A dialogue between a scientist and a catholic pro-life activist.

It’s not surprising in this melting pot of a nation, founded on religious tolerance, that people believe a variety of things. Neither is it surprising that some believers try to get other people to believe like they do. Southern Baptists, for example, aren’t considered to be true believers unless they “bear witness” to the non-believers. Everyone understands this, and for the most part tolerates it with a minimum of eye-rolling.

However, where the line is crossed is when believers in some article of faith attempt to assert the objective truth of said article by advancing a supposedly secular argument in favor of what they personally take on faith. For example, no one cares if you personally believe that life begins at conception, but when you start machinations to get such belief encoded into the law, people care.

I found a blog dedicated to doing exactly that for the Catholic faith. In one post, the blog author, Rebecca, is complaining about an editorial in Nature Neuroscience, which takes Dr. Maureen Condic to task for an sloppy and biased article she wrote for the Catholic magazine First Things.

The following unedited exchange is between myself and Rebecca.

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GOP Primary Debate Scorecard

I’ve looked around the web, and although there are many articles entitled “GOP Debate Scorecard”, none are actually what I would consider a scorecard, that is, a card with the names going across one way, various categories going across the other way, and marks where the rows and columns intersect.

Like so:

Romney Brownback Gilmore Huckabee Hunter Thompson McCain Paul Giuliani Tancredo
Repeal Roe v. Wade •/-
Disbelieve evolution
Ban stem cell research
intervene in schiavo case ND ND ND ND
slag Mrs. Clinton
pardon Libby ND ND ND ND
cut taxes without mentioning reducing spending
support flat tax/"Fair" tax or repeal AMT
talk about iraq in terms of winning instead of leaving ND ND
slag Bush
namecheck Reagan
set up a national ID system ND ND ND
admit to beliefs dictating lawmaking ND ND ND ND ND ND
believe there is no consensus on global warming ND ND ND ND ND ND ND ND
wall off Mexico ND ND ND ND ND ND ND
"they do it too" in response to ethics questions
Have Charisma ND ND ND

• Candidate made statements to that effect
-Candidate disagreed with statement
ND Candidate didn’t take a position

You can visit their website to get their supposed platform and stand on common issues; what is represented here is only what they actually said during the debate itself.

Caveats: I’ve used my own glib shorthand to refer to some issues. I’ve selected all the issues they all took a position on, but selected others according to my interests. The last row is my opinion only. Giuliani expressly said he was pro-choice, and only that it would be “OK” if it were overturned.

“It’s an issue for the states” was a common phrase, and it seems to have been used most commonly to try to hide lack of support for a mainstream position. For example, saying “It’s an issue for the states” in regards to abortion, means “Overturn Roe v. Wade” whereas “”issue for the states” in regards to the Schiavo case meant “I personally would have intervened”.

As you can see now that it’s all laid out, the only candidate remotely mainstream is Giuliani. The Right is pushing Romney, but it’s clear from his statements regarding the Schiavo case and the role of his faith in lawmaking that he’s just a puppet to steal get “compassion conservative” votes from Giuliani. McCain is close to mainstream, but way too hawkish to be trusted. Likewise, Ron Paul is close to mainstream, but extremely libertarian with regard to governmental services such as healthcare, welfare, and so on. The rest of the lot are absolutely off-the scale radicals. Brownback, Tancredo, and Huckabee make Pat Buchanan look like a centrist.

Word Frequency Analysis of 2007 GOP Primary Debate

I had a chance to look at the GOP primary debate this weekend between going to the amazing shows that come to town during the weeks surrounding Jazzfest.

I thought it would be fun to do a little analysis of word frequencies:
The number in parenthesis is the word count.

  • would(88)>should(67)>can(57)>want(55)>need(52)
  • think(102)>know(52)>>believe(4)
  • Governor(89), States(49)
  • Romney(50)>McCain, Giuliani(49)>Tancredo(42)>Gilmore(33)>Brownback(32)
  • Faith(19)>God(7)
  • Iraq(33), Iran(19), Policy(18), Foreign(17), Nuclear(14)
  • Reagan(29)>Clinton(13)>Rove(9)>Bush(8)
  • Win(22)>Troops(7), Home(8), Leave(6)
  • No(51)>Yes(21)
  • Below I’ve generated a simplistic “most significant” measure, by computing the ratio of the word frequency in the debate transcript to the word frequency in a corpus of spoken English. The number in the first table is the ratio, whereas the number in the second table is the word count. I’m going to get this in Exhibit and have a play with some neato visualizations as soon as I get a chance.

    Here are the caveats: The word frequencies I’m using in the first table are actually from the British National Corpus, so many of the words in the speech transcript are highly represented simply because they’re speaking American English, and in the second table, using the ANC Corpus, many words are highly represented because they represent current events that hadn’t occurred when the corpus was compiled and because debates are part speeches, which are more like written English. I’ll update it when I find a better reference.

    Top 100 Words in GOP Primary Debate 2007

    Top 100 Words in GOP Primary Debate 2007
    sorted by appearance ratio

    GOVERNOR 589.4664
    IRAN 335.5764
    IRAQ 174.853
    CLINTON 137.7629
    FEDERAL 90.07577
    TAXES 84.77719
    COALITION 79.47862
    STATES 74.18005
    READER 74.18005
    BUSH 70.64766
    CALIFORNIA 61.8167
    AMERICANS 61.1374
    BORDER 57.06157
    NATION 56.51813
    BELIEFS 52.98575
    DIPLOMATIC 52.98575
    EXPORTS 52.98575
    MILITARY 49.86894
    UNITED 47.09844
    SPENDING 46.07456
    WASHINGTON 45.41635
    DEMOCRATS 44.15479
    PROGRAM 39.73931
    SECURE 39.73931
    ACQUIRE 39.73931
    DEFEAT 39.73931
    KOREA 39.73931
    NUCLEAR 39.04213
    WEAPONS 38.53509
    PRESIDENT 38.34495
    MAYOR 37.84696
    ISRAEL 37.09002
    ACQUISITION 35.32383
    AUTHORS 35.32383
    JOURNAL 35.32383
    LIMITATIONS 35.32383
    PRESIDENTIAL 35.32383
    TROOPS 33.7182
    FOREIGN 33.3614
    GLOBAL 33.11609
    AMERICA 32.99113
    AMERICAN 32.75483
    VALUES 31.79145
    GAINS 31.79145
    SUPREME 31.79145
    GREATEST 29.80448
    SERVING 29.43653
    FAITH 26.49287
    ENTIRE 26.49287
    CONSTITUTION 26.49287
    ILLEGAL 26.49287
    CATHOLIC 26.49287
    COMMANDER 26.49287
    ACCOMPANIED 26.49287
    JUDICIAL 26.49287
    VIEWED 26.49287
    WALKER 26.49287
    PROTECT 25.43316
    THREAT 24.93447
    CELLS 24.45496
    GRADE 24.08443
    CANDIDATES 23.54922
    WEAPON 23.54922
    CONCERNING 22.70818
    JUDGES 22.70818
    BILLS 22.30979
    ELECTED 22.30979
    WELFARE 22.07739
    STABILITY 21.1943
    FORMER 20.18505
    DEFICIT 19.86966
    CELL 19.52106
    SOLVE 18.92348
    VOTED 18.92348
    PROUD 18.54501
    LEAD 18.1267
    MIDDLE 18.1267
    TAX 17.82698
    CRITICAL 17.66192
    FREEDOM 17.66192
    CONSISTENT 17.66192
    PRINCIPLES 17.66192
    TRANSFER 17.66192
    EXPERIMENT 17.66192
    INTELLIGENCE 17.66192
    ROMAN 17.66192
    SUCCEED 17.66192
    DISCRETION 17.66192
    ENEMY 17.66192
    STUDIED 17.66192
    WEALTH 17.66192
    COLLAPSE 17.66192
    CONCLUDED 17.66192
    CONVICTION 17.66192
    HUMANS 17.66192
    PAKISTAN 17.66192
    REVEAL 17.66192
    SEPARATION 17.66192
    WIN 16.89401

    Top 50 Words using ANC Corpus
    sorted by appearance ratio

    9 KARL
    21 RONALD
    3 VETOED
    7 REPEAL
    12 STEM
    4 AISLE
    4 HYDE
    2 CURES
    2 UNIFY
    6 CELLS
    6 ENGAGE
    15 ID
    5 BIN
    3 RACISM
    2 CONVEY
    2 CURING
    2 TAMPER

    Online, real-time, science commentary

    Derek Lowe is dipping into the debate on online science commentary at his site at Corante, In The Pipeline. From the perspective of a graduate student, it’s a fantastic idea. Instead of waiting for the few scientific meeting and conventions a year to interact with peers and senior researchers in our field, we could potentially receive and respond to comments daily. John Vu is criticizing Eagleman & Holcombe for failing to make any mention of blogging whatsoever, despite the obvious examples, such as Hubmed. I’ve written before about the neat feature of RSS feeds of literature queries.

    But you kill babies, right?

    I was volunteering at a benefit banquet for a local charity, which meant that I stood there and occasionally served food to people in exchange for being able to eat and drink all I wanted. While I was trying to brew coffee with broken equipment that PJ’s delivered but didn’t staff, I was conversing with someone who was eagerly awaiting the first cup of that bitter brown elixir of awareness. “It’ll just be a minute more”, I kept telling him as the machine heated the water. To distract him I asked what he did for a living:

    “I’m an artist”, he said, but did not elaborate, “what do you do?”
    “Oh really? That’s cool. I’m a graduate student in molecular biology.”
    “So do you study the genome project and all that stuff?”
    “Not too much. Right now I’m working on a project studying differentiation signals of stem cells. Stem cells, as you may have heard in the news(yeah, right!), are cells that retain the ability to turn into any other cell in your body, so they could potentially be used to repair nerve injuries like spinal cord injuries, which would be great because nerves can’t regrow on their own, or treat Alzheimer’s, or any number of things. It’s been show that these cells will migrate to the site of an injury, and then turn into the specific type of cell needed to repair that injury. These cells eventually lose their ability to differentiate into different cell types as they grow, however, and no one really knows why, so we’re trying to study that process. We are looking for something, and have had a little success, in finding something that allows cells to retain their multipotentiality(I was really getting into it now, getting excited, using words like multipotentiality). It would also be great if we could somehow reset the state of differentiated cells. The problem is, though, the current administration has enacted anti-cloning laws that are so broad that they’re making even life-saving stem cell research illegal.”
    “But you get those cells from babies, right?”
    “We don’t have to, and unless we can study them, we can’t find out ways to get them from other sources and to use them to save lives. (trying to change the subject, because I knew where this was going) I once saw this artist who had a bunny engineered to glow green(not really, read the article). What do you think about that?”
    “Kinda like playing God, isn’t it? That’s what worries me about this genetic technology, you don’t know what the effects are going to be.”
    “I guess it is kinda like playing God, but if we can save lives, it’s worth it, right? We make a huge effort to study the potential effects of things, so I’m not really worried that stem cells are going to get out and take over the world.”
    “But we don’t know what the consequences of these things will be, how they will affect the environment long term.”
    “…and if we can’t study them, not only will we never know, but we’ll be denying sick people the development of live-saving therapies.”
    Silence for about a minute.
    “I’ll come back and check on that coffee in a little while.”
    “Ok, I’m expecting it to be ready any time now.”