Umm… *taps mic*… hmmm…

In about a month Im going to be speaking at the Texas Freethought Convention.

I can talk about anything.

Which means I dont know what to talk about.

I mean, I have lots of things I want to talk about, but I dont wanna be all “YEAHHHH!!!!”, and the audience not give a rats ass about what I pick.

Im leaning towards connecting immunology with evilution– they have so much in common, but I rarely see the science of immunology and vaccination discussed in skeptic circles (EXAMPLE: Penn & Tellers Vaccination episode). The logic is fine, but the science is superficial. But if you understand the basics of evolution, you understand a lot more about the science of vaccination and our adaptive immune system than you think you do. I want to emphasize the connections between evilution (skeptics know the science hard-core) and immunology to help skeptics be more confident about their own knowledge, and about vaccinations in general.

QUESTION: What would you want to hear me talk about?


  1. #1 Phytophactor
    September 7, 2010

    The whole alternative medicine thing is a great platform upon which to discuss and demonstrate science vs. pseudoscience, and this does have day to day relevance to people. I’ve done this several times and it was always well received, well, except when I talked about therapeutic touch and our university was acquiring a nursing school, and some nursing faculty took great offense, and I said that if they were teaching pseudoscientific medicince then the offense was intended, and my criticisms would be unceasing.

  2. #2 Ben
    September 7, 2010

    Medical advances that rely on evolution.

  3. #3 biopunk
    September 7, 2010

    If you could also explain how some of the failures, like XDR-TB, are as result of the differing rates of evolution between organisms and how immune systems respond to these changes. Maybe you could tie that into something along the lines of producing a viable HIV vaccine?

    How much time do you have to blab?

  4. #4 Sili
    September 7, 2010

    Bad question. I’m sure most people would be perfectly happy with half an hour of Arnie-pictures, with you doing pushups in the Q’n’A afterwards.

    But I could do with a brush-up on immunology since I paid absolutely no attention when I was forced to take that class.

  5. #5 The Curmudgeon
    September 7, 2010

    It’s not a group of biologists, so it may not to go over too big if you get technical. In my humble opinion, “The Controversy” between evolution and creationism is always of interest. You shouldn’t need any help with that one.

  6. #6 Opcn
    September 7, 2010

    I’d like to hear about how you’ve chosen to give me a large sum of money for my sporadic comments on your blog.

    Barring that bio-medical advances based on evolution sounds great. It looks like its mostly about atheists, who are not all skeptics, don’t assume that they understand evolution all that well. I think there are a lot of people who think they get it but they don’t get it, which is part of why debating creationists is such a specialized skill.

  7. #7 Kevin
    September 7, 2010

    How much do you know about Red Queen evolution and the immune system? That’s my favorite aspect of immunology: the fact that the whole of our hoity toity adaptive immune system is essentially useless in the face of the pathogens that actually infect us.

    @Sili – I’ve been writing a series of intro to immunology. It’s mostly geared at the non-scientist, but it might be a useful starting point. Part 1, Part 2. More is coming, but I’d love to know what you think.

  8. #8 Jay
    September 7, 2010

    I disagree with Curmudgen – go technical. And I agree with Sili – something about immunology would be interesting. I’d like you to go through some of the basics that we should know in reading your blog. I’ve struggled in the past to keep up with the terminology – and I think I’ve done OK – but I’d like more of a solid basis in what you already know.

  9. #9 Orakio
    September 7, 2010

    Well, I wont be there, but it strikes me that comparative immunology and the evolution thereof might be an interesting set of things, if you have an extended time. One of the favorite hands of the creobots has been ‘you cant evolve an immune system!’ Show us how you can?
    (And we can haz recording after?)

  10. #10 SimonG
    September 7, 2010

    I usually find that enthusiasm comes across so I’d say go with what you find interesting. Unless you’ve been given a specific brief by the organisers I don’t see any reason to emphasise evolution: there’s plenty of dumbfuckery out there besides creationism to take a shot at.

    Obviously you wouldn’t want to pitch your talk at a graduate level, but there’s nothing wrong with stretching people a bit.

  11. #11 D. C. Sessions
    September 7, 2010

    Well, with that long to prepare you can at least make the slides interesting — such as using Arnie to represent several of the actors described. Maybe even a few good lout “woof!” effects on transitions.

    However, I confess that something on the edge of woo sounds like a winner. Such as, per Orac, the bindmoggling tendency to expect absolutely everything to be totally deterministic at a human-perceivable level. If you strike the true randomness that governs everything microscopic (HIV evolution, anyone?) then you open the door to all sorts of woo, creationism, you name it.

  12. #12 Anon
    September 7, 2010

    Looking at the lineup… If you don’t speak on broad creation/evolution stuff, it’s still covered by other speakers. If you do, there will be overlap. If you speak to your passion & specialty, it’s highly unlikely to be repeated in other talks (but very possibly pointed to by other talks). I’d second Ben (#2), and suggest a “medical advances & evolution” approach, which can be partly an overview of the frankly substantial subject area (yet still narrow enough that it is likely to be a more in-depth coverage than the typical evo-creo talk), with an espresso shot of immune system in depth to knock their socks off. If you wish, hint that all the areas of “med advances” that you spoke of broadly earlier each have passionate advocates that could do for those areas what you just did for immune systems, and leave them all on fire and ready to go dive into the literature to see for themselves.

  13. #13 Levi
    September 7, 2010

    I would be interested in your thoughts about the immune system as it pertains to collective consciousness, swarm theory, and artificial immune systems.

  14. #14 Cain
    September 7, 2010

    A “In defense of being a dick” would be interesting.

  15. #15 J-Dog
    September 7, 2010

    Send Casey “Tits” Luskin a ticket – Every speaker needs a sap for a punching bag, and Casey is the Poster Boy for Anti Science IDer. Oh, and don’t forget to hook him up to a lie detector before he speaks – and for extra LOLs, he gets dunked in a water tank everytime he lies! *

    * Have plenty of Paramedics on hand to revive him, because The Designer tells me he’s gonna be spending a lot of time in the water…

  16. #16 Optimus Primate
    September 7, 2010

    *Looks at title of blog*

    *Looks at question*

    *Looks at title of blog*

    So, umm… how about ERVs? I think the whole “even if Charles Darwin had never existed, ERVs would be slam-dunk evidence for common descent” angle would be new and fascinating for many people.

  17. #17 freelunch
    September 8, 2010

    Maybe a review of why science works might be useful for Texans. They will have plenty of folks that they talk to who don’t have a clue about science who need to learn why it works.

  18. #18 titmouse
    September 8, 2010

    Even some of the nurses I work with believe that vaccines are bad mojo, so there’s still a lot of work to be done to counter the scary-branding campaign against vaccines from the “health freedom” tribe.

    Among a sub-set of free thinkers, the “IMMA NOT A HERD!, “BIG PHARMA IZ ALL LIES!, I NO TRUST FDA!” memes get some traction (see Bill Maher), so you might not be preaching to the converted entirely.

    Understanding the immune system –which is processing self and non-self antigens every time you brush your teeth, take a dump, skin your knee, rub your eyes, or breathe– should help to counter the ever-popular “they give you the disease” meme.

    You can hone your argument on passionlessDrone over at Orac’s site. He’s bothered that pro-vaxers say what I just said above. He points out that vaccines activate a non-specific immune reaction in a few people (fever and/or rubor, dolor, calor at the injection site), which daily antigen exposure doesn’t routinely provoke. I’m not sure where he’s going exactly, but I sense a fear of adjuvants.

    The anti-adjuvant campaign indicates to me that many anti-vaxxers have learned what “antigen” means. Yay edumacation!

  19. #19 titmouse
    September 8, 2010

    OMG, I just posted here without ending up in the spam trap.

    I’ve been in a ScienceBlogs spam trap for about a year –just after spanking an anti-vaxxer over at Orac’s site pretty hard. She (or he) outed herself as a Scientologist during the final flounce-off.


    Now Imma test my new freedom on some other SciBlogs sites…

  20. #20 D. C. Sessions
    September 8, 2010

    Now Imma test my new freedom on some other SciBlogs sites…


    Well, I certainly missed you; welcome back!

  21. #21 D4M10N
    September 9, 2010

    I think your presentation at the church in Yukon could be punched up for an audience of freethinkers who are always looking for new ways to make their Texan and Okie relatives think more seriously about science. ERVs and evolution, you betcha!

  22. #22 TBnSuch
    September 24, 2010

    I would like to hear a bit about your blogging adventures, such as your tuffle with Behe, smacking around Horowitz for a bit on the Infidel Guy show or the whole XMRV/chronic fatigue thingy. Although I like the XDR-Tb suggestion.

    Oh, and of course, your abs.

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