them and even coddling them. This is similar to religious extremists who hide behind moderates when their religion is criticized. What instead happens is a false image of large public outcry against GM, as a science, rather than biotech firms, as profit-motivated entities. In the case of the Golden Rice research, which had its samples so totally destroyed that it must restart the trials, the technology was given away royalty-free for not-for-profit use. This would have made Golden Rice a particularly potent tool for NGOs fighting against malnutrition. Sadly, the violent action by “protesters” has set back this goal for a while.

In researching this piece, the vast majority of search engine hits I got for GMO-related queries turned out anti-GMO sites. This is sad, but typical for most anti-science movements such as those against evolution, climate change, and vaccination. Thus there is often a misplaced confidence among science opponents from all sides of the political spectrum, since they are a very vocal pocket of the Internet. Inevitably, in any “controversial” science discussion, strange websites of questionable repute crop up to purportedly show evidence against scientific consensus. Nevertheless, in the matters mentioned, scientists who actually work in these fields, who actually solve these problems and review these claims, are the ones to refer to. Criticism and doubt are always necessary in science, but conspiracy theories and unverified claims have no place in a scientific discussion.

Image Credits: International Potato Center, John Doebly, International Rice Research Institute

Posted in Science, Society9 Comments

FF Podcast (Audio) 010: Pro-RH at SC and Advice for Atheists with Religious Parents

FF Podcast (Audio) 010: Pro-RH at SC and Advice for Atheists with Religious Parents

Pro-RH at SC and Advice for Atheists with Religious Parents

The Filipino Freethinkers’ Podcast-that-is-also-a-Video is back! For its tenth episode, Red, Pepe, and Margie talk about the pro-RH presence at the recent Supreme Court hearings on the RH Law, and–in a Podcast-that-is-also-a-Video first–answer an online query about living with religious parents. Press play and enjoy!

You may also download the podcast file here.




Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in Audio, audio podcast, Media, Politics, Religion, Secularism0 Comments

FF Podcast 010: Pro-RH at SC and Advice for Atheists with Religious Parents

FF Podcast 010: Pro-RH at SC and Advice for Atheists with Religious Parents

Pro-RH at SC and Advice for Atheists with Religious Parents

The Filipino Freethinkers’ Podcast-that-is-also-a-Video is back! For its tenth episode, Red, Pepe, and Margie talk about the pro-RH presence at the recent Supreme Court hearings on the RH Law, and–in a Podcast-that-is-also-a-Video first–answer an online query about living with religious parents. Press play and enjoy!

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes


Posted in Podcast, Video0 Comments

Meet a Freethinker: Ana P. Santos

No two freethinkers are exactly alike; a group of freethinkers contains a great diversity of perspectives, so there is no one, official perspective shared among all of them. This makes the freethought community a truly vibrant source of ideas and opinions!

In this light, Meet a Freethinker is our series featuring freethinkers of all backgrounds and perspectives. We want to introduce you guys to the people who make up the proverbial melting pot of this growing movement.

Our next freethinker is Ana P. Santos. Ana is a freelance journalist who focuses on women’s sexual health rights. She is the fabulous femme behind Sex and Sensibilities, and the Rappler column Dash of SAS

 

ANA P SANTOS1) How would you define a freethinker?

I think a freethinker is someone who chooses to live by their own rules and belief system rather than be constrained by a structure–religion or otherwise–manufactured by someone else. A freethinker is critical and questioning; a freethinker is unafraid of standing apart as an individual and standing up for what he/she believes in. I love the way that last phrase is said in Tagalog: may paninindigan. It has so much more feeling in it. There are just some words that like curse words, are better said in one’s mother tongue. : )

2) What belief system do you subscribe to?

My own. And I would best describe that as a cocktail of different principles and beliefs that I picked up from various philosophies, life experiences, books, cultures, and interactions. It’s unconventional at best, I admit, but I reached a point where I’m unapologetic about my beliefs so it kind of evens things out.

3) What was the funniest or most interesting reaction you got from a person after you told him or her that you were a freethinker; and
4) In what way has being part of a freethinking community benefited you?

I believe in showing not telling. I’ve never really had to tell someone I was a freethinker. I think they figured it out after reading what I write or Tweet about. Being part of a freethinking community is so very liberating. There’s really no other way to say it. I remember in my high school English class, we were asked to prepare a persuasive speech. So while my other classmates wanted to talk about the post-cold war era, and the US bases (yes, I am totally dating myself), I wanted to talk about pre-marital sex. I thought then, as I do now, that sex is but natural in the context of a committed relationship between two consenting adults. When it was my turn to present the topic of my speech to my teacher, I told her point blank, “My topic is pre-marital sex. I’m not against it.” She was so shocked and asked me, “You’re kidding, right?”

The other girls in line snickered in a “told-you-so” kind of way…and I cowered. I softened my stance to no to pre-marital sex, but ended my speech with, “It’s only you who can make that decision.”

I got deductions for the last phrase because my teacher said I was fence-sitting when the paper called for a definitive stance. I always kind of look at that memory and feel a tinge of regret–especially in light of what I do know in terms of sexual health advocacy. I have no excuse except that I was 14 and probably the lone freethinker in a school that prized conformity more than critical thinking.

5) What are the most common questions you get with regards to sex?

The usual: How big do I have to be to please my girlfriend/wife? from the boys and from the girls, it’s how not to get pregnant. I also get off-beat questions like: Is it true that the penis can get stuck in the vagina during intercourse, and a question posted on Twitter: Can I get pregnant from oral sex? That question spawned a witty retort from my friend, Alvin Dakis, another freethinker, who said, “Sabihin mo, hindi sya mabubuntis pero mabubusog sya!” In a column called “The Problem With Virginity”, the girl was asking about oral sex; she was avoiding penetrative sex because she wanted to preserve her virginity and wanted me to assure her that she would not get pregnant via oral sex or if he boyfriend just slid his penis outside her vagina but never put it inside. I told her neither I, nor science, could give her that assurance.

As you can see from the questions, we have a long way to go in terms of understanding not just sex — but biology, even.

6) What have been the greatest obstacles to freethinking in your life as a parent?

I can’t really think of any, honestly. Oh, maybe how my daughter would perceive it. Would she expect me to be normal like the other moms? Or would she think I was being too radical? All the hypotheticals. I’d like to think that I’ve managed to negate some of that by showing her that I respect her views and she should thus, respect mine. During one dinner conversation, we were discussing the RH Bill and I found her echoing some of my points. I asked her if that was really what she thought and assured her that it was okay for her to have an opinion different from mine. What is important is she has her own opinion!

7) Why do you think it’s important to be sex positive? 

I have my own definition of being sex positive: it’s acknowledging each person’s divine right to give love, show love, and make love. It is a mistake to separate our sexuality from our humanity. Sex positive is just the opposite of how we’ re treating and talking about sex now–as dirty, as taboo and restricted to married people. A lot of our problems in population and development and even gender stem from the sex negativity. Isn’t the very definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome? So if things are not working under the current status quo, then we should try something different like sex positivism.

Posted in Meet a Freethinker0 Comments

Will RH Limit Freedom of Religion?

Outside of the completely false pseudoscience, misguided economics, and absurd natural law reasons presented in the Supreme Court, the only argument that the anti-RH side has is that concerning freedom of religion.

We can expect more of the same tired and debunked arguments in the coming Supreme Court sessions challenging the constitutionality of the RH Law. But, let us focus on something that might actually have some substance.

 

Will the RH Law Limit Freedom of Religion?

On the side of the Filipino public, the complaint that the RH Law curtails religious freedom holds no water. The RH Law coerces no citizen to pursue family planning, let alone use artificial contraceptives. “True” and faithful Catholics who refuse any sort of artificial contraception can continue without concern. Contrary to their fears, they won’t be force-fed estradiol under the RH Law.

On the side, however, of the Filipino medical community, there might be some conflict. The RH Law provides that health workers who are required but refuse to offer RH services on religious grounds must refer the patient to another who would. (Sec. 23(3)) The anti-RH side argues that this would still violate the freedom of conscience of the worker since they would be enabling an act they believe to be immoral.

In his Philippine Daily Inquirer column, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, however questions why a health worker would even remain in a job that violates their own principles, “…considering that this inability to perform a legal duty strikes at the very heart of the purpose for which the health center exists, is it reasonable or even just for the person to cling to the job?”

 

Religious Freedom to Torture Animals

In a similar case, philosopher Peter Singer has argued for outlawing the ritual slaughter of animals in the Netherlands even if it bans halal and kosher meat, which require killing by slashing the throat of a fully conscious animal. The animal cannot be stunned first and would be completely aware until their blood drains to the killing floor, from their brain through their neck.

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Singer explains that Muslims and Jews are not required by their religion to eat halal or kosher meat, only that if they eat meat at all, they must be ritually slaughtered. Jews and Muslims don’t have to eat meat, at all. So, they can opt to be vegetarians under the ban and remain faithful religionists. In this way, the ban does not curtail their freedom of religion. It might make their religion a bit more inconvenient, but when has religion been about convenience?

As a compromise, the Dutch parliament allowed the ritual slaughter methods, provided that the animal loses consciousness forty seconds after its throat is slit. In doing so, the suffering of the animal is reduced (but not by much). A few other nations in the European Union completely ban the cruel practice.

 

Freedom to Disobey the Law?

Singer’s argument provides a fair test for conflicts between religious freedom and public interest. It is in the nature of faith that beliefs cannot be tested or improved. It is therefore easy to be insincere and abusive of religious freedom, at the expense of a nation’s well-being. We, as a society, must then find a way to respect freedom of religion, while still avoiding becoming victims of abuse.

Further complicating the anti-RH complaint, the majority of Catholics they speak for don’t even agree with them. Surveys show that 71% of Catholics supported the RH Bill’s passing. So, when they argue that the law is against religious freedom, it only refers to 29% of Catholics, or about 23% of the Philippine population.

Even so, religious freedom is a fundamental right that is not subject to majority rule. However, just like ritual slaughter for Jews and Muslims, Catholicism does not require members to work as health care professionals. They can remain faithful “true” Catholics as workers in other professions (such as law or business). Why then, as Bernas questions, would a person choose to be in a job that goes against their religious beliefs? And why should we expect a company to retain a person who cannot do their job effectively?

Seventh-day Adventists do not expect to be employed as Armed Forces members. Vegetarian Buddhists do not expect to work as butchers. Jehova’s Witnesses do not expect to work as med techs at the blood bank. And yet anti-contraceptive Catholics expect to work as obstetricians, nurses, or pharmacists?

There are even other health professions that will not likely encounter the problem of compromising conscience for the law. There’s radiology, dentistry, and so many other fields, if one insists to work in health care. Adventists, Buddhists, and a host of other religions have found balance between their faith and the country’s interests. Why can’t conservative Catholics?

Image Credit: Riad Shehata

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society1 Comment

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