Radio Freethinker

Vancouver's Number 1 Skeptical Podcast and Radio Show

Posts Tagged ‘language’

RFT Ep 253 – Dark Origins Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on June 12, 2014

Download the episode here! 


Evidence Based Medicine


In a double dose of this weeks whine, we start off talking about how alt-med…the practitioners of ‘woo’ medicine have coopted the term evidence based medicine. Find out how they have done, why its important and what we can do about it.

Further Reading:

A child’s capacity to consent


In a recent decision by the Child Protection Agency in Ontario, a 10 year old girl have been given the right to refuse life saving treatment.

We discuss what is wrong (as it if was not obvious) why this responsibility should not be given to a child…hell, she can’t even buy smokes or a beer but make critical medical decisions…that’s okay.

We also provide the context as to why such a terrible decision seems to be the right thing to do, no make who wrong it truly is.

Further Reading:

Prairie Correspondent Talks Language, Bias and Politics


When we elect an official…be they an MP or school trusty, what responsibility to they have to be “respectable”…how much should they suppress personal opinions…what right does the public/electorate have to dictate their lives and behaviors.

Listen and find out how a small local issue in Brandon can shed light on our society at large.

Bright Side

This semi-regular segment was inspired by a conversation i had with a friend of mine lately.

We talked for a couple of hours about a number of things.I could not help but notice that every time I had a new conversation bit, it was always a downer…some new scandal here…global catastrophe there…people being bad to other people…another study that is just propaganda…nothing up.

Anyway, it has set me on a quest to find some positive happy stories. So, this week:

Bright Side – New Prize to Save the World


300 hundred years ago the UK government offered a huge prize, the Longitude Prize,  to anyone who could solve the driving problem of the age…how to determine a ships longitude (hey, who are we to judge).


In the spirit of the first prize , the UK government is setting up the the Longitude Prize 2, which will offer 10 million pound to whom ever can solve today’s most pressing problem…what is it? Well, this is the cool part, they are leaving it up to vote of UK residence.

save the environment

Which problem is more pressing? Food shortage, clean water, mobility and paralysis, independence and dementia, superbugs and the end of antibiotics or a green plane (yes, a green plane, have no idea why its on the list but it is).

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Old School Tricorder

Also related, we discuss the X-Prize to develop the first Tricorder…yes, like in Star Trek…how cool is that? There is also a 20 million dollar prize to land a rover on the moon…


Tricorder the Next Generation

Further Reading:

Web Wisdom

A semi-regular segment where i share with you my loyal listeners shyte I found on the internet just too interesting to keep to myself.

Web Wisdom – Dark Origins of Fairy-tales and Nursery Rhymes

We all know about Sleeping Beauty…Cinderella…how often as kids did we sing Three Blind Mice or Humpty Dumpty?  Did you know the real story behind these kid classics? Well, be forewarned, once you discover their dark origins you may never be the same again.

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Wars and Weddings: Anthropomorphism in Biology

Posted by Jenna Capyk on July 5, 2011

If the human race had an anthem I don’t think there’s any question that it would be “You’re So Vain.” You probably think this article is about you, and you’re right. As a species we have an almost boundless ability to make everything about us. What other being can see themselves in two dots above a curved horizontal line? This anthropomorphic tendency has manifested itself in everything from exploiting all possible natural resources as our right as “intelligent” creatures, to couching our observations of other living things in a context of human emotional experience. Although this is obvious in eavesdropping on any child visiting a zoo, it’s occurrence and influence in mainstream biology is both less obvious and arguably more detrimental.

People are people and snakes are snakes and bacteria are bacteria. It is, however, amazing how often scientists forget the factors that cause these distinctions when they are writing up their work. The extreme example is the field of microbiology, or the study of bacteria and viruses. Although perhaps contested by a fringe few, our neurological framework is generally understood to be the seat of emotional experience. Bacteria do not have nerves, or any of the basic components to build them. In fact, bacteria have only one cell, and even those are a simpler version of each of our own cells. This complete lack of “thinking” and “feeling” machinery, however, does not stop these organisms from being credited with wants, needs, schemes, and even a certain military strategy prowess in the most respected scientific publications. Bacterial populations are often described as being “at war” with their neighbours, or our immune systems. Accounts of bacterial strains “making the decision” to use a specific resource or performing a chemical reaction “in order to” accomplish a task gives these single-celled bags of chemistry some serious intellectual clout.

The argument can be made that this type of language is simply used to make complex interactions easier to understand, by placing them in a framework we intuitively understand. I would argue, however, that such misrepresentation easily becomes engrained and confuses the understanding of the true mechanisms of biology, ecology, and even evolution. It is very easy to start to endow everything with a sense of purpose and intent when otherwise scientific literature presents us with images of thinking and feeling entities in the name of greater understanding. The actual mechanisms by which things interact in an ecosystem, be it the forest floor or your large intestine, are truly amazing and demonstrate the amazing power of evolution to solve complex problems with simple solutions. Evolution is a process governed by random events, unlike those concocted by human brain hardware. We persist, however, in attributing humanoid intent to everything from a bacterium producing a chemical that inhibits fungal growth to a worm acquiring a new gene that allows it to survive cold weather.  In using these anthropomorphized explanations we run the very real risk of understanding biology as operating under a specific plan with a specific purpose, instead of ruled by the random nature of evolution.

We intuitively understand human interactions and things described in these terms because we are exposed to it from infancy. By limiting our exposure to different concepts by constantly framing all biological interactions in our own experience we do ourselves a disservice. Practice makes perfect, and to start to understand the true mechanisms behind the world around us we need to practice discussing things on their own terms and leave our hominid baggage at home.

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