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  1. Lochness monster as evidence against evolution … and five odder things kids are taught in some religious schools

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    Johnny Scaramanga writes:

    Accelerated Christian Education’s fundamentalist curriculum is used by more than 50 British schools. It is known for silent classrooms where students teach themselves, using workbooks in isolated booths. Professor Harry Brighouse describes ACE’s view as “a teleological account of American history as leading to the ultimate fulfilment of God’s will”. You may be unsurprised to learn that ACE was founded in Texas. ACE made headlines last year for a science textbook that cites the existence of the Loch Ness monster as evidence against evolution. Despite this, government agency UK NARIC defended its decision to deem ACE’s in-house qualification, the International Certificate of Christian Education, comparable to A-levels. Incredibly, Nessie isn’t ACE’s most bizarre claim. Here are five more:

    1) God is a right-winger. “Liberals” are the root of all political evil. God’s values are rightwing, and anything else is a rejection of His will. On a politics chart, “right” is associated with “absolute” and “God”, while “left” is connected to “no values” and “atheism.” The term “leftwing”, we learn, exists because “left” means “sinister”, “to twist something”, or “to corrupt.” Jesus, by contrast, taught that “we should use what we have to earn a profit.” If your political views lean left, you are neither a true Christian, nor a good citizen.

    2) No transitional fossils exist. Despite the avalanche of transitional fossils, ACE still shouts about mysterious “gaps”: “Though evolutionists have been searching for transitional fossils for more than 100 years, they have found none,” narrates one Presenting Accelerated Christian Education video. Nope, none. Not only that, but we can be certain “no transitional fossils have been or will ever be discovered because God created each type of fish, amphibian and reptile as separate, unique animals.” I’m sure the scientists who excavated tiktaalik will be crushed to learn that their discovery doesn’t, in fact, exist. But even without fossils, evolution is thoroughly supported by DNA and a wealth of other evidence.

    3) Solar fusion is a myth. It is nuclear fusion that has enabled our sun to shine for billions of years. ACE are determined to prove that the universe is less than 10,000 years old, in line with their literal interpretation of Genesis. As a result, they teach that solar fusion is “an invention of evolution scientists … All other theories require the sun to use up all its energy sooner than the evolutionists’ invented timetable would allow.” This preposterous suggestion is part of a wider campaign to discredit mainstream science.

    4) Evolution is an absurd, deliberate lie. Although ACE make no bones about being Creationists, they sometimes claim they also teach evolution. While evolution is mentioned frequently, it’s only to ridicule it. We are told, “Even from a strictly scientific standpoint, the theory of evolution is absurd.” Evolution is described as “impossible” and not “true science”. Scientists, it seems, know evolution is one big hoax: “Because evolutionists do not want to believe the only alternative – that the universe was created by God – they declare evolution is a fact and believe its impossible claims without any scientific proof!” While the scientists push their “indefensible theory”, ACE sees the obvious truth: “We have a risen Christ, unquestionable proofs and, as if we needed it, God has thrown in a host of inarguable evidences all around us!” This line of thinking writes off the majority of Christians, who reconcile their faith with evolution, as not true believers. It also denigrates scientists as conspiracy theorists. This worldview is antithetical to reasonable education.

    5) Science proves homosexuality is a learned behaviour. “Because extensive tests have shown that there is no biological difference between homosexuals and others, these tests seem to prove that homosexuality is a learned behaviour. The Bible teaches that homosexuality is sin. In Old Testament times, God commanded that homosexuals be put to death. Since God never commanded death for normal or acceptable actions, it is as unreasonable to say that homosexuality is normal as it is to say that murder or stealing is normal.” Quite apart from the flawed logic here, scientific consensus points to a genetic component in sexual orientation. But faith is not enough for ACE – even science must be shown to support their prejudice. The curriculum is designed to mould minds not to question the Absolute Truth and this, simply, is not education.

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Monkeys in space: right or wrong?
Iran has successfully sent a monkey into space. The animal, which was strapped to a harness for the duration of the flight, made it back to Earth alive. The campaign group Peta has in the past criticised the use of primates for such experiments – do you think they are ethically defensible?
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

    Monkeys in space: right or wrong?

    Iran has successfully sent a monkey into space. The animal, which was strapped to a harness for the duration of the flight, made it back to Earth alive. The campaign group Peta has in the past criticised the use of primates for such experiments – do you think they are ethically defensible?

    Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

    (Source: Guardian)

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"This is a Catholic country," was what Irish doctors told Savita Halappanavar after she learned she was miscarrying her pregnancy and asked for an abortion to avoid further complications. She spent three days in agonising pain, eventually shaking, vomiting and passing out. She again asked for an abortion and was refused, because the foetus still had a heartbeat.
Then she died.
She died of septicaemia and E Coli. She died after three and a half days of excruciating pain. She died after repeatedly begging for an end to the pregnancy that was poisoning her. Her death would have been avoided if she had been given an abortion when she asked for it – when it was clear she was miscarrying, and that non-intervention would put her at risk. But the foetus, which had no chance of survival, still had a heartbeat. Its right to life quite literally trumped hers.

Jill Filipovic on the heart-rending story of Savita Halappanavar, who died after she was refused an abortion. The procedure is illegal in Ireland.
Photograph: Irish Times

    "This is a Catholic country," was what Irish doctors told Savita Halappanavar after she learned she was miscarrying her pregnancy and asked for an abortion to avoid further complications. She spent three days in agonising pain, eventually shaking, vomiting and passing out. She again asked for an abortion and was refused, because the foetus still had a heartbeat.

    Then she died.

    She died of septicaemia and E Coli. She died after three and a half days of excruciating pain. She died after repeatedly begging for an end to the pregnancy that was poisoning her. Her death would have been avoided if she had been given an abortion when she asked for it – when it was clear she was miscarrying, and that non-intervention would put her at risk. But the foetus, which had no chance of survival, still had a heartbeat. Its right to life quite literally trumped hers.

    Jill Filipovic on the heart-rending story of Savita Halappanavar, who died after she was refused an abortion. The procedure is illegal in Ireland.

    Photograph: Irish Times

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    When is it OK for a cancer campaign to be sexy?

October is breast cancer awareness month and, especially in the US, corporate brands have been bedecked with pink ribbons. One particular fundraising effort can perhaps be seen as an object lesson in how not to raise funds and awareness. The hardcore video tube Pornhub has promised to donate to breast cancer research for every click on videos in their big boobs and small boobs section. If you’re already recoiling from the crass association between sex and cancer, the offence is compounded many times over by their advertising tagline: Save the Boobies. Yes, you read that right – not saving lives or saving women, just their breasts. At least one cancer charity has already rejected their cash, but the site is unrepentant.
But is it ever possible to link sexuality and cancer awareness in an appropriate way? Yes, I think it is. A few years ago the men’s cancer charity Everyman produced a hit viral featuring Rachel Stevens seductively inviting viewers to “check their plums" for testicular lumps. Tacky? Probably, but also highly effective. More recently, a community of (mostly female) erotic bloggers from RSVP Erotica and Sinful Sunday have been tagging their amateur offerings with links to breast cancer awareness campaigns. Such efforts may not appeal to everyone but, in my view at least, they tread the tightrope quite well, helping to spread information without slipping into gross exploitation.

A ‘bouncing boobie’ flashmob for breast cancer charity Coppafeel! in London. Photograph: Rex Features

    When is it OK for a cancer campaign to be sexy?

    October is breast cancer awareness month and, especially in the US, corporate brands have been bedecked with pink ribbons. One particular fundraising effort can perhaps be seen as an object lesson in how not to raise funds and awareness. The hardcore video tube Pornhub has promised to donate to breast cancer research for every click on videos in their big boobs and small boobs section. If you’re already recoiling from the crass association between sex and cancer, the offence is compounded many times over by their advertising tagline: Save the Boobies. Yes, you read that right – not saving lives or saving women, just their breasts. At least one cancer charity has already rejected their cash, but the site is unrepentant.

    But is it ever possible to link sexuality and cancer awareness in an appropriate way? Yes, I think it is. A few years ago the men’s cancer charity Everyman produced a hit viral featuring Rachel Stevens seductively inviting viewers to “check their plums" for testicular lumps. Tacky? Probably, but also highly effective. More recently, a community of (mostly female) erotic bloggers from RSVP Erotica and Sinful Sunday have been tagging their amateur offerings with links to breast cancer awareness campaigns. Such efforts may not appeal to everyone but, in my view at least, they tread the tightrope quite well, helping to spread information without slipping into gross exploitation.

    A ‘bouncing boobie’ flashmob for breast cancer charity Coppafeel! in London. Photograph: Rex Features

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    Was there a computer age while Victoria was on the throne?
John Graham-Cumming has an ambitious plan: he wants to recreate the”analytical engine”, one of the first computer that was ever dreamed of by Charles Babbage in 1837 (sadly, it was never actually built):
To understand why it’s worth building an almost 200-year-old mechanical computer, it’s necessary to first understand what a computer is. Although Babbage’s analytical engine is entirely mechanical, it has the same essence as a modern computer. That computer essence is one of the important consequences of another British computing pioneer’s work, a century after Babbage. Exactly 99 years after Babbage invented the computer, Alan Turing wrote his now famous paper describing the universal Turing machine. An important mathematical idea arising from Turing’s paper and another by American mathematician Alonzo Church is that all computers have the same capabilities, no matter how they are constructed. Because of the Church-Turing thesis, as it is called, we know that Babbage’s analytical engine (with its levers and cogs), Turing’s theoretical machine and the latest tablet all have the same fundamental limits. Of course, Babbage’s machine would by modern standards have been painfully slow.
And please note: it is the size of a locomotive (!) – a larger-than-life computer. Best of luck to him. 
Photograph: Science Museum Archive / Science & Society Picture Library

    Was there a computer age while Victoria was on the throne?

    John Graham-Cumming has an ambitious plan: he wants to recreate the”analytical engine”, one of the first computer that was ever dreamed of by Charles Babbage in 1837 (sadly, it was never actually built):

    To understand why it’s worth building an almost 200-year-old mechanical computer, it’s necessary to first understand what a computer is. Although Babbage’s analytical engine is entirely mechanical, it has the same essence as a modern computer. That computer essence is one of the important consequences of another British computing pioneer’s work, a century after Babbage. Exactly 99 years after Babbage invented the computer, Alan Turing wrote his now famous paper describing the universal Turing machine. An important mathematical idea arising from Turing’s paper and another by American mathematician Alonzo Church is that all computers have the same capabilities, no matter how they are constructed. Because of the Church-Turing thesis, as it is called, we know that Babbage’s analytical engine (with its levers and cogs), Turing’s theoretical machine and the latest tablet all have the same fundamental limits. Of course, Babbage’s machine would by modern standards have been painfully slow.

    And please note: it is the size of a locomotive (!) – a larger-than-life computer. Best of luck to him.

    Photograph: Science Museum Archive / Science & Society Picture Library

  6. Voyager space mission: what would be on your interstellar playlist?

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    It’s (almost) official: the Voyager 1 spacecraft has left the solar system for good. It is now navigating through unknown territory, further than any human-built machine has ever been. When organising the interstellar mission, Nasa decided to include music, sounds and scenes that would best represent humanity on the Voyager record. The lists are quite extensive. Music-wise, Voyager has in its belly Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 2 in F; percussion from Senegal; drums from Peru; Dark Was the Night as performed by Bluesman Blind Willie Johnson; and Melancholy Blues by Louis Armstrong. Sounds from the Earth include volcanoes, thunder, morse code, and a dog. Scenes from our planet include pictures of Jupiter, a nursing mother and a supermarket, and a diagram representing conception.

    If another similar mission was being launched today, what music, sounds and scenes would you like to be sent through the solar system, and why? Tell us here or on our open thread.

    Photograph: Nasa/AP

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    What made ‘Nasa Mohawk Guy’ such a successful meme? Kate Miltner reports:

Overall, an attractive, Mohawked Nasa scientist is a fun thing to talk about. However, the reason why people are talking about Ferdowsi – and the reason why people participate in memes in general – is because they allow people to comment, directly or indirectly, on their culture and their personal values. Participating in the Nasa Mohawk Guy meme can communicate many things: I celebrate nonconformity; I am a member of the Persian community; I encourage the expression of individuality in the workplace; I feel that science is important and cool. 

    What made ‘Nasa Mohawk Guy’ such a successful meme? Kate Miltner reports:

    Overall, an attractive, Mohawked Nasa scientist is a fun thing to talk about. However, the reason why people are talking about Ferdowsi – and the reason why people participate in memes in general – is because they allow people to comment, directly or indirectly, on their culture and their personal values. Participating in the Nasa Mohawk Guy meme can communicate many things: I celebrate nonconformity; I am a member of the Persian community; I encourage the expression of individuality in the workplace; I feel that science is important and cool. 

  8. Gallery

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    Synthetic biology: the best hope for mankind’s future?

    The UK government has just declared that synthetic biology – the science of making novel living organisms – could lead to a new industrial revolution and should be a research priority. Many environmentalists argue instead that creating new life forms could endanger the existing ones. But, argues Johnjoe McFadden, it may be that synthetic biology is our best hope of preserving life on our planet.

    Photographs: Alamy; Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

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    Ethicist Peter Singer looks at how, in his view*, the ‘unnatural’ Ashley treatment can be right for profoundly disabled children. Those growth-restricting treatments are said to be used on more than 100 children in the US. In her case:

Ashley is a profoundly intellectually disabled girl. The treatment included hormones so that she would remain below normal height and weight, as well as surgery, which included a hysterectomy to remove her uterus and a bilateral breast-bud removal to prevent her breasts from developing. Ashley’s mental age was that of a three-month-old. She was unable to walk, talk, hold a toy or change her position in bed. Her parents were not sure she recognised them. There was no prospect of her mental condition ever improving.
The aim of the surgery was to keep Ashley small and light, so that her parents could continue to move her around frequently and take her with them when going out with their two other children. The uterus removal was intended to spare her the discomfort of menstrual cramps; the surgery to prevent the development of breasts aimed to make her more comfortable when she was lying down or had a strap across her chest in her wheelchair.

• Also: read our report which explains why the controversial medical procedure to limit growth of severely disabled children is being increasingly used, and why Ashley’s parents feel they still made the right choice for their child.
• *We’ll be publishing an opposite view shortly.
Photograph: www.pillowangel.org

    Ethicist Peter Singer looks at how, in his view*, the ‘unnatural’ Ashley treatment can be right for profoundly disabled children. Those growth-restricting treatments are said to be used on more than 100 children in the US. In her case:

    Ashley is a profoundly intellectually disabled girl. The treatment included hormones so that she would remain below normal height and weight, as well as surgery, which included a hysterectomy to remove her uterus and a bilateral breast-bud removal to prevent her breasts from developing. Ashley’s mental age was that of a three-month-old. She was unable to walk, talk, hold a toy or change her position in bed. Her parents were not sure she recognised them. There was no prospect of her mental condition ever improving.

    The aim of the surgery was to keep Ashley small and light, so that her parents could continue to move her around frequently and take her with them when going out with their two other children. The uterus removal was intended to spare her the discomfort of menstrual cramps; the surgery to prevent the development of breasts aimed to make her more comfortable when she was lying down or had a strap across her chest in her wheelchair.

    • Also: read our report which explains why the controversial medical procedure to limit growth of severely disabled children is being increasingly used, and why Ashley’s parents feel they still made the right choice for their child.

    • *We’ll be publishing an opposite view shortly.

    Photograph: www.pillowangel.org

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    Photograph: Sebastian Kaulitzki /Alamy
Is this really mind reading?

You’ve probably seen the headlines by now. The Daily Telegraph ran a story headlined “Mind reading device could become reality”, the Sydney Morning Herald hailed the “breakthrough in mind reading technology”, and popular gadget blog Gizmodo told us that "scientists can now actually read your mind". Even the Guardian got in on the act, with “Mind-reading program translates brain activity into words”, while New Scientist went all out with Telepathy machine reconstructs speech from brainwaves. The headlines refer to a study published yesterday in the journal PLoS Biology, led by Brian Pasley of the University of California, Berkeley. Pasley and his colleagues had a rare opportunity to record human brain activity directly, from conscious patients undergoing evaluation before having brain tumours or abnormal, seizure-causing tissue surgically removed.
Read the rest here

    Photograph: Sebastian Kaulitzki /Alamy

    Is this really mind reading?

    You’ve probably seen the headlines by now. The Daily Telegraph ran a story headlined “Mind reading device could become reality”, the Sydney Morning Herald hailed the “breakthrough in mind reading technology”, and popular gadget blog Gizmodo told us that "scientists can now actually read your mind". Even the Guardian got in on the act, with “Mind-reading program translates brain activity into words”, while New Scientist went all out with Telepathy machine reconstructs speech from brainwaves. The headlines refer to a study published yesterday in the journal PLoS Biology, led by Brian Pasley of the University of California, Berkeley. Pasley and his colleagues had a rare opportunity to record human brain activity directly, from conscious patients undergoing evaluation before having brain tumours or abnormal, seizure-causing tissue surgically removed.

    Read the rest here

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"This covert war on Iran is illegal and dangerous"

As another Iranian nuclear scientist is assassinated, the mystery thickens as to whether the Mossad, US or the UK are involved
The details are quite astounding:
"According to initial reports, two attackers on a motorcycle attached magnetic bombs to Roshan’s car, killing him and injuring others. Two other nuclear scientists, Masoud Ali Mohammadi and Majid Shahriari, were killed in similar attacks,  one in January 2010, the other in November 2010. Fereydoon Abbasi  Davani, Iran’s current atomic chief, survived an assassination on the  day his colleague, Shahriari, was targeted.”
Photograph: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA /Rex Features

    "This covert war on Iran is illegal and dangerous"

    As another Iranian nuclear scientist is assassinated, the mystery thickens as to whether the Mossad, US or the UK are involved

    The details are quite astounding:

    "According to initial reports, two attackers on a motorcycle attached magnetic bombs to Roshan’s car, killing him and injuring others. Two other nuclear scientists, Masoud Ali Mohammadi and Majid Shahriari, were killed in similar attacks, one in January 2010, the other in November 2010. Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, Iran’s current atomic chief, survived an assassination on the day his colleague, Shahriari, was targeted.”

    Photograph: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA /Rex Features

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