Field of Science

OpenLab 2009 submission deadline approaching

The Open Laboratory: The Best Writing on Science Blogs 2009.

What is it? It's a book full of blog posts. What could be a better read than that?

Deadline for submissions is December 1st at midnight EST!, so submit your own favorite posts right away.

Check out some submissions at A blog Around the Clock.

SciCurious and a large gang of judges will be judging them until only 50 essays, one poem and one cartoon remain.
Please use the submission form to add more of your and other people's posts (remember that we are looking for original poems, art, cartoons and comics, as well as essays). Realize that nobody knows your archives as well as you do - there is nothing wrong about submitting your own (about half of the entries, each year, are submitted by authors, and that is just fine).
My favorite cartoon is PartiallyClips.

Can Afghanistan be won?

After reading this article with very anti-troop surge views, I started looking for other views on the subject. Obama will give a speech on Tuesday wherein he is anticipated to order more troops and civilians to Afghanistan, though not as many as requested by General McChrystal, who's the head of the NATO troops in Afghanistan. Still, it's expected to result in an increase of 50% over the number of troops already there (68,000).

Also interesting is this article about how helicopters are crucial in the fight in Afghanistan. Without them, troops can't get around, more roadside bombs will be planted, and fewer wounded troops will get to medics in time. Only recently has more/enough choppers been provided. Only recently...

Still, it would be nice to hear exactly what the goal in Afghanistan is. How will we recognize victory? What will a win look like? The enemy is the Taleban and other insurgents. Ultimately, the enemy is terrorism, right? bin Laden was the point for going there, as I recall. Now he is not there, and so to what end is NATO there? 'To stop the terrorist breeding ground' seems the only credible answer to that question. But evidence suggests that international terror isn't planned in Afghanistan at all any more. Europe, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia are where that's at. But sure, if NATO pulled out of Afghanistan, Al Qaeda might move back in. So the only answer is to stay forever? Because it's not like there are any prospects of Al Qaeda and bin Laden being smoked out, despite documented cowboy tactics. On the other hand, now, again since the Taleban is not ruling the farmers, Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of heroin, which kills about ~100,000 people every year. "Covert terrorism"?

If Iraq is a difficult enough war, there are reasons why Afghanistan is much worse.
"The sheer terrain of Afghanistan is much more challenging: the mountains, the altitudes, severity of weather, the distances. That wears on an army," says Maj. Joseph Matthews, a battalion operations officer in the 10th Mountain Division. "You can flood Baghdad with soldiers but if you want to flood the mountains you are going to need huge numbers and logistics."

(...)

In Afghanistan, troops routinely cross passes 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) and higher, descending into valleys where they say villagers "hibernate like bears" for up to five winter months, cut off from the outside world by the snows.

This almost medieval isolation makes it far more difficult for the Afghan government and coalition forces to spread the aid and information needed to counter the Taliban push while the villagers — mostly illiterate and with little access to radios, never mind television — rely on religious leaders at Friday mosque prayers, or the insurgents, to shape their world view.
In late January next year, British PM Brown will host a conference on an Afghanistan exit strategy. The plan is to require (intensely corrupt) Afghan President Karzai to provide 50,000 troops for training in the next year, as well as improving the police force, and then pull out NATO troops. 50k troops?! I want to say that I suspect that will prove difficult, but I don't really know. Does anyone think this is going to be possible?

A San Francisco Chronicle editorial suggests building more schools is the real way to win the war, and I largely concur, even though I would worry that NATO would need to keep troops in Afghanistan for a very long time for that strategy to be effective. It could be that it would have a more immediate effect on people than the wait for children to be educated, but I wonder if.
"In Afghanistan, success stories are difficult to find," said Lex Kassenberg, CARE's top official in the country. The delicate, painstaking work of bringing a community school to life offers clear rewards such as education, an end to violence and a way to contain the Taliban, he believes. The cost so far: $25 million over five years for CARE. Compare that to the $200 billion-plus spent by the United States over eight years in a stumbling, inconclusive conflict.
But what's to stop the Taleban from closing schools if the troops leave? The answer would be the local communities themselves... and hopefully that would work.

Earn top dollar with Google Home income

Why would Google hire people not through their own website? Why would they pay $25 per link select employees working from at home post... somewhere?

Why is the news listed on a site called News 3 Insider Weekly News? Why is this breaking news-item not dated? Why were commenting closed due to spam on October 15, 2009, with a note that it would reopen soon, but it never did? Why does that news site not have any other news? Why does http://www.news3insider.com say 'Hello, World!'?

If you follow the link to sign up to get a starter kit from Google (paying only $2 in shipping - and "allows Google to screen for serious people") you get to a site called www.internetrichgurus.com. Why?

The real question is why isn't Google doing something about this scam?

Dumbfuckers in Afghanistan quagmire

In a 4198 word essay on the dumbfuckedness of the war in Afghanistan, Evert Cilliers manages to express his dumbfounderment by using the word dumbfuck and derivatives twelve times.

IS OBAMA ABOUT TO BECOME JUST ANOTHER WAR CRIMINAL?

And the sad answer seems to be that he is. If I was dictator of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, I would have awarded the prize to Obama only after he signed a statement promising to end the war in Afghanistan by this year.

Cilliers' article is mesmerizing. I'd quote the whole thing here, but that seems a bit excessive. Just a few nuggets, then:
1. AFGHANISTAN IS NOT A COUNTRY, IT'S A CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE
Afghanistan produces 93% of the world's opium, and this drug kills a 100,000 users a year. Like Burma, Afghanistan is basically a criminal enterprise.

2. HOW WE FUND THE DRUGLORDS AND THE TALIBAN
This is the situation in Afghanistan. No government. A fight between gangster-warlords and the Taliban for control of the opium, and us in the middle, backing the losers.

3. TWO OR THREE REASONS WE'RE IN AFGHANISTAN
There is a third reason we continue fighting in Afghanistan, the most important reason, and that is simply this: we're fighting there because we've been fighting there. It's much easier to start a war than to end a war. We're in Afghanistan because we're in Afghanistan -- the law of inertia.

4. THE WAR SERVES OUR POLITICS, NOT OUR INTERESTS
Here is the point: there is less justification for our war in Afghanistan now than there were ever was for our war in Iraq. The Afghanistan war is as necessary to our security as an indoor flush toilet is necessary to an elephant. There is nothing for us to win there, even if we achieve the impossible and put the gangster-warlords back in charge of Afghanistan, instead of the religious nuts.

5. OUR REAL ENEMIES IN THE MIDDLE EAST AREN'T THE TALIBAN OR IRAN, BUT ISRAEL AND SAUDI-ARABIA
But hey, we're dumbfucks, so we regard the two countries who screw us the most in the Middle East as our friends. Our foreign policy works AGAINST our interests. We MUST be a nation of consummate dumbfuckeronskis if we can't even get basic things like that right.

6. FROM MESSIAH TO WAR CRIMINAL IN LESS THAN A YEAR
Obama has already made one big mistake in his first year -- coddling Wall Street, because he is being advised by two economic war criminals, Summers and Geithner. Now, if he lets himself be swayed by the actual war criminals among his advisers, he will be nothing but a war criminal himself.

7. WE COULD WIN SOMETHING WITH MORE SCHOOLS INSTEAD OF MORE TROOPS
That would be money well spent -- educating the country's kids instead of killing their parents. But no, Obama is not thinking about building more schools there, but debating with his advisers and himself about whether he should send more troops there. A debate of dumbfucks by dumbfucks for dumbfucks.

8. THE ANNOYING ENDURANCE OF OUR DUMBFUCKERY
Imagine the irony if Barack goes and collects his Nobel Peace Prize after having sent more troops to their deaths in Afghanistan. From hopeful Messiah to war criminal in less than a year.

[Formatted to fit this screen, to run in the time allotted, and edited for content.]
Makes me wanna puke, really.

Our hero

Apparently, someone finally got the credit they deserve.


Watch the whole movie.

(And to pre-empt: No, I am Danish.)

Critical thinking in Cairo (a first)

I am anti-creationism, and I am also anti-religion. But those are different issues that, while interrelated, aren't identical. I do wish everybody would accept evolution, and discard creationism. I do also wish people would stop being religious, because a) I think the truth is that there isn't anything supernatural out there (I am an atheist), and b) religion is the cause, directly or indirectly, of a lot (but not all) of the things that are wrong with the world. I don't think religion is only bad, but it seems to me that it is on average. Those are hard statements, I know, and if you don't like them, please show yourself the way out of here at your own leisure.

Obviously, if religion disappeared tomorrow, nobody (sane) would believe in creationism any more either. But if creationism disappeared, that would not totally do away with religion; there are many religious people who accept evolution. There are no (sane) people who aren't religious but believe in creationism.

But what is the best strategy for achieving the goal of ridding the world of religion? (Yes, I do say that because I think it would benefit mankind (and the rest of us) tremendously - I am talking about the religions that matter in that context, so if you are of the religious sort that just privately believes in something supernatural, but you also accept science and don't push your unsupported beliefs on others, then I don't really mean you.) It is more effective to make a big push against religion, and then be happy that it implies the end of creationism too? Or, is it the better way to educate widely about the science, and then see creationism disappear first on its own? Richard Dawkins writes that he doesn't want to compromise and say that science and evolution can accommodate religion, because to him the real battle is against religion. I agree with that in principle, but I wonder if - given that we all know it is going to be a very long and tiresome battle - it isn't more effective to do everything we can to first show everyone how ridiculous creationism is, and then worry about religion after that. I imagine that understanding evolution, and being convinced by the ample evidence there is in its favor, will lead a lot of religious people, and especially a lot of children of religious people, to question their religious views.

At this point it may sound to the reader like I am aiming at "beautifying the level of the discourse," such as other faitheists have proposed. But I am not.
1. faitheist
An atheist who is "soft" on religious belief, and tolerant of even the worst intellectual and moral excesses of religion: atheist accommodationist.

A lot of leftist faitheists say, "I'm not religious, but we shouldn't criticize the Muslim oppression of women because it's a sincere religious belief.
Perhaps it is true that even saying that [the bigger battle can be won eventually by focusing on showing the evidence for the science that is in conflict with creationism] will turn some people off evolution and science, and yet I am not proposing not to do so anyway, because I believe in saying what I think, telling it like it is, and because I believe that many religious people will respond to the message that science have for them.

I mention this because of a conference on evolution held in Cairo, where education is dismal and Islam is ubiquitous. Work to improve their education, have the students learn to think for themselves (apparently, they don't learn that there), show them the evidence for evolution, and explain what the theory says.
Darwin, of course, did not say man came from monkeys. He said the two share a common ancestor. But to discuss Darwin anywhere is not just to explore the origin of man. It is inevitably to engage in a debate between religion and science. That is why, 150 years after Darwin published “On the Origin of Species,” the British Council, the cultural arm of the British government, decided to hold an international conference on Darwin in this conservative, Sunni Muslim nation.

It was a first.
Apparently, Egyptian students aren't taught about evolution.
Education here is based on rote memorization, with virtually no emphasis on creative thinking. Few schools here even teach the theory of evolution.
The testimonies from students at the conference is what makes me think that this is going to be a long and painful process, but that we will eventually prevail.
“I am not against the idea of evolution completely,” said Amr Zeydah, 23, a zoology major at Alexandria University. “I accept the idea partially.”

Despite his major, Mr. Zeydah has never studied Darwin, and before the conference knew little about the theory of evolution. He accepted the Islamic account of creation, that God formed Adam from dirt and infused him with a soul.

But after taking in the discussion, he said he had worked out a way to reconcile the two: that God created life, which then evolved to suit its environment. “God created Adam at 15 meters tall,” he said, quoting what he said was a Hadith, or saying, of the Prophet Muhammad. “So evolution comes in because we are obviously not that height now.”

While some people may chuckle at the notion that man was once of enormous height, the point, some of the speakers here said, was that local sensitivities and beliefs must be understood, too, not dismissed out of hand, if dialogue is to work.
As always, understanding is not accepting - I don't have to accept religious beliefs in order to understand how they influence a person's way of thinking about science. And without understanding I don't think we will get anywhere. Dialogue is crucial, so let's accept that advancement will come in tiny increments, such as in the case of Mr. Zeydah who now at least got to learn anything at all about evolution, like all zoology majors should, even though it lead him to bend over backwards father than a contortionist to accommodate his religious beliefs.

Contest on Pharyngula: refute-a-creationist

PZ Myers has a little contest on Pharyngula. Answer one of these two questions and you might win a book drawn at random from PZ's pile:
  1. Was evolution a significant and essential factor in guiding Nazi thought?
  2. Can natural processes produce an increase in complexity?
These questions are his response to an email from some creationist, Ross Olson, who does not think Hitler would have come up with his ideas had it not been for Darwin's influence in him. He also requested that PZ provide him with evidence for evolution increasing complexity.

I have an answer in for the second question, and tonnes of people have given answers to the first consisting mostly of quotes from Mein Kampf.

Just two reasons not to eat Turkey

Industrial slaughterhouses treat livestock very badly. That's not news. But, a reminder now and then is welcomed, lest we forget because it's more convenient to ignore it.

The PETA lists ten reasons not to eat Turkey, some of which I don't give a damn about. What mattes to me is how cruelly the animals are treated.
6. Factory-farmed turkeys have nothing to be thankful for
On factory farms, turkeys live for months in sheds where they are packed so tightly that flapping a wing or stretching a leg is nearly impossible. They stand mired in waste, and urine and ammonia fumes burn their eyes and lungs. To keep the birds from killing one another in such crowded conditions, parts of the turkeys’ toes and beaks are cut off, as are the males’ snoods (the flap of skin under the chin). All this is done without any pain relievers.

Last fall, a PETA investigator went undercover at Aviagen Turkeys in West Virginia and documented workers stomping on turkeys, punching them, beating them with pipes and boards, and twisting their necks repeatedly. One worker even bragged about shoving a broomstick down a turkey’s throat because the bird had pecked at him. Our previous investigations show that such gratuitous abuse is the norm on turkey farms.

7. Turkeys die bloody, painful deaths
When the time comes for slaughter, turkeys are thrown into transport trucks, and at the slaughterhouse, they are hung upside-down and their heads are dragged through an electrified “stunning tank,” which immobilizes them but does not kill them. Many birds dodge the tank and are still conscious when their throats are slit. If the knife fails to properly slit the birds’ throats, the birds are scalded to death in the defeathering tanks.
That's enough reasons. Makes me sick to my stomach. It costs money to treat animals decent, so they don't. There is an alternative for consumers (organic and free-range turkeys), but during Thanksgiving I doubt they alone can live up to the demand.

I can assure everyone that soy-beans are treated very humanely. Eat tofu instead. Healthier, too.

Evolution highlights VIII

Olivia Judson in the New York Times on the ability to evolve in response to environmental change. Species can't always cope with changing environments, because they lack the standing genetic variation to enables them to adapt, They mostly go extinct before they can evolve in response.

Oren Hassan is an evolutionary psychologist, and those have a reputation for making up hypotheses to explain why this or that human trait is an adaptation. Hassan is no exception. Phrasing his hypothesis as a certainty, and not proposing a way to test it, or even mentioning that it should be tested to be science, he is telling just-so stories.
Hasson argues that crying enables human beings to create a semblance of helplessness while under attack and to convey a credible message of defenselessness. The Israeli zoologist explains that this state of being is created because tears obscure vision and prevent a person from fighting while he or she is crying. Tears prevent someone who is crying, Hasson contends, from effectively acting aggressively and sends the signal that someone who is crying has lowered his or her defenses.
Ask yourself how he knows. It's not that I couldn't imagine that his guess might be at least partly right - I have myself thought that crying is a signal (having children makes this rather clear, I think) - but merely saying so is not enough. It must be investigated to be science.

Nosson Slifkin is a Jewish Rabbi who had some books on science and the Torah banned by a group of ultra-orthodox Rabbis. Slifkin is totally pro-evolution, but the 29 Rabbis (good name for a rock-band) aren't. Read his story and learn about the views on evolution of that third Abrahamic religion that no one ever mentions when talking about creationism.

Christians win the war on Christmas

Another email from the AFA on Gap's war on Christmas. Gap has given in a is airing a commercial with the words 'Merry Christmas' in it. That way we know that Christmas is all about spiritual matters and not just another random materialistic holiday. They say.
According to Bill Chandler, vice-president of Gap corporate communications, Gap's Old Navy division will launch a new television commercial this weekend which "has a very strong Christmas theme."

Chandler responded to AFA last Friday, after a poll showed 90% of AFA supporters wanted to continue the boycott as a result of Gap's initial "holiday" ad that mingled Christmas with the pagan "Winter Solstice" holiday [which was celebrated many years before Christ was born, but no, no, no, we mustn't acknowledge that, because this is a CHRISTIAN country, and pagans use witchcraft (which is very real and very dangerous)].

Gap says the new ad will include the popular Supermodelquins proudly cheering “Merry Christmas", and features Christmas trees [I can't recall the book and chapter of the Bible where the Christmas tree is mentioned...], lights and ornaments as well.

In good faith, AFA is suspending the Gap boycott until it has an opportunity to view the new commercial this weekend.

As a result of your dedicated actions, we believe Gap is beginning to realize that Christmas is not just another “holiday” and will begin to advertise in a way that is respectful to Christians and Christmas shoppers.

Here is the last call to stand with us and proclaim to our communities that Christmas is not just a winter holiday focused on materialism, but a “holy day” when we celebrate the birth of our Savior [who was not born around that time at all, by the way]. We can do it in a gentle and effective way by wearing the “God's Gift - Merry Christmas” button. Don’t wait! Place your order by December 1 to receive it before Christmas. [Emphasis and my comments in red added for a nice Christmassy effect.]
Here's a question: Do you know why Santa Clause is dressed in red and white?

Answer in the comments....


Update 11/25:
Thanks to Mitch, I now present the true story of Santa:
Origins: Among the pantheon of characters commonly associated with the Christmas season (both the religious holiday and the secular wintertime celebrations), the beloved persona of Santa Claus is somewhat distinctive in that his appearance is neither one that has been solidified through centuries of religious tradition nor one that sprang fully-formed from the imagination of a modern-day writer or artist. Santa Claus is instead a hybrid, a character descended from a religious figure (St. Nicholas) whose physical appearance and backstory were created and shaped by many different hands over the course of years until he finally coalesced into the now familiar (secular) character of a jolly, rotund, red-and-white garbed father figure who oversees a North Pole workshop manned by elves and travels in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer to deliver toys to children all around the world every Christmas Eve. (Among the many persons who had a hand in creating the modern Santa Claus figure, some of the most influential were writers Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore, historian John Pintard, and illustrator Thomas Nast.)
There is clear evidence that Coca-Cola did not invent the present image of Santa, and there is also a good reason why this is a myth:
However, we as human beings prefer definitive answers: We want details about time, place, and source and tend to eschew ambiguous, indefinite, open-ended explanations. We don't find satisfying the notion that Santa Claus is an evolutionary figure with no single, identifiable point of origin, so we instead have created and clung to a more satisfying, pat explanation: The modern appearance of Santa Claus was a commercial creation of the Coca-Cola company, who cannily promoted a version of Santa garbed in their red-and-white corporate colors.
Sound familiar? People don't like explanations they don't understand, and evolutionary mechanisms are hard to understand. Many people like instant creation better, and perhaps this is not only so because it says so in the Bible (or does it?).

The question remains what the AFA thinks of Santa, and if they don't think he is Satan misspelled, then how do they explain him without any secular references?

A team of creationists wank around in Galapagos

The AFA sent me a link to this trailer of a movie they are pushing.

200 YEARS AFTER THE BIRTH OF CHARLES DARWIN
AND 150 YEARS AFTER "ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES"
A TEAM WILL TRAVEL BACK IN TIME
TO PROVE HIM WRONG




"If the Earth was millions of years old as the evolutionist say, life would be impossible."

Why?

"I think the observations we make are consistent with the idea that the Earth was created not very long ago."

And I think you didn't look closely enough.

"There is no hope in evolution. Evolution is a defeatist, scientifically unsupportable philosophy, which is fundamentally at war with God."

Evolutionary theory is a scientific theory, not a philosophy. It explains natural phenomena, and is not expected to bring hope (and yet I am hopeful). There is a plethora of support for evolution. Yes, evolution is fundamentally at war with a literal reading of the Bible (and a literal reading of the Bible is inconsistent with itself).

(Face to face with a giant tortoise) "Just stunning creatures that God has created."

Or not.

"Evolution is all about the origin of new species. But in this case, those that we thought were different species, are really the same species. It's the opposite of evolution."

Evolution is in part about the origin of species. Galapagos species have sister species in other places, but the crucial observation is that they are morphological distinct (what we choose to call different species is irrelevant). WTF does "the opposite" of evolution even mean?

"What evolution does, it forces people to believe in evolution. It forces you not to believe in the Bible."

It's a a theory!!! It doesn't force anyone to do anything. You are forcing people to choose between science and the Bible.

"Evolution is survival of the fittest. In Christianity, the most fit of all, Jesus Christ, died for the unfit. That's you and me. That's the way God thinks."

This has got to be the best of all. I have rarely heard such nonsense even on their side of the fence. It is clear as day that this man doesn't understand the very first thing about evolution. How exactly was Jesus the most fit of all? In evolutionary theory he would have zero fitness, because he didn't have any children. And we are unfit? I have children, but I hope you don't. (Please see my GLOSSARY OF EVOLUTION if you are unsure what fitness is.) And fancy that arrogance, claiming to know the way their imaginary God thinks.

It would have been awfully nice if they had included the proof that Darwin was wrong.

Evolution highlights VII

Interjections! This crazy article 'pothesizing that depression is adaptive in humans has resurfaced in an Irish newspaper (scroll down ten paragraphs to see it). I dealt with it in August, and I don't think the idea sounds any better in November (but then again, the weather in Southern California is fantastic).

Jubilations! Researchers have discovered an anti-kuru gene that makes humans resistant to prion disease. The mutation that causes the variant gene is thus beneficial, and I am looking forward to see how the creationists, who don't believe in beneficial mutations, will respond this time ("but these are Hell-spawn cannibals"?). Much better. Also, did you know that it is not known what prions do, apart from causing disease when they misfold? Humans have genes for coding them, and they are expressed all over in the body, but the function of them is still a mystery.
Thanks to Jasper the triathlete for the link to this one.

Peter and Rosemary Grant have been studying Darwin's Finches in the Galapagos Islands for decades. Most recently they have a great paper out in PNAS about secondary contact after allopatric speciation. I have some problems accepting the view that the case they studied is an example of 'incipient' speciation (meaning in progress), but a fascinating account is in indeed.

Here's a report in National Geographic from earlier this year where they found that the very same birds described in the PNAS paper diverged further from each other in beak size when they came into contact, specializing on different resources. Such character displacement "paradoxically may often occur so rapidly that we may actually miss the process taking place."

Detroit fudged data to sell more SUVs

Words aren't enough to express the disdain I have for people who lie like Walter McManus.

When he worked for GM, he said the data showed that people didn't prioritize fuel efficiency very highly. Now, as a professor, he comes clean and admits he fudged the data because it suited his purpose at the time.
Detroit routinely insisted throughout the past few decades that their consumer studies proved the American buying public wasn't interested in fuel efficient vehicles, and preferred big, profitable SUVs and pickups, as reason for Detroit's truck-heavy product lineups.

Now former GM economist Walter McManus, now a professor and chief of the Automotive Analysis division of the Transportation Research Institute at the University of Michigan, said that the opposite was true--and he, along with others, helped fudge all the data.
Again, words fail me. This hurt people and the environment, and they did it for profit.
As Edmunds's Green Car Advisor reports, GM often received outside data during the 1990s showing that consumers were interested in fuel economy, but that McManus routinely dismissed it. "The survey would estimate that people would estimate fuel economy fairly highly," said McManus in the report. "Being a good economist, I said, 'No, they don't,' and I changed the results," because it wasn't in line with auto industry beliefs.

In fact, "there was a systematic bias against such results," he continued in the article. "Our job was not to seek the truth, but to justify decisions that had already been made. [Those decisions are] being made by upper-middle-class white males, by and large. They don't understand that the customers are not the same as they are."
A thousand curses!

Fuck those basterds in Detroit, and fuck those idiots who hired him as a professor. No one should ever hire anyone as a professor that deliberately fudged data. Piss.

Email from the hacked CRU server

Recently, emails were stolen from a server at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the UK. These include private correspondence about climate research and related matters. Some consider the content of the emails revealing, and cast doubt on the veracity of the conclusion that climate change is caused by human activity.

Story on New York Times and on RealClimate: Climate science from climate scientists (the latter is a better report).
More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. The truly paranoid will put this down to the hackers also being in on the plot though.
What was found among the hundreds of emails reveals something that everyone should be made aware of. You will have no way to verify that this email is genuine, but you can take my word that it is. I promise. (And that goes for all the other emails, too, of course.)

The following email was sent from one scientist at CRU to a colleague at the University of Wisconsin on August 17th, 2009:
[Name withheld], I just wanted to let you know how much help and inspiration I have received from Bjørn through the years. The numerous phone conversations we have had over the years on the topic of climate change has helped me tremendously. I am simply not sure I could have made any progress without his advice, and I am certain that his influence on the field is so great that neither Kyoto nor Copenhagen would ever have taken place if it hadn't been for his expertise. And yet, despite his contributions, he refuses to take any credit. You may ask me why, and the answer is that he let me know that he would prefer to remain anonymous and let others take the credit, so that he can focus on his true passion of evolutionary biology. Let's agree to respect his wish.

Yours,
[Name withheld]
Again, I personally have no interest in revealing this email, but in order to avoid any potential accusations of hiding who the true experts are, I have decided to make the email public. Again, I swear that it is not a fake (like many others we will see published in the days to come will no doubt turn out to be).

You know what they say about the elephant's trunk...


Wulffmorgenthaler.

If?

Sometimes it totally does work like that. Blue-footed and red-footed boobies (again, always a fun google). Sexual selection need not be all about choosing sexual partners of the opposite sex based on how costly some trait is (e.g. elephant trunks). It can also just be fad-driven.

I recall an experiment I read about years ago. A female duck showed zero interest in an unpopular male, but when the experimenters artificially increased the male's popularity, the female was hooked. I suspect it often works that way among people who get their fifteen minutes of fame (but no opportunity to cash out on it).

Comfort's book distributed at UCSB

Here's a story on Evolutionary Novelties about the distribution of Ray Comfort's mauling of On The Origin of Species (see story on Christian Science Monitor) at UC Santa Barbara. Here's the shocker:
[Graduate student] Chris thinks that, in the end, all this was just a cheap scam perpetrated by Ray Comfort. We found out that [book distributor] Mike put up money to buy these books. Comfort wrote a bunch of crap, tagged it to the beginning of Darwin's classic, published cheap copies, and then used his propaganda machine to get gullible buyers to spend their money.
Whaaat? These people paid Comfort money for this? Why that low-down dirty piece of filth! I can't believe he, with all the money he have made from his best-sellers, went ahead and asked the loons who handed them out on his behalf also to pay for them! What a god-damn awful disgrace. Ptui!

Apparently Ray Comfort himself showed up at UCLA to distribute books. Anyone got the word from there?


Update: Yes, someone wrote an account of Comfort's appearance at UCLA.

Bill O'Reilly on being a patriot

Bill O'Reilly is such a fucking dork. Read this:
In Portland, Oregon, a father and son were about to get off mass transit when disaster struck. Somehow the 3-year-old boy got out of the train, but his father did not and rolled away. You can imagine the boy's fear.

Well, a kind woman comforted Aiden Bailey until his dad Aaron could make his way back. The lady is still unidentified, but she is quite a patriot.
So, now comforting a three-year old makes you a... patriot? WTF?!

pa⋅tri⋅ot
- noun

a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion.


Is it known exactly when O'Reilly's brain fell out? Is "patriot" just his favorite endearing term? Like, "Thanks for bringing me more bread. You're a patriot." Or, "He scored a touch-down in the very last second. What a patriot!"

Hm?

Clergy accepting evolution

The Clergy Letter Project is a list of American Christian clergy that accept evolution.

Their statement on the Bible:
Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts. [Emphasis added.]
And their statement on science:
We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth. [Emphasis added.]
Beautiful. Thanks.

The letter is signed by a large number of American clergy (here's the list by state) - far larger than the list of (any kind of) Ph.D.s who doubt evolution. In California alone there are more Clergy on this list than there were on the list of evolution deniers in August 2008. Also, see Project Steve.

Google NoSense

The money I make from the advertisements that I have allowed Google AdSense to place here on the left and below puzzle me. Very few people click them, but when they do the earnings vary a lot. Look below here. One click on Tuesday and Thursday was worth about 15 cents and 8 cents respectively, but one click on Wednesday got me $2.57. That much for a single click? Why? I feel certain that it really wasn't worth that much to the advertiser. What sort of strange formula does Google have for calculating earnings? All I know is that it's a secret - when you sign up they explain that they will not reveal it. Does anyone have a clue?

Date  Page impressions Clicks Earnings
Sat, Nov 14, 2009 136 0 $0.01
Sun, Nov 15, 2009 242 0 $0.01
Mon, Nov 16, 2009 271 0 $0.02
Tue, Nov 17, 2009 289 1 $0.15
Wed, Nov 18, 2009 418 1 $2.57
Thu, Nov 19, 2009 332 1 $0.08
Fri, Nov 20, 2009 205 0 $0.01


P.S. Since I signed up in March I have earned $16.63, so it really isn't much. And they don't pay out until that number reaches $100. Gonna be a few years. I wonder how much PZ Myers can cash in every month...

Creationism fanning out

Creationism is getting a lot of press these days, mainly due to the publication of Going Rogue, Sarah Palin's book (which I doubt she wrote). Before the presidential campaign she was a creationist, but stopped being one, sort of, during it, and now that that has all blown over, she is again a creationist. Whatever one thinks of her honest belief, it is a clear reminder of how important this issue is in America right now.

The US and Turkey stand as shining lighthouses in the darkness that is evolution. They are at the forefront of the battle, but there are other places where creationism is about to get a foothold.

The Cameron in this cartoon is David Cameron, leader of the British Conservative party, but it might has well have been Kirk Cameron.
There has already been bitter controversy over the policies of some existing Academies sponsored by prominent Evangelicals such as Sir Peter Vardy and Bob Edmiston, both of whom have made significant donations to the Conservative Party.

Mr Edmiston, a Pentecostalist who sponsors two Academies in the West Midlands with a strongly Christian ethos through his Grace Foundation, has donated more than £2.2 million to the Conservative Party since David Cameron became leader.
Predictably, the supporters of teaching creationism in schools are conservatives. Tony Blair may have had such leanings as well, being a born-again fundie, I hear, but that seems to be some form of weird political anomaly. What we can know with rock-solid certainty is that the tories are the ones who would allow creationism to be taught in schools, when they can:
While emphasising that his schools would make no “attempt to proselytise”, Mr Edmiston has criticised the theory of evolution, saying: “If you tell people they are descended from monkeys, how can you expect them to behave like anything other than monkeys?”
That supposed to be a criticism of evolution? How can people like this get elected. Don't tell me, I know how. But you know what I mean. (While no ancestors of our were monkeys (but that's an unimportant detail here), who says we have to behave like our ancestors? Is there some law that says so unbeknownst to me?)

Back in America, Todd Wood, a young-Earth creationist I wrote about earlier, reiterates his firm belief in a ~6,000 year-old Earth, while at the same time acknowledging that the theory of evolution is not in crisis, but has lots of evidence to show for it.
"The creation-evolution debate is a propaganda war in which nobody cares what the truth is,'' [this is completely false; biologists that I know care very much what the truth is, and that's why they are interested in the topic - not because of politics (only) /BØ] Wood says during a lively and thoroughly entertaining conversation. "I am a scientist. I get up every morning seeking the truth. It's just that I'm not motivated by the same things that motivate evolutionary biologists.

"I want to know why there are so many different species of salamanders. I want to know why flightless birds live only in the Southern Hemisphere. I want to know why there are so many marsupials in Australia, and so few everywhere else. They think I'm out to discredit evolution, but I'm not. I'm out to scientifically prove a set of information that I know by faith.''
He may be a scientist, but methinks he's not a very good one. He may go about his day doing science the way a non-creationist colleague would, but in his mind things aren't happening in a very consistent way.
I am totally and completely convinced that what I believe is true, but that doesn't mean I understand it. I think they do see me as crazy. They think I'm a little off . . . and maybe I am.''
[See me nodding in agreement.]

The virtues of godlessness

Just a quick redirect:

The Virtues of Godlessness:
The least religious nations are also the most healthy and successful
By Phil Zuckerman, Pitzer College

It is a great socioreligious irony - for lack of a better term - that when we consider the fundamental values and moral imperatives contained within the world's great religions, such as caring for the sick, the inform, the elderly, the poor, the orphaned, the vulnerable; practicing mercy, charity, and goodwill toward one's fellow human beings; and fostering generosity, humility, honesty, and communal concern over individual egotism - those traditionally religious values are most successfully established, institutionalized, and put into practice at the societal level in the most irreligious nations in the world today.

Compassionate whales?

When a human protects an imperiled individual of another species, we call it compassion. If a humpback whale does so, we call it instinct. But sometimes the distinction isn’t all that clear.
In Natural History we are told the story of Humpback Whales coming to the rescue of seals on the run from Orcas. The quote above is how the authors conclude the article, in which different Humpbacks saved different seals on three occasions. I believe, as opposed to know, that the whales can feel compassion and a range of "human" emotions. And that's not a 50/50 guess, but one that rests not only of observations like these with the seals, but also on the fact that the whales do have very large brains (not thereby saying that size is everything, even though it clearly does matter).

We don't know for sure, but I think that when dealing with whales and other animals (e.g. elephants and dolphins) that clearly show what we call empathy, sorrow, and compassion in humans, we should assume that they feel it. Otherwise we might make the same mistake as Europeans did with Africans and Native Americans, and end up hurting them to an extent we will come to regret.

A new way to teach science in college

In this brief article in eSkeptic, Clark Lindgren, Professor of biology at Grinnell College tells the story of how the faculty turned the curriculum on its head, letting freshmen do real science in their intro bio course, and then filling in the holes with facts and theories in later courses.
With fear and trepidation we began planning a one-semester course called Bio 150: Introduction to Biological Inquiry. Each of us in the department would design a section of Bio 150 that focused on a specific research area. Each section would teach students the bare minimum needed to get started on a real scientific question. The students would be shown how to perform a few techniques, how to search for and read scientific articles, and how to distinguish a good scientific question from a not-so-good question. Finally, working in groups of three (we had previously discovered that three was the magic number for group work), the students would choose a question, design and carry-out experiments to answer the question, and then present their results and an interpretation of their results in formats appropriate for the discipline.

Our first set of Bio 150 sections were announced in the fall of 2000. Students could choose one (and only one) of the following seven sections: “Building an Animal,” “Prairie restoration,” “The Language of Neurons,” “Biological Responses to Stress,” “Emerging and Re-emerging Pathogens,” “The Effects of Climate Change on Organisms,” and “What Does it Mean to be a Plant?” Since then, we have added a few more sections to our repertoire, including “Sex Life of Plants,” “Plant Genetics and the Environment,” “Survivor,” “Cell Fate: Calvin or Hobbes,” “Genes, Drugs and Toxins,” and “Animal Locomotion.”
My first reaction was that this can't be done. Without first learning the fundamentals of biology, you can't do research in it. But if they show us at Grinnell that it can be done, then it can. And they did. Students and professors are apparently both very happy with it. Students either find out early that biology isn't for them, or they get hooked, and eagerly learn all the facts and theories, because now they see why that's important.

Brilliant!

Besides, the truth is that I entered biology the very same way. I had a degree in physics, and then started a Ph.D. program without ever having taken a course in biology. (You could argue that explains a lot.) The standing joke while I was at UCSB was that "I haven't actually taken any biology courses, but I have taught several." I started research from day one, and have been filling in the missing holes in my knowledge ever since. I still work at that. I often say (it's not a joke) that I got my bio undergrad by reading Natural History (the print version) for a few years. I still read it every month, though the revelations are now farther in between.

On the other hand, one could argue that not everyone is taking biology because they want to do research in it. There are pre-meds, for example, who needs the credit so they can become physicians. I wonder if they have many of those at Grinnell...

Poll crash: celebrate what you want

Here's a poll to crash:

"Since Gap has now included the word "Christmas" in a television ad (in a dismissive manner), should AFA call off the boycott of their stores?"
  • Yes. Any reference to Christmas is good enough to me. [194 votes]
  • No. Gap has taken a disrespectful attitude towards Christians with its ad. [2,884 votes]
The American Family Association is horrified by Gap's blatant disregard for the singular truth that Christmas is purely a celebration of the birth of little Jesus Christ.

From the email I got this morning:
Gap has responded to AFA's call for a Christmas boycott of their Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic stores with a commercial that takes a cavalier approach towards Christmas.

The video entitled Ready for Holiday Cheer features a group of people dancing and chanting:
Two, Four, Six, Eight, now's the time to liberate
Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanza, Go Solstice.
Go classic tree, go plastic tree, go plant a tree, go add a tree,
You 86 the rules, you do what feels just right.
Happy do whatever you wanukkah, and to all a cheery night.

Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, go whatever holiday you wanukkah.
Did you notice it? Gap compares Christmas to the pagan holiday called "Solstice." Solstice is celebrated by Wiccans who practice witchcraft!

Gap also encourages you to "86" or "dismiss" traditions and "do what feels just right."
Did you notice it? Aaargh! THEY COMPARED CHRISTMAS TO PAGANISM!!!! The righteous horror!

No, dammit! In God's own country we must all celebrate Christmas the right wayTM only. Diversity is the enemy of dogma, and we certainly can't have Hanukkah or Kwanzaa acknowledged by privately owned companies. It's a war on Christmas, is what it is.

Of course, the winter solstice was celebrated long before little baby Jesus was (supposedly) born. It is possible to celebrate it without being a Wiccan, and without believing in silly witchcraft. I have celebrated Christmas since I was a child, and I haven't practiced the crazy witchcraft of Christianity (i.e. eating the body of the deity, asking your deity to favor you over others, etc.).


Incidentally, have you noticed how similar Wiccan and (the atheistically biased) Wiki are? I smell a conspiracy in multiple colors and all-caps.

Warning: don't go to La Sierra University

La Sierra University is a liberal arts Seventh-Day Adventist undergraduate institution. If you want to go to college, go somewhere else, because it ain't a real one.
La Sierra's board of trustees last week unanimously voted to endorse Adventist beliefs that the world was created in six 24-hour days and said the teaching of evolution must be "within the context of the Adventist belief regarding creation."

The board also proposed that all 15 North American Adventist universities develop a curriculum that includes a "scientifically rigorous affirmation" of Adventist creation beliefs.
A scientifically rigorous affirmation of religious belief does not exist. Science (evolution, biology, astronomy, physics, geology) is incompatible with the Biblical account of a six day creation.
The Seventh-day Adventist church is among the denominations that specifically state that creation occurred in six literal days, and that the world was created several thousand years ago, not billions of years ago.
As if things weren't bad enough already, this is not going far enough for 6,300 people who have signed a petition "expressing concern that evolution is presented as fact at La Sierra and other Seventh-day Adventist universities."
Shane Hilde, the Beaumont man spearheading the petition drive, said he will be satisfied only when Adventist creation beliefs are presented as the preferred world view in classes in which evolution is discussed.
Biology is science, but discussing religious theories (I'm being generous) along with evolutionary biology will undermine that standing at La Sierra. Mantra: Discuss only science in science classes. Say it! It's shouldn't be so hard to understand. I know it is, demonstratively it is, but it should not be so.

In the meantime, don't go to La Sierra, because it is a parody of a university; they simply haven't understood what higher learning is supposed to be all about. Also, their biology graduates will be ill-equipped for a range of career-choices involving biology.

Ironically (ignorantly), they don't have a problem with administering H1N1 flu vaccines to their students. The reason a new vaccine is needed is because the virus evolves.

Who takes responsibility?

In the comment thread of an article about Seventh-Day Adventist colleges and their requirement that creationism be discussed (my take on that story here) in every class that evolution is, I found this one:
The problem here is if creationism is true then many people will have to take responsibility for their actions. Why do you think they fight so vehemently against it???
It's not an uncommon argument. "Atheists just want to do whatever they want (i.e. sin), without anyone judging them in the next life." No. We don't think there is any next life. We fight against supernatural beliefs because they are oppressive, counterproductive, and false. They are childish.

Rather, it seems to be that belief in creationism, afterlife, and God results in those people not taking responsibility for their actions in this life. Many (but not all) of them don't care what happens in this life, as long as they go to Heaven when it's over. And all the bad things happening in this world (pollution, climate change, wars, environmental catastrophes, death and disaster) are omens of Christ's return, and therefore not particularly something to fight against.

Besides, as a matter of fact, atheists and do take responsibility for their actions at least as much as everyone else. Atheists are at least as moral as everyone else. Atheist nation are more peaceful, church goers more likely to steal newspapers, and priests sin too.

Don't diss Darwin; counter Comfort's crud


Are you at one of these universities? If you are, then Ray Comfort's, aka the bananaman, shameless reprint of Darwin's The Origin of Species, with Comfort's own idiotic introduction, will be handed out soon near you. And what can you do? You can print one of the flyers made by the NCSE to counter Comfort's ignorant claims about evolution and Darwin. Follow the book giveaway around and offer the flyers as people receive the book.

US (19 Nov)
1. Princeton University (NJ)
2. Harvard University (MA)
3. Yale University (CT)
4. Stanford University (CA)
5. University of Pennsylvania (PA)
6. California Institute of Technology
7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MA)
8. Duke University (NC)
9. Columbia University (NY)
10. University of Chicago (IL)
11. Dartmouth College (NH)
12. Washington University in St. Louis (MO)
13. Cornell University (NY)
14. Brown University (RI)
15. Northwestern University (IL)
16. Johns Hopkins University (MD)
17. Rice University (TX)
18. Emory University (GA)
19. Vanderbilt University (TN)
20. Notre Dame (IN)
21. University of California - Berkeley (CA)
22. Carnegie Mellon University (PA)
23. University of Virginia (VA)
24. Georgetown University (DC)
25. University of California—Los Angeles (CA)
26. University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
27. University of Southern California (CA)
28. University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill (NC)
29. Tufts University (MA)
30. Wake Forest University (NC)
31. Lehigh University (PA)
32. Brandeis University (MA)
33. College of William and Mary (VA)
34. New York University (NY)
35. University of Rochester (NY)
36. Georgia Institute of Technology (GA)
37. Boston College (MA)
38. University of Wisconsin—Madison (WI)
39. University of California—San Diego (CA)
40. University of Illinois—Urbana - Champaign (IL)
41. Case Western Reserve University (OH)
42. University of Washington (WA)
43. University of California—Davis (CA)
44. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (NY)
45. University of Texas—Austin (TX)
46. University of California—Santa Barbara (CA)
47. University of California—Irvine (CA)
48. Penn State University—University Park (PA)
49. University of Florida (FL)
50. Syracuse University (NY)

Canada (24 Nov)
1. Ottawa University (Ottawa, ON)
2. Carleton University (Ottawa, ON)
3. Queen's University (Kingston, ON)
4. University of Toronto (Toronto, ON)
5. York University (Toronto, ON)
6. McMaster University (Hamilton, ON)
7. Guelph University (Guelph, ON)
8. Brock University (St. Catharines, ON)
9. U of Western Ontario (London, ON)
10. Concordia University (Montreal, QC)
11. McGill University (Montreal, QC)
12. U of New Brunswick (Fredericton / Saint John, NB)
13. Memorial U of Newfoundland (St. John's, NL)
14. Dalhousie University (Halifax, NS)
15. University of Manitoba (Winnipeg, MB)
16. U of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, SK)
17. University of Alberta (Edmonton, AB)
18. University of Calgary (Calgary, AB)
19. Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, BC)
20. U of British Columbia (Vancouver, BC)
21. University of Victoria (Victoria, BC)

Pride of the homescooled

Ahh, the joys of homeschooling. You didn't know that they include genius appearances on TV like this spelling bee winner, did you? Watch and cringe. I got cramps from curling up my toes.



I saw it on Facebook, and the few comments there are unanimously scathing - of the boy. No mercy there.



P.S. Last time I blogged about homeschooling several parents who do it found their way here. I welcome them all back for their take on the interview.

Religious right are still global warming deniers

Holy sh...! The science-hating, fundamentalist religious right are actually still global warming deniers. I honestly thought they would be hedging their bets on anti-abortion and homophobia. And, of course, evolution.

But, Tim Wildmon of the AFA has invited me to a live webcast, and the basic idea is that global warming is a hoax, and simply serves as a way for Al Gore and his cronies "to grab total control of our lives and use population control to satisfy there reckless desire for power." Amen.
Tim Wildmon and Crane Durham of AFA will be joined by Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, the makers of the movie "Not Evil Just Wrong" along with other guests including members of Congress and business people as we discuss the Green Religion that is being scared upon us by the secular humanists. Get the facts and counter the myths. We have brought out the experts to arm you. The webcast will clearly layout the distortions and the marketing strategy involved in this deception. See why our leaders have embraced this movement to grab total control of our lives and use population control to satisfy there reckless desire for power. There will be live blogging from the audience and phone calls as we expect the turnout to be large as this issue is critical to our families future.

The documentary is available for purchase if you miss the webcast we will also make the 2 hour broadcast available on DVD.

Movie Facts
Global warming alarmists want Americans to believe that humans are killing the planet. But Not Evil Just Wrong, a new documentary by Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, proves that the only threats to America (and the rest of the world) are the flawed science and sky-is-falling rhetoric of Al Gore and his allies in environmental extremism.

The film drives home the realities of that extremism. "Turn off your lights. Turn off your heat when you get cold. Turn off your air when you get hot," one man on the street says. "And then think about that."

Not Evil Just Wrong warns Americans that their jobs, modest lifestyles and dreams for their children are at stake. Industries that rely on fossil fuels will be crippled if the government imposes job-killing regulations on an economy already mired in recession. Small towns in the heartland, like Vevay, Ind., will become bastions of unemployment and poverty. Breadwinners like Tim McElhany in Vevay will lose their jobs -- and will have to start borrowing money again just to buy bread for their families.

The damage that would be wrought is unjustified by the science. Not Evil Just Wrong exposes the deceptions that experts, politicians, educators and the media have been force-feeding the public for years. Man-made pollution is not melting the polar icecaps. The ocean will not rise 20 feet in a flash. And the only polar bears dying because of man are the ones who try to eat men.

McAleer and McElhinney debunk what, for a time, was the environmental movement's most powerful weapon of disinformation, the infamous "hockey stick" graph that attributed a supposedly unique burst of warming in the 20th century to humans. They also shatter the myth that the hottest years in the United States were 1998 and 2006. The hottest year was 1934, and the hottest decade was the 1930s -- when there were half as many people and no SUVs or jumbo jets.
Did you catch the "modest lifestyles"? Muahaha. That's a real kicker. Americans use more energy per capita than any other nation in the world, so American lifestyles can hardly be claimed to be modest. And polar bears are the cause of their own demise because they are trying to eat men. REAL mean. Not those girlie-men on the left of Rush Limbaugh.

If they would promise to always be this much fun, I'd almost be glad that the stupid religious right aren't going away any time soon. Almost.

Drat, religion evolved

Nicholas Wade promotes his book in the NYT (fair game):
For atheists, it is not a particularly welcome thought that religion evolved because it conferred essential benefits on early human societies and their successors. If religion is a lifebelt, it is hard to portray it as useless.
Really? Why not? For me it makes a lot of sense. It's one among several workable hypotheses.
For believers, it may seem threatening to think that the mind has been shaped to believe in gods, since the actual existence of the divine may then seem less likely.
As an atheist, that's how I would put it, but I doubt this is going to sway many believers.
But the evolutionary perspective on religion does not necessarily threaten the central position of either side. That religious behavior was favored by natural selection neither proves nor disproves the existence of gods. For believers, if one accepts that evolution has shaped the human body, why not the mind too? What evolution has done is to endow people with a genetic predisposition to learn the religion of their community, just as they are predisposed to learn its language. With both religion and language, it is culture, not genetics, that then supplies the content of what is learned. [Emphasis added.]
Yeah, for believers who aren't literalists. But what of the Baptists and the Evangelicals, etc.?

Wade describes one hypothesis of the function of religion way back when, and I'll add that the best model to fit this hypothesis is one where humans evolved and then started to make up religion all on their own, with no help from the supernatural.
The ancestral human population of 50,000 years ago, to judge from living hunter-gatherers, would have lived in small, egalitarian groups without chiefs or headmen. Religion served them as an invisible government. It bound people together, committing them to put their community’s needs ahead of their own self-interest. For fear of divine punishment, people followed rules of self-restraint toward members of the community. Religion also emboldened them to give their lives in battle against outsiders. Groups fortified by religious belief would have prevailed over those that lacked it, and genes that prompted the mind toward ritual would eventually have become universal.
Humans before God, so to speak.
Could the evolutionary perspective on religion become the basis for some kind of detente between religion and science? Biologists and many atheists have a lot of respect for evolution and its workings, and if they regarded religious behavior as an evolved instinct they might see religion more favorably, or at least recognize its constructive roles. Religion is often blamed for its spectacular excesses, whether in promoting persecution or warfare, but gets less credit for its staple function of patching up the moral fabric of society. But perhaps it doesn’t deserve either blame or credit. If religion is seen as a means of generating social cohesion, it is a society and its leaders that put that cohesion to good or bad ends.
The problem, of course, is not that religion had a function useful in forming human societies, but that that function is no longer needed, and that religion now largely serves to oppress people and causes all sorts of calamities. The spectacular excesses of religion are, either way, completely unnecessary - they don't promote social cohesion much, do they?

Apologies to stolen children

As a parent of some years, I have found that I get very easily emotional hearing stories of children that have been harmed. Such a story was told in Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) about Aboriginal children taken from the parents by the British. I don't know where the British arrogance and presumptuousness comes from, but for some reason they have always had it in spades.

I didn't know until today that the British have also been taking away British children from their parents and relocating them for forced labor up until 1967.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has now apologized for these horrible deeds, and British PM Gordon Brown is planning to do the same. It's the very least they can do, so thank you for that.

It shouldn't be too much to ask that any organizations involved in these shameful tragedies apologize, especially since many of the children are still alive. Who else was involved, then?
In one case documented by the Senate, the mother of a boy being sent to Australia tried to remove him from a train and was forcibly restrained by nuns from a religious foundation involved in the migration program.

“The child migrant recalled how he thought he was going on a holiday and called out ‘will you be here when I come back, mum?’”, according to the report. “He stated that ‘these words still haunt my mum to this day, 50 years on.’” [Emphasis added.]
Can we expect whatever religious foundation the nuns belonged to to apologize? Let's hope so. The stories of these children are heartbreaking.
Like the British children sent to Australia and Canada, many of those who also arrived in New Zealand ended up in orphanages or foster care and were neglected and abused.

(..)

A total of 549 British children were sent to New Zealand between 1920 and 1967, often without their parents' consent.
Can you just imagine having your child taken from you and never hear of them again? *Shudder*


On October 6th, 1950, 10-year old twins, Brian Thomas and James Sullivan, arrive from London to Auckland. Apparently many of these children thought they were just going on a short vacation. Source.

Evolution of creationism in Europe

Michael Reiss, professor of education at the Institute of Education in London and an Anglican priest, attracted controversy last year when he said that creationism should be discussed in science lessons. As a consequence of that he quit his position as director of education at the Royal Society.

Now he's back suggesting we're all going to be creationists by 2012. Admittedly, that's reading a bit more into what he actually said. Apologies.

Let's see what he actually said:
Reiss told the Guardian that countries with a higher proportion of Muslims or fundamentalist Christians in their population were more likely to reject evolution. He added: "What the Turks believe today is what the Germans and British believe tomorrow. It is because of the mass movement of people between countries.
Oh! then I take back my apology, because he is pretty damn close to saying we'll all be creationists, isn't he?

Also, there are reasons to believe he's dead wrong.

Such a change in beliefs within large populations doesn't have to be the implication of immigration. Emigrants can change their beliefs, too, especially over the generations. In Denmark, Children born of Muslim parents are much more moderate and lax about their beliefs, and it is equally/highly/somewhat plausible/imaginable that the long term effect of immigration is that education, social security, equality, and all the things that lead to a better life, are going to lead to them becoming less religious (i.e. a better life, but that's just my many's opinion). But that immigrants who are religious, and their children born in the new country, can change their beliefs is somehow assumed to be unlikely.
"These things can no longer be thought of as occurring in other countries. In London, where I work, there are increasingly quite large numbers of highly intelligent 16, 17 and 18-year-olds doing Advanced Level biology who do not accept evolution. That's either because they come from a fundamentalist Christian background or from Muslim backgrounds."

This rejection of evolution even extended to young people training for the medical profession. "Around 10% of UK undergraduates in some medical schools are creationists. Some people think this is unacceptable and that such students are not worthy to become doctors."
Biologists and medical professionals who don't believe in evolution (and thus do not understand science) seems like a scary situation, and I agree that it is, in some way of looking at it. However, my prediction is that given enough time, the influence of what these evolution "skeptics" will learn will go the other way, too. It will erode belief in creationism. I have no data to back this up (though I do have a model), but think about it. As (research reported on by) Tom Rees have made clear, wealth, equality, security, etc., are what correlates with (causes?) the erosion of belief. So there.

Powering the planet with solar energy

Nathan S. Lewis, Professor of Chemistry at Caltech, writes about our energy problem in Powering the Planet, Engineering & Science No. 2, 2007.

If you think there is no problem with CO2 and global warming, then do carry on. Otherwise, how to deal with that and get enough energy at the same time?

After much meandering about other sources of energy that won't solve the problem (which admittedly is highly interesting) he gets down to business:
Willie Sutton was a famous bank robber, and when they finally caught him someone asked, “Why do you rob banks, Mr. Sutton?” He said, “Because that’s where the money is.” I believe in that, too.
One hundred twenty thousand terawatts of solar power hits the earth, so Willie Sutton would say go to the sun because that’s where the energy is. It is the only natural energy resource that can keep up with human consumption. Everything else will run up against the stops, soon. In fact, more solar energy hits the earth in one hour than all the energy the world consumes in a year.
Solar is the only way to go. In fact, a very, very small area of the Earth's surface is needed to generate all the energy we need:




Top: The nation’s entire energy needs could be met by tiling a 400 × 400 kilometer parcel of land in the sunny Midwest with solar panels.
Bottom: Six such squares, appropriately sited, could power the world.


Sounds promising, no? Problem is that electricity is difficult to store.
I believe that the best way to store massive quantities of electricity is to convert it into chemical fuel. Th e best technology for that purpose that we have now uses a solar thermal system that collects and concentrates solar energy to electrolyze water. You get H2 for fuel, which you can distribute through pipelines and store in tanks. And then you can pump it out of the tank whenever you like and run it through a fuel cell, which converts it back into electricity and water. The problem is, the existing technology is not scalable. The setup in the photo above makes about a kilogram of hydrogen—the energy equivalent of about a gallon of gasoline—every day. And we would have to build one of these every second, for 50 straight years, just to hold the CO2 concentrations to 550 ppmv. We need to find a better way to make fuel from sunlight directly so that we can bring energy to whoever wants it whenever they want it—day or night, summer or winter. My lab and other labs at Caltech are working on that, too.
Sigh. No respite. Give up? Here's his word on that:
I haven’t talked much about economics, but I will say that it’s easy to prove, thinking 100 years out, on a risk-adjusted net-present-value basis, that the earth is simply not worth saving. It’s a fully depreciated, four-billion-year-old asset. Unless you have policy incentives that refl ect the true cost of doing this experiment, the economically efficient thing to do is just what we are doing now. On the other hand, with the appropriate policy incentives, the financial opportunities are commensurate with 50 Exxon Mobils on the supply side, and, in devising ways to lower our energy consumption from triple to double by 2050, 50 more Exxon Mobils on the demand side. Th is is both the challenge and the opportunity.
&nbs; &nbs; &nbs; &nbs; &nbs; &nbs; I leave it to you to decide whether this is something that we cannot afford to do, or something at which we simply cannot afford to fail. Remember, we get to do this experiment exactly once. And that time, like it or not, is now.
"The Earth is simply not worth saving." So much for risk-adjusted net-present-value calculations.

Vatican vermin

Do you really need any more evidence that the leaders of the Catholic Church are nefarious bigots?
When asked about Vatican policy on gay tourist groups, Bishop Janusz Kaleta stated frankly that "such demonstrations are simply not ethical." He goes on to describe how the mere presence of homosexuals constitutes a desecration of the holy site: "I consider if someone is homosexual, it is a provocation and an abuse of this place... It is offensive to our buildings and our religion."

(...)

Two of the most famous artists in history, Michelangelo and Bernini, are both reputed to have been gay. Both helped make the Vatican what it is today.
That may not make them a force for evil, but it's a step on the way.

South Park evolution

You're the retarded offspring of five monkeys having buttsex with a fish-squirrel. Congratulations.

Interdisciplinary fumble

Interdisciplinary science is a great thing. Collaborations between researchers in different fields often result in stupendous findings, as well as when researchers move from one field to another. For example when they have a whole career behind them, and turn their focus elsewhere after late in life:
Dr. Lloyd B. Lueptow is an emeritus professor of Sociology, University of Akron. His research focused on gender differences, conducting two major longitudinal studies of 5600 and 4000 respondents over some 30 years, concluding that the persisting gender differences in the face of substantial social change were more likely due to evolutionary than to sociocultural factors. Since retirement he has continued to study the literature on evolution and human behavior. In the past year he has focused on web postings, articles and books on the issue of xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx xx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx, in an attempt to determine where the reality lay.
However, some moves are just a tad insane. Yes, it is imaginable that some very, very bright person could switch fields to something entirely new and intellectually demanding late in life, after having worked in social science for half a lifetime.

So what did Lueptow turn his attention to? catastrophic possibilities at particle colliders.

I mean, seriously. You cannot expect to understand the intricacies of particle physics without a serious amount of logged flight hours, so to speak. That's just the nature of the discipline. Physics is hard.

Had Lueptow written an article that Lawrence Krauss hadn't seen fit to rebut, then this would not be worth the read, but Lueptow has used his experience in social science to conclude that
For now, it seems obvious that the LHC [Large Hadron Collider] experiments should be delayed or stopped while the risk/cost-benefit equation is sorted out in debates the public can comprehend. The only acceptable risk is zero when the cost is the possible destruction of planet Earth. As Ord, Hillerbrand and Sandberg note, “If these fears are justified, these experiments pose a risk to humanity that can be avoided by simply not turning on the experiment.” Similarly, as Leggett concluded, of the 15 potential catastrophes facing the Earth, this one is the easiest to prevent. Just say no.
So Krauss had to respond to the nonsense:
LLOYD B. LUEPTOW’S ARTICLE on the “Large Hadron Collider and the Threats of Catastrophe” clearly illustrates how science is different than sociology. The author seems to think that by doing a literature search and quoting every possible source and every possible viewpoint that he will get closer to scientific truth. However, that is simply not how science works. One doesn’t do a democratic weighting of the literature. Rather, in science one applies logic (usually mathematical in form) to ideas that are constrained by experiment and observation. Nature, not a majority vote, determines what is false and what is not.

(...)

Lueptow misrepresents misplaced concerns of a few individuals with real controversy within the scientific community … the same misconception that has clouded public understanding of evolutionary biology and global warming. To my knowledge, no credible expert has expressed concern about the LHC.

(...)

The Tevatron at Fermilab is already operating at energies within a factor of 5 of the LHC, and we are still around. This provides additional evidence that a catastrophe at the LHC is unlikely.
The discussion of strangelets is irrelevant. The scientific community examined this possibility before the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven turned on, and decided there was no danger, and years after it did turn on, we are still here.
I am fully ready to err on the side of caution, if there is reasonable suspicion that an experiment can wreck havoc. But in the case of the LHC there isn't.

In evolution such encroachment is very common: Software engineers, denstists, ophthalmologists, physicists, chemists, and, of course, professional creationists have seen fit to tell us how we're doing it wrong. Not to say that I am against contributions from anywhere, of course, but some level of understanding of the field is necessary when doing so. Please?

B:III evidence for evolution (which is just a theory)

ResearchBlogging.orgHaving trouble with your eyes? Well, then, let me have a look at it, because I have read stuff about eyes. I'll be prescribing glasses. Contact lenses don't work, because I don't understand how they can be made, so don't wear those. Got worms in your eyeball? Let me get a knife...

Sounds preposterous? Well, not when it concerns evolution, apparently. In Archives of Ophthalmology an ophthalmologist from Florida, William Smiddy, thinks he has the expertise to do to evolutionary theory pretty much what I did above to ophthalmology.

Here's an outline of his letter:
  1. Darwin quote-mining.
  2. Probabilities, neglecting selection, assuming the eye is an accident.
  3. "Consider that the eye..." is really complex.
  4. "And where did X come from?" (Here, X = the chiasm.)
  5. Haeckel's drawings.
  6. An analysis of rhodopsin molecule’s homology
  7. The fruit fly is still a fruit fly.
  8. More Darwin quote-mining.
I'm not sure what he means by an analysis of rhodopsin homology; space didn't permit him to discuss points 5-7. But apart from that it's all very familiar creationist diatribe. It's nonsense.

From the first paragraph:
It is appropriate to commemorate the Darwin anniversary; his life’s work merits recognition regardless of one’s ideology, and an ophthalmology theme makes for interesting copy. However, lost in the platitudes is the fact that evolution is still but a theory, not an experimentally verifiable fact. There is no more than B:III evidence for the theory of evolution (ie, there have been no clinical trials, randomized or not, confirming the theory; rather, respected authorities have concluded its parts and, at best, there are case-control series that have been extrapolated to its conclusion) despite pervasive, frequent, and dogmatic proclamations to the contrary.
I didn't know what B:III evidence means, but I found out it is standard used in the medical literature for evaluating evidence:

Strength of Recommendation Taxonomy (SORT): A Patient-Centered Approach to Grading Evidence in the Medical Literature in American Family Physician
  • A-level recommendation is based on consistent and good-quality patient-oriented evidence
  • B-level recommendation is based on inconsistent or limited-quality patient-oriented evidence
  • C-level recommendation is based on consensus, usual practice, opinion, disease-oriented evidence, or case series for studies of diagnosis, treatment, prevention, or screening
Level 3 (lacking direct) Evidence - representing reports that are not based on scientific analysis of patient-oriented outcomes. Examples include case series, case reports, expert opinion, and conclusions extrapolated indirectly from scientific studies.

Here's your evidence:

E. coli and green algae, Croatian lizards, transitional fossils, HIV, biogeography, embryology, ...

That should make it level A:1, thank you very much. And there's lots more where that came from (i.e. evolutionary biologists, not ophthalmologists).

References:
William E. Smiddy (2009). Evolution: Theory, Not Fact ARCH OPHTHALMOL, 127 (11), 1552-1553

Ebell MH, Siwek J, Weiss BD, Woolf SH, Susman J, Ewigman B, & Bowman M (2004). Strength of recommendation taxonomy (SORT): a patient-centered approach to grading evidence in the medical literature. American family physician, 69 (3), 548-56 PMID: 14971837