Monday, 28 February 2022

Religious Greed News - Mega-Church Theft Was Definitely NOT an Insurance Scam, Honest Gov!

Multimillionaire Pastor Joel Osteen, Lakewood Mega-Church, Houston, Texas.
Definitely not an insurance scam as that would be the sin of theft!
Plumber who found money stashed in wall at Joel Osteen’s church gets $20,000 reward

Here's a heart-warming story involving mega rich televangelist Joel Osteen and his Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas.

The plumber, one Justin Cauley, who found $600,000 in cash and cheques hidden behind a panel in the church's toilet, is to receive a $20,000 reward for recovering the money, which was believed to have been stolen from a safe in the church in 2014 - a crime which remains unsolved.

I hope it's not somebody currently working in a church environment that's hiding $600,000 from the people who donated it.

Erik Scott Smith.
Co-host of the Morning Bullpen with George, Mo and Erik
Houston country radio station 100.3 The Bull.
According to this report, and from statements by a church spokesperson, reported at the time, all donations made to the megachurch are fully insured, so no money was lost as a result of the theft. Although the dates and names on the checks strongly point to the recovered money being the same as the 'stolen' money, police have not yet been able to verify that it is indeed the 'stolen' money.

Sunday, 27 February 2022

Religious Stupidity News - Blundering Priest Now Trying to Save People From the Hellfire His Blunder Destined Them For

Pope Benedict XVI performing the ritual of baptism - but the words must be exact or God doesn't know it has been performed.
Priest’s new assignment: Helping those he invalidly baptized

The ludicrous tale of the Catholic priest who inadvertently condemned thousands of residents of St. Gregory Parish, Phoenix, Arizona USA, to hellfire by using a wrong word in the magic spell called baptism, took a new turn recently.

Having resigned as the parish priest, he took up a new role of baptising those he cursed, this time with the right words in the magic spell. The ritual of baptism inducts children into the Catholic Church, and so the 'one true faith', without their consent or participation. This then gives them special protection by God who casts everyone without the 'one true faith' into Hell, there to suffer an eternity of agony in hellfire.

The problem was that by using the wrong words, God was unaware that he, in the form of Jesus, for whom the priest was speaking, had baptised the children into the one true faith, so he doesn't know which ones to save and which ones to cast into the fiery pit for having the wrong faith. What Fr. Andrés Arango, should have said was "I baptise you...", instead, he said "We baptise you..." and obviously, "I" means "Jesus" in that context, and "We" doesn't, because, being specially anointed, a Catholic priest (but now any other priest, mind you!) speaks for Jesus, so God wouldn't know what was going on as he, being omniscient, doesn't understand a spell if even one word is wrong.

Saturday, 26 February 2022

Evolution News - Researchers Have Constructed a Massive Human Family Tree

Map depicting the way early modern humans (Homo sapiens) are thought to have spread across the globe. It also shows the geographical spread of Homo erectus and the Neanderthals. The dates are approximations (and not 100% guaranteed)
BDI researchers create largest ever human family tree — Oxford Big Data Institute

Researchers from Oxford University's Big Data Institute (BDI) have developed a technique to help construct the entire genetic relationship amongst humans to produce a single genealogy for all of us, showing how we have all evolved from a single founder population, and incorporating the genomes of archaic hominins such as Neanderthals and Denisovans
.
This has been made possible by the enormous technical advances in being able to extract and sequence DNA but the problem was in using this vast and growing database. However, the group has now developed a new method which allows researchers to easily and quickly combine data from multiple sources and scale to accommodate millions of genome sequences. Their method was published yesterday in Science.

The press release from BDI explains further:

Evolution News - Ancient DNA Reveals How Early Africans Lived

1 of 3
Hora Rockshelter in Malawi, where recent excavations uncovered two of the individuals analyzed in a collaborative study of ancient DNA.
Photo credit: Jacob Davis.
2 of 3
Mt. Hora in Malawi, where recent excavations at Hora Rockshelter uncovered two of the individuals analyzed in a collaborative study of ancient DNA.
Photo credit: Jacob Davis.
3 of 3
Ostrich eggshell beads from Mlambalasi Rockshelter in Tanzania, where one of the individuals in the study was buried.
Photo credit: Jennifer Miller.
Ancient DNA reveals surprises about how early Africans lived, traveled and interacted | Rice News | News and Media Relations | Rice University

A new analysis by a large team of geneticists and anthropologists from several North American Universities, of remains, including DNA, recovered from a site in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia, Africa, has revealed new details of the movements and interactions of Early Africans. The individuals whose remains were analysed lived between 18,000 and 5,000. This is more than twice the age of previously recovered human DNA from sub-Saharan Africa.

The study also reanalysed published data from 28 individuals buried at sites across the continent, generating new and improved data for 15 of them. The results are published, open access, in the journal Nature.

The Rice University press release accompanying this publication explains:
The result was an unprecedented dataset of DNA from ancient African foragers — people who hunted, gathered or fished. Their genetic legacy is difficult to reconstruct from present-day people because of the many population movements and mixtures that have occurred in the last few thousand years.

We've never been able to directly explore these proposed demographic shifts, until now," she said. “It has been difficult to reconstruct events in our deeper past using the DNA of people living today, and artifacts like stone tools and beads can’t tell us the whole story. Ancient DNA provides direct insight into the people themselves, which was the missing part of the puzzle.

Maybe it was because by that point, previously established social networks allowed for the flow of information and technologies without people having to move.

Assistant professor Elizabeth A. Sawchuk, co-author
Department of Anthropology
University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada And Department of Anthropology
Stony Brook University
Stony Brook, NY, USA
Thanks to this data, the researchers were able to outline major demographic shifts that took place between about 80,000 and 20,000 years ago. As far back as about 50,000 years ago, people from different regions of the continent moved and settled in other areas and developed alliances and networks over longer distances to trade, share information and even find reproductive partners. This social network helped them survive and thrive, the researchers wrote.

Our genetic study confirms an archaeological pattern of more local behavior in eastern Africa over time. At first people found reproductive partners from wide geographic and cultural pools. Later, they prioritized partners who lived closer, and who were potentially more culturally similar.

Assistant professor Jessica Thompson, co-author
Department of Anthropology and Peabody Museum of Natural History
Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA
And Institute of Human Origins
School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA.
Elizabeth Sawchuk, an author of the study who is a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Alberta and research assistant professor at Stony Brook University, said a dramatic cultural change took place during this timeframe, as beads, pigments and other symbolic art became common across Africa. Researchers long assumed that major changes in the archaeological record about 50,000 years ago reflected a shift in social networks and maybe even changes in population size. However, such hypotheses have remained difficult to test.

Humans began relying on each other in new ways, and this creativity and innovation might be what allowed people to thrive.

There are around 30 times more published ancient DNA sequences from Europe than from Africa. Given that Africa harbors the greatest human genetic diversity on the planet, we have much more to learn.

Assistant professor Mary E. Prendergast, co-author
Department of Genetics
Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
And Department of Anthropology
Rice University, Houston, TX, USA
Mary Prendergast, an author of the paper and associate professor of anthropology at Rice University, said there are arguments that the development and expansion of long-distance trade networks around this time helped humans weather the last Ice Age.

[…]

By associating archaeological artifacts with ancient DNA, the researchers have created a remarkable framework for exploring the prehistory of humans in Africa," said Archaeology and Archaeometry program director John Yellen of the U.S. National Science Foundation, one of the funders behind this project. "This insight is charting a new way forward to understanding humanity and our complex shared history.

John Yellen
Archaeology and Archaeometry program director
U.S. National Science Foundation
Prendergast said the study provides a better understanding of how people moved and mingled in this part of Africa. Previously, the earliest African DNA came from what is now Morocco — but the individuals in this study lived as far from there as Bangladesh is from Norway, she noted.

[…]

This work shows why it’s so important to invest in the stewardship of human remains and archaeological artifacts in African museums.

Potiphar Kaliba, co-author
Research Director
Malawi Department of Museums and Monuments
Lilongwe, Malawi
The research team included scholars from Canada, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, the United States, Zambia and many other countries. Critical contributions to the study came from curators and co-authors at African museums who are responsible for protecting and preserving the remains.

Potiphar Kaliba, director of research at the Malawi Department of Museums and Monuments and an author of the study, noted that some of the skeletons sampled for the study were excavated a half-century ago, yet their DNA is preserved despite hot and humid climates in the tropics.
The main conclusions from the study is that there were two highly-diverged populations before about 80-20 thousand years ago: one in East Africa, one in Southern Africa and a ubiquitous population ancestral population that is represented today by the Central African rainforest hunter-gatherers. The team's findings are published, open access, in Nature:
a, Locations of individuals analysed in this study. The shapes and colours of the symbols correspond to the PCA in b. 1, Shum Laka; 2, Mota Cave; 3, Kakapel RS (Rockshelter); 4, Nyarindi RS; 5, Jawuoyo RS; 6, White Rock Point; 7, Panga ya Saidi; 8, Makangale Cave; 9, Kuumbi Cave; 10, Gishimangeda Cave; 11, Kisese II RS; 12, Mlambalasi RS; 13, Fingira; 14, Hora 1; 15, Chencherere II; 16, Kalemba RS; 17, Ballito Bay; 18, Faraoskop RS; 19, St Helena. b, PCA results. Axes were computed using present-day groups from eastern (Dinka pastoralists), southern (Juǀ'hoansi foragers) and central Africa (Mbuti foragers). Small circles represent present-day individuals; other symbols represent ancient individuals (larger points corresponding to earlier individuals and black outlines to newly reported individuals). The lowest-coverage individual (from Mlambalasi), shown with an asterisk, has the most uncertain position. The base map in a is from Natural Earth (https://www.naturalearthdata.com). E., east.

Abstract

Multiple lines of genetic and archaeological evidence suggest that there were major demographic changes in the terminal Late Pleistocene epoch and early Holocene epoch of sub-Saharan Africa1,2,3,4. Inferences about this period are challenging to make because demographic shifts in the past 5,000 years have obscured the structures of more ancient populations3,5. Here we present genome-wide ancient DNA data for six individuals from eastern and south-central Africa spanning the past approximately 18,000 years (doubling the time depth of sub-Saharan African ancient DNA), increase the data quality for 15 previously published ancient individuals and analyse these alongside data from 13 other published ancient individuals. The ancestry of the individuals in our study area can be modelled as a geographically structured mixture of three highly divergent source populations, probably reflecting Pleistocene interactions around 80–20 thousand years ago, including deeply diverged eastern and southern African lineages, plus a previously unappreciated ubiquitous distribution of ancestry that occurs in highest proportion today in central African rainforest hunter-gatherers. Once established, this structure remained highly stable, with limited long-range gene flow. These results provide a new line of genetic evidence in support of hypotheses that have emerged from archaeological analyses but remain contested, suggesting increasing regionalization at the end of the Pleistocene epoch.

The picture then is of a species that spread far and wide within Africa, as well as out of Africa into Eurasia and eventually beyond, to form relatively isolated populations that diverged enough to form genetically distinct populations but within which interbreeding was frequent enough to prevent divergence into sub-species or species, to produce a genetically diverse single pan-African human species. There is probably a great deal more to learn in terms of the interchange and spread of new technologies and cultures as well as about the patterns of migration as the climate changed.

Thursday, 24 February 2022

Malevolent Designer News - How the Colorado Beetle Has Been Redesigned to Resist Pesticides

The Colorado potato beetle, Leptinotarsa decemlineata’s rapid spread, hardiness, and recognizable tiger-like stripes have caught global attention since it began infesting potatoes in the 1800s.
Photo: Zach Cohen
‘Super pest’ Colorado potato beetle has the genetic resources to sidestep our attacks

Scientists led by Professor Sean Schoville, of the University of Wisconsin–Madison's Entomology Department, have discovered the design modifications that enable the Colorado potato Beetle to resist just about all the insecticides humans have developed against it. As its name implies, the Colorado potato beetle is a major pest on the potato plant and can devastate crops. In the UK, it is considered so serious that it is compulsory to notify the police if you detect the adult or larval form of the beetle.

The new research shows that the beetle has evolved a whole range of genetic adaptations that give it the capability to quickly evolve resistance in a local population. As any intelligent [sic] design advocate will tell you, this doesn't happen by natural selection selecting from chance mutations, but must be intelligently designed by a magic designer. If this were true, it would raise the question of why this putative magic designer designed this pest on an essential human food crop in the first place, and now seems to have given it the ability to resist anything we can combat it with.

The researcher's findings are published, open access, in the journal, Molecular Biology and Evolution.

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison's press release accompanying the publication:

Tuesday, 22 February 2022

Covidiot News - Two More Good Reasons To Get Vaccinated

Two more studies, published today in PLOS Medicine show that the reported risks of blood clots following vaccination with anti-COVID vaccination are minuscule and have been greatly exaggerated in the antivaxx disinformation campaigns.

The first study, by William Whiteley of the University of Edinburgh, UK, and colleagues from the BHF Data Science Centre, UK., found, for those under 70, the risk was of the order of 0.9 – 3 per million (varying by age and sex) for AstraZeneca ChAdOx1-S, which is about double the risk for non-vaccinated people. There was no statistically significant increase in the rate of blood clots with Pfizer BNT162b2.

This study analysed the electronic health records of 46 million adults in England of whom 21 million were vaccinated during the study time span, December 2020 to March 2021. For people aged 70 or over, the risks of arterial and venous thrombotic events were slightly lower in the 28 days following vaccination with either the Pfizer BNT162b2 or ChAdOx1-S vaccine.

The second paper, by Steven Kerr of the University of Edinburgh, UK, and colleagues, used a dataset of 11 million adults in England, Scotland, and Wales came to a similar conclusion.

Information provided ahead of publication by PLOS, explains:

Monday, 21 February 2022

Catholic Fraud News - Cardinal Becciu's Defence Team Accuse Pope Francis of Breaking the Vatican Laws!

Cardinal Angelo Becciu talking to journalists during a news conference in Rome. Defence lawyers are questioning the legitimacy of the Vatican tribunal where 10 people are on trial, including Becciu, on finance-related charges, arguing their clients can’t get a fair trial in an absolute monarchy where the pope has already intervened in the case and where prosecutors have failed to turn over key pieces of evidence.

Credit: AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
Cardinal Becciu laments 'humiliation' after police raids tied to Vatican financial trial

Using a form of reasoning of which any Byzantine lawyer would be proud, the defence team for Enrico Crasso, one of those charged alongside (former) Cardinal Angelo Becciu with embezzlement, have petitioned the Vatican judges hearing the case against him to rule that the trial should be stopped and all charges rescinded because Pope Francis violated the Vatican's own legal system.

Their argument is that in exercising his right, as absolute ruler and head of the Vatican City state to issue four 'resctipta' to firstly allow the case to be brought against Becciu and to give prosecutors leeway in their treatment of witnesses and the defendants, to circumvent the archaic and convoluted procedures behind which the defendants in the case were hiding, Pope Francis has violated the Vatican's Legal system, so a fair trial under that system is now impossible. In effect, so the argument goes, Pope Francis has reduced the Vatican City to a lawless state.

Readers of this blog may remember how (former) Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, number three in the Vatican as Chief of Staff of the Vatican's Secretariate of State, was summarily sacked (or in Vatican terms, 'resigned his rights as a cardinal') and accused of embezzling Vatican funds in connection with a $225 million property deal in London in 2014.

As I reported at the time:

Creationism Failure News - A Significant Majority of Young Americans Don't Want Creationism Taught in US Public Schools

Mood of the Nation: How Americans think schools should teach about race, evolution and sex — APM Research Lab

The results of an interesting survey into American opinion on several hot topics was published a few days ago. The interesting thing from the perspective of what, almost unbelievably is still a controversial topic in the USA - the teaching of scientific evolutionary theory versus teaching Creationism in American public schools - was the difference between young and old, between the higher educated and the relatively less educated and between those with different political leanings.

Perhaps the most significant of those and the one that holds out most hope for the future of science education in the USA, is the difference by age group between those who believe only the scientific theory of evolution should be taught, those believing both the science and a 'biblical perspective' should be taught and those believing only biblical Creationism should be taught.

Sunday, 20 February 2022

Oops! The Wrong Magic Spell has Doomed Thousands of Catholics to Hellfire, Apparently.

Casting a spell in the rite of baptism to ensure God knows you have the one true faith.
But the spell must be precise or it won't work!
A Catholic priest in Arizona resigned after discovering he'd incorrectly performed thousands of baptisms for over 20 years

The thing about protective magic spells is that they must be said exactly, without the slightest deviation or alteration, or they don't work, and when they are directed at an omniscient god, he/she doesn't understand them if even one word is wrong, so they don't work!

At least, this appears to be the official position of the Catholic Church, because Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, of Phoenix, Arizona, USA has informed thousands of people who assumed they had the protective spell of baptism cast on them by a parish priest, have no such protection because the said priest got one word of the spell wrong when performing the ritual, which also includes magic hand movements and magic water. In a letter to his distraught flock, Bishop Olmstead said:

Malevolent Designer News - Another Master Stroke by the Divine Malevolence?

Human monocyte derived macrophages incubated with Legionella pneumophila derived extracellular vesicles (white), endoplasmic reticulum (green); nucleus (blue), mitochondria (orange).
© Institut Pasteur
Legionellosis: a novel mechanism by which the bacterium Legionella pneumophila regulates the immune response of its host cells | Institut Pasteur

Researchers led by scientists from the Institut Pasteur, Université de Paris, have discovered how the pathogenic bacterium Legionella pneumophila, that caused the deadly Legionella disease, overcomes its victim's immune system. Any intelligent [sic] design advocate will tell you, this must have been the intended outcome when the bacterium was being designed because nothing in nature evolves without the intent and intervention of their omniscient, omnipotent divine malevolence.

The organism does this by secreting a small regulatory strand of RNA which facilitates the survival and proliferation of L. pneumophila during infection.

The team's findings are published, open access, in the journal Nature Communications.

In their press release accompanying the publication of their research paper, the team say:

Saturday, 19 February 2022

Malevolent Designer News - Another Blunder by Creationism's Favourite Malevolence?

Despite its disastrous effects, COVID-19 offers some gifts to medicine – an immunology expert explains what it can teach us about autoimmune disease

Imagine being Creationism's malevolent designer!

You've worked really hard to create nasty little organisms like bacteria and viruses, and are probably feeling really pleased with yourself because of the suffering and chaos your latest creation, the SARS-CoV-2 virus, has caused with its mega deaths and ruined economies, and the political opportunities it's given for the anti-democratic forces in the USA, trying to turn America into a right-wing totalitarian, Taliban-style theocracy.

You're also very proud of creating a human immune system that doesn't work very well and still lets your vicious little parasites through, and frequently goes wrong and causes lots of unpleasant auto-immune conditions that generally add to the suffering and misery in the world!

All in all, lots of lovely suffering to show your creation how much you hate it while you watch it suffer!

Then, just when you thought you could sit back and enjoy the spectacle, along comes a bunch of scientists and discover that the SARS-CoV-2 is a god-send when it comes to learning how to prevent those auto-immune conditions!

As Dario Ghersi, Associate Professor of Biomedical Informatics, University of Nebraska Omaha, Nebraska, USA says in his open access article in The Conversation:

Evolution News - Not All Fossils are Made of Stone, We Carry Some Inside Us

An artist’s impression of prehistoric animals from the early Cretaceous period.
Credit: Mark P Witton/Science Photo Library
Human genome: A virus has been 'fossilised' in our DNA for 106 million years | New Scientist

Fossils come in many forms, not just the mineralised remains embedded in ancient rocks or animal and plant remains preserved in amber. They can take the form of vestigial structures, deactivated atavistic genes which used to code for structures no longer used, ancient retroviruses which got inserted in the genome in ancient times and, as has been discovered by two Oxford University, UK, researchers, the remains of 'Maverick' viruses which infected our remote ancestors and, like ancient retroviruses, have been replicated in our genome, for no good reason.

Because these got inserted in the genome of our ancient ancestors, they also appear in the genomes of all the descendants of that remote ancestor and, as such are conclusive evidence of common descent. It's almost like some ancient scientist inserted a marker in the genome so we could work out the phylogenetic relationship between all mammals. The two Mavericks discovered by Jose Gabriel Nino Barreat and Aris Katzourakis of Oxford University's Department of Biology were inserted in the genome of the small early mammals that were around with dinosaurs. The first around 106 million years ago and the second about 2 million years later.

Friday, 18 February 2022

Religious Abuse News - It's Not Even Just Christians Who Abuse Minors.

Campers throw coloured chalk into the air during an event at URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. A recent report was released discussing reports of sexual misconduct over the last 50 years around the nation.
Reform movement publishes extensive report on sexual misconduct in its youth programs

Another investigation into the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by a religious organization, and another sorry tale of facilitation and coverup.

This time it’s not the usual Christian organization such as the Catholic, Anglican or Baptist Churches in which such abuses are now almost accepted as routine, scarcely raising an eyebrow, but this time it is a Jewish organization - The Union for Reform Judaism. The investigation was conducted by the New York law firm Debevoise & Plimpton and is published in full[PDF] on the organization's website. The report comes with a warning that some portions of the report are sensitive and graphic and is not intended for children.

Thursday, 17 February 2022

Catholic Child Abuse News - A Czech Cardinal Apologist for Paedophiles Defends Pope Benedict XVI

Cardinal Dominik Duka of Prague
"'Only' 10% of abuse accusations against priests are proven to be true."
Czech cardinal accuses Germany's Cardinal Marx of 'betraying' Pope Benedict | National Catholic Reporter

The ambivalent view of the Catholic hierarchy towards child sex abuse by priests was brought into sharp focus a few days ago when Cardinal Dominik Duka of Prague, Czechia, accused Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich of 'harming Pope Benedict XVI's reputation' and calling on Marx to "take responsibility" for the report which revealed that the then Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich and Freising was complicit in allowing four paedophile priests to continue practising as priests in his archdiocese.

Ratzinger was later promoted to Cardinal and transferred to Rome as head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, i.e., the then Pope John-Paul II's enforcer. It was in that post that he earned a reputation as the Pope's Pitbull and is widely believed to have tried to supress the growing claims that the Catholic Church was complicit in thousands of cases of child sexual abuse to protect the Church and avoid paying compensation to the victims.

Under his tenure, Catholic clerics were forbidden from revealing any information to the authorities which might harm the reputation of the Church on pain of excommunication, even if revealing such information was required by law in the host country. In effect, Ratzinger was telling Catholic clerics and other in holy orders that they owed allegiance only to the Church and ultimately to the Pope in the Vatican, and were therefore above the law of their host country.

The report also revealed that Pope Emeritus Benedict had appeared to try to mislead the enquiry by denying he was present at a meeting in 1980, during which the transfer of a convicted paedophile priest (Priest X in the report) from the diocese of Essen to the archdiocese of Munich was discussed - a denial that was later withdrawn when minutes of the meeting recording his presence were produced, but only after Pope Benedict had first tried to dismiss then as evidence only that something had n written down [sic] and not that he was present or was aware of the discussion.

Pope Benedict then claimed he had misremembered the meeting and still claims to have no recollection of discussing the case.

Cardinal Duka's curious argument appears to be that the then Archbishop Ratzinger had 'no jurisdiction' and that the investigation which revealed his complicity should not have been commissioned by the German. In a published statement, he says:
Munich betrayal for the second time

The publication of the Pope's letter is indeed a glimpse into the soul of the priest, the bishop and the Pope, who retrospectively evaluates his life, but no longer has the strength to comment on all his specifics.

The following is an analysis of the above-mentioned experts, who show us line by line how the so-called goodwill works in the Archdiocese of Munich. It is one of the biggest disappointments I have experienced in our Roman Catholic Church. To defile a person, to injure him unfairly and not even give him the opportunity to appreciate in his favour this so-called goodwill, which must have cost hundreds of thousands of euros, because it does not give the possibility of legal delay? I ask: what is it?

In my article, published in the German magazine Die Tagespost, I point out the following fact: that from all enrolment, every priest who studied ecclesiastical law, even a layman who graduated from the Faculty of Theology and attended an ecclesiastical law course, must understand that the then archbishop [of] Munich, Joseph Ratzinger, had no jurisdiction and no way to deal with the case - Priest X was the priest of the diocese of Essen.

That is why I protest and I really dare to call the Archbishop of Munich, his curia, but also the President of the German Episcopal Conference, to take responsibility for defaming and tarnishing the reputation of Pope Benedict XVI.

Dominik Cardinal Duka, Archbishop of Prague

Translation by Google Translate from the original in Czech.
But the accusation was not that, as Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Joseph Ratzinger had jurisdiction over 'Priest X' when he was predating on children in Essen, but that he was complicit in the removal of Priest X to his own jurisdiction in the archdiocese of Munich, where he was allowed to continue as a priest with access to more potential victims, and that he did nothing to inform the authorities or take steps to protect children in his archdiocese from a known predatory paedophile. The transfer of offending priests into other diocese where their reputation was unknown, was a standard way of covering up their crimes and facilitating their continued access to new, unsuspecting, victims.

And Duka's misleading apologetic does nothing to address the other three cases in which the report found Joseph Ratzinger to be complicit.

Duka himself is no stranger to accusations of being complicit in child abuse cases, so probably has some sympathy with the beleaguered Pope Benedict XVI. According to this report in Agenzia Nova, in 2019 he was suspected:
[…]of having covered up a case of sexual abuse that took place within the Dominican order. This was revealed by the information portal "Seznam.cz". The alleged victim, who remained anonymous, claims to have been abused for many years during his training to become a priest, and to have informed Cardinal Duka about him in time. However, the latter did not act in any way. The priest responsible for these abuses later left the Dominican order due to other allegations from many other alleged victims and died before facing trial. Cardinal Duka admits he remembers the event but justifies his failure to react because the priest at the time would have sworn on the cross that the young victim was lying. Duka says he is ready to cooperate with law enforcement.
In other words, Duka took the word of the priest and assumed his victims were lying, so did nothing to prevent him abusing more victims until the complaints became too many to dismiss them all as lies.

It's obvious from this and his attack on Cardinal Marx, that this odious Cardinal still thinks the most important thing is to protect the Church even at the expense of its victims, and suppress information about sexually predatory priests, and that his first instinct is to believe their victims are liars rather than believe an ordained priest would do such a thing. Clearly, he has learned nothing from the thousands of proven instances of abuse that have swamped Christian churches and bankrupted so many Catholic diocese with claims for compensation, and so is likely to allow it to continue under his watch.

There is no word so far of any action from Pope Francis, either in sanctioning Pope emeritus Benedict XVI for his negligence and attempt to mislead the German enquiry, or against those senior clerics who publicly display this readiness to tolerate paedophile Catholic priests and to dismiss their victims a liars.


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Malevolent Designer News - The Malevolent Designer's Next Move With SARS-CoV-2?

Monoclonal antibody-mediated neutralization of SARS-CoV-2:

The left panel illustrates the morphology of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and displaying the trimeric spike protein on its surface bound with antibodies. The right panel depicts the zoomed view of the trimeric spike protein (top view) in prefusion state bound with monoclonal antibodies. Each monomer of the spike protein shows the receptor binding domain (RBD) in green, orange and magenta, which contains a receptor binding motif in cyan on the top. Mutations emerged in the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variants are shown in red. Here, the C309 (a parent of VIR-7831 or Sotrovimab) antibody is shown in blue, which is one of the antibodies in clinical use that is minimally impacted by the Omicron variant mutations.

Image Credit: Piyush Prakash, Anshumali Mittal, Vikash Verma, Arun Khatri (CC BY 4.0)
Mutations in SARS-CoV-2 spike protein receptor-binding domains may result in escape variants resistant to therapeutics and vaccines | PLOS Pathogens

Creationist mode:


In what may well prove to be a fruitless effort, Anshumali Mittal at the University of Pittsburgh, USA and colleagues have been trying to anticipate how Creationism's beloved pestilential mendacity is likely to modify its SARS-CoV-2 design to make it better at killing people and making others sick, despite the fact that many of them will now have a good degree of immunity, having either been vaccinated against it or acquired it naturally by surviving an earlier attack.

They have been doing so by working out what changes to the spike protein are most likely to enable the virus to evade the antibodies that our immune systems might throw at it in the future

Of course, as any worshiper of the evil genius behind the virus will tell you, it will never give up trying and will always manage to outwit medical science. It's almost exactly like it uses a random process that throws up an almost infinite range of mutations and combinations of mutations, and then something in the environment favours the ones which give most descendants, so even if they are the billion to one chance, the probability that they will arise and become predominant is virtually certain. Rather like repeatedly shuffling the pack and dealing four cards, then repeating until you get four of a kind. It might take days, but if you deal often enough, eventually you will get four of a kind.

Information released ahead of publication in PLOS Pathogens, the PLOS news release explains:

Pandemic News - Why We Need To Help Poor Countries Get Vaccinated and Have Access to Effective Treatment


Nadia Sam-Agudu, MD, lead author of the study.
2022 News - Multi-Country African Research Reports High Rates of COVID-19-Related Deaths Among Hospitalized Children and Adolescents | University of Maryland School of Medicine

An open access paper published recently in JAMA Pediatrics shows that African children and adolescents hospitalized with COVID-19 experience much higher mortality rates than Europeans or North Americans of the same age.

The study, led by Associate Professor Nadia Sam-Agudu, MD, of Maryland University School of Medicine (MUSOM), entitled, Assessment of Clinical Outcomes Among Children and Adolescents Hospitalized with COVID-19 in six Sub-Saharan African Countries, was conducted by a collaboration under AFREhealth (the African Forum for Research and Education in Health), a consortium of cross-disciplinary health personnel across Africa.

According to information supplied by the University of Maryland School of Medicine:

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

Covidiot News - If You Are Young and/or Poor, Get Vaccinated Now!

Excess years of life lost to COVID-19 and other causes of death by sex, neighbourhood deprivation, and region in England and Wales during 2020: A registry-based study

Communities in the North West of England experienced more than three times the excess years of life lost in the South West.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic hit hardest in deprived areas of England and Wales, with excess years of life lost more than three times as high in the North West than the South West of England. The research, publishing yesterday in the open access journal PLOS Medicine, also finds 11 times as many excess deaths in 15-44 year olds in the most deprived areas compared to the most affluent ones, and suggests that measuring years of life lost can be more informative for assessing inequalities resulting from the pandemic than looking at excess deaths alone.

According to information made available by PLOS ahead of publication:
Comparing the number of deaths during the pandemic with statistics from previous years can shed light on its impact, but looking at excess deaths alone underestimates years of life lost and does not account for the differences in ages at which people die in different social groups. Evangelos Kontopantelis at the University of Manchester and colleagues looked at mortality registers and estimated expected years of life lost during 2020, by sex, geographical region, and deprivation quintile, using data from Jan 2015 to December 2020.

The impact of the pandemic, when quantified using years of life lost, was higher than previously thought, on the most deprived areas of England and Wales, widening pre-existing health inequalities.

Evangelos Kontopantelis, lead author
Division of Informatics, Imaging and Data Sciences
University of Manchester, Manchester, England, UK
And NIHR School for Primary Care Research
University of Oxford, Oxford, England, UK
The team finds striking socioeconomic and geographical health inequalities, with 1,645 years of life lost per 100,000 of the population in the most deprived areas and 916 years per 100,000 people in the most affluent. London and the North West had the highest years of life lost with South Central and the South West lowest. These inequalities were also seen when examining excess deaths, especially in younger age groups: there were 11 times as many excess deaths in deprived compared to affluent areas in 15-44 year olds, three times as many in 45-64 year olds, almost twice as many in 65-74 year olds, 1.4 times more in 75-84 year olds and no significant difference in people over 85.

Looking at years of life lost is an effective way of determining unmet needs and the authors suggest this could be used for prioritising vaccine delivery and providing targeted financial and social support as part of immediate and longer-term recovery plans. Public health measures and wider socioeconomic interventions are needed to support communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
In the abstract to their open access paper, the authors say:
Abstract

Background
Deaths in the first year of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in England and Wales were unevenly distributed socioeconomically and geographically. However, the full scale of inequalities may have been underestimated to date, as most measures of excess mortality do not adequately account for varying age profiles of deaths between social groups. We measured years of life lost (YLL) attributable to the pandemic, directly or indirectly, comparing mortality across geographic and socioeconomic groups.

Methods and findings
We used national mortality registers in England and Wales, from 27 December 2014 until 25 December 2020, covering 3,265,937 deaths. YLLs (main outcome) were calculated using 2019 single year sex-specific life tables for England and Wales. Interrupted time-series analyses, with panel time-series models, were used to estimate expected YLL by sex, geographical region, and deprivation quintile between 7 March 2020 and 25 December 2020 by cause: direct deaths (COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases), cardiovascular disease and diabetes, cancer, and other indirect deaths (all other causes). Excess YLL during the pandemic period were calculated by subtracting observed from expected values. Additional analyses focused on excess deaths for region and deprivation strata, by age-group. Between 7 March 2020 and 25 December 2020, there were an estimated 763,550 (95% CI: 696,826 to 830,273) excess YLL in England and Wales, equivalent to a 15% (95% CI: 14 to 16) increase in YLL compared to the equivalent time period in 2019. There was a strong deprivation gradient in all-cause excess YLL, with rates per 100,000 population ranging from 916 (95% CI: 820 to 1,012) for the least deprived quintile to 1,645 (95% CI: 1,472 to 1,819) for the most deprived. The differences in excess YLL between deprivation quintiles were greatest in younger age groups; for all-cause deaths, a mean of 9.1 years per death (95% CI: 8.2 to 10.0) were lost in the least deprived quintile, compared to 10.8 (95% CI: 10.0 to 11.6) in the most deprived; for COVID-19 and other respiratory deaths, a mean of 8.9 years per death (95% CI: 8.7 to 9.1) were lost in the least deprived quintile, compared to 11.2 (95% CI: 11.0 to 11.5) in the most deprived. For all-cause mortality, estimated deaths in the most deprived compared to the most affluent areas were much higher in younger age groups, but similar for those aged 85 or over. There was marked variability in both all-cause and direct excess YLL by region, with the highest rates in the North West. Limitations include the quasi-experimental nature of the research design and the requirement for accurate and timely recording.

Conclusions
In this study, we observed strong socioeconomic and geographical health inequalities in YLL, during the first calendar year of the COVID-19 pandemic. These were in line with long-standing existing inequalities in England and Wales, with the most deprived areas reporting the largest numbers in potential YLL.

Author summary

Why was this study done?
  • The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic generated large numbers of excess deaths (additional deaths over those predicted from trends in previous years). These excess deaths were also unevenly distributed across different geographic areas and socioeconomic groups, exacerbating prepandemic inequalities.
  • Up to a quarter of the excess deaths during the pandemic were attributable to coronary heart disease, dementia, and other noninfectious causes, and not directly to COVID-19 infection.
  • Most measures of excess deaths do not fully account for differences in the ages at which people die in different social groups. If the pandemic killed disproportionally more young people in more deprived areas, then inequalities resulting from the pandemic will have been underestimated. Measuring years of life lost (YLL) rather than excess deaths would address this problem.

What did the researchers do and find?
  • In England and Wales, there were an estimated 763,550 (95% CI: 696,826 to 830,273) excess YLL during the first 42 weeks of the pandemic, of which 15% were not directly attributed to COVID-19 or another respiratory cause.
  • For all-cause mortality, estimated deaths in the most deprived compared to the most affluent areas were as follows: 11 times as many for 15- to 44-year-olds, 3 times as many for 45- to 64-year-olds, 40% higher in 75- to 84-year-olds, and not significantly higher for those aged 85 or over.
  • This pattern of disproportionately higher mortality in younger age groups exacerbated prepandemic inequalities between the most and least deprived areas, and varied widely across regions, with the North West particularly affected.

What do these findings mean?
  • Inequalities between socioeconomic and geographic groups resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic are more pronounced than previously reported.
  • Future plans to manage pandemics, including decisions about vaccination rollout, should include an understanding of regional and socioeconomic variation in YLL and how this has exacerbated long-standing health inequalities.
  • Immediate and longer-term recovery planning for communities and their health and social services should reflect historical disparities as well as the impact of the pandemic on YLL.
  • Limitations of this study include the observational nature of the data and the need for accurate and timely recording of the deaths and their causes.

So, apart from what this says about social inequalities and deprivation in Britain, the message is perfectly clear. Pending the political solution to these inequalities, poor people and young people and especially poor young people should get vaccinated and/or boosted as soon as possible because for them the likely outcome is significantly worse than for people from less deprived backgrounds and the more prosperous areas of the UK.

Don't be a Covidiot!

Get Vaccinated or Get Boosted, Now!

Tuesday, 15 February 2022

YEC Failure News - Science Again Refutes YECism Without Even Trying

Enormous volumes of floodwater from the Missoula megafloods once poured over Dry Falls, which stretches 3.5 miles wide and drops 400 feet to a plunge pool now fed by groundwater.
Photo: Tamara Pico
Towering cliffs carved by the Missoula megafloods are found throughout the Channeled Scablands in eastern Washington.
Photo by Tamara Pico
Tilting of Earth’s crust governed the flow of ancient megafloods

Geologists led by Tamara Pico, assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences at University of California, Santa Cruz, have explained how the formation known as the Channeled Scablands, Washington, were formed in a series of cataclysmic floods called the Missoula megafloods. Although these were massive, nevertheless they were local to what is now Eastern Washington.

YECs often point excitedly at the effects of this water erosion as evidence of a global flood, just as they claim the Grand Canyon is, being too parochial to distinguish between a part of the USA and the entire planet. But the scientists have shown how this carving of long, deep channels and towering cliffs was caused by the changing weight of the ice sheets as they retreated at the end of the last Ice Age, causing the entire landscape to tilt and so changing the course of the megafloods.

As the UC Santa Cruz news release explains:

Malevolent Designer News - How Ebola is Designed to Hit Back Weeks, Months or Years After You Think You're Over It

Ebola can hide in your brain fluid and reactivate long after you think you're over it
Image credit: Maciej Frolow via Getty Images
Ebola Lurking in Brain Fluid Kills Monkeys Weeks After Recovery | The Scientist Magazine®

News this week that should awe and amaze devotees of the malevolent creator Creationists like to imagine creates everything and designs any modifications needed to its parasites to keep them making people suffer and die because a mythical couple ate one of its apples.

It is the news that the Ebola virus has been designed to hide in the fluid that surrounds, protects and nourishes our brain, from where it can launch a fresh attack many weeks after you think you've recovered from an earlier attack. Clearly, the divine malevolence is not going to give up easily in its determination to make as many people sick and die as possible, especially those living in West Africa. That'll teach them to think their immune systems, together with modern medical science, can beat it at its nasty little game.

Research published in Science Translational Medicine a few days ago explained how it performs this masterstroke. The study was carried out by a team at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), led by Xiankun (Kevin) Zeng, Ph.D.

According to the USAMRIID new release:

Monday, 14 February 2022

Evolution News - A Little More is Added to the Human Evolution Story

UB 10749 vertebral body. (a) Superior view; (b) posterior view; (c) inferior view; (d) anterior view.

Prehistoric Migrations: New study presents ancient human vertebra discovered in Jordan Valley | Bar-Ilan University

A little more clarity was added to the story of archaic hominin migration out of Africa and into Eurasia with the publication few days ago in Scientific Reports, of the findings of a team of archaeologists led by researchers from Bar-Ilan University, and including specialists from Ono Academic College, The University of Tulsa, and the Israel Antiquities Authority.

It was the discovery that a 1.5 million-year-old fossilised vertebrae found at 'Ubeidiya, in the Jordan Valley near Kibbutz Beit Zera, in 1966, was that of large-bodied species of Homo aged about 6-12 years old as determined by the characteristic pattern of ossification. In adulthood, this individual would have been considerably bigger than the hominins found in Georgia and is more similar to archaic hominins found in East Africa, so supports the idea of successive waves of different species of hominin migrating out of Africa via the Levantine corridor.

‘Ubeidiya site locality. (a) Map of Africa and Eurasia with major Pleistocene paleoanthropological sites. Black circles denote sites with no osteological remains; red circles denote sites with human osteological remains. (b) The location of the site of ‘Ubeidiya, south of lake Kineret (Sea of Galilee), on the western banks of the Jordan Valley (red circle) (c) aerial photograph of the excavation plan of ‘Ubeidiya with the location of layer II-23 where UB 10749 was recovered.

From the Bar-Ilan University press release:
According to fossil evidence and DNA research, human evolution began in Africa about six million years ago. Approximately two million years ago, ancient humans –– nearly, but not yet in modern form –– began to migrate from Africa and spread throughout Eurasia, a process known as the "Out of Africa." ‘Ubeidiya, located in the Jordan Valley near Kibbutz Beit Zera, is one of the places where we have archaeological evidence for this dispersal.

The prehistoric site of ‘Ubeidiya is significant for archaeological and evolutionary studies because it is one of the few places that contain preserved remnants of the early human exodus from Africa. The site is the second oldest archaeological site outside Africa and was excavated by several expeditions led by Professor M. Stekelis, Professor O. Bar-Yosef, and Professor E. Tchernov between 1960 and 1999. The finds from the site include a rich and rare collection of extinct animal bones and stone artifacts. Fossil species include sabertoothed tiger, mammoths, and a giant buffalo, alongside animals not found today in Israel, such as baboons, warthogs, hippopotamuses, giraffes, and jaguars. Stone and flint items made and used by ancient humans show resemblance to those discovered at sites in East Africa.

Due to the difference in size and shape of the vertebra from 'Ubeidiya and those found in the Republic of Georgia, we now have unambiguous evidence of the presence of two distinct dispersal waves.

Alon Barash, co-lead author Bar Ilan University,
Azrieli Faculty of Medicine, Safed, Israel.
Recently, excavations in 'Ubeidiya were resumed by Belmaker and Barzilai under a grant that Belmaker received from the U.S. National Science Foundation. The project uses new absolute dating methods to refine the site's dating and to study the paleoecology and paleoclimate of the region. While looking at the fossils from the site, now housed at the Hebrew University's National Natural History Collections, Belmaker, a paleoanthropologist from
The stone and flint artifacts from 'Ubeidiya, handaxes made from Basalt, chopping tools, and flakes made from flint, are associated with the Early Acheulean culture. Previously, it was accepted that the stone tools from 'Ubeidiya and Dmanisi were associated with different cultures – Early Acheulean in 'Ubeidiya and Oldowan in Dmanisi. After this new study, we conclude that different human species produced the two industries.

Omry Barzilai, co-lead author
Head of the Archaeological Research Department
Israel Antiquities Authority, Jerusalem, Israel
The University of Tulsa’s Department of Anthropology, encountered a human vertebra. Initially unearthed in 1966, the bone was studied by Barash and Professor Ella Been. They identified it as a human lumbar vertebra, the earliest fossil evidence of ancient human remains discovered in Israel, approximately 1.5 million years old.
The two species theory is also supported by the different climates in Dmanisi and 'Ubeidiya sites. The former being drier and more like the savannah habitat found in East Africa while the latter site is more humid and similar to a Mediterranean habitat. This suggests that the different species with different cultures had adapted to different ecological niches.

One of the main questions regarding the human dispersal from Africa were the ecological conditions that may have facilitated the dispersal. Previous theories debated whether early humans preferred an African savanna or new, more humid woodland habitat. Our new finding of different human species in Dmanisi and 'Ubeidiya is consistent with our finding that climates also differed between the two sites. 'Ubeidiya is more humid and compatible with a Mediterranean climate, while Dmanisi is drier with savannah habitat. This study showing two species, each producing a different stone tool culture, is supported by the fact that each population preferred a different environment.

Miriam Belmaker, co-lead author
The Department of Anthropology
The University of Tulsa, Tulsa, OK, USA
The team's findings are published, open access, in Scientific Reports:
Abstract
The paucity of early Pleistocene hominin fossils in Eurasia hinders an in-depth discussion on their paleobiology and paleoecology. Here we report on the earliest large-bodied hominin remains from the Levantine corridor: a juvenile vertebra (UB 10749) from the early Pleistocene site of ‘Ubeidiya, Israel, discovered during a reanalysis of the faunal remains. UB 10749 is a complete lower lumbar vertebral body, with morphological characteristics consistent with Homo sp. Our analysis indicates that UB-10749 was a 6- to 12-year-old child at death, displaying delayed ossification pattern compared with modern humans. Its predicted adult size is comparable to other early Pleistocene large-bodied hominins from Africa. Paleobiological differences between UB 10749 and other early Eurasian hominins supports at least two distinct out-of-Africa dispersal events. This observation corresponds with variants of lithic traditions (Oldowan; Acheulian) as well as various ecological niches across early Pleistocene sites in Eurasia.

This finding is also consistent with a proposal a few months ago by Roksandic, M. et al (2012), that several of the archaic hominins of Africa and Eurasia should more properly be regarded as belonging to a single, morphologically diverse, Homo species, Homo bodoensis, which then gave rise to Homo sapiens in Africa and Neanderthals, Denisovans, and possibly other species of Homo in Eurasia.

Gradually, one way or another the fascinating story of how this African ape came to populate all landmasses on Earth except Antarctica is emerging from the chaos of, frankly, contrary to Creationists claims, too many transitional species.

Trumpanzee QAnon Fruitloop News - Update on Covidiot Cirsten Weldon's COVID-19 Death

Cirsten Weldon, Pro-Trump, Antivaxx QAnon conspiracist.
Died of COVID-19, 04 Jan, 2022.
Cirsten Weldon, a prominent Trumpanzee and QAnon conspiracist and antivaxxer, who earned her living tell gullible fools that only idiots get vaccinated, died of COVID-19 on January 4, 2022, in Camarillo, California.

Her fellow conspiracy theorists have now dreamed up an even more preposterous conspiracy theory: that she is still alive and in 'protective custody' having faked her own death. I wonder if, like Elvis, she'll turn up working in a chip shop near you, in the not too distant future.

Is there no lower limit to the credulity of these idiots? Certainly QAnon hasn't found it yet. They even think Trump was a competent POTUS!

To begin with, as I reported at the time:

Sunday, 13 February 2022

Hypocrisy News - Another Sex Scandal Rocks the French Catholic Church

Archbishop Michel Aupetit (former) Archbishop of Paris
Relationship with a woman was 'ambiguous'
© Ludovic Marin / AFP
Pope accepts Paris archbishop's resignation over "ambiguous" relationship

Probably the last thing the French Catholic Church wanted right now was another sex scandal involving a senior cleric, but that's just what they've got in the form of Archbishop Michel Aupetit, (former) Archbishop of Paris, who has resigned following the revelation that he had a sexual relationship with a women, despite his vow of celibacy and his requirement that all those under him in his archdiocese take the same vow.

The story of the consensual relationship was exposed by Le Point magazine. Aupetit denied that he had had a sexual relationship with the woman but told Le Point that the relationship was 'ambiguous' - a neat euphemism for clandestine sexual relations with a woman outside marriage and contrary to his oath as an ordained Catholic priest.

This came on top of the recent report which revealed that 3,000 French Catholic priests had sexually abused more than 200,000 children over the past 70 years and that there had been a widespread, systematic cover up. When abuse by lay members of Catholic schools and other institutions was taken into account, the number of abused children, almost all of which were young boys, rose to some 330,000.

Christian Bigotry News - A New 'Journal' to Try to Make Religion Look Less Hateful

New journal will spotlight queer and trans religious studies scholarship | News

In an effort to alter the general perception that religions, especially Christianity and Islam, are fundamentally hostile to anyone who doesn't fit their strict definitions of sexuality and conform to their strict rules on permitted sexual relationships, a couple of Christian theology professors have founded a new 'Journal' which will concentrate on publishing articles and papers exploring 'the full range of rich and complex connections between religion, gender, and sexuality'.

The journal, to be called QTR: A Journal of Queer and Transgender Studies in Religion, has been founded by Melissa M. Wilcox, a religious studies professor from University of California, Riverside (UCR) and Joseph Marchal, a religious studies professor at Ball State University in Indiana.

According to the UCR news release:

It's a Miracle! Not a Single Red Face as Lourdes Reopens After Closing for the Coronavirus Pandemic!

The shrine to Bernadette Soubirous, Lourdes, France
Lourdes resurrected: grotto reopens to pilgrims after two year Covid closure

Without the slightest sign of irony, the Catholic Church in France has re-opened the Lourdes faith-healing scam in the Hautes-Pyrénées region, which had been closed because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Lourdes, it may be remembered, sells quack cures for all manner of afflictions and illnesses, but is powerless to prevent people catching COVID-19, apparently.

The grotto was officially reopened on February 11, on the anniversary of the date in 1858 on which a young peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous, or Sobirós, in the local language, Occitan, then spoken in the Languedoc region of France, whom many townspeople, including her own father, thought was mentally disturbed, claimed to have seen a vison of the Virgin Mary.

Despite herself suffering from ill health and dying relatively young and several of her close relatives, including siblings and both her parents also dying young, the legend grew up, eagerly promoted by the Catholic Church, that the water that flowed from the grotto could cure all manner of physical ailments. Servicing the pilgrims to the shrine has since become a major industry in the area. Lourdes is now second only to Paris in the number of hotels it has and 90% of the inhabitants of the town of Lourdes are dependent on the tourist industry for their living, despite the fact that authenticated cures are as rare as hen's teeth and are almost always of conditions subject to spontaneous remission anyway.

Bernadette Soubirous
Indeed, Monsignor Jacques Perrier, Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, was so concerned at the lack of cures to advertise the shrine and compete with the various apparently more successful 'alternative' therapies available in Paris and elsewhere, that in 2006 he redefine a 'miracle cure' to include any remission or self-reported improvement, no matter how slight or for how short a duration and even for people who were or had been receiving medical treatment. 'Miracle cures' had been running at a rate of one cure every seven years on average. The last claimed authenticated cure was that of self-diagnosed 'arthritis', under Bishop Perrier's 'low bar' definition.

As of 2006, only 67 'cures' had been authenticated, although the Catholic Church now claims 70 miracle cures, from the 250 million pilgrims who have sought one. This is about 1 in every 3.7 million people, or a success rate of less than 0.00003%. Not a single 'cure' had included such things as spontaneous regeneration of a limb or an organ, re-joining of a transected spinal cord, regeneration of destroyed brain tissues, repair of gross disfigurement or scarring, or indeed anything at all that could truly be regarded as without scientific explanation, although such cures should be well within the capability of a creator deity able to raise the dead and create living tissues from inorganic substances.

But no-one in the Catholic church seems to be the least embarrassed by the fact that a 'miracle cure' site, where people might have gone to be cured of COVID-19 had it been any good, had to be closed because of the very real risk of catching COVID-19 and becoming seriously ill or dying of it. But why spoil a good scam with a few inconvenient facts?

Further reading: Faking It as Lourdes
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