A Candle in the Dark

A look on science, politics, religion and events

Archive for July 2007

Killing Shambo

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Shambo is/was 6 year old bull, which tested positive in a skin test for exposure to the Bovine Tuberculosis bacteria.

The skin test injects the animal with a small sample of sterile tuberculin (both avian and bovine), and sees if the animal develops an allergic reaction as a result of the interaction of its immune system with the injected tuberculin1 .

If there is no reaction, then the result of the test is a negative, and the animal is spared and thought not to have the bacteria. If there is a reaction, the size of the swelling is analyzed and the animal is classified either as a “reactor”, or an “inconclusive reactor” where it is retested after 60 days.

This test is used worldwide and is an internationally accepted standard, because of the combination of low-cost and decent accuracy. The false positive rate, is around 1 in 10002. That is, when 1000 healthy animals are tested, one of them would be classified as a reactor. However, the positive predictive value3 depends on various factors, the most important being whether other animals in the herd were infected at the time of testing. Shambo tested positive as a reactor, and is therefore scheduled to be executed as a precaution against the spread of the disease.

Open and shut case? Hold on! There’s a slight complication here. The bull also happens to be sacred4!

I mean, people routinely ignore the slaughter of “normal” bulls which test positive, and indeed even the large number of religiously and politically motivated human slaughters which occur on an almost daily basis, but killing a sacred bull? Egads, how dare you cruel, heartless, animal hating, heathen humans kill a poor defenseless sacred bull which even has its own webcam? That totally goes against the beliefs, love, harmony, culture, tradition, respect for animals, blah blah that my religion preaches!!!

In my opinion, faith should may be tolerated as long as it doesn’t interfere with reality.

Yes, there is need for development of vaccines and more accurate testing and detection techniques. However, the rules are clear. If the current test says that the animal is probably infected with the bovine TB virus, you’ve got to kill it, like how you kill all other animals. Tough luck. Why does the magic wand of religion suddenly provide an alternate set of rules?

Notes
[1]- Bovine TB: The tuberculin skin test

[2]- http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/tb/pdf/tbinyh.pdf (pdf file)

[3]- This is not the same thing. Consider this example. Let there be an island where people are being tested for a disease X. Now, the equipment which detects the disease isn’t entirely reliable and is accurate 90% of the time (ie, it has a false positive of 10 in 100 healthy people and also detects the disease in 90 of 100 infected people). Now, if the actual rate of occurrence of the disease in the population is 10%, what is the probabilty that if you test positive for the disease you actually have the disease?

To find this, let’s assume that the island has 1000 people, and all the people are tested. From the occurrence rate of the disease, we know that 100 people have the disease. When these 100 people are tested, the equipment will detect 90 of them as true positives and fail to detect the other 10 infected. Further, when the 900 healthy people are tested, the equipment will detect 90 healthy people as false positives. So, the actual probability that you have the disease, even if you test positive, is only 50%!

In Shambo’s case, there are various factors which affect the how accurate the skin test is.

[4]- Whatever that means.

Written by parseval

July 26, 2007 at 10:48 pm

Posted in animals, death, religion

Elements of satire – I

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satire1 (săt’īr’) –
1. A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit.
2. Irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity.

Satire also happens to be my favorite form of humor. I mean, when you look at the crazy stuff which abundantly infests reality and realize that you can’t change the “system”, the one thing you can do is laugh at it, cause hey, at least you’re laughing.

Besides, I think it serves another practical purpose. If there’s any belief, faith or idea that you think is too “serious” to be the subject of satire and get outraged, then it’s time for you think deeply on why you believe what you believe.

Anyway, the purpose of this series of posts is to list some of my favorite works which contain some elements of satire that I’ve enjoyed. I’ll start with my all time favorite.

Yes Minister/Prime minister

Yes Minister is an absolutely brilliant British sitcom, originally aired on BBC. As far as satires go, this one is a gem. It’s merciless and very funny. For example, here’s a clip (on roof gardens!) that satirizes typical political stonewalling. In fact, since the clips are freely available on youtube, I’ll list a few of my favourite clips. If you don’t have anything else to do, I suggest watching these clips as an honorable way to waste time.

Notes

[1]-
“satire.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Answers.com 16 Jul. 2007. http://www.answers.com/topic/satire

[2] – or, (this one is for you N), a reshuffle on the cards?

Written by parseval

July 16, 2007 at 4:41 pm

Posted in fun, personal, politics, videos

HIV trial

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Remember the HIV trial in Libya? The Libyan supreme court is set to rule on the fate of the accused medics1.

Libya’s Supreme Court is due to rule on the case of foreign medics on death row for infecting 438 children with HIV. The court is expected to uphold their death sentences but may leave a final decision to the High Judicial Council.

On Tuesday, the Gaddafi Foundation – which has been a mediator in the case – said that a financial settlement had been reached to end “the crisis”. The foundation said the deal was acceptable to all parties, promising to give more details later on Wednesday.

As usual, all scientific evidence seems to have been thrown out and disregarded. Blame the “foreigners” and force them to pay the blood money.

Let’s see how the deal turns out. I do hope that those medics are released safely, whatever the deal.

EDIT: Well, it looks like HIV medics have been safely released to Bulgaria.

Notes
[1] –Libya to rule on HIV medics case, BBC News

Written by parseval

July 11, 2007 at 12:26 pm

Posted in events, politics, science

Undergraduate research in India

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ZapperZ links to an interesting article from ScienceCareers in his physics blog, on the importance of undergraduate research.

From my experience, the opportunities for participating in undergraduate research are unfortunately quite limited in India. I believe that there’s a woeful lack of emphasis in this particular aspect of a student’s education.

The government should do more, and provide funding and opportunities for undergrad students. For example, in US, the National Science Foundation is an independent government agency which funds an Undergraduate Research Experience program in various universities

I’ve listed some of the summer research opportunities for undergraduates in India which I’ve heard of. Most of these programmes are open to students who’ve completed their 3rd or 4th years of their undergraduate degree.

Sciences and Engineering:

If you know of any similar opportunities for undergraduate research in India, please do inform me via the comments section.

Written by parseval

July 6, 2007 at 10:26 pm

Posted in science

Pardon me?

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Criminals and other major Bush buddies, take note. If you ever get caught in your daily routine of lying, scamming, subverting justice, hiding evidence, deceiving the nation and other illegal activities, breathe easy. Your buddy is always there to bail you out of trouble1.

US President George W Bush has intervened to prevent Lewis Libby, a convicted former vice-presidential aide, from serving a prison term.

Lewis Libby, also known by his nickname, “Scooter” Libby, was found guilty in March of perjury and obstructing justice in a case connected to Washington’s decision to invade Iraq.

If you look at it logically, there’s no repercussion he faces by granting this pardon and mocking the judicial system. I mean, since every sensible person already knows him for what he is, he’s not going to lose any public support.

External Links

[1] – Bush spares Libby from jail term

Written by parseval

July 3, 2007 at 10:39 pm

Posted in bush, politics, rant

Double standards

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There’s an article I recently read which clearly shows the schizophrenic behaviour of the Bush administration.

The article, which is on BBC, is about US soldiers who’ve been accused of murdering civilians in Iraq. What caught my eye in particular, was an official US military statement which read,

“The charges are merely an accusation of wrongdoing. The soldiers are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of any alleged offense”

Ok, that makes sense. After all, “innocent unless proven guilty” is one of the basic principles by which most judicial systems function1. This way, the person who’s accused does not have to prove anything, and this prevents unfairly targeting individuals and jailing them with accusations where it’s difficult to establish a proof of innocence.

Well atleast in principle that’s how it should work, but we all know what the Bush administration does to principles2. With the aid of some breathtakingly dumb logic3 and the gratuitous political “spin” of certain media outlets4, the Bush administration “justifies” the indefinite detention of human beings by simply relabelling them from “prisoners” to “enemy combatants” faster than you can say hypocrisy. What does the Bush administration achieve with this word play? They rob the detainees of the fundamental right of habeas corpus, and simply assume that all detainees are guilty.

Where’s your assumption of “innocent unless and until they are proven guilty” now, eh?

What’s sadly ironic is that, if one considers the currently available evidence, some of the US marines who are accused of murder have in all probability committed brutal war crimes. Why don’t they indefinitely put the US soldiers accused in the Mahmudiyah killings or the Haditha massacre in Guantanamo? Or will it’ll end up like the My Lai Massacre, where 500 civilians were murdered in cold blood, and in the resulting “trial” only a single soldier was imprisoned, and then let free after 4 months?

There’s a phrase which Captain Blackadder coined that aptly describes what Bush has made our world into, and I think that the phrase rhymes with “clucking bell”.

Notes
[1]- Although, some sharia courts may have a slightly different way of functioning, which may happen to involve stones.
[2]- Poor principles. You’ve got to feel for them. They simply don’t stand a chance when faced with such a vicious onslaught. They’d have been better off trying to become the head of a school or something like that.
[3]- Or rather, the lack of it.
[4]- One media outlet in particular. The identity of which should be obvious to even a lazy dog which has been jumped over.

Written by parseval

July 1, 2007 at 12:43 am

Posted in bush, politics, rant