Of Fluoride and Vaccinations

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading Deadly Choices a book by Paul Offit which gives a history of the science and debate about vaccine safety in the United States.

Coincidentally, within the last week back home in New Zealand the Hamilton City Council has decided to remove fluoride from drinking water. A daft and backward step which will have long term negative consequences for public health.

Writing on the blog site Pundit, Tim Watkin states:

Hamilton councillors are just the latest folk to fall prey to fear-raising arguments against ‘mass medication’ and in favour of individual choice, while ignoring science…

The science – the proper science, that is – seems pretty clear that we have low fluoridation levels in our water and bumping it up a little helps our oral care en masse. Health agencies from WHO down say it helps dental hygiene and is a human right. There is no proof of fluoride poisoning, if that’s what you’d call it, in the New Zealand population over recent generations and every reason to think a significant number of New Zealanders will have more teeth problems as a result of less fluoride in the water. Just about everything becomes a poison at the right dose, but at a lower dose it’s fine, even beneficial…

But it’s indicative of a wider trend in these modern times, which is worrying, and that’s the rise of the instant expert and the ‘I know better than the majority of scientists’ brigade.

This is one point that Offit’s book touches on. Emotional stories about how medication is actually poisonous and how it harms people that isn’t backed up from science is often believed in lieu of strong and easily understood scientific explanations. The problem is at times science is hard to understand, and combined with scaremongering about anything government controlled explaining becomes a scientific PR nightmare.

Each of those ‘mass medication’ debates are issues, to greater and lesser degrees, of the community good coming up against individual choice. And it’s about time we started paying more attention to the community good.

Many kids living in poverty, for example, don’t have the choice – for all kinds of complex reasons – to get enough fluoride and will suffer as a result of this decision by the council in Hamilton, and those in other cities. So what about the choice of them all?

Recently in Sydney there has been news articles about the levels of immunisation in select suburbs. Strangely, some of the most affluent suburbs have the lowest rates of immunisation. This is as a direct result of people not understanding science or putting their own individual views and rights before the collective community good.

The problem with this is people who chose not to vaccinate are not only putting their own family at risk they are also putting at risk the lives of others in the community whom are unable to vaccinate due to a variety of health reasons.

The science is sound and simple:

  • Water fluoridation improves oral health.
  • Vaccines are safe, they do not cause autism, or other extreme side effects.
  • By not vaccinating you are putting your own and others lives at risk.

Over the last 200 years we have seen vaccine science develop and all but eradicate deadly diseases of the past: measles, mumps, smallpox, polio, and many others. However, in the recent past as a result of people not believing, or accepting real science, communities have seen a breakdown of herd vaccination and these deadly diseases have started to kill again. I wonder how large a disease outbreak will have to be to get a change in this behaviour.

Slow Death By Rubber Duck

I have just finished reading Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie’s excellent book Slow Death By Rubber Duck – The secret danger of everyday things. I can now tell you I have a very different perspective on just how much human created and introduced chemicals are poisoning our lives. The book isn’t designed to be something that scares you into becoming a homeless hippy but instead a guide to how we can reduce the amount of dangerous chemicals in our lives and improve our lives as a result.

The book analyses chemicals in our toys, clothes, tools, and food and through a combination of history lessons and self experimentation shows the dangers in a lot of products that we wouldn’t even think for one second would be dangerous. In particular highlighting the risks of phthalates, teflon, PCB flame retardants, mercury, triclosan, and plastics including bisphenol A. In the end the conclusion is not to run for the hills but instead to look at what we are putting into our bodies and how can we can stop poisoning ourselves.

This book is a must read for anyone who wishes to improve their health, it isn’t overtly science heavy and is easy to read. At the end of the book there are some fantastic tips about what foods and plastics to avoid and other ways to eat better and live healthier. As a result of reading it I will be watching what I eat and by to try and reduce things the impact of things like mercury, phthalates and BPA in my body. Living more organically has never seemed so simple, or so important.

The Genesis Enigma – A scientific approach to the origins of life and the universe

When I was in Sydney a few months back I picked up a book at the airport to read on my flight home entitled “The Genesis Enigma – Why The Bible Is Scientifically Accurate”. I was surprised to find what at first I considered to be a creationist book in the popular science section of an airport bookshop. Furthermore the book is written by Dr Andrew Parker an Honorary Research Fellow of Green Templeton College at Oxford University, Research Leader at the Natural History Museum and a Professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University none of which are the typical credentials of a creationist.

The book takes a very different approach from most books on God, science and the origins of the universe. The typical approach is to use the bible as a literal roadmap of creation and then tweak the science to make it fit the bible stories. However, Parker takes the opposite approach in The Genesis Enigma by outlining the science of the origins of the universe and life and then tests if the bible can line up with this. Surprisingly with a little less literal interpretation of the bible it does.

The main thesis of the book is:

  • The bible is a historically accurate record of people and events.
  • The six days of creation are not a literal six days but instead refer to the order in which science now reveals the universal comes into being. Something that no one writing a religious book a few thousand years ago would have been able to know, or understand unless the knowledge came through divine intervention.
  • The evolution is an undisputable scientific fact. However atheism is not a fact or theory it is as much a religion as any other faith based religious belief.
  • There is more to life and God than just science. And science cannot explain everything in the world. Science is not the be all and end all of explaining the meaning and purpose of life.

Overall the main ideas in the book make a lot of sense and while I do not necessarily agree with all of them it has provoked my intellectual thought around the subject. The end of the book also finishes with a discussion of intelligent design and atheism which is very interesting independent of the rest of the book. In particular:

“One’s reaction to the science versus religion debate is a very personal choice. Do you believe that science will take such huge steps, changing the way in which it works today, as to be able to answer those big questions in the universe? Or do you choose God? To borrow from C. S. Lewis, do you believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, or that there is a great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carrying you on its crest? Creationism and atheism are neither scientific theories nor demonstrably true. If we do not allow them to cloud our judgement then God can appear as a rational answer as to why we exist on earth.”

Furthermore Parker makes a very strong case for divine intervention in the authorship of the bible by stating:

“That Aaronid priest who wrote the Bible’s first page, or Moses who may have given the ancient Israelites their creation account originally, lacked any interest in natural history. Although demonstrating attention to detail in other subjects – geography, politics, economics, law – this Aaronid priest and the character Moses, provide us with no signs of biological inclination. The scientific method, necessary to decipher the true account of how the universe formed and life evolved, with its repeatable experiments, was yet to manifest itself. The ancient Israelites were not conducting scientific experiments in their sheds – if they were, they would have written about it, as they did about everything else they did. The writer of the Bible’s first page simply roamed the desert or traversed the dusty streets of ancient Jerusalem during the day, and marvelled at the stars at night. He was without so much as a magnifying lens.

Indeed, the history books tell us that science and natural history began some centuries later with the ancient Greeks, who were influenced by very different natural surroundings. So, in terms of providing an explanation for how the universe and life came to be, the Aaronid priest given this task, or the character Moses, would not have had a clue. All the same, something was written. And it made its way to pride of place in the Bible.

As such, unprovided with evidence of any kind, the creation account on the Bible’s opening page might be assumed a fantasy. But the Genesis Enigma has told us that those enigmatic phases that ignite the Bible actually mean something – they are scientifically accurate. That would be an outrageous assertion, were it not true. The conclusion that this page of the Bible could, perhaps more than any other, represent God’s hand in the Bible. The true account of how we came to exist may have been handed to humans by God.

In any case, our strong preconception that science has, with each discovery chipped away at the notion of God is proved wrong in this book. Now we can live with the real possibility that God exists while fully accepting the science, rather than straining to find contradictions. Faith suddenly appears that much stronger.”

Now as I stated earlier I do not necessary accept or agree with everything Parker has outlined in his book.  The remaining question for me is that if God is able to put in places the rules that govern the universe that make evolution work on both a small scale (as now commonly accepted by most creationists) and a large scale (as Parker and most of the secular scientific world believes) then why does God just stop there? If God can do all this stuff that makes the world tick over then why can he not decide to play with the rules and create a literal six day creation as well? It is not designed to make us confused about how old the world is, but rather to demonstrate that God ultimately has the power to influence and change the universe. It is about demonstrating that God is in control and not science.

After reading the book and pondering some of the ideas raised in it I went back and read some of the creationism based “science” that I had blindly followed from a few years ago. What I have discovered is that by arguing that evolution is nothing more than a myth and controlled “brainwashing” people they are essentially doing the same thing with “creationism”. Statements such as “long years of educational brainwashing in the mythology of evolutionary theory “ plant ideas in the minds of people that they have been brainwashed, ironically by planting these ideas creationists are doing nothing more than the same thing! Furthermore, the contradictions in their arguments and statements just scream this out.

For instance Chuck Missler who is well known for his Bible commentary and in particular his study on Daniel’s 70 weeks where he shows they are not a literal 70 weeks but weeks of years states here: http://www.khouse.org/articles/2004/528/ that the earth was created in six literal days because the bible says so. However, the bible does not directly say Daniel had 70 weeks of years, no it just says 70 weeks. So how do you determine when there is a literal meaning and where there is not? Furthermore Missler shoots himself in the foot in another article on the site where he argues there is a gap between God creating the heavens and the earth and the actual six day creation: http://www.khouse.org/articles/2008/821/ this makes no sense because now in one place he is arguing in an absolute six day creation, and another he argues there is a gap. What one is it?

Or for instance the finding of a city under the Black Sea as evidence for a worldwide flood http://www.khouse.org/articles/2000/299/ when anyone with any knowledge of geology would brush this off as evidence of the plates of the earth shifting and changing over the years. This is not to say that the ideas of intelligent design are completely dead in the water Kent Hovind poses some good questions that have still not be fully answered by science, in particular:

  • Without a creator how did time, space, and matter came into existence by themselves?
  • How and why did matter create life by itself?
  • How and why did early life-forms learn to reproduce themselves?
  • How and why did major changes occur between diverse life forms (i.e., fish changed to amphibians, amphibians changed to reptiles, and reptiles changed to birds or mammals).

The biggest problem with creationism is the way in which they throw out solid science and replace it with arguments that the Bible says this happened so it must be true. This would be the same as arguing the world is made of the Greek Classical Elements (Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and Aether) because this is what was written on Greek tablets a few thousand years ago. The reality is the stories written in the Bible were written firstly for the understanding of the people who lived at the time the stories were written. Yes the Bible and the stories in it still have a huge amount of relevance today, however, we cannot take every single word as literal because the very first thing we would be worshipping is a lamb and not a person who lived 2000 years ago.

New Moon == New Earth?

The news that NASA’s impact with the moon failed to create the huge dust cloud that was predicted has left me wondering if that is evidence that the moon is a lot younger than previous thought. And if this is true then could it also hold that the earth is also a lot younger than the commonly held thought.

Now first I will give a disclaimer I am no moon or space expert, I only hold a passing interest in the subject, and I am happy to be corrected or proved wrong on any scientific information I present below.

Until this morning the view was that the moon was covered in a huge amount of dust (and potentially ice) built up over many millions of years by collisions with space objects (comets and the like), so like the sand on a beach covers the real surface sometimes to metres deep, the moon dust acted like sand and covered the real surface of the moon by many metres of dust.

However the failure to kick up this dust may suggest a few things.

  • The moon is not as old as we expected and therefore there is a lot less dust on the planet.
  • The dust on the moon is a lot stronger than we expected, therefore the chemical bonds and electrostatic bonds between each piece of dust is much stronger than we expected and therefore there was less of a dust storm (a lot like how mud is a lot more sticky than dry dirt)
  • That the ice inside the dust made the dust a lot more sticky than we were expecting.
  • Although the moon collects dust over time there may have been much bigger collisions in the past that have kicked a lot of this dust back into space, so while the moon acts as a giant vacuum cleaner stopping things hitting earth, it may every so often get its own bag emptied with a huge collision.
  • The dust on the moon accumulates much slower than we expected, this could mean there have been less collisions with the moon in the past then what we see today.

My personal preference is for the first idea to hold true, that would give creationists a much stronger leg to stand on if they can show the moon is a lot younger than we thought it was, however, at the same time I am very interested in if any my other ideas hold water. NASA will hopefully reveal some more info on what happened and while the dust cloud didn’t arrive as expected in the next few days, I am hoping it is exciting rather than just another typically NASA we stuffed up moment like has happened plenty of times before.

Satellite, Star or Planet?… It’s Jupiter

I ended up going to be very late last night thanks to assignments.

But the one positive thing to come of going to bed late was the fullness of the moon. I got a few photos of it and then noticed a very bright object to its right.

P1090933

At first I thought it may be a satellite and I tried to zoom up on it to get some good shots, most of them turned out blurred or weird because of the lack of light and long exposure time, but I did get a few good ones.

Panasonic DMC-FZ5 1/8s f/8.0 ISO: 100 12x Optical Zoom
Panasonic DMC-FZ5 1/8s f/8.0 ISO: 100 12x Optical Zoom

At this point I began to notice the odd colors coming off it, still convinced it was some form of satellite I zoomed up onto the digital zoom and changed the settings to TIFF format and ISO 400

P1090942

At this point I was thinking okay I have some really bright star, maybe Mars.

It wasn’t until this morning I decided to look up a star map. And what do you know?

Star Map for 00:00 Sep 3 2009 NZST, Look right next to the moon.

So off to the star dome website we go for confirmation.

http://www.ectoolset.com/func/Newsdetails.asp?sid=440&id=10033

Another planet visible at this time is Jupiter. High in the sky to the east, Jupiter is the brightest thing in the evening sky apart from the Moon, making it easily noticeable. A small telescope or good binoculars will reveal some or all of Jupiter’s four largest moons, named the Galilean moons after their 17th century discoverer, Galileo.

You can see the moons too? Okay time for some image correction, Increasing the shadows on the picture and we have a moon there (with a green tinge).

Moon on top of planet
Moon on top of planet

And I am loving the red-shift too.

Update the moon will be IO and it is green in real life it is not a camera trick http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Io_%28moon%29

I haz evidence from the Moon

Okay, enough LOL Cats for one evening, but this is cool.

NASA have released new photo graphs taken from their new Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter of the original lunar landing sites, complete with pictures of what was left behind: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LRO/multimedia/lroimages/apollosites.html

Bad Astronomy blog make some interesting points too: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/07/17/apollo-landing-sites-imaged-by-lro/

Apollo may seem like ancient history, but those artifacts on the Moon are still sitting there, in many ways as fresh as the day they were placed there.

In all of human history, there are many dividing lines we can arbitrarily assign. Before and after the use of atomic weapons, before and after the invention of the light bulb, before and after this war or that.

But there is one dividing line that can inspire us, fill us with wonder, make us dream of bigger goals, higher aspirations, better ways to live our lives for the future. And that is the dividing line between the time we were a race shackled to the ground, confined to a single planet… and the time a human being stepped foot on another world.

And there it is, in pictures and in fact. This is what these pictures mean. We humans spend a lot of time looking around, looking out, looking down. But sometimes, for just a brief moment, we look up. We did it once before, and it’s time to do it again.

It is like time is standing still and looking back at us. Some of us believe that the pyramids and other amazing structures were left behind to us by aliens from other lands. Now we have left evidence of our prior existance on another world and imagine if an alien lifeform came across it would they start an eagar search for life on that world?