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Post-grant open thread

Well, it’s over.

The grant is in, but it was painful, and I was exhausted, both in brain and body, last night. That’s why there’s no Insolence right now. Last night, I chilled, cracked open a cold one, watched some utterly mindless TV, and crashed early in order to be ready for a day in the OR. So that means it’s time for my favorite blog space-killing gambit when things get too busy for me to lay down my daily dose of Insolence: Open thread!

Have fun. Well-rested, I’m off to the OR. I’ll be back later.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

68 replies on “Post-grant open thread”

Need your support…

The local paper ran a story about me and my participation in an upcoming town hall meeting about racism and prejudice.

I plan to give my statements as much of a scientific angle as possible. I don’t want to get up there and complain of all the things that I’ve perceived as racist. Instead, I want to tell the folks that equality is not up for discussion, that there is no scientific evidence that we are not equal, and that so-called “studies” to the contrary are full of bias.

I mean, check out the comments section… I’m getting grilled!

Go, my minions!

One last word before I disappear for a few hours. Apparently certain AoA hangers-on are trashing me in downright libelous ways on the Autism Speaks forums. I don’t have a log-in; so I can’t verify it myself, but apparently these are people known to some of my readers. What on earth are they saying that’s worse than the usual run-of-the-mill sliming of me that these twits do on a routine basis?

René, there are plenty of people on your side in the comments. You’ll probably get a mixed bag at the event, but the racists are on the losing side.

Just curious, but how did you become a legal citizen?

@Rene: can’t get to the comments but good luck at the town hall meeting.

@Aaron: Rene is a legal immigrant, not a citizen. There are many ways to become one, all perfectly legal. One is applying, one is marriage, one is with employer support.

@Orac: I would love to go to the forums, but my employer apparently considers AOA and the AS forums dangerous and they are blocked. I would assume by the time I get home from work others will have checked it out, but I will look when I get home.


Without going into much detail. My parents are American. I was born on the other side because my extended family all live down there, and so did my parents. In fact, I came to the US side two days after I was born, legally.

Let’s just say that John McCain’s birth sorta parallels mine.

Bravo, Rene, and I hope it goes smoothly.

Are you going to point out that people are very good at coming up with studies that “prove” that they, themselves, are superior, or is that too likely to give some racist an opening?

I’m going to be allowed only 5 minutes for an opening statement and then I’ll be taking questions and comments. I don’t think that’s enough time to explain confirmation bias. But I will try to speak a little to that.

Recall bias explains all of our “bad” experiences with people from other cultures.

The perceived criminality of minorities based on how many of them are in prison is an example of sampling bias.

Then again, I’m going to have to put all this in layman’s terms.

Well, Rene, I suppose this is little comfort, but your critics appear the sort who write in caps lock, have zero reading comprehension, and can’t write at a fourth grade level. So there won’t be any intelligent or deeply thought-provoking arguments for you to rebut.

Mostly just flying madman spittle to dodge.

Good luck out there.

Five minutes and then questions? Goodness, judging by the comments you might not even have time for rebuking the claim that you don’t even speak English for the thirtieth time.

I am often the recipient of volumes of truly awe-inspiring woo ( perhaps this is recompense for some misdeed on my part). Flipping through the pages of yet another ill-begotten monstrosity** of poor writing and worse thinking, I come across *solutions* to serious health problems that are being also touted by our _worthy_ opposition, e.g. reishi mushrooms for cancer, herbs for cervical dysplasia, CoQ10 for CV, a plethora of products for AIDS,(see also NaturalNews, Gary, Mercola,etc.)

Promises, promises…that don’t seem to pan out, do they?
About 20 years ago, my father was diagnosed with heart disease ( normally enough : he was 80) and managed very well for a long, long time with simple meds ( diltiazem, nitro-patch), and later, with more exotic ones ( Altace, Plavix). However, I was frequently accosted by concerned inquirers who talked about “those poisons” and urged me to get him herbs, supplements,CoQ10, ad nauseum. I would inform them that, first of all, he made up his own mind, and secondly, their ideas were probably crap ( albeit, in gentler words).

All these years have come and gone and *Voila!* what do we get from natural health advocates… the same, tired remedies and ideas spouted by those eager to exploit the public’s fears about illness and worries about “chemical substances” that pollute yer fluids, damage your DNA, cause autism, or tarnish your aura. You should know the drill by now.

I speculate that our woo-meisters, on a perpetual runner’s high ( they’re all master athletes, y’know!), supremely confident in their own spurious expertise, mechanically turn out these tomes ( or articles or films) like a short-order cook making hotcakes to grace our world with stupid as they line their own pockets with the public’s hard-earned, limited cash.

** Healthy Healing: An Alternative Healing Reference; Linda G. Rector-Page, ND, PhD; 9th Edition. Revised/ Updated/ Expanded, Sept. 1992.

The new woo-person on the radar is Wendy Walsh. She claims to have a PhD in psychology.

Here is her twitter where she links to herself repeatedly

Her claim yesterday as a paid bimbo to CNN was to claim that religionists are more likely to survive disaster and sickness. Huffington Post has gone after her (I don’t know why).

I’ve done repeated studies in survivability from a much more recent viewpoint (many of her studies are over 10 years old) and it’s pretty easy to say that disaster survivalism is a learned trait that has much more to do with preparation and little to do with any other consistent trait. In studies of survival from surgery or illness, the results are much more of a mixed bag and most of them suffer from location bias, observer bias, age bias and confirmation bias.

If we want science based medicine, Wendy Walsh has just made herself a target for debunking.

I’d like to make a plea for Orac to consider writing a post about pseudoscience on PBS television stations. My local affiliate has just finished a pledge drive chock full of woo, like Brenda Watson and a Qigong master. I choke even now thinking that this tripe is coming from the same station that also broadcasts quality science shows like Nature.

René Najera:

Without going into much detail. My parents are American.

Sounds like my hubby’s late step-father. He was born in Canada, and his father was American. He has relatives in both Vancouvers (Washington and British Columbia). Many families on the northern border states have relatives on both sides, and yet you don’t get the rampant racism compared to the much shorter border with Mexico.

Let’s just say that John McCain’s birth sorta parallels mine.

So does mine, except after McCain was born Congress codified the citizenship of Americans born there after 1937. My early passports stated I was born in the “Canal Zone”, then the one I got when I was a teenager said “Panama Canal Zone” (an aside, they had maroon covers, not blue — something with being a military brat). Then as an adult the policy was changed to just say “Panama” (my first one with a blue cover).

Oddly enough, last summer when we took a weekend trip to Victoria, BC I was asked by the customs guy where I was born. Not my husband whose passport says he was born in Canada (he is a naturalized American citizen).

It has been interesting seeing how my birth place was treated on my kids’ birth certificates. For both boys their father’s place of birth is noted as “Canada”, and mine is “Other Foreign.” For my daughter, it finally says “Panama.” It is like they finally finished putting in all the countries in their official birth certificate generating database.

I would also like to add to the “René, you rock!” chorus.

Good luck, René. I’d offer you some references, but the only thing I know is that humans are shallow thinkers that form in-groups and out-groups based on cultural and visual attributes, and once those groups become defined it is incredibly difficult to change or mold those definitions.

The article you linked to was poorly written and it looks like a lot of the naysayers either can’t read or were easily confused. You’re going to spend more time defending your background than justifying the benefits of multicultural integration.

Chemmomo posted a link to the SkepticalOB blog yesterday, and I have been catching up over there. Having two young ones around makes those topics also very interesting to me.

I ran across a comment by old Sid over there, and the response was funny: “He’s known to be a troll, just ignore him.” And they did.

Good luck Rene! Having read your extremely well written and intelligent comments for quite some time, it’s rather shocking to see the ignorant commenters who can barely form sentences suggest that YOU are the one that needs to learn English. Another irony meter down the drain.

Also, is your home town where they make those delicious sour dough hard pretzels? They are truly a gift of the PA Dutch.

@ Rene: Good for you! I read the comments on the link you provided; a lot of xenophobic thinkers…but also some “push-back” commentary, as well. We are of course waiting for “the after community meeting” report from you.

I visited the Autism Speaks blog site and couldn’t find the comments from anti-vax/Age of Autism posters. MI Dawn, please provide the link, thanks.

The New York Times Book Review (March 28, 2011) “Defending Vaccination Once Again, With Feeling” reviews Seth Mnookin’s The Panic Virus. It’s a terrific review and I love the snarky last paragraph about Jenny McCarthy.

All, thanks for your support. Anti-vaxers and other denialists have the same kind of arguments. “This is the way we see things, and you telling us otherwise is not opening this up for debate. Let us make the decision. Blah, blah, blah…”

Certain facts are not up for debate anymore. Enough is enough.

@Jojo Yes, pretzels and UTZ chips. And they’re delicious.

@ Orac

“Go, my minions!”

Steady, steady…. You’ve already been accused of mind contro….

As you command, Master…

Goodness, Rene, you’ll have your work cut out for you! I’m also in South Central PA, and although I can’t read the comments due to the filter at work, I can imagine what lovely ignorance is showing up there! I’ll have to check them out from home tonight. Good luck next week!

Re: immigrant passports.

A few years back my neighbour in a university residence, a Mexican-Canadian teacher’s college student, born in Toronto like his parents before him, was arrested driving across the Canadian border into the USA on suspicion of intent to illegally immigrate. His Canadian passport, SIN card and health card were confiscated as “obvious fakes” because they didn’t look like the American counterparts (of course not) and he was held for five days. He was finally released by being uncerimoniously dumped on the Mexican border, and had to call friends to smuggle him illegally through the USA and back across the Canadian border under blankets in their car.

This saga ended with a very necessary run on the LCBO for every alcohol I can name.

Knock ’em dead, Rene.

Half the commenters, despite having the article right in front of them explaining Rene is here legally and speaks fluent English, assumed that he was an illegal immigrant who spoke only Spanish. Then they were offended when called racists. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

I’ve seen it happen before. Reality and preconceived notions contradict heavily. There are two possible reactions: One can reject one’s prejudices, or one can reject reality. Guess what they did.

@lilady: sorry, I have no links. I can’t access it from work so don’t know what Orac is talking about and I was hoping someone else would see it. Hopefully he’ll come back and explain when he’s done with surgeries for the day.


The Big Bang by Rock Mafia, featuring Miley Cyrus?


It’s laughable how far out of their way they’re going on this one. Someone already called me at the office and left a message that he’ll be waiting to do a citizen’s arrest on me for being illegal. Reason is foreign to them. No pun intended.

Dalai Lama blesses Tibetan medicine’s premiere institute in exile's+premiere+institute+in+exile&id=29299

“The exiled Tibetan leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama today said that the Tibetan system of medicine must evolve with research based projects aimed at enhancing the quality of the ancient Tibetan medicinal system. The 75-year-old Tibetan leader was speaking Wednesday at the 50th founding anniversary of the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute”

The comments on the article about Rene’s town meeting certainly lend support to James Carville’s description of Pennsylvania as “Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with Alabama in between.” Wow.

Also, the comments are very revealing, in a way. They show the true racism of the people arguing against “illegal immigration” when it shows they’ll happily turn on any brown-skinned person, no matter how they got here.

Gray Falcon

Also, the comments are very revealing, in a way. They show the true racism of the people arguing against “illegal immigration” when it shows they’ll happily turn on any brown-skinned person, no matter how they got here.

You are right about that. I can’t help but find that a little horrifying.

@Gray Falcon

Yeah, the folks that say, “I’m not against immigrants who are here legally” while ripping into people who are here legally. The mind boggles.

Gray and Todd, thanks for the support. The editor of the newspaper asked me if I wanted the comment thread killed, but I declined the offer. It’s better for those idiots to be concentrated in one place than to send them out to other spots. It’s funny how the comments are all about the one lone Hispanic on that panel. No one has mentioned any of the other panel members.

The weird thing is that I remember reading about these things happening in the 1960s. Besides the hard evidence that no one ethnic or racial group has a monopoly on violence, does anyone have any suggested reading before this town hall happens?

My kid brother suggested “Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” I’m also thinking of reading about Cesar Chavez, MLK Jr. (of course), and others. As is the case always, knowledge is power.

@Orac –

It’s exceedingly boring stuff @ AS forums. I would think that the stuff you get @ AOA would be worse; or it’s just a copy / paste thing over there mostly. There is some level of moderation at the AS forums, not to get something posted, but things can be removed for being offensive, something you’ll rarely see the other places people tend to not appreciate your views.

– pD

Rene –

Something I once read on a “best of online chat” page seems appropriate:

Lemme guess, you’d come over and kick my ass if you could just read the road signs, right?

BTW, howdy, near-neighbor! Born, raised, live in the Lehigh Valley. My sister’s family lived in Linglestown (Harrisburg suburb) for a long time before moving near Philly recently.

As far as readings, let me suggest something devious. Instead of the expected, how about researching prejudice against Americans of German ancestry during WWII – especially anything you can find that talks about bigotry against German-speakers. I’m guessing there’s still a sizable population of PA Dutch and others with German heritage in your local area.


Funny story. I did some research on just that recently after learning that Hanover’s town charter is written in… you guessed it… German. I’d like to dare the fine citizenry of the town to go ahead and read it if they can.

Here is another interesting article from the Washington Post to consider: Few fireworks at hearing examining civil rights of American Muslims. One revealing paragraph (on second page):

About 50 people waited in line Tuesday morning to get into the hearing. They ranged from high school students asleep in their coats to interfaith activists, undergrads interested in human rights and members of the Traditional Values Coalition, who handed out flyers saying, “Islam is not a religion. Islam is a geopolitical military system.”

The comments are just as bad as the one René linked to.

Chris writes:

…Traditional Values Coalition, who handed out flyers saying, “Islam is not a religion. Islam is a geopolitical military system.”

Can’t say those aren’t “traditional values.” 🙁

Rene writes:

Hanover’s town charter is written in… you guessed it… German.

There’s an instructive bit in Wikipedia regarding Hanover’s history. The town was named Hanover after Hannover in Germany – but the name was agreed to by English-speakers who thought it would appeal to the German-speakers settling in the area. Even back then, the locals were conscious of the need to appeal to the non-English-speaking market.

@Rene #40
Oooh, I wanna be there.

“I’ve been reading the comments in the paper, and it’s been a revelation to me. Anyone who can’t read the Hanover town charter should get the hell out. Next slide, please . . . “

@René: The Nature of Prejudice by Allport is probably one of the most comprehensive books I’ve run across. I’m more active in researching evolutionary reasons for xenophobia, though. If you want something more recent, Axelrod is another recommendation I can make.

I think one of the best suggestions I can give you, if you are going to pursue this stand-up routine for awhile, is to look up posters and PR works that describe out-groups as rats/insects (disease carriers). The evolutionary model would give the indication that these are survival techniques, fear of strangers bearing diseases that aren’t covered by current immunities. Showing those graphic posters next to the quote on the Statue of Liberty and then comparing it to Michael Savage’s xenophobic rants can really make people take notice, I believe.

@ Jud and Rene: Under Wikipedia “Hanover, Pennsylvania”, German ancestry 42 %, according to 2000 U.S. Census data.

At http://www.foitimes/com/internment: 11,000 persons of German ancestry (and their American-born children), were interned in camps in the United States, during World War II.

The local paper ran a story about me and my participation in an upcoming town hall meeting about racism and prejudice.

I plan to give my statements as much of a scientific angle as possible. I don’t want to get up there and complain of all the things that I’ve perceived as racist. Instead, I want to tell the folks that equality is not up for discussion, that there is no scientific evidence that we are not equal, and that so-called “studies” to the contrary are full of bias.

I don’t believe equality is a scientific matter. It’s a birthright.

Racism isn’t a bad idea because of biology. It’s a bad idea on moral grounds.

I know someone who got stopped and held for 5 hours by US immigration. He and his wife (both specialists) were traveling to a medical conference. He immigrated to Canada when he was four so had a Lebanon birthplace on his passport and had visited Lebanon to see his dying grandfather. I think they have decided not to go to American medical conferences again – or at least until he has a new passport without the visit to Lebanon.

Good luck, Rene. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make that meeting (I’m in Cumberland County–and we’re not all rednecks here in the midstate!). I’d like to bring my foreign-born daughter (only one US citizen parent, too) and ask how many of them think she’s an illegal immigrant. I’m sure the answer will be none.

I don’t believe equality is a scientific matter. It’s a birthright. Racism isn’t a bad idea because of biology. It’s a bad idea on moral grounds.

Totally agreed. Biologically, not all races are identical. Certain traits are more prevalent in some ethnic backgrounds than others due to the areas and conditions in which were underwent selection. But as people we should all be treated equally. Sadly not everyone is capable of thinking in terms of common sense and ethics. Give ’em hell, René.

Hi Alexis. *waving from Dauphin County* Not all rednecks for sure in Central PA, but I’m imported from another part of the state. But my kids were born here and we’re trying to raise them right. It helps that we are in a “diverse” neighborhood and the parochial schools they go to are diverse, albeit not from a religion perspective, but definitely for racial and ethnic backgrounds of the student body.

I see that René’s mother-in-law like him! Always a good sign.

Perhaps many of the ones commenting who do not understand that he was born to American citizens and that all Puerto Ricans are born American, will all show up at the YMCA instead of the YWCA. 😉

I insist that I,and I alone, am René’s #1 fan. Is that clear?

I harbored some illegal aliens for a while. My stepson ScholarMan was studying for his doctorate in a Foreign Country. While there, he met and married a citizen of that Foreign Country, ScholarWoman (a fellow PhD candidate) and they had a baby, ScholarBoy1. In 2009, the Scholar family came back to the US for what they thought was a 3-week visit, so ScholarWoman and ScholarBoy1 were on their Foreign Country passports. Only ScholarMan’s father died, and the Scholar family ended up staying on in the US. Of course, ScholarWoman’s tourist visa expired, so she and ScholarBoy1 were technically illegal. It took a lot of hoops and fees paid to lawyers, but eventually ScholarWoman got her green card and all was well. But it was a worry and a sorrow and a hassle.

How’s this for a closing?

And for everyone who believes that you must be fluent in the native tongue to live here, I give you the Hanover Charter.

Flick the slide up of the German original and go sit down.

From what I can see over at AS, there isn’t much you haven’t heard before. They’re foaming over some cartoon from early March or so that they claim you posted because you like to joke about or encourage the killing of antivaxers.

There was a comment about you being a sociopath… something about how you are the last thing women with breast cancer need… drug pusher… injecting toxins… blah blah.

It’s the same old players over there that have been blathering on for years.


Thank you all for your words of support. I’ll try to do my best at the meeting.

With regards to the scientific question of racism and prejudice, my approach on that is that there is no verifiable evidence that any of us are different, that one ethnicity or single group has a monopoly on all the evils of the world, and that if think critically about the issues and out fears of each other we can over come them. It’s a little more engrained than fear of flying or fear of snakes, but it’s still an irrational, destructive fear.

I’ll keep you all updated as the date comes. I’ll try to have someone tweeting for me live.

Good luck Rene! Some of the comments on the article about the meeting are just jaw-droppingly unbelievable. Such a sad exhibit of the racism still present today.

BTW I did my graduate work mid-state, in Dauphin County. I’m a bit east of you in the Philly area now. 🙂

Good grief, Rene, the sheer number of ignorant comments on that article is disturbing. I’m sure your presentation will be great, and I hope it will make at least a few of the community bigots think a little bit harder next time they encounter the brown folk. *eyeroll* I wish you well, good man 🙂

Definitely a bit scary seeing the amount of ignorance and invective being pointed at Rene for no other reason than because of his ethnicity.

Hope everything went well for you tonight, Rene.

Hey, I can’t see the comments over there. It seems to redriect the page.

Comments are gone because people started posting threats. They couldn’t keep the discussion civil, so they had to be kicked off. I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did. Most of it was just attacking Rene personally and utter lack of reading the article for what it said.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the paper shut down the comments–they had to be making at least some of the good people of Hanover cringe.

Go Rene! I’ll look forward to hearing an update after the 7th.

Hi Rene:

I can’t see the comments either, so I can’t offer ideas about how to counter those specific brands of nonsense. To continue riding the horse I came in on, I’ll note that you might make some strategic alliances with, or draw some selected arguments from, critical studies people who come at race from a ‘non-scientific’ angle.
Much of this discourse (a lot of which is hooey, but lets not throw out the baby with the bathwater), makes the fundamental point that categories of ‘race’ are not obvious labels that correspond to clear distinctions in the natural world, but cultural constructions with obvious socio-political origins. The textbook example of this is that Italians were considered non-white into the 20th Century.
Critical scholars also generally make the point that ‘race’ is usually constructed as something only ‘The Other’ posesses. That is, to be ‘white’ is to have no race at all.
(A lot of critical race studies is focused on trying to get white people to own up to this, which I think is a bad idea as us offays tend to start act pretty nasty once we do identify ourselves as a racial group…)
I wish I could think of a good citation off the top of my head, or better yet an academic in your general vicinity who could speak to this stuff effectively, but I can’t. Have you tried poking around any sort of Racial Studies, Gender Studies, Sociology, Anthropology, Literature programs at York?

Back in the more mainstream line, there’s Nicholas Lehman’s critique of The Bell Curve in Slate:, but you probably know that already.

… not that facts, reason, history etc. have any effect on the birther crowd.

Good Luck

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