Naked Naughty “Nuns” get sued

This is the kind of headline that grabs one’s attention:

Catholic group to sue naked feminist protesters

I saw that Neil Gaimon had tweeted it from Joe. My. God. and had to check it out. So, what’s going on here?

Catholic group Civitas is suing the group Femen for “sexual exhibitionism” in front of children, as well as protesting illegally and insulting a religious group by mocking their appearance.

So what is this “sexual exhibitionism” that so scarred these poor children?  Well, the protesting women’s boobs were, like, visible and stuff. (Image NSFW) They weren’t even properly naked, just topless. I generally demand more from my sexual exhibitionism. They could at least have made out or something. Maybe a little fisting. Just a little.

This is in France, by the way. This Catholic group is suing for showing boobage in France. Seriously, who doesn’t show their boobs in France? I’ve seen a French film or two. I seriously thought boobs were so common in France that people barely noticed them. “Hey, Jacques. You ever notice how hard it is to see the futbol game with all these boobs in the way?” “What boobs?”

And “insulting a religious group by mocking their appearance”? Is that really illegal in France? Insulting people should never be illegal. Religious people need to learn that the law is not your bah-bah that you can suck on whenever you get your feelings hurt and feel all poopy inside. And let’s keep in mind–these naked feminist nuns were counter-protesting a Catholic run anti-gay march. So it’s okay for the Catholics to march to deny gays equal rights, but it’s not okay to make fun of the Catholics’ silly costumes. Christian privilege, much? Oh, and fuck boobies. Children might see them. And we all know how scarring that would be if a boob were visible and a child saw it. It might do horrible things to him, like make him giggle for a few seconds. Oh, the humanity.

So who is this lesbian feminist group? From what I can gather at Le Monde (my French is rusty), they’re a rather outlandish women’s rights group that has drawn quite a bit of controversy for their over the top protests which they always do topless. This has led to the legitimate question of whether they are actually conveying a message or if people just see the breasts and forget everything else. European feminists worry that if Femen becomes the face (or chest) of feminism it could distract people from the message, and maybe that’s true. Honestly, in my opinion, while I’m all for feminism and gay rights and lots of other left wing issues, I’ve never participated in a protest of any kind and probably never will. It’s just too herd-mentality for me. But I support other people’s right to do it, even in the nude. So long as they don’t get violent…but we’ll get to that in a moment.

The feminist protesters turned up to the march against the proposed marriage for all law wearing only knickers and stockings, and with graffiti criticising the march written on their bodies.

I’m not sure if I’m comfortable calling gay marriage “marriage for all”. That seems to play right into the dumb ass slippery slope arguments that the right loves to use, where gay marriage will lead to people marrying box turtles and lawn sprinklers. Although maybe this is a translation problem.

Well, anyways, they’re criticizing an anti-gay march. Good for them!

They also fired canisters of tear gas at the marchers.

NOT good for them.  What the hell, girls? Spraying tear gas? That is way out of line.

That is, it’s way out of line if it’s true. I see some reason for doubt. Here’s a YouTube video of the event (NSFW, obviously, because of boobs. People, for some odd reason that I’ll never understand, hate seeing boobs.)

You can definitely see them spraying….something. But is it tear gas, or any kind of dangerous gas? Everyone exposed to it seems to be fine. I don’t see anyone rubbing their eyes or reacting to it in any way. I was at a hockey game a while back when a drunk guy six or seven rows back from me got maced by security. Even though I was several yards away, it irritated my eyes quite a bit. And that was just one guy getting sprayed with a small amount of mace.  In the video, the…whatever it is they spray seems to go everywhere, but people seem to be doing just fine.

One thing that is clear from the video is that they are attacked by the anti-gay protestors.

Some members of the feminist group were attacked and injured by the marchers.

Yeah, I just said that. Try to keep up, article I’m commenting on!

Five people have since been arrested in connection to the violence.

Who were these five people? Were they from Femen or Civitas? What did the police have to say about the allegations of tear gas or that the anti-gay protestors attacked the feminists?

Jesus titty balls, the French media is even worse than American media when it comes to leaving out relevant information. It’s hard to form a well-reasoned opinion on this with such sparse reporting. Who attacked whom first? That’s really important info.

Alain Escada, the president of Civitas, said the catholic group would also be suing Femen for spreading a message in a violent manner, organised violence with arms and threatening the freedom to protest of others.

If they actually did any of those things, you should sue. Why was this story all about the suing for boobs and dressing up in “insulting” costumes if there was the possibility of violence in this protest? Why did this shit come up at the end of the article? It’s definitely the more important stuff. But it’s also the stuff where the information becomes so sparse that the article is mostly useless. Also, I can’t help but notice that the journalist who authored this article has apparently spoken only to members of Civitas, but not Femen. Why weren’t the women asked for a statement on this? Are we following some arcane Catholic rule that only lets the men speak? What the hell?

Of course, I tend towards the naked feminist nuns’ side, since 1.) I agree with gay rights and feminism and 2.) I like boobs. However, if they did really spray tear gas into a crowd, then that’s simply inexcusable behavior and they should be in jail. On the other hand, maybe that was just some kind of harmless smoke bomb they set off, and the Civitas bigots attacked them unprovoked, in which case it’s the bigots who should be in jail. Or maybe it really was tear gas or mace, but they only sprayed it in self defense after someone attacked them. It would be nice if the article provided enough information to resolve this issue, but the stuff I quoted is all we get.

It would also be nice if the article focused on the violence rather than the boobs. As I said, I like me some boobs, but anti-free-speech violence is a much more pressing issue. (I also like pressing boobs.) It makes me think that perhaps the critics of Femen’s method might have a point. Except for the fact that if this story hadn’t involved boobs, the odiousness of Civitas’ protest against gay marriage would not have spread across the world. It’s doubtful that this story would have gotten any attention outside of France if not for the boob angle. So, yay for boobs! I guess.

Someone sure needs a brain reinvention…

CNN has seen fit to publish a fluff piece by Deepak Chopra entitled “Reinventing the brain is closer than you think.” As is typical of Chopra’s brand of woo, it is light on facts, makes no new or insightful observations, and is padded out with feel-good woo-woo crap that is either too vague or too obviously nonsensical to be of any use to anyone.

He starts out reasonably enough:

We’re living in a golden age for brain research, which could revolutionize how we think, feel and behave.

Thanks to brain scans like the fMRI, brain activity can be localized and even the most precise activity pinpointed. For example, researchers can spot the minuscule area in the visual cortex that, when damaged, prevents a person from recognizing faces, including his own. The slant in neuroscience has been to map the brain down to the tiniest detail.

Well, yes, neuroscience is advancing at an incredible rate, but let’s not exaggerate what we have. There is still a lot of work to be done, and we can’t yet pinpoint “the most precise activity”, if I took that phrase to mean what it would mean if spoken by anyone using plain English.

But what will we use the map for? One obvious area is medicine. The more we know about what goes wrong in Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, the closer we get to a cure. But the highest goal would be to reinvent how we use our brains.

Uh, actually I’d vote for saving lives if it were up to me. I don’t even know what reinventing the brain is, but I damn well know what Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are, and I want to see them cured.

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, the answer is no. At no point for the rest of the article does Chopra give anything like a clear explanation of what he means by “reinventing our brains”.

“Reinvent” isn’t an exaggeration. Ten thousand years ago, Homo sapiens had evolved the same genetic array that modern people inherit. But in those 10,000 years arose reading, writing, advanced art and music, government, mathematics and science. Their foundation was a new relationship between mind and body.

What do you mean by “same genetic array”? Are you saying our genome hasn’t changed in 10,000 years? That’s demonstrably untrue. And what the hell does that last sentence mean?

If genes and a fixed structure of brain cells told the whole story, it would remain a total mystery why a cave dweller after the last Ice Age should have just the right complement of neurons to discover gravity or write a symphony. Now we realize that the human brain is far from fixed, at any level.

No, it wouldn’t be a mystery, because that’s a stupid thing to say. Who in the hell would think there must be “just the right complement of neurons to discover gravity”? That’s like wondering at the “mystery” of how my computer could have “just the right complement of computer chips” to read this particular page. Or why my eyes would have “just the right compliment of optic nerves” to see the glass of wine next to me.

Any such array would be nearly useless in any context, and natural selection would likely eliminate it (unless it were genetically linked to something that is useful). There doesn’t have to be a special compliment of neurons for computing the theory of gravity. A general capacity for math and logic is what you need. In fact, especially for a behaviorally generalized species like ours, the more generalized and multiply applicable the mental function, the better.

New brain cells are being formed throughout life; trillions of connections between neurons are developed; and the genetic activity inside each neuron is dynamic, responding to every experience and every stimulus from the outside world.

Wha…what? What genetic activity? You mean like transcription and protein synthesis? Those processes most certainly do NOT “respond to every experience”.  New synaptic connections do occur frequently, but that’s not because of a change in the genes. You seem to have confused genetics with the electrical relays in the nerves. They are not the same thing, and thinking doesn’t change your genes.

Human beings reinvent the brain as we go along, day by day. It’s not a matter of eons. In short, the brain is a verb, not a noun. It is reshaped by thoughts, memories, desire and experience.

The first two sentences are mostly true. Neural plasticity is real, although calling it “reinventing” the brain is unnecessarily hyperbolic, in my semi-expert opinion (phd minor in cognitive science). The third sentence, however, is nonsense. And the fourth makes no sense in light of the third.

The word “brain” is a noun. It’s referent, the actual physical gray matter between your ears, is not a noun or a verb or any part of speech, because it’s not a word. I realize Chopra is trying to be poetic and I’m being very literal, but I reserve the right to do so when the attempt at poetry is embedded in a sea of nonsense and half truths. And also, since being “reshaped by thought” is not what makes a thing a verb any way, I hold that his attempt a poetry fails utterly. I have the right to be as overly literal as I want.

Because it is dynamic, fluid and ever-renewing, the brain is much more malleable than anyone ever imagined.

Actually, a lot of people imagined it, seeing as Chopra surely isn’t doing any of this neuroscientific research himself. He’s just grabbing ideas from other people’s heads, dumbing them down to the level of the average woo-woo customer, then calling them his own.

And yes, the brain is plastic, adaptable and dynamic in SOME ways, but it is certainly not “ever-renewing”. It can be pushed to the point that it stops renewing. It’s called Being a Conservative Christian.

Consider a controversial British medical journal article from 1980 entitled “Is the brain really necessary?” It was based on the work of British neurologist John Lorber, who had been working with victims of a brain disorder known as hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”), in which excessive fluid builds up. The pressure that results squeezes the life out of brain cells. Hydrocephalus leads to retardation as well as other severe damage and even death.

Lorber had previously written about two infants born with no cerebral cortex. Yet despite this rare and fatal defect, they seemed to be developing normally, with no external signs of damage. One child survived for three months, the other for a year.

After reading that last paragraph, I had to sit and stare at my screen for a while and let my brain process a confusing and amusing realization: Chopra does not consider infant death to be an “external sign of damage”.

If this were not remarkable enough, a colleague at Sheffield University sent Lorber a young man who had an enlarged head. He had graduated from college with a first-class honors degree in mathematics and had an IQ of 126. There were no symptoms of hydrocephalus; the young man was leading a normal life.

Yet a CAT scan revealed, in Lorber’s words, that he had “virtually no brain.” The skull was lined with a thin layer of brain cells about a millimeter thick (less than 1/10 of an inch), while the rest of the space in the skull was filled with cerebral fluid.

I’ve read about this guy before, and Lorber was exaggerating. The guy did indeed have a brain, it was just greatly compressed by the fluid. This is not evidence that the brain isn’t necessary. Is it amazing? Oh, yes, but don’t read too much into it. Not that Chopra would heed such a warning. Reading too much into other people’s work is what keeps him in business.

Once medical science accepts that the brain can be reinvented, there is no limit.

No. There are always limits. And you still haven’t clearly defined what “reinventing the brain” even means. If you’re talking about neural plasticity, it’s not a reinvention. It’s adaptation and change in response to external stimuli.

Together with Dr. Rudolph E. Tanzi, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and a leading researcher on Alzheimer’s, my efforts have been directed at how each person can relate to the brain in a new way.

As we argue in our book “Super Brain,” the most direct way to improve brain function is through the mind.

I knew it! I knew it! This isn’t a genuine op-ed. It’s a fluff piece letting Chopra hock his own book. Damn you, CNN! Damn you and your paper thin credibility held in place solely by the fact that Fox News is even worse!

By the way, that last phrase is about as informative as saying, “The most direct way to improve muscle function is through strength.” Chopra may not believe it, but the mind is just something the brain does.

The mind-body connection is powerful because our habits lead to brain changes. What you pay attention to, what your passion is, your approach to diet, exercise, stress and even basic emotions like anger and fear — all of these things register in your brain and drastically shape its structure.

Okay, again. Yes, these things do alter brain structure. But calling it “drastic” is irresponsible hyperbole. In fact, it would be more accurate is that each of these things slightly alters the brain, and over time the alterations build up, making your brain plastic and adaptable to your environment.

In the simplest terms, every experience is either positive or negative when seen as input for the brain. A brain that is processing positive input will grow and evolve much differently from a brain that processes negative input.

This is just complete and utter woo woo claptrap. Every experience is either “positive” or “negative”? Bullshit. The vast majority of experience, from either an emotional or moral standpoint (Chopra is unclear as to which he has in mind as “positive” or “negative”), is completely neutral. As I type this, I’m taking in a wide array of sensory experience about the colors and shapes of objects around me, the temperature of the room, the feel of the keys on my fingers, the sound of my heater coming on, etc etc etc. None of these has any particularly positive or negative effect on me (regardless of whatever meaning Chopra failed to give to those words but may have intended).

Rather than appealing to anything factual from neuroscience or rational from the philosophy of mind, Chopra here is just spoonfeeding his audience the over-simplified, puerile mush that unfortunately so many humans crave. There are good feelings, and there are bad feelings, and you can be better by feeling better. That is ALL he is saying. He’s cloaking it in the language of neuroscience to make his audience and himself feel smarter, but what he’s saying boils down to advice so grossly obvious and easily appealing that even a four year old could grasp it.

This has always seemed intuitively right; we all know that children who are well-loved, for example, almost always turn out better than children who are abused. Now, we have validation from neuroscience.

No, we don’t. At least, we don’t from anything you have presented.

The most important conclusion is that no one needs to submit to old conditioning. The past can be changed by changing the brain, just as the future can be shaped by how your brain is trained today. Reinventing the brain is much closer than you think.

No. No no no no no. You can’t just make problems poof into the aether by positive-thinking them away. The changes in the brain can’t be undone that easily. If you want to talk about things that are “intuitively right”, ever heard the saying, “Old habits die hard”? Well, there’s some truth to it. You can’t just erase the past with vapid platitudes about happy thoughts. For instance, you can’t change the fact that you’ve spent the last several years as a dishonest crackpot bilking people out of their money by talking out your ass about shit you haven’t even attempted to understand.

And, of course, none of this has anything to do with “reinventing the brain”. He’s just taken old codswallop and wrapped in a fancy new pseudoscientific garb. The closest thing we can gather from his article is that reinventing your brain means using positive thinking to feel better. And remember earlier, when he said reinventing the brain was more important than curing Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s? Yeah, not so much. Really, really, really not so much. But this is exactly the kind of spoiled, self-absorbed thinking that appeals to millions of under-stimulated American yuppies suffering with a bad case of White People’s Problems Syndrome. And Chopra loves making money off the problem rather than trying to correct it.

Grrrr, fuck this guy. And fuck CNN for promoting him. Bad! Bad 24 hour news network! Y’know, did you ever think that maybe there just isn’t enough news for 24 hours of programming, and perhaps you should try to focus on other things? And that if you didn’t feel the need to fill up 24 ours with whatever crap you can find, you wouldn’t be giving the time of day to babbling crackpots like Chopra?

My Business, My Fiefdom

Modern capitalism might not have much in common with Medieval feudalism when it comes to economics, but it hasn’t erased the basic human desire to control the private lives of those one perceives to be one’s  inferiors. The Daily Oklahoman knows those peasants just don’t know what’s best for them, and wants to let business owners know that they stand by their right to poke their noses in other people’s vaginas whether they like it or not. In case you ever doubted that quite a few corporations view their employees as their property, just check out Hobby Lobby in Oklahoma City:

Wednesday, leaders in the Oklahoma Christian faith community shared their views concerning Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit against the U.S. Health and Human Services mandate requiring businesses to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs for their employees.

The Christian Faith Community™ would like you to know that if you’ve got a job and a twat, the former tells you what you can do with the latter. Because the owner of a store that sells glitter and super glue believes he’ll burn in hell for eternity if he doesn’t make every employee follow his own personal superstitions.

The lawsuit claims the federal Health and Human Services mandate, part of the so-called Affordable Care Act adopted in 2010, violates the business owners’ freedoms of religion and speech.

The “so-called” Affordable Care Act. I wonder if the Daily Oklahoman shows the same skepticism towards, say, Bush’s Clean Air Act or Patriot Act or No Child Left Behind Act. I guess the crack journalists at the Oklahoman are only skeptical when the “freedom” to control other people’s private lives is at stake.

Loren Gresham, president of Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, said he was not surprised that the Green family of Hobby Lobby decided to take their opposition to the mandate to court.

“I know that company and the family that owns it,” Gresham said.

“They are people of deep faith, they respect life and I think they are representative of millions of people across the country who are deeply offended by this mandate.”

You know, sometimes I wish there were some disease that just affected Christians, so that I could oppose its prevention because it “offends” me.  And I could say that I refuse to allow Christian strangers to get certain medical treatments because I “respect life”. ‘Cause that makes sense.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has arguably been the most vocal faith organization to express outrage over the mandate and an ongoing commitment to see it quashed. The Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, a USCCB member, gave his views about Hobby Lobby’s legal news Wednesday, though he said he had not seen the lawsuit’s specifics.

“I have not read the pleadings associated with the Hobby Lobby lawsuit involving the HHS mandate,” Coakley said. “However, I am pleased to see that Christian business leaders are joining the USCCB and many of our Catholic institutions throughout the United States in opposing the HHS mandate’s unprecedented assault on conscience rights and religious liberty.”

Will any publication in the United States ever challenge these bozos on the difference between  rights and powers? Seriously, it’s not that hard to understand. What you get to do to yourself is your right. What you do to others without their say is power over them.

And how exactly is this an “unprecedented assault”? Jehovah’s Witnesses oppose blood transfusions, but insurance is still required to cover them. Scientologists are vehemently opposed to psychiatry. And yet, Scientology is no excuse for an employer’s health plan not to cover psychiatric care. Christian Scientists are opposed to all forms of physical medicine. But if they own a business, they gotta follow the same rules as everyone else.

Oh, but these are utterly powerless minority groups. So fuck their beliefs!

The Rev. Anthony Jordan, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, also shared his comments.

“I wholeheartedly support the action taken by Hobby Lobby,” Jordan said in a statement.

Ah, so it’s going to be one of those kinds of articles. You know the type. “Look, a person has a political opinion. Here’s another person with the same opinion! And another! And another! This is news!”

“No person or organization should be forced to violate deeply held religious convictions in order to uphold an unjust government regulation, especially one that so clearly threatens the rights to life and religious liberty,” Jordan said. “We applaud and stand with the Green family, whom I know to be people of deep faith.”

So the right wing godbots are all in lock step in repeating the same vapid, misleading boilerplate catchphrases. I don’t need a fucking news article to point this out to me.  Unless this isn’t meant to be conveying news, and this article was published solely to assure the Jesus-strokers that there are plenty of other bigots out there who non-think just like they do!

So does the Daily Oklahoman even want to pretend that they’re a real news organization, or that this article is intended to serve any journalistic purpose other than crass, childish back-patting? Let’s see how the article ends:

The Rev. Frank Cargill, superintendent of the Oklahoma District Council of the Assemblies of God, said he also applauded Hobby Lobby for taking a stand against a mandate that he feels exceeds legislative authority.

“No act of human governance should be respected if it attempts to redefine or to restrict the moral issue associated with our basic right to life — from conception to natural death,” Cargill said.

He said he believes that the nation appears to have forgotten its foundational cornerstones.

“Anytime that our government attempts to legislate morality, such action violates our reason for existence,” Cargill said. “God defines morality — not government.”

No, of course not! But that’s not a problem. Given the target audience, there’s absolutely no danger in publishing an article full of nothing but vomit-inducing pandering without even the semblance of conveying information. It’s not like they read the news to learn something new or have their view of the world expanded. Hell, they’d probably be pissed if that happened. They want someone to stroke that raging bigot boner they’ve been sporting since the Reagan administration.  And the right wing media at the Daily Strokelahoman has plenty of lotion to go around.

The Sad State of Science Journalism

One thing that really annoys me is very bad science journalism, and boy oh boy is there a lot of it out there. When I saw PZ Myers’ take down of Danny Vendramini’s positively ludicrous Neanderthal theory, I went to Google to find out more about this crackpot, and found a sterling example of bad science journalism at its worst. It’s an older article (2006), but still worth taking a look at since it has so many diagnostic features of Lazy Science Writing. There’s the cookie-cutter “This changes everything” narrative, the refusal to do any research other than a few interviews, the lionization of the “maverick”, the obnoxious and misleading attempt at “balance” through “he said/she said” reporting, etc etc. It’s all there.

The stupid starts up the moment the article begins. Here’s the title, byline and first paragraph:

Origin of a Big Idea

Crackpot or genius? Danny Vendramini may be labelled both. The anti-religious amateur biological theorist is challenging mainstream evolutionary thought. By Andrew Dodd.

Danny Vendramini didn’t wake up one morning and say to himself: “Today, I’ll shatter half of the accepted beliefs about evolutionary biology.” It has been more gradual than that. In fact, his theory, that a second evolutionary process is at work alongside natural selection, has been percolating away for quite some time, emerging from the primordial soup of the subconscious and slowly taking form over several years.

Jesus Christ. Kissing ass much? You keep this up, Mr. Dodd, and people will start calling you Shit Lips McGee. There’s lionizing the “maverick”, and then there’s giving John McCain a colonoscopy with your face.

And right off the bat, the author shows his complete ignorance of evolutionary biology. We already know of other evolutionary processes that work alongside natural selection. There’s genetic mutation, genetic drift, evolutionary byproducts and horizontal gene transfer resulting in reticulate evolution just to give a few examples. No scientist today thinks that natural selection is the only process in evolution.

Additionally, this is just a matter of style, but one trend in modern journalism (not just science journalism) that annoys me more and more every day is the heavy reliance on easy, obvious puns and wordplay to “spice up” the article. The title of the piece in question, “The Origin of a Big Idea”, and the reference to the theory arising “gradually” “from the primordial soup” are just so lame and lazy that they cannot be passed over without criticism.

Why do people write this way? You immediately know if you see something about evolution and, oh I don’t know, golf, there’s going to be a joking about teeing up on the “missing links”. Or if someone has a new theory about cosmology, it’ll be described as making a “big bang” in the scientific community. Do journalism schools actually offer courses in Lame Wordplay 101?

Anyways, back to this guy’s “theory”.

Could his evolutionary process – known as “teemosis” – really explain the explosion of new species 543 million years ago? Does it really provide a plausible means for environmental information to be passed on to offspring? Does it truly describe the evolutionary purpose for the “junk DNA” that makes up 98.5 per cent of our genome?

Wait, wait, wait. “Teemosis”? You have got to be shitting me. And this process, all by itself, will explain the Cambrian explosion, inheritance of adaptation, and “junk” DNA all at once? If your theory’s really that powerful, you should give it a more mellifluous name. How about “enfuckulation”?

And, even if it all ends up as discredited hocus, there’s another equally fascinating question. What’s it like to generate a brand new theory that challenges many of the big assumptions about the origins of living organisms? How does an amateur without any formal training in biology pull off a feat like that without getting locked up, or, perhaps worse, completely ignored?

As a grad student in history and philosophy of science, how theories come to be is a very important facet of my studies. And I can assure you that the huge amount of stuff you need to know to have even an adequate (much less groundbreaking) understanding of science vastly  exceeds the abilities of almost any amateur. There’s a reason scientists have to go through 7 to 10 years of training with more experienced scientists before they start making a real impact.

As for that last question, I’m pretty sure he’ll be ignored. Call it a hunch. I don’t see “teemosis” finding its way into textbooks any time soon.

Well, according to the infectiously enthusiastic Vendramini, the solution is to read a lot – about 8000 academic papers to be precise-— on anything to do with the human genome, NeoDarwinism and even palaeontology. Initially, his mission was to decipher the gobbledegook but later, as his theory took shape, his task was to find anything that disproves the ideas underpinning his theory.

So he’s a dilettante. Nothing wrong with that. I was too before I decided to go to grad school. But one thing I’ve learned in grad school is that without guidance from more experienced people you make all kinds of errors in your studies that you don’t even know you’re making.

And it’s nice that he (at least claims to be) is looking for potential evidence that contradicts him. The problem is, as we shall see, he doesn’t understand the topic well enough to understand what kind of evidence might contradict him.

So far, he says, he hasn’t found anything.

Not surprising. But that doesn’t increase my confidence in his theory at all given the considerations above.

In fact, Vendramini’s website, thesecondevolution.com, lists supportive comments from a range of academics, including Noam Chomsky of MIT.

Okay, now this is just ludicrous. Who gives a shit if he got some out-of-context praise from Noam Chomsky, who’s a linguist and not an evolutionary biologist? Worst of all, since the journalist doesn’t bother to reproduce some examples of the supposed praise heaped upon him, this is just downright misleading.  Here are a few quotes from the sidebar on the main page of Vendramini’s website:

“I think TEEM theory is all very scientifically addressable, and can rely on standard genetic techniques.”
Professor David Featherstone,
Department of Biological Sciences.
University of Illinois at Chicago

“If you are right, nearly everything I know about genetics and development is wrong.”
Professor Robert Trivers

“I will certainly look forward to seeing the publication of your book, not least because of some recently developed interests of my own on the evolution (and inevitability) of sensory mechanisms.”
Professor Simon Conway Morris.
Cambridge University

“Your theory is very novel and interesting.”
Professor Kirk Winemiller, Texas A&M University

Notice anything? For one thing, most are addressed in the second person.  These are likely culled from email conversations he’s had while shilling his theory out to scientists. Another is that they all seem to be polite ways to avoid the topic. Along the lines of, “Yes, that’s nice dear, now run along and play.” Most of the endorsements on the page are of this nature. They don’t really amount to much and certainly don’t lend any credence to his theory. But our journalist Shit Lips McGee seems oblivious to this.

We’re sitting under the veranda of a cafe as he explains all this. He has made a day-trip to Melbourne from his home in Sydney and he knows he’s in for a long chat. Somehow, he has to outline the evolutionary process of both his idea and every multicellular species on earth. And, along the way, he’s going to have to distance himself from all those crackpot anti-evolutionists by stressing he’s not a Christian, has little time for creationists and reveres Darwin deeply.

For the 57-year-old sculptor, scriptwriter and all-round Renaissance man, this is an important chat. After six long years developing his ideas, the time has come for some mainstream exposure. So the chinotti are ordered as he takes a deep breath and starts at the beginning.

But because Vendramini’s theory questions some aspects of Darwin, he says he is often befriended by creationists. So the time has come to shatter that illusion. When I ask him about intelligent design – the stream of creationism that is sweeping the US and claims life is too complicated to be left to chance – he reacts impulsively, jerking his hand forwards and knocking over a pepper shaker. It’s as if his own fear-of-religion teem has reacted violently to this external threat.

“There is absolutely no need for an intelligent designer. It’s all a lot of crap,” he fires off before sitting back to reflect, “Yeah, that’ll stir ‘em up.”

I’m always somewhat amazed when someone shows that they are perfectly capable of recognizing bullshit, then they turn around and offer up their own bullshit that’s just as bad.

But anyways, this has been going on for a while and we still haven’t heard just what the fuck his “theory” is. Tell us, please, what this “teemosis” crap is.

We’re not talking about the Big Bang. Instead, Vendramini chooses the moment when he first started thinking that Darwin might have missed something and that perhaps there was an evolutionary process working in tandem with natural selection. He came to this conclusion after thinking about myths and the way so many cultures have sagas in which catastrophic floods are meted out as God’s retribution for bad behaviour. He became curious about the way different nations have the same epic stories about monsters, dragons, good and evil.

“It’s as if they’re hard-wired into our genes,” he says. So he looked for the scientific literature to explain this and, apart from some “esoteric stuff by mythologists”, he says he found a “nothingness”. Eventually, he came up with the hypothesis that it may have something to do with the inheritance of emotional memories.

Vendramini believes that environmental factors, if powerful enough, can trigger changes in non-coding or “junk” DNA, which in turn are passed on to offspring and govern their behaviour. He calls these “teems” or Trauma Encoded Emotional Memories and he believes they’re triggered by lifethreatening events such as attacks by predators or profound emotions such as sexual arousal.

When these emotions are encrypted into an animal’s noncoding DNA, they can be passed on so that subsequent generations begin life with that teem already archived in its emotional memory.

Okay, this is the part where Shit Lips McGee should have started asking some really obvious questions. Like, “How does getting scared rewrite your DNA?” or “How does the TEEM on the junk DNA affect the phenotype if the DNA doesn’t code for anything?” or “How does it get passed on at all?”

Think about it. Each of us is formed from two gametes — an egg and a sperm. These are produced in the gonads of our parents, and each has one half of their DNA. The DNA, then, comes from these cells in that part of the body. In order for “teemosis” to work, a dude’s testicles would have to have both a memory of emotions and a method for *somehow* writing that emotion into the DNA of the sperm. Let’s call this the Nutbag Memory Theory.

How the fuck is this supposed to work? There is no mechanism for it. He doesn’t even attempt to give one. There’s no organ in the body that rewrites the DNA in the gametes. The testes certainly can’t do it. And even if there were one, it’s supposedly being written into the non-coding DNA, so it won’t do anything. And beyond even that, there’s no way to write a very specific experience into DNA. DNA is a chemical that sets off a series of chemical reactions that lead to development. It doesn’t store episodic memories like the brain does. None of this makes any sense. But Shit Lips McGee just blithely passes it on like it’s big news in science and continues to finger Vendramini’s teem hole.

Also, I can’t help but notice that TEEMs sound quite a bit like L. Ron Hubbard’s bullshit theory of “body thetans”, which are also emotional traumas that build up in our system and can be passed on from one generation to the next. Maybe Vendramini just needs to go to his local Scientology center and get an e-meter reading. I’ll get John Travolta on the phone. Just, whatever you do, don’t give him a back rub.

But this works only in certain life forms. To experience a teem you’ll need not only non-coding DNA but also a central nervous system and sensory organs. Vendramini says these are important because it’s the central nervous system – not the brain — that is the real emotion-producing organ and because sensory organs are the means of collecting the data that generates the emotion.

Evidence, please? The central nervous system includes the brain and the spine. So if it’s not just the brain, then the spine plays a role too? Does that mean if someone severs their spine they won’t be able to generate emotions? If not, then what the fuck do you mean and what evidence do you have for it?

Vendramini then goes a step further, proposing that teemosis helps explain something Darwin could not, namely the rapid profusion of species, especially multicellular organisms, during the period palaeontologists describe as the Cambrian Explosion, about 543 million years ago. It was at the moment he made this link that Vendramini reckoned his theory started feeling good because, suddenly, organisms had some control over their destiny and weren’t completely dependent on random mutations for evolutionary success.

He believes Darwin explains incremental or microevolution whereas teem theory explains the complexity of creatures, biodiversity and behavioural evolution.

And he wonders why creationists like him so much. This is standard creationist claptrap, and it’s just as wrong when it’s being peddled for a materialistic theory as it is when it’s peddled for a supernatural theory.

And how the fuck does emotional trauma building up in DNA give animals “control over their destiny”?

There’s a maverick streak in Vendramini. He calls himself a theoretical biologist, but happily tells you his only qualification is this theory.

So all it takes to be a scientist is to make up your own bullshit theory. Gotcha.

He says he relishes his amateur status because it has allowed him to escape the shackles that bind professionals.

“Being an amateur is usually a disadvantage, but, for me, it was fortunate because I didn’t have the normal respect for the paradigms that scientists work within.”

He says established scientists won’t leap at his theory because “if they’ve been teaching a certain paradigm all their lives and then discover that Darwin needs updating, it would be a violation of their core beliefs”.

Ugh. Is there a single crank in the universe who doesn’t abuse Thomas Kuhn’s philosophy in order to justify having no expertise in his purported field?

Look, crackpots. Kuhn never argued that you can be a scientist without expertise. He never claimed that paradigms are so rigidly dogmatic that scientists are incapable of even considering other ideas. He certainly never claimed that just any ludicrous idea with no connection to the existing body of scientific knowledge could cause a paradigm shift.

But one thing that Kuhn did say was that paradigms rarely shift back. That is, once a paradigm has been abandoned, it usually stays that way. And Vendramini’s “theory” sounds a lot like one of those abandoned paradigms. Lamarckism, a theory of evolution by acquired characteristics, had quite a following among biologists before it was rendered pretty much impossible by genetics. “Teemosis” is also inheritance of acquired characteristics, and has the same problem: How the fuck does the DNA get “rewritten”? There isn’t an organ in the body that does that.

So I went in search of academics to make a comment on the theory. The first port of call – a leading biologist in one of our prominent universities – appeared to vindicate Vendramini’s pessimism.

Fuck you, Shit Lips.

After offering the scientist a potted overview of teemosis, he replied in a derisive tone. “It sounds to me like the second cousin to the flying saucer. I’d prefer not to run with it. There’s enough genuine stuff based on natural history and, if it’s coming off a website rather than proper scientific study, I’d prefer not to be quoted. It sounds like a great Doctor Who story,” he concluded.

When I explained that Vendramini had published his work in the British journal Medical Hypotheses, there was a haughty laugh down the phone. “Well the name says it all,” he scoffed. Would you like to have a look at the website,” I inquired?

“No, I’d rather not run with it.”

Medical Hypotheses will publish anything. Shit Lips didn’t even bother to check what kind of journal they are. They publish highly speculative work by scientists with almost no peer review, and publishing there does not in anyway entail anything about the quality of the work.

If Shit Lips had done any independent research, any at all, he would have known this. But instead he’s a typical science  journalist, getting his information entirely from interviews, taking everything said at face value, interviewing an “opposing view” for “balance”, then working it all into a narrative about a lone wolf scientist who changed everything. Cast the working scientists (you know, the ones who actually know what they’re doing) as cartoon mustache-twirling villains and the subject of the piece as the brave David going up against the scientific Goliath, and you’ve got a “story”. *Grrrr*

Dr Martin Burd of Monash University’s School of Biological Sciences was more accommodating and, after reading Vendramini’s paper and navigating his way round his website, he concluded that he was “very sceptical” about the theory for at least two reasons. The first is that plants have as much repetitive non-coding DNA in their genomes as animals, a fact not explained by Vendramini. He hints that Vendramini might be tempted to argue that repetitive non-coding DNA serves a different function in plants than the teem function in animals. But, according to Burd, this would amount to “special pleading” – something scientists frown upon.

Okay, this shit should have been brought up MUCH earlier in the article. These are really, really obvious questions for which Vendramini has no answers.

And it’s not just scientists that frown on special pleading. Any rational person should. It’s a logical fallacy for crying out loud. I’m not a scientist, but I sure as fuck frown on special pleading. And why is it in scare quotes? Is Shit Lips trying to cast doubt on the legitimacy of special pleading as an objection to an argument?

He also accuses Vendramini of failing to explain the mechanics of it all adequately. He concludes it’s “not very convincing” because Vendramini doesn’t reveal how teems are actually written into non-coding DNA and how that affects emotions or creates instincts.

Yes! Yes yes yes! Why did it take this fucking long to bring this up?

Vendramini responds to this criticism with characteristic optimism. “Given that the history of science shows that radical new scientific ideas are initially almost universally disparaged, these comments seem quite moderate. I’m encouraged.”

I knew we’d see the Galileo Gambit at some point. And of course Shit Lips passes it along without even a hint of skepticism or any critical analysis. I mean, there’s already a stock response to this: “Yes, they laughed at Galileo, but they also laughed at Bozo the clown.” Shit Lips would barely have to exert himself at all to demonstrate at least a modicum of journalist integrity here. But no. Twas not to be.

So now the maverick Vendramini is seeking acceptance – or at least the courtesy of having his ideas tested to assess whether they have anything to offer. And, as he braces for the reviews, he has taken heart from Darwin himself: “Darwin loved to have his mistakes pointed out. I’d have an enormous sense of pride if my theory adds just a little to his noble edifice, but if I see evidence that it’s wrong, I just have to admit it.”

And that’s the final paragraph of the article. It should be obvious by now that I see Shit Lips as the villain in this. Vendramini is certainly a quack and a bozo, but he seems mostly harmless to me. At least he’s creative–his ideas might make for a good sci-fi series, if not for good science. I’d be willing to read a comic book about a superhero group called T.E.E.M who can control their own DNA with their emotions and give themselves superpowers. That might be cool. As long as Joe Quesada and Jeph Loeb don’t get involved with it.

Shit Lips, on the other hand, is a shitty fucking journalist. This article is little more than a puff piece, and it’s structured to mislead the public on just about every topic it “reports” on. This is certainly due more to laziness and incompetence than to malice on Shit Lips’ part. But that’s no excuse.

This is the shoddy state of science journalism in today’s media. It might be better than it was 50 years ago, but it’s still horrible. And while a single crank can do little more on his own than annoy the scientists he continually emails his self-published book to, a lazy/incompetent journalist at a large publication can legitimize his bogus views to thousands or even millions of consumers who don’t know enough about science to differentiate between the real thing and the Asylum Films style knock-off. This is the equivalent of Roger Ebert reviewing Alien Origin but telling people it’s a review for Prometheus. (Ebert would never do that, but I wouldn’t put it past Armond White…)

But, hey, at least it’s “balanced” and “open-minded,” right?