Month: September 2010

Religious Americans Are Ignorant About Religion

Atheists Outdo Some Believers in Survey on Religion. ‘Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people, but they are also deeply ignorant about religion.
Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.

On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.

Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.

“Even after all these other factors, including education, are taken into account, atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons still outperform all the other religious groups in our survey,” said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at Pew.

That finding might surprise some, but not Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, an advocacy group for nonbelievers that was founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.” ‘ ( – NYTimes)

New terms for new sensations

Douglas Coupland reading Eleanor Rigby at A Cl...
Douglas Coupland: “The thing about the future is that it never feels the way we thought it would. New sensations require new terms; below are a few such terms to encapsulate our present moment…” [more] (The Independent)

“My Lie”

The Courage to Heal
Image via Wikipedia

“Why I falsely accused my father: More than 20 years ago, Meredith Maran falsely accused her father of molestation. That she came to believe such a thing was possible reveals what can happen when personal turmoil meets a powerful social movement. In her book My Lie: A True Story of False Memory (the introduction of which is excerpted on Salon), Maran recounts the 1980s feminist-inspired campaign to expose molestation, which hit feverish levels in 1988 with the book The Courage to Heal. As an early reporter on the story, Maran observed family therapy sessions, interviewed molesters and steeped herself in cases where abuse clearly took place. Meanwhile, she divorced her husband and fell in love with a woman who was also an incest survivor. Maran began having nightmares about her own molestation and soon what had been a contentious relationship with her father turned into accusations of unspeakable crimes. Eventually, she came to realize the truth. She was the person who had done wrong.

Toward the end of her memoir, her father asks her, “What I really want to know is how the hell you could have thought that of me.” Salon wanted to know, too. We spoke with Maran recently about how a false memory is born, what she thinks of Courage to Heal today, and what her story can teach us about such dangerous political narratives as the undying “Obama is Muslim” lie.”  (Salon)

Have U.S. Nuclear Weapons Been Compromised by UFOs?

Grainy B&W image of supposed UFO, Passoria, Ne...
Ex-military men say unknown intruders have monitored and even tampered with American nuclear missiles; group to call on U.S. Government to reveal the facts: “Witness testimony from more than 120 former or retired military personnel points to an ongoing and alarming intervention by unidentified aerial objects at nuclear weapons sites, as recently as 2003. In some cases, several nuclear missiles simultaneously and inexplicably malfunctioned while a disc-shaped object silently hovered nearby. Six former U.S. Air Force officers and one former enlisted man will break their silence about these events at the National Press Club and urge the government to publicly confirm their reality.

One of them, ICBM launch officer Captain Robert Salas, was on duty during one missile disruption incident at Malmstrom Air Force Base and was ordered to never discuss it. Another participant, retired Col. Charles Halt, observed a disc-shaped object directing beams of light down into the RAF Bentwaters airbase in England and heard on the radio that they landed in the nuclear weapons storage area. Both men will provide stunning details about these events, and reveal how the U.S. military responded.” (Reuters via Julia)

What explains the ascendance of Homo sapiens?

Early Pleistocene Animals
Start by looking at our pets: “…[A]nthropologist Pat Shipman believes… that the unique ability to observe and control the behavior of other animals is what allowed one particular set of Pleistocene era primates to evolve into modern man. The hunting of animals and the processing of their corpses drove the creation of tools, and the need to record and relate information about animals was so important that it gave rise to the creation of language and art. Our bond with nonhuman animals has shaped us at the level of our genes, giving us the ability to drink milk into adulthood and even, Shipman argues, promoting the set of finely honed relational antennae that allowed us to create the complex societies most of us live in today. Our love of pets is an artifact of that evolutionary interdependence….” (Boston Globe)

Optical Illusion of Child Gets Drivers to Brake

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“I don’t know about you, but my heart skips a beat if I see a ball suddenly roll out into the street in front of my car. I’m on the brake as fast as I can.

It’s a reaction that the British Columbia Automobile Association Traffic Safety Foundation is hoping lots of people have. In an effort to get speeding drivers to slow down, they’re painting an image of a child playing with a ball on the road in a school zone. The image is painted in an elongated manner, so that at the right distance, it appears three-dimensional.” (Discovery News)


Steve Silberman

A Renaissance of Wonder: My online friend, journalist Steve Silberman, returns to weblogging. As he explains, he was one of the first, at I have always appreciated his incisive articles, especially those on neuroscience, for Wired, although I first became familiar with his name as a luminary in the Deadhead world. Now, he introduces his new smart science blog for PLoS.

Why Are So Many Terrorists Engineers?

Santi di Tito’s famous portrait of Niccolò Mac...
“…[I]n the ranks of captured and confessed terrorists, engineers and engineering students are significantly overrepresented. Maybe that’s a numerological accident. The sociologist Diego Gambetta and the political scientist Steffen Hertog don’t think so.”  (New York Times Magazine)

Do the laws of physics vary throughout the universe?

Penrose triangle

New study suggests: “The implications for our current understanding of science are profound. If the laws of physics turn out to be merely local by-laws, it might be that whilst our observable part of the universe favours the existence of life and human beings, other far more distant regions may exist where different laws preclude the formation of life, at least as we know it.” (Science Daily via abby).

Generic Names for Soft Drinks

a large sundae, fountain type glass filled wit...
‘Sugary, carbonated drinks have been the subject of some controversy lately, but there’s one soft-drink dispute that’s not new at all—what do you call them? Check out Generic Names for Soft Drinks for an intricate map of America’s answers.Designed by Matthew Campbell, a cartography student at East Central University, and based on hundreds of thousands of responses collected at, the map is a testament to the Internet’s ability to easily gather data over wide areas. It’s amazing how much information is packed into this chart—it’s clickable, color-coded and divided into individual counties, providing a high-resolution picture of a strangely potent cultural indicator. Surprisingly, the results seem to follow rough political boundaries—residents of mostly coastal, liberal areas like New England and California prefer “soda,” while the Deep South likes “coke” and the Midwest chooses “pop.” ‘ (Very Short List)

I don’t find the trends surprising, but I am curious about  the anomalies. For instance, what are the ‘other’ terms (green on the map) that predominate in some counties, e.g. in the Southwest? Any New Mexico readers care to weigh in?

  • Illusion of Diversity Among Soft Drinks – And Galco’s Soda Pop Stop (
  • The Mereology of Cola (
    Ian Bogost: “…[We] southerners [get] a little tease for the act of calling any soft drink a “Coke” …I have a few responses. For one, we don’t call them “Cokes,” we call them “cokes.” I’m sure you can see the difference.For another, we have a different, more definitive name for the famous brand of cola made by my hometown soft drink company; it’s called a “Co-cola” (an elision, compare it to “Missippi” for “Mississippi”). Doesn’t it just roll off the tongue on a hot, humid day?

    And for yet another thing, there’s a lovely lesson in mereology and rhetoric in the southern use of “coke.” I’d argue that “coke” is a figure of speech called a “merism,” in which a single thing is described by a set of its most conspicuous parts. One common example of merism is in Genesis: “the heavens and the earth” is a merism for the entire universe. Another is “flesh and bone” for the body. Some might argue that the substition of “coke” for “soda” is really synecdoche, but I disagree, and here’s why: in the south, where Coca-Cola is king, one and only one item is conspicuous when it comes to carbonated soft drinks, and that’s Coke….”

  • Drink Up! The Stories Behind 11 Regional Soft Drinks (


The Fitness of the Holy

Have you been good today???
Is Believing In God Evolutionarily Advantageous? “In the history of the world, every culture in every location at every point in time has developed some supernatural belief system. And when a human behavior is so universal, scientists often argue that it must be an evolutionary adaptation along the lines of standing upright. That is, something so helpful that the people who had it thrived, and the people who didn’t slowly died out until we were all left with the trait. But what could be the evolutionary advantage of believing in God?”  NPR.

Neal Stephenson’s new book, in digital serialization

Genghis Khan's Mongols spread Chinese technology
“It’s spring of 1241, and the West is shitting its pants (that’s “bewraying its kecks” for you medieval time-travelers).

The Mongol takeover of Europe is almost complete. The hordes commanded by the sons of Genghis Khan have swept out of their immense grassy plains and ravaged Russia, Poland, and Hungary… and now seem poised to sweep west to Paris and south to Rome. King and pope and peasant alike face a bleak future—until a small band of warriors, inheritors of a millennium-old secret tradition, set out to probe the enemy.

Their leader, the greatest knight of their order, will set his small group of specially trained warriors on a perilous eastern journey. They will be guided by an agile, elusive, and sharp-witted adolescent girl, who believes the master’s plan is insane. But this small band is the West’s last, best hope to turn aside the floodtide of the violent genius of the Steppes kingdoms.

Welcome to The Mongoliad.”