Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Faster And Faster We All Go Round, And All Fall Down
June 20, 2011

I’ve long held that the scientific predictions regarding global warming leading to climate change run way behind the reality. An article at Common Dreams makes the same claim regarding what’s happening in the oceans as a result of human action.

It’s kind of pointless, of course, because the fools running the various countries, particularly the fools in Washington, D.C. running the United States, don’t listen to scientists who know what they’re talking about. They only listen to political donors and ignorant talking monkeys on the political right and in the corporate penthouses.

The oceans are dying, and where they go we go.

Enjoy your fish dinner. Tomorrow you die of hunger.

Ring around the rosy
A pocketful of posies
"Ashes, Ashes"
We all fall down!

That innocent-sounding rhyme was all about the Black Plague.

At least there were survivors to write commemorative rhymes.

Cockroaches and rats don’t write poetry.

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Men! Live 14 Years Longer. No Drugs, No Tricks. Simple Method.
October 27, 2010

The November issue of Scientific American includes a short article titled ‘Why Women Live Longer’ by a Thomas Kirkwood, an experimental gerontologist. (One might hope that doesn’t mean he experiments on old people…)

He runs through various ideas and reasons why women live longer, and then suggests how men might live an average of fourteen years longer.

His concluding paragraph:

The historical record is not good enough to determine if eunuchs tend to outlive normal healthy men, but some sad records suggest that they do. A number of years ago castration of men in institutions for the mentally disturbed was surprisingly commonplace. In one study of several hundred men at an unnamed institution in Kansas, the castrated men were found to live on average 14 years longer than their uncastrated fellows. Nevertheless, I doubt that many men – myself included – would choose such a drastic remedy to buy a few extra years.

I dunno. Fourteen years extra life for the price of forgoing the aggravation of relationships with the opposite sex (or probably in some cases the same sex)? And apparently eunuchs can still have sex, erections and all, so where’s the big loss?

How long will it be before some enterprising group of surgeons opens up a longevity clinic for men? Some scalpels, some iodine, some bandages, some antibiotics…  sounds like a win-win.

See ya at the clinic, dudes!

(or ex-dudes, as the case may be…)

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Why Humans Won’t Get Global Warming Right
August 1, 2010

Most intelligent people who can read understand the story of global warming and that it is caused by human actions, viz., we burn lots of carbon fuel which creates lots of carbon dioxide which traps the sun’s heat energy in the biosphere, raising the temperature of air and sea and land and creating the conditions to raise the temperature further faster.

In sum, humans are committing suicide and intend to take most life on the planet with them.

Solutions proposed include cutting the use of fossil fuels and increasing the use of non-polluting energy sources. Naturally we haven’t cut the use of fossil fuels, and are, in fact, using more of them, and the nonpolluting energy sources so far contribute to the problem at the very least in their manufacture.

Most of the humans in positions of power are too stupid, too willfully ignorant, or too politically or economically compromised to actually want to do anything about the problem.

And the problem is not quite so simple as stopping gas emissions.

At the same time as we are pouring out carbon dioxide, we are destroying the oceans through outflows of toxic material and by acidifying the oceans with carbon dioxide. Much life in the ocean cannot adapt to acidification, not as quickly as we are doing it, and will die. The ocean dies, we die.

The people who deny the existence or harm of global warming say cheery things like, “But a warmer planet means more arable land, thus we can feed more people.”

Well, no. Mass food crops don’t do well in warmer temperatures. Whatever land might open up likely won’t replace the land lost to flooding and to desertification. And in point of fact we cannot feed all the people who are alive now. A goodly number of them are starving to death right now, and a larger number go to bed hungry every night. Less arable land, weaker crops, more people: sure, that’s a good solution.

The point is that there are a host of things about global warming that are being discovered, and there aren’t any truly good things coming to light. There are lots of little things the scientists are discovering that suggest that as a species dealing with global warming, humans can’t find their ass with both hands.

For example, from Science Daily:

Plants give off water through tiny pores in their leaves, a process called evapotranspiration that cools the plant, just as perspiration cools our bodies. On a hot day, a tree can release tens of gallons of water into the air, acting as a natural air conditioner for its surroundings. The plants absorb carbon dioxide for photosynthesis through the same pores (called stomata). But when carbon dioxide levels are high, the leaf pores shrink. This causes less water to be released, diminishing the tree’s cooling power.

The warming effects of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas have been known for a long time, says Caldeira. But he and fellow Carnegie scientist Long Cao were concerned that it is not as widely recognized that carbon dioxide also warms our planet by its direct effects on plants. Previous work by Carnegie’s Chris Field and Joe Berry had indicated that the effects were important. "There is no longer any doubt that carbon dioxide decreases evaporative cooling by plants and that this decreased cooling adds to global warming," says Cao. "This effect would cause significant warming even if carbon dioxide were not a greenhouse gas."

Multiply that by a multiplicity of other things we don’t know, or we might suspect but don’t know, or that are just coming into the light, and multiply it again by the refusal of the political establishments around the world to accept the science and act with the strength required, and multiply once more by the corporate interests invested in fossil fuels and continuing corporate attacks against cutting oil and gas and coal out of the human equation, and the future looks grim for life on earth in the current round.

What humans have set in motion is not a mere passing effect, not something that we can make go away with half-measures and half-hearted international meetings. The things in motion cannot be compromised with, cannot be bargained with, cannot be brought to a table in Washington or London or Paris for discussions.

The forces of the laws of physics have been set loose on a planetary scale. It is as if the moon were rolling down on us from the sky. Nothing could stop it.

By the time humans realize that they must act, they will be in a position where they must act drastically, and if they are in that position it will be too late. We currently pour some forty billion tons of carbon dioxide into the biosphere every year, worldwide, and the temperature keeps rising, and rising faster, and the forests die and the oceans die. We are doing virtually nothing to stop what we are doing and to change course to save our lives, to save the biosphere that makes our lives possible, other than blither at each other about it, and all blithering does is put more gas into the air.

If we screw this up, there is no place else to go. If we screw this up, no one will be left to care, and no one in the entire universe will give a damn that we are gone. Life itself won’t care. Earth won’t care. We’re alone in this and only we can fix it. We save ourselves or we and most life here dies. Sooner rather than later.

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The tiny dot in the upper right quadrant is the earth seen through the outer rings of Saturn. The image in the upper left is a magnified image of the dot. The moon is the little bulge to the upper left of the Earth’s sphere.

That’s all we’ve got. That dot. That bit of nothing.

That’s home. That’s our shack.

Love it. Or die.

We’re dying.

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Why Global Warming Matters…
December 18, 2009

 

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From a NASA collection of photos of Earth from space.

The rings are Saturn’s.  The photo was shot by the Cassini spacecraft in 2006, and shows Earth as seen from Saturn.

Earth is the small white dot in the upper right quadrant of the picture. In the detail photo at the upper left the moon is a hazy bulge at the upper left of Earth.

We are small, we are insignificant in the scheme of the universe, nothing out there gives a damn, and we have no place to go.

 

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IDists Pushing IDism Through Thomas Jefferson, But It’s Still Not Intelligent Or Design
July 15, 2009

The Opinion page in today’s Globe carries a piece by a Stephen C. Meyer, identified as the Director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Among other things he is pimping his new book.

The Discovery Institute, for those of you who have no clue, is the place where fake scientists concoct phony science to push religious creationism. Meyer’s piece is full of delicious ludicrousisms (hey, if they can make up science, The Lion can make up words).

The piece is headlined ‘Jefferson’s support for intelligent design’.

Among other things, Meyer ignores that Thomas Jefferson, astute politician and revolutionary leader he may have been, lived long before Darwin and well before the discoveries of modern science. To consider him an informed and authoritative source on science and evolution suggests that Meyer and his cronies are at the worst desperate, and at the best, desperate.

In his opening paragraph Mr. Meyer calls down the spirit of Jefferson to invest his opinion with authority and immediately dives deep into the waters of the ridiculous.

Many argue that the controversial alternative to Darwinian evolution, intelligent design, is an exclusively religious idea and therefore cannot be discussed under the Constitution.

IDism is in no legitimate way an alternative to Darwin’s science, which includes the scientific investigations of thousands of legitimate scientists in a wide variety of sciences. The legal case, Kitzmiller v. Dover in 2005, convincingly settled that idea.

But consider the other bit of fakery and falsehood in that statement: IDism cannot be discussed under the Constitution. That is ridiculous on its face. Anyone can nail the Constitution to the ceiling and discuss whatever they want under it. Anyone can talk about IDism whenever they want. What Meyer is not saying is what he really means, and that is that IDism cannot be presented in science classes as legitimate science. It is not science. It has no place in a science curriculum. It is not an alternative to the science of evolution. It is nothing more than a paean to supernaturalism, to ignorance, to blind ideology, to religious authoritarianism.

And to suggest that ID is not exclusively religious simply beggars belief. These people have done no science, but they present as their conclusion that the universe and all life was designed by some being of vast power, a being for whom they offer no evidence other than a supposition based on their non-science. We can be pretty certain that the being in question was not Yogi Berra, who in his worst moments made more sense than the IDists, and certainly the being was not any human who ever trod the planet. So what we have left is some alien of incomprehensible power, which, if true, would remove the taint of religion from IDism, but which is assuredly not what the IDers have in mind.

They have in mind a god, a capital G god, indubitably Christian of course, as in ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’. Sounds suspiciously religious to The Lion. Since their entire thesis rests on this being and since they have no science to support their theories, the IDers are promoting an exclusively religious idea. Religion is the whole reason IDism exists.

But The Lion digresses, of course. Getting back to the abused Thomas Jefferson, we have this from Mr. Meyer.

In 1823, when materialist evolutionary ideas had long been circulating, Jefferson wrote to John Adams and insisted that the scientific evidence of design in nature was clear: “I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe, in its parts general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to perceive and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of its composition.’’ It was on empirical grounds, not religious ones, that he took this view.

Contemplating everything from the heavenly bodies down to the creaturely bodies of men and animals, he argued: “It is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion.’’

Empirical?

Let’s see, here’s a couple of accepted definitions of empirical:

‘Derived from experiment and observation rather than theory’ and an archaic one, but apt, ‘Relying on medical quackery’.

What Meyer has done is take as fact  an opinion of Jefferson’s, an opinion not derived from scientific investigation, not derived from experiment, but based merely on his assumptions and opinions about what he could see. And he could obviously not see much. He was not doing science. Belief is not science.

He says it himself when he says it is impossible for the human mind not to believe in a fabricator of all things. He was wrong, of course. There are hundreds of millions of human minds who do not believe such a thing today, and assuredly there were quite a few then.

Belief is not science. The Lion suspects that if Mr. Jefferson had access to the real science done since Darwin he would repudiate his view that a fabricator existed, and likely adopt the view that the fabricators are those who spew their foolishness from the Discovery Institute. Jefferson was not stupid: he simply lacked accurate knowledge. The IDists cannot make that claim. The knowledge and facts are there in front of them, easily accessible, but they choose to deny them and to pursue their fantasy of the supernatural.

Mr. Meyer, though, pursues his beliefs into the modern day, into the researches of Watson and Crick into DNA, which he claims vindicate Jefferson’s view. He calls DNA a ‘four-character digital code’ and drags in Bill Gates of Microsoft, who said, ‘DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.’

Then Meyer embellishes:

DNA functions like a software program. We know that software comes from programmers. Information – whether inscribed in hieroglyphics, written in a book, or encoded in a radio signal – always arises from an intelligent source. So the discovery of digital code in DNA provides a strong scientific reason for concluding that the information in DNA also had an intelligent source.

His argument states, in sum, that because computer software is written by programmers, and DNA is like software, therefore god created life.

Let’s look at that. God, as postulated by the believers, doesn’t make junk, so we might assume that his software would be tight, clean, precise, and contain nothing extraneous, the way top-quality software is supposed to be written.

DNA ain’t like that. It’s messy. It’s got sequences that bring on disease, malformations, death. It’s got sequences that have no use at all, no purpose, though some may at one time have had a reason to exist (a sneaky way of saying DNA has evolved).

And that’s not a digital code in DNA. It’s chemical. It’s subject to variances and mutations and changes that digital codes don’t undergo. Imagine if the binary math that underlies modern technology changed and varied itself on some random basis. It wouldn’t be digital anymore, would it? It would be something else, something with states other than one and zero, on and off. It would have evolved into something unpredictable and unreliable. Hardly the stuff of intelligent, purposeful design. Rather it would be a thing out of control. It would be something that could evolve, or devolve, if you will.

To finish off his descent into the lakes of the ludicrous, Mr. Meyer says:

Design is an inference from biological data, not a deduction from religious authority.

Apparently he wishes his readers to assume that because an inference is made, it must be true. The Lion can infer from certain biological data, to wit, the girl next door smiled at him, that The Lion is going to get her into bed. The Lion would be wrong, as scientific experiment would soon show.

Further, to claim that IDism is not a matter of religion is simply laughable. The whole point of IDism is to prove that god exists and created the universe and all things in it. Mr. Meyer and his ilk simply want to make IDism the religious authority, and, no doubt, themselves the high priests, making their living peddling their indulgences and books to the ignorant and the willingly misinformed.

They are, indeed, engaged in empirical quackery.

Jeff Jacoby: Shallow Again
June 18, 2008

Jeff Jacoby is a fellow who writes a column that the Boston Globe deigns to publish on its Opinion page for some reason. He’s usually wrong or he’s propagandizing for the right wing of American politics.

Take today’s column, titled ‘The coming population bust’. His typical tunnel vision leads him to open with the following:

THOMAS MALTHUS has been dead for 170 years, but the Malthusian fallacy – the dread conviction that the growth of human population leads to hunger, shortages, and a ravaged environment – is unfortunately alive and well:

He then lists the opinions of several people who believe that overpopulation is a serious problem. And one person from the New America Foundation who believes we need more people.

Jacoby’s assumption is that the problems the world faces today are due not to overpopulation, but to a falling birthrate.

The fact that in much of the world there exists massive hunger and that the environment is ravaged to the point where it faces collapse seems to have escaped him. The fact that critical resources, water, for example, and raw materials are diminishing, that the oceans are literally being fished out, also escapes him.

Jacoby notes that in the last two hundred years world population has increased seven times, and then says, “And yet human beings today are on the whole healthier, wealthier, longer-lived, better-fed, and better-educated than ever before.”

Kind of depends on where you look, doesn’t it, Jacoby? And apparently you don’t look much beyond the wealthier classes anywhere, conveniently missing the billions who live in poverty and worse than poverty. Apparently Jacoby missed the memo about the people in Haiti eating dirt pies because there’s no food. The Lion doubts the Haitians would be allowed to be part of Jacoby’s social circle.

Jacoby’s paean to the unrestrained growth of human population fails to note that the only reason such growth has been possible can be found in the use of fossil fuels. Not for him to note that those are running out and are the root cause of the devastation the environment is undergoing. Nope. Jacoby just wants to keep on adding mouths to the problem.

Jacoby’s real concern doesn’t seem to be with the folk dwelling in poverty out of his sight. No. Jacoby’s sympathies lie with the corporations who might suffer a fall in profits.

True, fewer human beings would mean fewer mouths to feed. It would also mean fewer entrepreneurs, fewer pioneers, fewer problem-solvers. Which is why it is not an increase but the coming decrease in human population that should engender foreboding. For as Phillip Longman, a scholar of demographics and economics at the New America Foundation, observes: “Never in history have we had economic prosperity accompanied by depopulation.”

Economic prosperity! The Holy Grail of the Jacobys of the world. Of course he’s not concerned about overpopulation. Overpopulation means the human race will breed more consumers, and we know that corporations depend on an unending and increasing flow of consumers to keep themselves profitable. So for Jacoby overpopulation is a good thing. Profits at any cost!

Jacoby seems to believe that more mouths sucking up resources is a good thing because we would automatically get more entrepreneurs, pioneers (whatever the hell he means by that), and problem solvers. That’s the old monkey argument, you know, give a million billion monkeys typewriters and you might get a monkey Shakespeare.

How about fewer people, wiser use of resources, and better education to produce more problem solvers? Jacoby claims that ‘no resource is more valuable than the human mind’. Tell that to a Ph.D. in India who will soon be dying of thirst because so many people for so long have done so much damage to the Earth. A brain is just a mass of neurons, and if it doesn’t get enough food and enough water and a good, strong education, it’s just a mass of useless, dying neurons.

Jacoby closes his column, the first of two, saying ‘The coming demographic winter will chill us all’.

No, Jacoby, the chilling thing is that your mass of neurons can be so wrong so often and yet draw a paycheck for babbling in print.

Teilhard de Chardin Gets A Beast And A Flower; Man Gets Another Ancestor
March 4, 2008

Below the fold on the front page of the Globe today, Colin Nickerson tells of the finding of a 56 million year old creature in what is now Mississippi.

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It’s a ‘sap-slurping, tree-dwelling creature’, according to K. Christopher Beard, a paleontologist who wrote the paper on the discovery. Beard believes the creature made its way here from Asia over various land bridges, and ultimately continued on to Europe.

Beard named it Teilhardina magnoliana.

It’s the size of your thumb and it’s extinct. But it’s back there in the primate gene pool.  It was our great-granddaddy, in a manner of speaking. Apparently it had more brainpower than George Bush (okay, The Lion made that up… but it’s a reasonable assumption). image

It’s a fascinating little story. And pokes another little stick in the eye of creationists and similar fools, so it did not die in vain.

 

What Makes The Lion Weep?
January 30, 2008

Jacob Bronowski,  in The Ascent of Man, at the pond in Auschwitz prison camp, squeezing the mud between his fingers…

“It is said that science will dehumanise people and turn them into numbers. That is false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.

“Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known, we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error, and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: ‘I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken’.

“I owe it as a scientist to my friend Leo Szilard, I owe it as a human being to the many members of my family who died at Auschwitz, to stand here by the pond as a survivor and a witness. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.”

In-Depth Commentary On The State Of The Union Address By President George W. Bush
January 29, 2008

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Deep enough for ya?

 

Intelligent Design Taken Down By The Funny Papers
November 25, 2007

Excellent comic strip over at An Apostate’s Chapel on creationism and ID. Take a look.