A Candle in the Dark

A look on science, politics, religion and events

Archive for November 2007


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Seeing how aggressive he usually is in his “interviews”, I never thought Karan Thapar was capable of a sensible article such as this.

Do we pass the Taslima test?

The argument made in India is that we are an uneducated, deeply-religious, conservative society where faith is an anchor unlike in the West. In such conditions criticism of god or religion can – and often does – provoke violence. To prevent this governments have to censor and ban. At first that may sound persuasive or, at least, sensibly pragmatic. But, I’m sorry, I do not subscribe to this line of thinking. It ignores essential facts. And it’s philosophically mistaken.

The truth is that on almost every such occasion when violence has occurred, people have been incited and provoked. Not by the novelist or artist, not by the criticism or the cartoon, but by those who have exploited and manipulated the situation for their own ends. The authority to ban and the power to censor plays into their hands. As long as they exist they will be used. Where they don’t, the matter invariably resolves itself peacefully.

But I have a deeper point to make. Why should brute force, which damages property, destroys lives and devastates cities intimidate me? The answer to those who behave unlawfully is not to give in and appease but to stand up and enforce the law. If you love freedom you have to be prepared to defend it. You can’t protect freedom by compromise and concession.


Written by parseval

November 25, 2007 at 4:22 pm

Posted in people, politics, religion

Origin of species anniversary

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On 24 November 1859, for the first time ever in the history of the human race, the common person finally had an opportunity to find out the answer to one of the most important questions of all (How did we get here?) for 15 shillings 1.

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms.

Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

[1] – Charles Darwin, Chapter XIV. Recapitulation and Conclusion, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life

Written by parseval

November 25, 2007 at 8:23 am

Posted in people, science

Dangerous Lies

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The Union Health minister Anbumani Ramadoss was quoted as saying1,

Homeopathy has very good treatment effect for certain diseases which are not amenable to treatment by conventional medicine. It is effective, safe, affordable and simple to administer. It is also cost effective.

India has hundreds of proved studies confirming that homeopathy works.

Let’s consider that outrageous claim for a minute. Have any of these studies been published in peer-reviewed medical journals? Were the clinical trials placebo controlled and double-blind? Have the result of these “proved studies” been reproduced by an independent team, or have they vanished under critical inspection by those “materialistic western scientists”?

Apart from the fact that the principles of homeopathy completely contradict current scientific understanding, how’s it that almost all of the scientific studies and clinical trials which are actually published in peer-reviewed medical journals, tend to suggest that “homeopathic remedies work no better than simple placebos2?

Now, let’s consider a very recent claim made by the Director General of Indian Council of Medical Research (no less!), Dr N K Ganguly3. He says that,

The homeopathy compound screened in vitro at NARI(National AIDS Research Insititute) against HIV has been found to have a lot of potential in effectively killing the virus

At this point, it is prudent to point out that, if the above claim to have found a cure for AIDS is true, then it’s Nobel Prize time. However, exceptional claims require exceptional evidence. What about the evidence Mr Ganguly?

However, he refused to name the compound as there were Intellectual Property Rights issues involved. Moreover, there was an MoU with the company which had given the compound, which is already being used in treatment of some other disease, for testing against HIV so the details could not be divulged, he said.

Ah, figures. What’s the one thing which is missing from every single person who claims that homeopathy works?

Simple, it’s the actual scientific evidence.

Don’t miss this brilliant article by the Guardian’s Ben Goldacre, where he talks about the role of placebo effect, regression to the mean, randomized clinical trials, blinded tests, publication bias, cherry picking, meta-analysis, dangers of homeopathic prescriptions and analyzing statistics in medicine. It’s a classic.

[1] – Homeopathy treatment for AIDS under attack in UK
[2] – Unlike our esteemed minister, I can back this claim and direct you to a list of the actual studies.
Clinical Trials on Homeopathy Published from 2003 to 2006
Clinical Trials on Homeopathy Published from 1998 to 2002

[3] – Homeopathy medicine found effective in killing HIV: ICMR DG
The end of homeopathy? (Ben Goldacre, The Guardian)

Written by parseval

November 17, 2007 at 5:16 pm

Happy Birthday Carl Sagan!

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He was born on November 9, 1934. If he were alive, he’d have turned 73.

Some of his quotes,

But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.

A celibate clergy is an especially good idea, because it tends to suppress any hereditary propensity toward fanaticism.

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.

I wish he was still alive, the world desperately needs more people like him.

Written by parseval

November 9, 2007 at 9:24 pm

Posted in people

The Economist magazine on religion and politics

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I tend to view articles about religion which are printed in the press and popular magazines with a great deal of suspicion and mistrust. Therefore, it was with deep apprehension that I flipped through the set of articles in the latest Economist magazine. Admittedly, it didn’t help that the cover page was emblazoned with an ominous, monty-pythonesque hand grenade and titled “The new wars of religion“. Hm … new? The last word you’d think of, when associating the words “religion” and “war”, is new. However, the magazine seems to refer to the latest set of confrontations cropping up around the world.

Surprisingly, I found some of the articles quite interesting to read. Only moderate amounts of twisted logic, apologetics, and clichés like “secular overreach” and “sanctity of life”. Anyway, the article which deals specifically about religion and politics in India is worth a read,

For Mr Togadia, the crucial difference is that “we [Hindus] believe in peaceful co-existence; Islam does not.” But his definition of peaceful co-existence would be queried by India’s 150m Muslims, especially those in Gujarat. The state is still haunted by the riots of 2002, which began after a train carrying Hindu activists on their way back from Ayodhya caught fire in a Muslim neighbourhood, and Muslims were blamed for the dozens of deaths. In the ensuing pogrom, 2,000 people died.

In Gujarat’s state capital, Ahmedabad, many Muslims are now stuck in an eastern ghetto known as Little Pakistan. “Ayesha”, a widow housed in a gloomy resettlement complex, recalls how her family ill-advisedly took sanctuary in a local leader’s house, only for her Hindu neighbours to force their way in, “stabbing, hacking and burning”. There was so little left of Ayesha’s husband and one of her daughters that she had trouble getting death certificates for them. Many of the mob were wearing Hindutva gear—saffron headbands, or the khaki shorts favoured by those who take part in the movement’s early-morning physical jerks

Ayesha and her friends already worry that the election will be a pretext for more violence. But ghettoisation has radicalised the women in the resettlement complex. They go to the mosque more often and talk approvingly of Osama bin Laden. The otherwise mild Ayesha also praises Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader “who died for Islam”, and wishes a horrible death on Mr Modi and his friends.

The other articles range from the ongoing Turkey experiment, to the religious mess in the United States.

Finally, since this post is primarily about religion, I’ll sneak in a link to Carl Sagan’s essay called “The Dragon In My Garage” because, in my biased opinion, that’s the best essay written on religion till date.

External links and further reading
Back to the Ottomans : Why Turkey matters so much to Islam, The Economist, Nov 1st 2007
The lesson from America, The Economist, Nov 1st 2007

Written by parseval

November 8, 2007 at 7:39 pm

Posted in politics, religion