On the Ebola Quarantine Raid and the Public Perception of Science

Yesterday, a group of armed Ebola-deniers raided a quarantine facility in Liberia and “freed” the patients. This is–without a doubt–the stupidest thing I have seen anyone do in a while, and while it is really easy to point fingers at the raiders and label them as extremely evil or as complete idiots, we can’t and shouldn’t blame them. These raiders weren’t stupid, but ignorant, a huge difference that can serve as an important reminder to us all.

Let’s start with why these people would do this; after all, ebola is a terrible viral hemorrhage fever, why would anyone want to exacerbate its current record braking outbreak?  The answer is heartbreakingly simple: many people in Liberia don’t believe the virus is real. How could one possibly believe this? It’s for a plethora of reasons: for one thing, Liberians greatly distrust their extremely corrupt government, and for good reason. It also comes from a disbelief that so-called “bush meat” (or meat that people hunt and kill themselves such as non-human primates and bats) carries ebola. Bush meat has been such a staple in Liberia for some time, so many simply don’t believe it could harm them. And a last, more implicit, and universal reason for the denial is fear. People don’t want to believe that such a deadly virus exists and could easily kill them in the most excruciating way possible (for those unaware, hemorrhage fever kill you by causing you to bleed out from the inside out).

While these reasons make it easier to understand why many Liberians don’t believe in ebola, it still will cause many of us non-Liberians to scoff and ridicule the Liberians as a people. More dangerously, it will cause a feeling of pity for the Liberians, causing many to think, “If only they were as developed as [insert western nation here].” But this begs the question: are we really more developed in our scientific thinking than these nations? I would argue that we may be, but not by much.

Microcosms of this dangerous denial of scientific thought exist all over the United States, which many regard as being one of the most developed nations on Earth. And yet, despite the 12 years of education received by more than 80% of Americans, we still have a great amount of scientific distrust in our country. Only 32% of the population believes in evolution by natural selection (the backbone of modern biology). As for climate change, while a majority of Americans finally accept its existence and effects, we are still well below the rest of the world’s population in terms of its acknowledgement. Many Americans even take vaccination advice from a former Playmate rather than the overwhelming majority of doctors who–not surprisingly–recommend you vaccinate your kids so they don’t get polio or tetanus, some even going as far as to remove patients from their practice.

This kind of thinking is arguably more dangerous than the ebola-deniers in West Africa, and shows their actions are not limited to a severely underdeveloped nation. While the raiders may have put a roadblock in the containment of this ebola outbreak, our thinking stalls the progress of medicine and technology in our nation. Cases of eradicated diseases are popping up in areas of the US known for high concentrations of anti-vaccine parents, and the denial of climate change severely hinders efforts to combat it. And while we think of ourselves as more developed and educated than West Africans, our reasons for these denials are the same: fear and faith. Ideas such as intelligent design rely on Americans to distrust new findings simply because they are uncomfortable with changing what they know to be true (similar to the Liberians view of bushmeat being safe). As for climate change, many Americans deny its existence not out of reason or fact, but fear. Nobody wants climate change to be real. I certainly wish it wasn’t. But it is, and not believing in it is not going to make it go away.

So while Americans are not going to, say, raid the CDC and release dangerous viruses, we are still doing harm to everyone. And while the raid is a short term threat, our beliefs are a long term one. Even something as minor as reading a daily horoscope is dangerous, as it causes one to perceive science as an alternative option to predict the world rather than the only correct one. As long as Americans still hold these beliefs and still elect people with similar beliefs to represent them, we are doing the same kinds of harm as the Liberian clinic raiders. So next time you see an article with some radical headline about “GMO foods causing autism” or something along those lines, do yourself a favor and look it up. Find a scientific study, read over the abstract, and do your part it making for a more educated and less dangerous America. And most importantly: when a political candidate promises to cut spending on school or allow for more “equal” science curriculum, think twice about what that means.

Originally posted August 18 2014

AutoTame for Bukkit

I’ve recently been crawling Bukkit’s “Plugin Request” forum to find some plugin ideas and sharpen up my Java skills, and yesterday, I made one. It’s a simple plugin called AutoTame, and it was suggested by user roumen4.

Here’s the basic idea for the plugin: whenever a user spawns a wolf with a spawn-egg, the plugin will automatically tame the wolf and set its owner as the player who used the spawn egg.

Here we have an open patch of area:

And when we spawn a wolf, he is automatically tamed to the closest player:

We can change his collar color with /collar <color/random> (random picks a random color)

And if we die (and config.yml is set to do so), our wolves die too:

That’s about it! If you want to get the plugin JAR, you can download it here. You can get the source on GitHub as well.

Ill Submarine

As you may know, I am a huge fan of both the Beastie Boys and The Beatles, so you could imagine my excitement when a friend of mine told me about a project called The Beastles, which mixed the B-Boy’s rhymes over the instrumentals of the Fab Four.

DJ BC recently (about a week ago) released the third and most recent of these albums, entitled Ill Submarine, a play on the Yellow Submarine franchise produced by the The Beatles and the word “ill” used by the Beastie Boys in almost every one of their tracks.

If you like what you hear, you can grab a free copy of the album here.
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… . And one fine morning ——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

A Year and a Day

On May 4, 2012, the world lost an amazing human being and artist in Adam “MCA” Yauch of the Beastie Boys. The music he helped create continues to amaze me, and they were truly the hip-hop equivalent of The Beatles with their ability to experiment and create avant-garde tracks.

Of course, they started as a group of high schoolers who loved hip-hop, and paid homage to those days with a 30 minute long music video entitled Fight for Your Right: Revisited. Yauch directed the piece before his untimely death to launch their final album, Hot Sauce Committee: Part Two. Ch-check it out below, it features stars like Will Ferrell and Seth Rogan:

If you wish to learn more about Yauch’s life and legacy, the Beastie Boys’ website still has their memorial splash page up (one year old yesterday) commemorating his work and life.

Also, be sure to check out this sick tribute that Vimeo user James Curran made, utilizing a Yauch solo rap called A Year and a Day:

A Year and a Day from James Curran on Vimeo.
For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

What the Retrograde of Mercury Actually Means

I know a few people who are invested in astrology, and one of the topics that astrologists (remember, that’s astrology, not astronomy) worry about is when the planet Mercury goes into retrograde, which they claim is a cause or an omen of bad things to come. In reality, Mercury’s retrograde (which means the planet appears to move backwards) is nothing but an illusion, and has some pretty neat science behind it.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, there was a famous astronomer and mathematician named Johannes Kepler, who was fascinated by the orbits of the planets around the sun (if you want to know more about him, the TV show Cosmos has a full episode dedicated to him). While studying the orbits of planets, Kepler came up with three laws of planetary motion, which are almost as important in physics as Newton’s three laws of forces. The three laws were as follows:

  1. The orbit of every planet is an ellipse with the Sun at one of the two foci.

  2. A line joining a planet and the Sun sweeps out equal areas during equal intervals of time.

  3. The square of the orbital period of a planet is directly proportional to the cube of the semi-major axis of its orbit.

Now, you don’t need to worry about that last one, but the first two will give us the answer to the problem of retrograde motion. If you think about an oval (with the sun not in the center), you will notice that when an object is closer to the sun, the sector of the oval that is created will have a larger circumference than that of one with equal area farther away. Confused? Look below.

[caption id=”attachment_83” align=”aligncenter” width=”288”]Area A is equaal to area B Area A is equal to area B[/caption]

So, in order for these areas to be convered in equal time, the planet would have to move much faster from point b to point b’. Now, mercury has a much more ellipitcal orbit than that of Earth, so its acceleration is much more exaggerated. Because of this, we have the illusion of it going backwards when it is farther away from the Sun, much like it looks like a car that is ahead of you on a highway looks like it’s moving backwards when it slows down. The Earth’s “catching up” to Mercury makes it appear to go backwards, but its orbit doesn’t change, only its speed. See? Nothing to worry about. Now stop blaming it for your problems.