Evolutionists add layer upon layer of circuitous explanation to fit nature into their theory. It sounds scientific because the explanation is purely mechanistic. There are no religious claims, for example, in the technical research journals, but journal articles do not attempt to prove the theory. They attempt to explain how evolution must have occurred, assuming that it did occur.
When a beam of light hits your eye, a chain of events is set off that is really quite amazing. Kendall J. Blumer (Washington University School of Medicine) describes a little of it in the Jan. 1 issue of Nature.1 You dont have to understand the following description; just be glad you dont have to operate your retina in manual mode:
Light streaming into the eye is detected by specialized neurons (photoreceptors) in the retina. In response to light, a coordinated series of molecular events — the so-called phototransduction cascade — is triggered in these cells (Fig. 1). Photons excite pigment-containing proteins called rhodopsins, which then switch on the protein transducin by loading it with the small molecule guanosine triphosphate (GTP). When bound to GTP, transducin turns on a phosphodiesterase, an enzyme that breaks down cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP — another small molecule). High concentrations of cGMP open specialized ion channels in the outer cell membrane. Thus, by reducing the concentration of cGMP, light changes the flow of ions across the membrane of photoreceptive neurons, producing an electrical signal that is necessary for communicating with the brain. (Emphasis added in quotes.)Now thats just to turn the signal on. When the light stops, it needs to be turned off quickly. Normally, it would take too long for this process to reverse, but the retina has a standard procedure that takes care of it:
But this presents a problem. Photoreceptor cells can turn off in less than a second in response to a brief flash of light. In contrast, the hydrolysis of GTP by transducin requires tens of seconds to complete, making it difficult to understand how such a mechanism could account for the rapid turn-off of photoreceptor cells. To get around this problem, photoreceptor cells possess a protein called regulator of G-protein signalling 9 (RGS9) that accelerates transducins ability to hydrolyse GTP.Blumer describes what happens when a person has a defect in this accelerator protein. It can take tens of seconds to adjust to a bright room when walking out of a theater. It can take tens of seconds to see when driving into a dark tunnel. And perhaps the worst of all (for Rose Bowl fans): Moreover, people with this problem also suffer from difficulties in seeing certain moving objects (such as balls thrown during a sporting event).
Having one such accelerator protein would be amazing enough, but now the rest of the story: RGS9 is one of nearly 30 such RGS proteins, which regulate signalling by hundreds of receptors coupled to transducin-like G proteins in cell networks of the nervous, cardiovascular, sensory and immune systems.
Kendall J. Blumer, Vision: the need for speed, Nature 427, 20 - 21 (01 January 2004); doi:10.1038/427020a.
We need to know things like this to avoid taking our bodies for granted. This one deserves a little pondering. Do some simple experiments; see how quickly your eye adjusts to different light levels, and think about all those little protein machines knowing just what to do on cue.In the Beginning Was the Bit 12/30/2003
Is intelligent design theory making an inroad into secular science? One might think so, based on a book review published in the Jan. 1 issue of Nature,1 entitled, The bits that make up the Universe. Michael A. Nielsen reviews a new book by Hans Christian van Baeyer, Information: The New Language of Science (Weidenfeld & Nicolson: 2003). Nielsen begins,
What is the Universe made of? A growing number of scientists suspect that information plays a fundamental role in answering this question. Some even go as far as to suggest that information-based concepts may eventually fuse with or replace traditional notions such as particles, fields and forces. The Universe may literally be made of information, they say, an idea neatly encapsulated in physicist John Wheelers slogan: It from bit. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Nielsen indicates that scientists are asking some mighty big questions:
The books most appealing feature is its focus on big questions. What is information? What role does information play in fundamental physics? Where else in science does information play a critical role? And what common themes link these areas? Von Baeyer approaches these questions from many angles, giving us a flavour of some of the most interesting answers currently being offered.Nielsen indicates that the new thinking goes beyond the information theory of Claude Shannon, who defined information only in its ability to be transmitted faithfully without regard to content. Nielsen has mostly good comments about von Baeyers book, calling it an accessible and engaging overview of the emerging role of information as a fundamental building block in science.
1Michael A. Nielsen, The bits that make up the Universe, Jan. 1 issue of Nature 427, 16 - 17 (01 January 2004); doi:10.1038/427016b.
Well, this is really interesting. The importance of such a paradigm shift after 145 years of Darwinian naturalism cannot be overemphasized. If more and more scientists are willing to ask these basic questions, and consider the role of information as a fundamental entity in the Universe, then it would appear intelligent design (ID) theory is poised to make great strides in 2004. (After all, the centrality of information is one of the key points made by ID leaders, as expressed in the film Unlocking the Mystery of Life).Must Life Drink Water? 12/30/2003
Star Trek used to portray aliens made up of different stuff than the carbon and water chemistry which comprises Earth-based life. For years, most scientists who considered the possibility of life in space, including Carl Sagan and Stanley Miller, admitted, somewhat reluctantly, that the periodic table of the elements admits no practical alternatives to water as the solvent of life. This question has been reopened at a December conference of physicists, chemists, biochemists and microbiologists sponsored by the Royal Society, reports Philip Ball in the Jan. 1 issue of Nature.1 Life needs more than just a liquid, any liquid. Philip Ball reminds the casual observer that though life needs a liquid, liquidity is not enough:
But there is much more to water than that. It has long been recognized as a profoundly anomalous liquid, with properties that set it apart from all others. High heat capacity, expansion on freezing, maximum density at 4 °C, high dielectric constant — all of these so-called anomalies, and others, seem critical to its biological role. They are in fact relatively easy to rationalize on the grounds of waters hydrogen-bonded structure, which joins the H2O molecules into a fluctuating, three-dimensional network (J. Finney, University College London). Unlike simple liquids, waters molecular structure is dominated not by the hard core repulsions between molecules but by the directional, attractive interactions of hydrogen bonds. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)While not admitting to the viability of any other possibilities, he keeps the door open a tad:
There seems to be no simple molecule that can mimic all of the useful biological functions of water. One school of thought asserts that it is therefore futile to look for replacements for any one, or even simultaneously for several, of its virtues: the biological importance of water lies in their synchronous operation in a single molecular system. But what we really need is a way of asking which, if any, of those functions is generic to life. Is there, for example, a temperature limit that rules out other tetrahedral liquids such as silica, because of the complications introduced by molecular excited states at high temperatures? At low temperatures, would slower diffusion rates prevent effective exploitation of thermodynamic equilibria? In other words, is there a habitable zone not just in physical space but in chemical and thermodynamic space too?
1Philip Ball, Astrobiology: Water, water, everywhere? Nature 427, 19 - 20 (01 January 2004); doi:10.1038/427019a.
Asking a question is fine, but calls to mind Ahabs proverb, Let not the one who puts on his armor boast like the one who takes it off (I Kings 20:11). The last warriors who fought this question gave up, singing, All day I faced the barren waste without replacing water, cool water. To astrobiologists looking in the cosmic deserts for a different elixir, we say: Keep a-movin' Dan, dont you listen to him Dan, hes the devil not a man, and he spreads the burning sand with ammonia.Editorial 12/27/2003
A reader tipped us to what Hugh Hewitt found: a hard-hitting lecture by best-selling author Michael Crichton (click here for entire speech). Though delivered last January 17 at Caltech, it is too good to miss. Do scientists get carried away with pseudoscience? Do the words science and consensus belong together? Is public policy made on faulty scientific claims? Does SETI have any scientific validity, or is it a quasi-scientific religion? Are computer models scientific? Does todays science fit the postmodernist definition of a special interest group seeking raw power? Is Big Science the new Mother Church? What are the limits of science, and what constitutes a true skeptic? These and other questions are given polemical answers by an unlikely preacher to an audience of top scientists.
Mainstream scientists get a flogging while creationists get off surprisingly well in this lecture, whimsically titled, Aliens Cause Global Warming. Crichton is merciless against Carl Sagan and Paul Ehrlich, but honoring to the likes of Semmelweis and Pasteur and others who fought the scientific consensus of their day. Heres a blast of Crichtons thunder:Line Between Neanderthals and Modern Humans Blurs 12/23/2003I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because youre being had.To Crichtons examples of policy-driven pseudoscience (SETI, global warming, nuclear winter) we could add Darwinism; the similarities are striking. The monolith of consensus surrounding Darwinian evolution intimidates all but the boldest heretics able to take the heat.
There seems to have been an intergradation between big-boned Neanderthals and modern humans, according to the BBC News. Newly identified remains from Vindija in Croatia, which date to between 42,000 and 28,000 years ago, are more delicate than classic Neanderthals, writes Paul Rincon. Not only that, stone tools found nearby look like those of modern humans. Some scientists are wondering whether the two varieties of humans were interbreeding in the area. See also September 23, May 29 and March 27 headlines about Neanderthals.
Theres a lot of variability in the human gene pool, and isolated groups are likely to have accentuated features. Nothing about Neanderthals looks boorish or primitive any more, so its time to get off this false concept that has twisted anthropology since the 19th century. We have modern humans more primitive than Neanderthals today, slamming each other in the WWF (dont dare call these guys delicate) and ante-Neanderthal music is all the rage in health clubs. Would that we all had Neanderthal bones and skulls, so we could get more work done.Life Runs on Waterwheels 12/22/2003
The cells of every living thing are filled with molecular machines, and one of the most fascinating is a rotary motor called ATP synthase (see April 2002 back issue, opening paragraph). This is a true mechanical/electrical motor, found in every living thing from bacteria to elephants and palm trees. It is really two motors in one; the top part, named F1, is where synthesis of ATP takes place (as described in previous entries on this subject; see Sept. 18 headline, for instance). The bottom machine, named F0, is like a carousel of 10 to 14 proteins labeled c subunits. This is the driving engine of this splendid molecular machine that spins at up to 6000 rpm. Somehow, it converts a proton flow into rotation.
Ever since the rotary nature of this all-important enzyme was established around 1996, scientists have been eager to explain its operation in detail. According to four Swiss biochemists writing in a Minireview of the December issue of Structure,1 Energy conversions are central to all life forms, and this particular motor generates the universal energy currency of living cells (ATP). For these reasons, The central metabolic role of ATP has stimulated much interest in how it is formed using the energy of oxidations or light. Research in this area has led to impressive progress, including some of the most spectacular discoveries in the history of biochemistry (emphasis added in all quotes). Scientists have made great strides in explaining the F1 part of the machine (see Sept. 18 headline, for instance), but till recently, have been baffled at how the F0 motor generates torque. Now, these scientists present a model that suggests it spins by a water-induced electric potential a waterwheel, on a 10-nanometer scale..
Their model, illustrated with cartoon drawings in the article, is fascinating, but too involved to describe in detail here. In short, they believe that water channels of different heights in the mitochondrial membrane create an electrical potential difference in the membrane that flows downhill across the stator (labeled with the letter a), a tall housing on the side of the carousel that contains tubes which open and close to prevent proton leakage. The stator looks something like the apparatus in a gumball machine. Think of protons as gumballs, channeled through slots that open up and allow them to roll in or out. Now, add a carousel to your machine that the gumballs have to ride around before dropping into the outlet slot. Then, imagine an electrical charge on the gumballs. As the gumball (proton) drops into its seat, it rides the carousel until it approaches the stator. There, it is repelled by a positively charged entity called Arg227 inside the stator housing, and it falls out. The empty seat, now negatively charged, is attracted by the potential difference between the water-filled inlet and outlet channels in the membrane. The empty seat is thus pushed through the stator, generating torque. Here, a gumball from another channel hops into the empty seat and takes its turn around the carousel. To summarize, water makes the wheel turn, converting electrical energy into mechanical energy, then into chemical energy in the form of ATP.
The machinery is reversible. When the electrical potential reverses, the motor runs the other direction, and instead of the machine generating ATP, it consumes ATP and spits out protons. When no potential is present, the motor rocks back and forth in idling mode within certain angular limits, allowing protons to migrate into the gumball machine or out of it as the appropriate channels open or close. This can equalize the proton gradient inside and outside the membrane in a controlled manner. The machine would stay in idling mode if it werent for the electrical potential. The authors believe that the membrane potential is the crucial driving force to induce the torque required for ATP synthesis. Once the F0 carousel gets spinning in high gear, the attached camshaft forces precise conformational changes in the F1 subunits up above, generating three ATP per revolution. The capacity of this process is impressive, the authors write; the daily turnover of a human has been estimated to be 40 kg [about 88 lb] of ATP on average. Several quadrillions of these motors in your body keep your power plant running (see Feb. 5 headline), making you shine at 116 watts.
Other scientists had tried to envision models invoking mechanical energy, thinking that the protein gradient in a c subunit induces a conformational change that turns the wheel. This electrical model, however, seems to not only account for the efficient generation of torque, idling, and reversibility, but also explain why some models of the motor have 14 c subunits (the seats on the carousel) and others have 10 or 11. The number of c subunits is apparently related to the membrane potential. A chloroplast ATP-synthase motor, with 14 subunits, runs at peak efficiency with half the potential (60 mV) required to turn a bacterial motor with 10 or 11 c subunits (120 mV). To investigate whether this is a general principle and to address the interesting question how the two motors, which operate with a different number of steps, are synchronized, sophisticated biochemical investigations of the enzymes performance are required, they conclude. Speaking of the performance of these machines, scientists have already determined that these motors approach 100% efficiency. Impossible at our scale, these tiny motors cheat thermodynamics by using random Brownian motion like a ratchet. Some models of the carousel run on alternate fuel: sodium ions instead of protons (hydrogen ions).
A paper in PNAS2 last week discovered something interesting about a similar rotary machine, V0V1-ATP synthase or V-ATPase for short (see Feb. 24 headline). Unlike the F-ATPase model, the two parts of V0V1 can detach and re-attach reversibly. Iwata et al. studied a subunit that apparently clamps onto the two parts like a socket to hold them together, thereby keeping the central shaft locked into its correct position. Maybe this model could be viewed as the travelling carnival carousel that can be dismantled and installed on the road. Apparently V-ATPase motors are needed to maintain acid balance in many parts of the cell. The scientists describe where they are found: They reside within intracellular compartments, including endosomes, lysosomes, and secretory vesicles, and within plasma membranes of certain cells including renal intercalated cells, osteoclasts, and macrophages. Eukaryotic V-ATPases are responsible for various cell functions including the acidification of intracellular compartments, renal acidification, born [sic; bone?] resorption, and tumor metastasis.3 V-ATPase has a different-looking camshaft and stator; like F-ATPase, it is found in archaea, bacteria and higher organisms. It does all the ATP synthesis for the kind of bacteria that live in hot springs.
1Peter Dimroth, Christoph von Ballmoos, Thomas Meier, and Georg Kaim, Minireview: Electrical Power Fuels Rotary ATP Synthase, Structure Vol 11, 1469-1473, December 2003.
2Iwata et al., Crystal structure of a central stalk subunit C and reversible association/dissociation of vacuole-type ATPase, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0305165101, published online Dec. 18, 2003.
3Presumably, due to a failure in the system; the authors do not elaborate. See this article that suggests increased V-ATPase activity in a tumor is a response aimed at provoking cell death, or apoptosis.
A popular book for young people and adults is called The Way Things Work by David Macaulay. He describes the inner workings of car engines, computers, the space shuttle, and many kinds of artificial machines. We need a book like this about cells. Now that we know a cell is composed of thousands of machines, wouldnt it be cool to see them visualized in a popular way? The definitive textbook The Molecular Biology of the Cell is heavy, expensive ($120) and difficult to read, but creationist reviewers who understand it have remarked that it is filled with powerful evidence for design. We need to get this information before the eyes of the public. ATP synthase just screams for some high-tech, 3D fly-through computer animation. This one molecular machine, so small you would have to shrink yourself down a billionfold to even see it, could demolish Darwinism* all by itself. But then to think that the cell is filled with ten thousands of similar wonders (see yesterdays headline, for instance, and another article in the same issue of Structure that argues a certain chaperone machine should be regarded as a molecular motor, actively employing force to fold a protein), and well! Does the word overkill mean anything when raised to the fourth power?How Darwinism Produces Job Security 12/22/2003
One thing Darwinism has going for it: it provides endless opportunities to research stories that are nearly impossible to prove.
A case in point was provided in the Dec. 18 issue of Nature.1 John R. Hutchinson (Royal Veterinary College, UK), in a News and Views article on bird evolution, reviewed the new angle that flight might have first begun when theropod dinosaurs stretched out their forelimbs to act as stabilizers or spoilers while running up slopes (see 01/16/2003 headline). Before Montana vertebrate morphologist Ken Dial came up with this hypothesis, two competing ideas for the origin of flight produced a rather stale dichotomy according to Hutchinson: the ground-up (cursorial) hypothesis, that running dinosaurs leaped into the air, and the tree-down (arboreal) hypothesis, that tree-dwelling dinosaurs leaped out of trees (see 01/29/2003 headline).
Hutchinson does not pretend that the problem has been solved by any means; at most, this work may illuminate the origin of flight in birds. But by providing a possible use for a non-flying limb, which might improve over time, it removes an implausible point of the plot: This is a compelling solution for the evolutionary conundrum, What use is half a wing? Most of the story of the transition from birds to dinosaurs, however, remains difficult, including the evolution of feathers (see 10/30/2003 and 08/21/2001 headlines) and the need for the simultaneous evolution of many other specialized structures such as the avian lung (see 10/31/2003 headline). But to Hutchinson, this is not a failure of the story, but a bonus: There are plenty of issues yet to be explored, of course, which is a good thing for many researchers, including Bundle and Dial, who admit as much (emphasis added in all quotes). In other words, the new hypothesis, that flight began to evolve when forelimbs were used as spoilers (wing-assisted incline running, or WAIR), opens up a new job market. Many new experimental tests can now be attempted by researchers. Hutchinson provides some examples:
It appears, therefore, that the new hypothesis is no spoiler itself; it is a door of opportunity, a fresh wind taking the story of bird evolution out of the doldrums:
Without such broader knowledge, it is uncertain how essential WAIR was for any extinct members of the theropod lineage, including the earliest birds. Regardless, this work will continue to stimulate research on flight and its evolution. The debate over whether flight originated in tree- or ground-living creatures is centuries old. The WAIR hypothesis has provided a biologically plausible alternative to that rather stale dichotomy.
1John R. Hutchinson, Biomechanics: Early birds surmount steep slopes, Nature 426, 777 - 778 (18 December 2003); doi:10.1038/426777a.
Caught in the act! This is an important principle to understand about Darwinism, and why it has become so successful, and why it has taken over the intellectual world. It no longer matters whether a hypothesis is true or not, but only whether it keeps lazy scientists employed as storytellers. Evolutionary science has been liberated from repeatability, testability and observability. The key word is now plausibility, which being translated, means science has become fiction. After all, any good novel or short story is plausible, isnt it? (Since there are no Laws of Plausibility, at least it will be plausible to somebody, especially the storyteller.)Elaborate Quality Control Governs the Cells Protein-Folding Factory 12/20/2003
If it werent for quality control in our cells, wed be dead. Thats the gist of an amazing Insight article in the Dec. 18 issue of Nature.1 Aberrant proteins are extremely harmful to cells, the authors begin. How harmful? Here is a short list of diseases that can result from improperly folded proteins or failures in the quality control systems that direct their formation: Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Alzheimers disease, and other degenerative diseases, scurvy, cystic fibrosis and more. In fact, serious defects in protein assembly are probably never seen, because they could prevent an organism from getting past the first cell division in the embryo. The only way a cell can live and grow is with the assistance of a host of traffic controllers, regulators, monitors, ushers, transporters, inspectors, security guards and emergency technicians maintaining the complex processes of protein assembly. Success must be ensured constantly, 24 x 7, that despite a flurry of activity, must maintain a state of dynamic equilibrium, called homeostasis.
Each cell in the body is like a city of interrelated factories made up of protein machines and structures operating under strict regulations, built on coded instructions. One of the most important factories is the protein folding system, which ensures that newly-sequenced proteins coming out of ribosomes are folded into their correct (native) shapes. Proteins are made up of amino acids, usually hundreds of them, that are first sequentially assembled in ribosomes, based on templates sent from the DNA code. Then, they are folded into specific, complex three-dimensional shapes that perform numerous and diverse functions in the cell (see 06/13/02 and 05/31/02 headlines.) Protein folding is assisted by enzymes whimsically called chaperones (see 05/05/03 headline) but is also checked and rechecked by numerous other quality control systems (see 09/09/02 headline).
In the current paper in Nature, the authors have unveiled more of the complexity in the quality controls governing protein folding. Some of the folding occurs in networked subway tunnels that run throughout the cell, called the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Before getting into the ER, some proteins already begin their folding with assistance from certain chaperones. The authors explain, In mammalian cells, proteins are translocated into the ER ... where they start to fold co-translationally [i.e., while they are en route into the ER]. Folding is completed post-translationally, and, generally, individual subunits have folded before assembly and oligomerization [the joining together of multiple chains] take place. Sequential interactions with distinct chaperones are required for each of these steps. (Emphasis added in all quotations.) The job is completed inside the ER, and the finished protein tool is then sent on its way to work. But that is just the tip of a huge iceberg made up of a multitude of processes hardware and software that work together to ensure success.
In the following examples from the article, entitled Quality control in the endoplasmic reticulum protein factory, dont worry about unfamiliar technical terms. Just try to keep track of how many different players are involved in the team of factory workers dedicated to one job: folding a single protein. And keep in mind that each team player is itself a protein, built with the same quality control. You can almost envision little factory workers, each skilled at their specific tasks, alert and knowing just what to do, but its all done with chemicals! Be patient in these extended quotes, because the awe is in the details.
1Robert Sitia and Ineke Braakman, Quality control in the endoplasmic reticulum protein factory, Nature 426, 891 - 894 (18 December 2003); doi:10.1038/nature02262.
If you endured the heavy reading in the above paragraphs, you were undoubtedly rewarded with a sense of how incomprehensibly amazing and mind-boggling a living cell is. Think of it: all this activity is going on right now in every cell in your body. The authors describe it in typical scientific jargon, but sprinkled here and there are hints of their own wonder and fascination at how all this quality control works. Who could help but to be awe-struck at the choreography and efficiency of so many coordinated parts? No human enterprise comes close.Tired of Old Gaia? Try This: New Gaia 12/18/2003
James Lovelock gets the stage without flying fruit (yet) in the December 18 issue of Nature.1 His 1970-ish living earth view of evolution, the Gaia hypothesis, in which life and the earth co-evolve together as one big living system, gets a new screening as what might be called neo-Gaia in an unrefuted Concepts piece in the worlds most prestigious science journal. But he hastens to emphasize, more than once, that Gaia is not in contention with the leading biological paradigm, and explains carefully what Gaia does not mean (emphasis added in all quotes):
Gaia theory does not contradict darwinism, rather it extends it to include evolutionary biology and evolutionary geology as a single science [sic]. In Gaia theory, organisms change their material environment as well as adapt to it. Selection favours the improvers, and the expansion of favourable traits extends local improvement and can make it global. Inevitably there will be extinctions and losers, winners may gain in the short term, but the only long-term beneficiary is life itself. Its persistence for over three billion years in spite of numerous catastrophes, internal or external, lends support to the theory. I have never intended the powerful metaphor the living Earth more seriously than the metaphor of the selfish gene. I have used it, along with my neologism geophysiology, to draw attention to the similarity between Gaian and physiological regulation.So if Dawkins can use an anthropomorphic catch-phrase and get away with it, why cant I, he seems to be saying. James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis appear to be still smarting from reputations, deserved or not, that they (or their disciples) were imputing divine attributes to mother Earth and empowering the New Age movement. Theyve learned their lesson, he claims, and modified Gaia according to valid criticisms. New Gaia has been shown to be fruitful and makes successful or useful predictions which he displays in a table, and seems to be making a favorable comeback in some circles.
In his conclusion, however, he cant seem to resist romanticizing, and politicizing, his pet theory, in picturesque prose, with Grandmother Nature gently nodding from her wheelchair in the background:
As the Earth ages, the Suns heat ineluctably intensifies; in approximately one billion years the Earth will pass the limit of climatic stability and irreversibly return to inorganic chemistry. Moreover, as it grows older the Earth system weakens, and before long a large planetesimal impact may throw our planet prematurely into its final hot, dry state. A few thermophiles in oasis ecosystems might survive, but we could never recapture the abundant life and lush environment we now enjoy. The Earth system is elderly and we should treat it with respect and care.
1James Lovelock, Gaia: the living Earth, Nature 426, 769 - 770 (18 December 2003); doi:10.1038/426769a.
Well, its going to be interesting to see the letters to the editor on this one. Advice: stay out of the line of fire. Maybe Nature has had it with Lovelock and Margulis incessant whining about how closed-minded establishment scientists are, and acquiesced, All right already, heres a forum, give us your best shot, expecting Lovelock to implode in full public view. It appears he did.Art Evolution Is Backwards 12/18/2003
Early art has again been shown to be the work of advanced intellect and culture (see Apr. 22 headline and embedded links). Carved animal figurines found in Germany1 estimated to be 30,000 to 33,000 years old, display a level of craftsmanship not expected among primitive humans. In the Dec. 18 issue of Nature2, Anthony Sinclair laments that this does not fit the Victorian notions of progressive evolution:
The study of early art has been plagued by our desire to see this essentially human skill in a progressive evolutionary context: simple artistic expressions should lead to later, more sophisticated creations. We imagine that the first artists worked with a small range of materials and techniques, and produced a limited range of representations of the world around them. As new materials and new techniques were developed, we should see this pattern of evolution in the archaeological record. Yet for many outlets of artistic expression — cave paintings, textiles, ceramics and musical instruments — the evidence increasingly refuses to fit. Instead of a gradual evolution of skills, the first modern humans in Europe were in fact astonishingly precocious artists. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)He describes how the cave paintings in Europe, before they were dated by radiometric means, were arranged into an evolutionary sequence from simple to complex. Then came the surprise that the superb multicolored animal paintings in Chauvet cave in France were dated to be the oldest (see 10/04/01 headline). Sinclair points out other examples of textiles, figurines and musical instruments that refuse to fall into evolutionary line. For instance, among some musical pipes found in France,
Microscopic examination suggests that they may have been reed-voiced instruments, like a modern oboe, and that the finger holes have been chamfered to increase the pneumatic efficiency of the finger seal: simple whistles they are not. Such evidence of complexity is used to argue that these cannot be the first musical pipes, even though they are the oldest in the archaeological record.So there seems to be a bias among researchers to force their discoveries into evolutionary presuppositions. Sinclair tries to salvage evolution by saying maybe we havent found the primitive precursors yet, but unambiguous finds prior to the dates of these exquisite artifacts can be counted on the fingers of one hand, he says. The argument in favour of fast-developing artistic skills in modern humans is strong, and certainly one that I find convincing. His statements reveal the chagrin of finding out observations do not match predictions, and he cautions researchers that they must face up to the facts:
The Victorian idea of progressive evolution has been a very persuasive metaphor for explaining change in the archaeological record, particularly over a time of biological change in the human species. Yet the archaeological evidence is now forcing us to come up with new timescales for cultural change and innovation. This is a challenge that makes the smallest finds of archaeology as important as the largest.
1Nicholas J. Conard, Palaeolithic ivory sculptures from southwestern Germany and the origins of figurative art, Nature 426, 830 - 832 (18 December 2003); doi:10.1038/nature02186.
2Anthony Sinclair, Archaeology: Art of the Ancients, Nature 426, 774 - 775 (18 December 2003); doi:10.1038/426774a.
While Sinclairs candor is laudable, it does not go far enough. The evolutionary metaphor is beyond salvage. The observations falsify evolution and instead support the creation paradigm, that man was endowed with intelligence and artistic skill from the beginning. In the Biblical timeline, for instance, metallurgy, farming, ranching and musical instrument making were already advanced by the seventh generation from Adam (see Gen. 4:16-22). After the flood and Babel, it is certainly plausible that technology took a huge setback, and as post-flood ice ages ensued, generations of humans dispersed into whatever habitats they could find, including caves. For a Q&A list on creation anthropology, see Answers in Genesis.Darwin Plagiarized Paley? 12/18/2003
Natural selection didnt begin with Darwin, William L. Abler (Geologist, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago) claims in a letter to the editor of Nature1 Dec. 18th. According to Abler, Darwin probably got the idea from a theologian he once admired, only later to ridicule:
Darwin was educated not as a biologist, but as a country vicar. Although he may have read Huttons book, it is equally likely that Darwin read one of the standard religious works of his day (now perhaps the most ridiculed book in biology), William Paleys Natural Theology (1803), which presents Paleys proof of the existence of God, as well as of Divine creation. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)He quotes Paley as stating the principle of natural selection, only to refute it as a possible objection against design: There is another answer which has the same effect as the resolving of things into chance, Paley writes in Chapter 5 of Natural Theology. He explains it as the proposition that
...the eye, the animal to which it belongs, every plant, indeed every organized body which we can see, are only so many out of the possible varieties and combinations of being which the lapse of infinite ages has brought into existence; that the present world is the relict of that variety; millions of other bodily forms and other species having perished, being by the defect of their constitution incapable of preservation, or of continuance by generation.2Abler thinks even Darwin could not have stated the principle of natural selection better. He notes that even Stephen Jay Gould also pointed out Paleys priority, but believes natural selection (by other names) was a common heresy in Darwins day.
William L. Abler, correspondence, What Darwin Knew, Nature 426, 759 (18 December 2003); doi:10.1038/426759b.
William Paley, Archdeacon of Carlisle, Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature, 1803, ch. 5, pp. 46-48 (click title for online edition).
Charlie, a plagiarist? This was interesting, so I looked up Paleys refutation in his once-honorable, classic treatise that Abler calls now perhaps the most ridiculed book in biology. The venerable theologian offered three rebuttals to the principle now known as natural selection. (1) His first might be characterized as a straw man argument today; Paley rhetorically asks that if all possible creatures had existed, why do we not see unicorns, centaurs, etc. Darwinists might reply with their standard common-ancestry claim that natural selection would only build on patterns established early on, rather than from an infinite pool of possible forms.Creator Lord Jesus Praised at 100th Anniversary of Flight 12/17/2003
When the NASA master of ceremonies told the crowd he was very honored to introduce Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of Billy Graham, to give the invocation at todays 100th Anniversary of Flight celebration at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, he apparently did not know what he was in for. Mrs. Lotz gave a forceful, impassioned, politically-incorrect prayer praising the God of all creation, the Lord of the land and the sea, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. She thanked God not only for the 100th anniversary of flight, but for the upcoming 2003th anniversary of the baby in the manger, Jesus Christ, who went to the cross to die for our sins, that we might have eternal life.
North Carolinians are justly proud of their famous sons, including Billy Graham, but this prayer must have stunned the crowd at this ostensibly secular celebration. Mrs. Lotz pulled no punches. There was no mealy-mouthed reference to some nonsectarian Force, but a distinct, unambiguous statement that Jesus Christ is Lord of creation and our only Savior. The gospel message was clear and forceful. No loud ovations were heard from the crowd at the Amen, and the next speaker was introduced without comment. Such boldness is rare on the American scene today. Listen to her prayer, if you can find it on replays, where it most likely will be secretly edited out.Photosynthesis Began a Billion Years Earlier Than Thought 12/17/2003
According to the BBC News, some scientists have pushed back the evolution of photosynthesis a billion years earlier than previously believed, to 3.9 billion years ago. This is based on uranium-thorium ratios of rocks in Greenland that led Danish researchers to conclude that they were deposited under oxidizing conditions. Others are not sure the data warrant the conclusion. Dr. Roger Buick, an astrobiologist at University of Washington, is cautious about the claim, but admits, The biochemistry needed for oxygenic photosynthesis requires lots of bacterial evolution. If their findings are correct, life was very sophisticated, very early on in Earth history. Not only that, but it had to withstand pounding by meteorites that presumably decreased 3.8 billion years ago. You would think those sorts of conditions would be pretty hostile to oxygenic photosynthesisers, he said. But life may be older and more robust than we thought. (Emphasis added.)
You would think that those sorts of conditions would be pretty hostile to astrobiological theory. But metaphysical naturalism may be older and more robust than we thought. Do you guys have any vague conception of how complicated photosynthesis is? And you want to push it back a billion years, making it magically emerge in brainless bacteria in the midst of a meteor terror war?Dark Energy Doubted 12/17/2003
Weve been told recently that two thirds of the universe consists of a mysterious phenomenon called dark energy. Now, some scientists at ESA say it doesnt exist.
Observations by the European Space Agencys XMM-Newton X-ray Observatory of clusters of galaxies 10 billion light years distant show remarkable differences from nearby clusters in the amount of X-ray energy emitted. One interpretation is that dark energy is not needed to explain their structure, because they appear too dense, and emit more X-rays than expected by the concordance model that posits 70% dark energy. If confirmed, we may have to rethink our understanding of the universe.
Related stories: 07/07/2003, 05/30/2001.
Nevertheless (bad timing?), Science magazine Dec. 19 issue) and its editor Don Kennedy, convinced that the data conclusively prove the existence of dark energy, awarded the discovery of dark energy the journals Breakthrough of the Year. (This was probably voted on before the XMM-Newton telescope results were announced.)
Models are playthings for theorists. They may or may not correspond to reality. Beware of popularizers who speak of models as facts. Cosmological facts obey Dunlaps Laws of Physics: (1) Fact is solidified opinion. (2) Facts may weaken under extreme heat and pressure. (3) Truth is elastic.Religion Makes Leading Atheistic Evolutionist Sick 12/16/2003
Richard Dawkins, the Oxford professor best known for promoting Darwinian gradualism and its ability to substitute for God in designing lifes complexities in his books The Blind Watchmaker and Climbing Mount Improbable, has vented more steam against religion on BeliefNet.com. He calls religion a virus. He feels evolutionary science can still give people a sense of transcendent wonder about the natural world, and make people just as kind and generous as the religious types. Without religion, he feels there would be less war and less waste of time: People would concentrate on really worthwhile things, instead of wasting time on religion, astrology, crystal-gazing, fortune-telling, things like that. Like a computer virus, religion can only be eradicated, he feels, by education and reason.
Keep talking, Dr. Dawkins. You make the case against atheism better than anyone. While appealing to rationality and science, your case is built on ridicule, the either-or fallacy, loaded words, association and other tricks of miseducation and non-reason. How can you attribute so much evil to religion, when we have just had Darwins century, and the worst mass murders in history built upon atheistic and Darwinistic beliefs? We should title this story The blind The Blind Watchmaker maker. Please tell us more about the evolution of transcendent wonder. Sounds fascinating.The Magnetic Sky Is Falling 12/15/2003
Space.Com reports that the strength of Earths magnetic field has dropped 10% over the last 150 years. At that rate of decline, it could vanish in 1500 to 2000 years. Scientists gathered recently at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union pondered whether a reversal is occurring, but a Harvard scientist claimed that would be a rare event.
If the magnetic field continues to decline, life on Earth is in grave danger in the far future. Atmospheric ozone would diminish, exposing life to deadly ultraviolet radiation, and high-energy cosmic rays and solar storms would put life at risk of ionizing radiation, leading to cancer, blindness and neurological diseases.
The strength of the earths magnetic field is one of the longest-measured physical properties of our planet. It shows a steady decline over the past 150 years. There is much we still do not understand about planetary magnetic fields. What causes it? (The leading dynamo theories are beset with complexities that perplex the experts.) How big did it get in the past? (Earth still has the strongest field of any rocky planet, by a large factor.) Will it reverse and go back up to its former strength? If it did so in the past, how did life survive the periods when it was weakest? How long does a reversal take? There is much we do not know, but one thing is clear from the empirical data: in the present epoch, it is dropping at an alarming rate (see Nov 6, March 4, and 11/25/2002 headlines). Those who believe such a dynamic property can be sustained for 4.6 billion years must add secondary assumptions and subplots to their stories.Phillip Johnson Honored, Still Wedging 12/13/2003
Phillip E. Johnson, the Berkeley law professor who spearheaded the Intelligent Design movement, has been named Daniel of the Year by World Magazine (cover story, Dec. 13, 2003, also reproduced on Access Research Network). Johnson has often used the metaphor of a wedge splitting a log. Intelligent design, he believes, is the Wedge of Truth that can split the seemingly impregnable log of scientific naturalism and help society again begin to ask The Right Questions about meaning, origins and destiny.
Johnson has had skill not only in writing books and debating evolutionists, but in motivating other scientists to pursue intelligent design in their work. Last night at Biola University, Johnson announced Wedge Two, his latest initiative to fight the idols of our day. Naturalism is not a strictly scientific problem, he said; the real issue is cultural. There is a power structure determining who is allowed to determine what is true or false. Like the ancient Mandarins, these elitists put the culture into a form of cognitive slavery. The eminent materialists are clinging desperately to their power, but like Napoleon marching against Moscow, may find themselves defeated not by the Russians, but by the weather. By implication, the evidence, not creationism, is causing the downfall of naturalistic science. All he is doing is pointing that out.
If Darwinism becomes sufficiently doubted, Johnson believes the cultural implications could be enormous. Marriage, for instance, is no longer considered divinely sanctioned, and art is filled with nihilism. Knowing that Darwinism goes far beyond biology, Johnson called together some cultural leaders at Biola to consider ways to reinvigorate the arts and humanities with design and meaning again, as it once was before 200 years of Enlightenment thinking gradually imposed strict naturalism on culture. The first step in a seemingly impossible task, he said, is to know you can do it.
See also Mark Looys editorial about Phillip Johnson at Answers in Genesis.
In this life, there are few honors higher than being compared to Daniel, the faithful prophet who withstood the idols and the lions of his day without compromise. Establishment scientists have been ruthless in their attacks on Johnson, but as John Perry cleverly writes, Johnson continues to befriend the lions even as he declaws them intellectually. The Darwinists try to dismiss him as a non-scientist, but they cannot withstand the blows of his logic. A law expert can be better qualified than a scientist to expose flawed arguments and focus on the basic questions of a case. Perrys excellent profile in World is highly recommended reading. Congratulations to the courtly combatant, as Perry calls him, whose steadfast opposition to idolatry, never vituperative but eminently convincing along with his influential leadership makes him truly the leading edge of the wedge.Why You Need Heavenly Sunshine for Vitamin D 12/12/2003
Rickets is on the rise again, along with other diseases caused by vitamin D deficiency, reports Erik Stokstad in the Dec. 12 issue of Science1. Most vitamins we take in the mouth. Why do we need to stand outside for this one? He explains:
Vitamin D is a steroid hormone that helps regulate calcium, an element vital not just for strong bones and teeth, but for nerves and the heart as well. Its found in very few foods except for salmon and other fatty fish. Most vitamin D is made when ultraviolet B (UVB) light hits a precursor molecule in the skin. As 25(OH)D, it then travels through the blood to the kidneys, which turn it into an active metabolite that regulates calcium levels. Other tissues make this metabolite locally to maintain cell health.Of course, too much sun can lead to sunburn and increased risk of skin cancer, but Evidence is coming in that higher levels may be desirable, he says. Too little sun, as well as too much, can lead to cancer. Shortage of vitamin D can even lead to diabetes. Infants and the elderly seem to be especially at risk for vitamin D deficiency. More studies are needed regarding proper dosage, but for what we know now, Dr. Stokstad prescribes: While researchers work out the details, most healthy people can probably get enough vitamin D by simply soaking up midday direct sunlight on their face and hands for 10 to 15 minutes three times a week, or longer if theyre darker skinned.
1Erik Stokstad, Nutrition: The Vitamin D Deficit, Science Volume 302, Number 5652, Issue of 12 Dec 2003, pp. 1886-1888.
Isnt it interesting that a precursor protein is just sitting there in the skin waiting for the right wavelength of light from the right kind of star. Almost makes you think God wanted us to get out of the house once in awhile and explore His awesome creations. Visit our Photo Gallery for some sources of heavenly sunshine.Despite New Fossil, Origin of Marsupials Still Puzzles Evolutionists 12/12/2003
Although the earliest known marsupial has just been found in China1, Richard L. Cifelli and Brian M. Davis, writing in the Dec. 12 issue of Science2 consider the phylogenetic trees of marsupial and placental mammals conflicting and puzzling. Problems include (emphasis added):
1Luo et al., An Early Cretaceous Tribosphenic Mammal and Metatherian Evolution, Science Dec. 12, 2003, 10.1126/science.1090718.
2Richard L. Cifelli and Brian M. Davis, Enhanced: Marsupial Origins, Science Dec. 12, 2003, 10.1126/science.1092272. This article contains a list of links for further study and an annotated bibliography on mammal origins.
This would be funny if they spent their own money. For more on evolutionary confusion about mammal origins, see the Dec. 2 headline and the big National Geographic story festival in the March 18 headline. MSNBC News, as usual, is all agog at this wonderful new discovery and what it tells us about evolution.Damadian Gets Consolation Prize 12/11/2003
Calling Raymond Damadian a Nobel protestor, Nature Science Update reported that, as predicted, he did not get the Nobel Prize at Wednesdays ceremony in Stockholm. The Nobel Committee does not change their decisions. But Damadian will not end today empty-handed, Helen Pearson for NSU reports. A Swedish inventors group called Idé-Forum, based in Örnsköldsvik, is flying out to New York to present him with a gold medal in the fields of physics and technology at the Melville headquarters of his company Fonar.
As if to say, Sorry you didnt get the Olympic gold; heres a foil-covered chocolate medallion from your friends. Pearson repeats the common media compromise myth that though Damadians concept was important, it was the other guys work that was essential to MRI. Will the revisionists succeed in burying the facts? Only if we let them. See also the Dec. 3 and Oct. 10 headlines, and the historical documentation on MRI at Fonar Corporation. Damadian has remarked that in the old days, when he had to fight international corporations from stealing his patent and convince reporters of the priority of his discovery, he was at the mercy of biased reporters. Now at least he can use the World Wide Web to get the truth out.Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week: Antibody Evolution 12/10/2003
The Dec. 11 issue of Nature1 has an article on antibodies and how scientists are learning to make designer editions of them. Pete Moore and Julie Clayton write (emphasis added):
Antibodies not only protect us from infection, they have been exploited for years in the laboratory — in diagnostic tests, to purify proteins and as the workhorses of cell biology to detect, locate and identify cellular proteins. Designed by evolution to recognize and bind virtually any molecule that could exist, what more could we ask of them? Quite a lot, it seems. To meet the demands of todays researchers and drug developers, antibodies are being cut down to size, tweaked into new shapes, and manufactured in entirely new ways.
1Pete Moore and Julie Clayton, To affinity and beyond, Nature 426, 725 - 731 (11 December 2003); doi:10.1038/426725a.
The authors praise the technology of the antibody system, which presumably arose by chance, then say humans, using intelligent design, are making them even better. Go figure. Should this quote get the prize, or the one from the end of the entry on Monday? (see Dec. 8 headline).Mars Has Global Warming: Manufacturers At Fault? 12/10/2003
Mars appears to be coming out of an ice age and into an era of global warming, reports Space.Com. Whether the Kyoto treaty can be extended to the red planet remains to be seen. Environmentalists are not sure if human influence is to blame; the closest thing to an SUV on Mars is the leftover Pathfinder Rover.
OK, OK, we wont press the point.Hunters Are Interfering With Evolution 12/10/2003
Evolutionists dont seem to know what to make of research about how hunters are affecting the evolution of bighorn sheep. The paper published in the Dec. 11 issue of Nature1 was noted by a reviewer in the same issue2, who titled his review, Undesirable evolutionary consequences of trophy hunting, yet humans must be considered part of the evolutionary equation, too. The problem is that ram horns are shrinking as hunters go for the prime males with the largest racks before they can breed. According to EurekAlert, all seem to agree that alternative strategies in wildlife regulation need to be explored to prevent continued deterioration of the genetic quality of the population. Hunters, too, are usually concerned about conservation, not wanting their favorite targets to become extinct.
1David Coltman et al., Undesirable evolutionary consequences of trophy hunting, Nature 426, 655 - 658 (11 December 2003); doi:10.1038/nature02177.
2John Whitfield, Sheep horns downsized by hunters taste for trophies, Nature 426, 595 (11 December 2003); doi:10.1038/426595a.
Now, wait a minute. Humans evolved, too, right? How can anything be undesirable in evolutionary terms? And we thought that predation was a good thing and made the prey stronger. Maybe the large horns are a burden and the hunters are improving the sheeps fitness. Who are we, as evolved brethren of algae and frogs and bats, to say that bigger sheep are desirable? Thats speciesism. If hunters evolved, then everything will work out in the end, and if the sheep go extinct, well, lots of things have gone extinct.Riddle 12/08/2003
Youll never guess which movie documentary was No. 3 in the Top Selections for Science and Math this week, beating out Stephen Hawkings Universe, on the Shop PBS website (thats Public Broadcasting, the network that aired the 8-hour series Evolution). Take a wild guess, then click here for the surprise (?) answer.
Next headline on: Movies.
Well, Duh Dept. 12/08/2003
Thank you, Dr. Joseph, for telling us this profound scientific discovery. Now tell the organizers of the Darwin Party Holiday Party, who really have nothing left but materialism (in both senses of the word). Maybe they can start on the road to recovery by ripping off the Darwin additions to the fish symbol, and decorating their halls with Christmas trees instead of phylogenetic trees.Aircraft Industry Looks to the Bombardier Beetle 12/08/2003
The bombardier beetle, a favorite illustration used by many creationists to argue against the ability of natural selection to build irreducibly complex systems (see Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution, for instance), is being seriously studied by the aircraft industry, reports EurekAlert. A three-year project at Leeds University will study the bug for ideas on how aircraft designers can reignite an engine at high altitude at cold temperatures. Professor of thermodynamics Andy McIntosh explains: The bombardier beetles defence mechanism represents a very effective natural form of combustion. Copying such natural mechanisms is part of the growing field of biomimetics where scientists learn much from intricate design features already in nature. Understanding this beetle better could lead to significant advances in combustion research (emphasis added).
At least this article doesnt attribute the intricate design to evolution. Silence is golden. Thats a form of progress.Keeping Planetary Rings Going for Eons 12/08/2003
Its common knowledge that planetary rings, like those at Saturn, dont last forever (see 02/12/2002 headline), so scientists either have to find a way to keep them going, or admit that we live in a special period in the lifetime of the solar system to see them now. That latter option is philosophically unappealing to most ring experts, like Larry Esposito of the University of Colorado, principal investigator for the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer (UVIS) on the Saturn-bound Cassini spacecraft.
Esposito and colleague Joshua Colwell have been thinking of ways to stretch out the admittedly short lifetime of rings (a few hundred million years as an upper limit, the blink of an eye compared to the planets), says EurekAlert. They have a new theory: recycling. They know that ring particles tend to degrade into a cascade of smaller and smaller particles, until as dust they get blown away. But what if they might re-accrete? Then the lifetime of the ring system may be longer than we initially thought. He admits, Without this recycling, the rings and moons are soon gone, but their computer models show it might prolong the rings for billions of years. Otherwise, their existence is a puzzle: The question naturally arises why rings still exist, to be photographed in such glory by visiting human spacecraft that have arrived lately on the scene. For another review of this hypothesis, see Nature Science Update.
The Cassini Imaging Team recently released a beautiful new picture of Saturn from 69 million miles away taken November 9, as the bus-sized spacecraft continues to close in on the ringed planet at over 36,000 mph. The Cassini Portal website now has a countdown timer, ticking off the seconds till the big day of Saturn Orbit Insertion (SOI) on July 1, 2004.
Well, good luck with this model. Even with the overtime, sooner or later youve got to end the game. Much of the dust gets swept into the planet by gas drag, and those particles are not coming back. Other dust is knocked out of the ring plane and out of orbit entirely by the impact of incoming micrometeoroids (which may be frequent, as shown by the near-continual phenomena of the spokes). It is clear that much of the lost material is never coming back. Rings are not forever.If You Like Cancer, You Can Live on Mars 12/08/2003
The optimistic title, Humans could survive Mars visit, belies the bad news in the body of the article on BBC News. The article reports on findings announced at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, based on data from the Mars Odyssey spacecraft instrument, Mars Radiation Environment Experiment (MARIE), which, unfortunately, stopped working after Octobers record solar flares (See Nov. 6 headline). It gathered enough data before its demise to characterize the risks of radiation to humans on Mars. Though the hazards are twice those experienced on the space station, scientists feel they are survivable enough to allow for limited manned exploration of the red planet.
This might be rephrased as an old-fashioned bad-news, good-news joke.The Fruit Fly in the Flight Simulator 12/08/2003
The simplest things can be the most extraordinary. If you like finding amazing wonders in everyday things, youll be fascinated to read about the common fly in the cover story of Caltechs magazine E&S (Engineering and Science).1 Michael Dickinson, a zoologist turned engineer, has described his Caltech teams work trying to reverse-engineer the flight systems of the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster.
Part of the fascination of this article is the teams cleverness in experiments. Dickinson and his students have built elaborate flight simulators for the tiny insects. Imagine taking a fly, not much bigger than a large speck of dust, and putting it into a custom arena in which the scenery is computer controlled, and every response of the flys wings and muscles can be measured. Imagine fastening a tiny fly with a tether and monitoring its every movement. (This is reminiscent of the monarch butterfly flight simulator see 07/09/2002 headline only more elaborate.) Dickinsons team measured the swatting reflex, to see how the fly changes its angle when a large unknown object approaches. They studied flight motion with high-speed cameras, and even built "RoboFly", a computer-controlled set of wings fed the exact motions of a real fly, to study the aerodynamic forces on the wings. Next, they are taking on the ambitious project of building a housefly-sized robotic insect that might be able to hover like the real thing.
All this pales in comparison, however, to the profuse praise Dickinson lavishes on the engineering capabilities of the real live insect. Listen to what he says, and you will take his concluding statement to heart, I hope you will think before you swat. Here are some samples from his 10-page, illustrated article (emphasis added):
Wow. All this in a tiny fly! Wrapping up this amazing journey into miniaturized ultrasophisticated engineering, Dickinson puts his work into perspective:
In the end, its just a fly. Is such an insignificant organism really worth all this effort? The natural world is filled with complex things, like immune cells, the human brain, and ecosystems. Although were made great progress in deconstructing life into its constituent parts such as genes and proteins, we have a ways to go before we have a deeper understanding of how elemental components function collectively to create rich behavior. The integrative approach that we are using to study fly flight is an attempt to move beyond reductionism and gain a formal understanding of the workings of a complex entity. The fly seems a reasonable place to start, and if successful, I hope such work will stimulate similar attempts throughout biology. The lessons learned along the way may provide useful insight for engineers and biologists alike. Even if you dont buy such grand visions, I hope you will at least think before you swat.
1Michael H. Dickinson, Come Fly With Me, Engineering and Science, Volume LXVI, No. 3, 2003 (Caltech), pp. 10-19.
Thank you, Dr. Dickinson, for a wonderful glimpse into one of natures miniature engineering marvels. We feel like we were sitting behind you on the flys back, soaring on a thrill ride, like your first picture humorously illustrates. Thank you, also for reminding us that the world is filled with wonders like this, from bacteria to blue whales. Wow. Who would have suspected such wonders exist in a tiny fly? Certainly not Charles Darwin. Which reminds us, we were about to award you Story of the Month for this outstanding article, but you included this one statement which acts like the proverbial fly in the soup: The information coming from the haltere, a hindwing modified by evolution and resembling a very small chicken drumstick, is particularly important because it is essential in stabilizing reflexes. Since even the FDA tolerates a certain threshold of vermin residue in food, we can overlook this one tiny slip in an otherwise excellent piece of design-based scientific research and writing.Evolutionary Theorizing: Only Atheists Need Apply 12/07/2003
Simon Conway Morris is a thorough-going evolutionist and anticreationist. You would think that would make the editors of Science happy, but on Dec. 5 they printed a scathing review by Douglas E. Irwin1 of his recent book Lifes Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe. Though Morris accepts the full story of Darwinian common ancestry, he retains enough of a veiled deistic perspective to propose that humans, instead of being the product of completely blind, directionless, purposeless natural causes, were somehow predetermined from the start. For this, he gets almost the same boot as the worst idiot enemies of science--the creationists:
Many biologists, particularly those who have valiantly fought battles against creationists and other know-nothings, may fling this book across the room, convinced that Conway Morris is providing aid and comfort to the enemy. The authors position is, however, considerably more nuanced, as he attempts--though not particularly successfully--to chart a path simultaneously opposing creationism, Stephen Jay Gould, and Richard Dawkins. Indeed part of the sport of the book lies in watching him attempt such implausible intellectual gymnastics. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Harsh words, indeed. Irwin ridicules this view as The Goldilocks Hypothesis. Simon Conway Morris leans heavily on the ubiquity of convergence in the natural world to make his point, and also discusses the anthropic principle as evidence for some kind of purpose for our existence. Irwin is not amused:
Evolution will not fall nor creationists triumph because another evolutionary biologist has proclaimed that he finds natural theology personally appealing as a way of understanding the complexity of the world. The ubiquity of convergence does raise real issues for evolutionary biology, but that is hardly a novel observation. Life's Solution remains an artfully constructed retrospective fallacy: that we are here is so improbable that our presence must signify a purposeful universe. Perhaps, although I doubt it, and with n = 1 the evidence is insufficient to make any judgment. Life is wonderful, whether we understand it in a metaphysical sense or not. Ultimately, all our presence may signify is that we are here--for the moment.
1Douglas H. Irwin, The Goldilocks Hypothesis, Science Volume 302, Number 5651, Issue of 5 Dec 2003, pp. 1682-1683.
The Charlie parley is getting snarly. Join the club, Simon. Sit here with Henry, the other Dr. Morris, and let him nurse your wounds. I hope this teaches you a lesson. The evolutionary science establishment has no tolerance for compromise. You might as well become a young-earth creationist and you would get more respect. As it is, you are acting like the proverbial pacifist wearing the Union jacket and the Confederate trousers. Youre getting blasted from both sides. At least the creationists try to be civil and fight like gentlemen.New Record-Setting Living Fossil Flabbergasts Scientists 12/05/2003
A remarkably-detailed fossil ostracode, a type of crustacean, has been announced in the Dec. 5 issue of Science1 that is blowing the socks off its discoverers. Erik Stokstad in a review of the discovery in the same issue2 explains its significance in the evolutionary picture of prehistory:
Over the past half-billion years, evolution has dished up an almost endless variety of novelties: lungs, legs, eyes, wings, scales, feathers, fur. So when paleontologists find a creature that doesnt change, they take note. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Two things about this fossil are exceptional. (1) It has a jaw-dropping amount of detail, such that even small fragile parts and soft tissues were perfectly preserved. (2) It is indistinguishable from modern ostracodes:
Whats most amazing, ostracode experts say, is how eerily similar the soft-tissue anatomy is to that of modern relatives. I was flabbergasted, says Koen Martens, a zoologist at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.This fossil, found near Herefordshire, U.K., was found in Silurian deposits estimated to be 425 million years old. That means that its modern counterparts are living fossils, virtually unchanged for all that time:
Some ostracode specialists are stunned. This is a demonstration of unbelievable stability, says Tom Cronin of the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Virginia. Whereas ostracodes diversified into some 33,000 living and extinct species, these guys have just been plodding along totally unfazed.This fossil, named Colymbosathon, is also upsetting those who look for evolution in the genes:
Finding a modern cylindroleberid in the Silurian clashes with molecular data, which suggest that the group and related families originated relatively recently, says evolutionary biologist Todd Oakley of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Theres no conflict for zoologist Anne Cohen, a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, who thinks Colymbosathon actually belongs to a long-extinct family. In any case, the new fossil indicates that a basic ostracode body plan was already present in the Silurian. It could also help sort out evolutionary relationships of fossil ostracodes.David Horne (Queen Mary College, London) predicts more long-lost evolutionary blueprints may emerge from these deposits. The probability that they will find similarly preserved representatives of other ostracode lineages, and of other arthropods, is both high and extremely exciting.
1Siveter et al., An Ostracode Crustacean with Soft Parts from the Lower Silurian, Science Dec. 5, 2003.
2Erik Stokstad, Invertebrate Paleontology: Gutsy Fossil Sets Record for Staying the Course, Science Volume 302, Number 5651, Issue of 5 Dec 2003, p. 1645.
This is just one more of many remarkable, astounding, flabbergasting examples of living fossils. Unbelievable stability is not a prediction of Darwinism. The Darwinian world is supposed to be a fluid world, filled with diversification, radiation, and innovation. During the imaginary 425 million years, the continents moved all over the world, animals crawled onto the land and became geckos and crocodiles and birds and caribou. Mountains rose and valleys sank, and glaciers repeatedly advanced and retreated over much of the planet. Some animals moved back into the oceans and became whales, porpoises, manatees and sea lions in just a small fraction of this much time, and humans emerged from grunting chimpanzees, invented language and abstract thought, and conquered space. Is it reasonable to assume that in this slow whirlwind of continuous dynamical change, these ostracodes just reproduced themselves over and over millions of times without any change whatsoever?Intracellular Railroad Has Park-and-Ride System 12/04/2003
Cells are like miniaturized cities, with elaborate transportation systems ferrying their cargo to and fro (see Feb. 25 headline). Just like a city may have railroads, busses, cars and monorails, the cell has multiple kinds of transport motors: dyneins, kinesins, and myosins. Scientists have learned that most of the roadways are like one-way monorails: actin filaments and microtubules, upon which the vehicles travel in one direction. But what if a passenger needs to jump from one system to another? ' No problem; the cell has mastered the art of ridesharing with its own park-and-ride system.
In the Dec. 2 issue of Current Biology1, this is described by Marcus Maniak in a Dispatch entitled A park-and-ride system for melanosomes. Melanosomes are organelles (somes) that carry melanin, the pigment chemical that allows some organisms, including fish and amphibians, to change their skin color to match their surroundings. For this to work, the melanosomes need to hitch rides either to the exterior of the cell or the interior. He pulls together several recent findings to describe how this all works:
Together these findings suggested how melanosomes might move on actin filaments and showed that this type of motility is required for the even distribution of melanosomes within the cell. From these main observations, it became clear that, during aggregation, a cytoplasmic dynein motor carries melanosomes on the radially arranged microtubules towards the cell center (Figure 1B), while during dispersion a kinesin transports the granules to the periphery (Figure 1C), where they engage via a myosin V molecule with short actin filaments to be distributed further (Figure 1D). This switching of transport systems is a kind of miniature edition of modern urban traffic, where millions of workers leave the city centers in the evening on trains and board their cars at park-and-ride stations to complete their daily journey within the green peripheral belt. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)As if that were not amazing enough, it appears that the drivers talk to each other with a communication system:
Although the work of Rodionov et al. has moved the field a large step further, there are obviously several issues that remain to be investigated. Exciting new findings addressing the coupling of motor molecules to the melanosome surface in other experimental animals open the possibility to speculate how the motors may talk to each other on a molecular level. At least for Xenopus there is now clear evidence that both dynein and kinesin couple to melanosomes via the dynactin complex. Moreover, both motors compete for the same protein component; this could allow one motor to gain access to the microtubule while the other is prevented from engaging successfully.He describes how this tug-of-war competition is actually a kind of way for the motors to negotiate the right-of-way. Additional factors that attach to the vehicles or trackways may assist in making sure the rules of the road are obeyed. Thus, he concludes, further exciting results are on the way to complete the picture of how melanosomes switch from one transport system to the other.
1Marcus Maniak, Dispatch: Organelle Transport: A Park-and-Ride System for Melanosomes, Current Biology Vol 13, R917-R919, 2 December 2003.
Maniak uses the word motor 22 times in his article, which is replete with other urban metaphors: transport system (see 09/26/2002 headline), etc. Moreover, there is no mention of evolution, Darwin, or of any mechanism that might explain how this elaborate, coordinated, interconnected system could have originated. Surprised?If a Meteor Roasted the Dinosaurs, Wheres the Charcoal? 12/04/2003
A majority of scientists continue to believe that a falling asteroid felled the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, but problems remain. London geologists went looking for evidence of charcoal at the Cretaceous-Tertiary layers, when the assumed impact occurred, assuming that the force of impact would have ignited a worldwide conflagration (thus the extinction of the big beasts). But they found none, reports Nature Science Update. How can you have a barbecue without charcoal? Maybe, instead, the impact sent voluminous dust into the atmosphere, blocking sunlight and lowering the planets temperature drastically. In other words, the article speculates, the dinosaurs might have frozen, not roasted.
Other anomalies are calling this popular speculation into question (see June 2 headline, for instance). If this theory for dinosaur extinction goes, scientists will be back at square one. Explaining why certain species disappeared suddenly while others did just fine is no easy task, especially when you cant rent the video to see what really happened.Got That? The Complex Story of African Mammal Evolution 12/03/2003
The article by Jean-Jacques Jaeger in the Dec. 4 issue of Nature1 is pretty upbeat about the evolutionary history of African mammals, but takes a bit of untangling to follow.
He begins confidently, For some 40 million years, the Afro-Arabian landmass existed in splendid isolation. A newly described fossil fauna from the end of that time provides a window on the evolution of the continents large mammals. (He refers to a fossil group named the Chilga biota, found in the Ethiopian highlands by Kappelman et al., described in the same issue.2) Lets take a look out said window and see how evolution has unfolded:
During most of the Cenozoic era, from the Cretaceous–Tertiary boundary 65 million years ago until roughly 24 million years ago, Afro-Arabia was an island continent drifting steadily northwards towards Eurasia. Fossil mammals documenting this period are scarce and belong almost exclusively to endemic forms restricted to Afro-Arabia, such as proboscideans, hyraxes and elephant-shrews. But by around 24 million years ago, a permanent land bridge had formed between the two landmasses. A burst of faunal interchange followed: many Eurasian mammals, such as rhinos and ruminants, dispersed into Africa, and some Afro-Arabian mammals, such as elephants, migrated in the opposite direction. (Emphasis added in all quotations.)That forms the plot line, but there are problems. The Chilga specimens he describes seem to fit the story, but there are puzzles among the bones:
Among the proboscideans recorded are primitive forms such as Palaeomastodon and Phiomia (also known from older deposits in Egypt). But there are also representatives of modern families, for example taxa such as Gomphotherium, the earliest proboscidean on the branch leading to extant elephants. Another surprise is the oldest occurrence of deinotheres, peculiar proboscideans with downward-curved lower tusks, which were previously recorded only from rocks younger than 24 million years old. The new species of deinothere displays molars that are more bunodont in form (that is, made of several distinct cusplets arranged in transverse crests) than its descendant, whose molars display plain transverse crests. This discovery seems to rule out the possibility that deinotheres are derived from an ancestor bearing plain, transverse-crested molars, as was formerly supposed, and provides new evidence about proboscidean evolution.Jaeger bemoans the scarcity of the fossil record for this period, but claims, Nonetheless, considerable information has been inferred from the evidence we do have. He talks about how systematists have grouped the African fauna into a superorder Afrotheria based on fossil and molecular evidence. Though African mammalian faunas are dominated by these endemic forms, a few other groups did get over to the big island somehow, including our alleged remote ancestors, the catarrhine primates, fathers of hominoids. These newcomers went through rapid evolution on the landmass, he claims.
Even though the Chilga fossils are supposed to pre-date the land bridge, Jaeger says, The Chilga mammals also yield insights into the dynamics of the faunal interchange between Afro-Arabia and Eurasia. How is that possible? By seeing what pre-existed before the interchange, he feels it is possible to document that the ensuing ecological competition ended with winners and losers. I.e., some animals were destined to fall in numbers, others to multiply and diversify.
The Chilga fossils do leave a few research items for paleontologists:
Finally, the discoveries of Kappelman et al. highlight two other palaeobiological issues. First, on northern continents glaciation caused a significant cooling around 33 million years ago, which resulted in numerous extinctions among mammalian communities. From these new data, however, it seems that large Afro-Arabian herbivores were not affected, either at that time or later, implying that the climatic changes were less severe on southern continents. Second, the fossil record of the Afro-Arabian continent is not only scanty but also largely concentrated on the northern edge. This has led to the proposal that other groups of mammals existed in Afro-Arabia during its period of isolation, but that they were restricted to more southern latitudes. However, the Chilga mammal community is rather like that found at Fayum in Egypt, which is some five million years older, providing hints that there was little provinciality among Afro-Arabian mammals at that time. As yet, though, we have unveiled only a few of the secrets of mammal evolution on the Afro-Arabian continent. Many more surprising discoveries are to be expected.Got that?
1Jean-Jacques Jaeger, Mammalian evolution: Isolationist tendencies, Nature 426, 509 - 511 (04 December 2003); doi:10.1038/426509a.
2Kappelman et al., Oligocene mammals from Ethiopia and faunal exchange between Afro-Arabia and Eurasia, Nature 426, 549 - 552 (04 December 2003); doi:10.1038/nature02102.
Our policy before commenting on a paper is to approach it with an open mind as much as possible, and give the author the benefit of the doubt. We give the author or authors their day in court, and begin with the premise innocent till proven guilty. But we also want to see hard data that support any conclusions, and the conclusions must survive the Baloney Detector to be granted any credibility or respect. Bluffing is a big turn-off.Fossil Fingers Fuddle Phylogeny 12/03/2003
Another fossil complicates the evolutionists picture of tetrapod origins (see Aug 9 headline). Chinese paleontologists have reported1 a new marine reptile from Triassic strata (242 million years old, more or less). Unexpectedly, it has extra digits (a condition called polydactyly) just like the putative ancestors of tetrapods from the earlier Devonian strata (370-354 million years old, more or less). What does this mean in evolutionary terms?
We have discovered that a preaxial form of polydactyly, in which extra digits are positioned anterior to the first digit, has unexpectedly re-emerged in a marine reptile from the Early Triassic period about 242 million years ago — the overall morphology of both the manus and pes closely resemble those of the earliest tetrapods [sic]. Until now, no post-Devonian tetrapod has been found with a comparative type of polydactyly, so the new amniote provides a striking example of convergent evolution. (Emphasis added.)
Wu, Li, Zhou, and Dong, Palaeontology: A polydactylous amniote from the Triassic period, Nature 426, 516 (04 December 2003); doi:10.1038/426516a.
Is there nothing in the world that will shake up a Darwinist enough to get him to question his assumptions? We are told to believe that millions of years ago, the first four-legged creatures had more toes than we do (an independent, honest observer might suppose that to be an example of devolution, not evolution). Then 112 million years go by, with all the animals happily swimming and crawling with five digits per foot, and all of a sudden, a marine reptile, by the miraculous process known as convergent evolution emerges with extra toes again. Evolution is so wonderful. It can explain anything.Adaptive Radiation: A Darwinian Mechanism Inherits the Wind 12/03/2003
Another Darwinian assumption needs to be re-examined. Adaptive radiation, the belief that a species isolated on an island will diverge into many species, has been hit by a hurricane.
Calsbeek and Smith, writing in the Dec. 4 issue of Nature1, studied lizards on the Bahamas after Hurricane Floyd devastated the islands. Islands are considered to be natural laboratories in which to examine evolution because of the implicit assumption that limited gene flow allows tests of evolutionary processes in isolated replicates, they begin: Here we show that this well-accepted idea requires re-examination. Why? Gene flow is not limited after all. Apparently, ocean currents and hurricanes are very successful at spreading the critters around from island to island (gene flow, this is called). And high gene flow counteracts adaptive radiation by homogenizing the gene pool: After severe storms, islands may be recolonized by over-water dispersal of lizards from neighbouring islands. High levels of gene flow may homogenize genes responsible for divergence, and are widely viewed as a constraining force on evolution.
These islands have been a textbook case for adaptive radiation theories, because the number of Anolis lizard species is high: up to 140 species. The authors write, The adaptive radiation of Caribbean anoles is believed to be driven by ecologically based natural selection arising from variation in habitat use. Some of these lizards climb the broad trunks of trees and have long legs, whereas some perch on twigs, with short legs. These microevolutionary changes appear to be adaptive, because they would seem to help the critters run faster after food or avoid prey, or keep their balance in their preferred habitat.
The scientists found that the gene flow correlated with prevailing ocean currents. Moreover, the repopulation of the islands was very rapid: Although no islands were reported to have received immigrants as a result of hurricane transport, subsequent recolonization of islands over the next 17 months was rapid and indicated over-water dispersal of adult lizards from neighbouring islands, they write with a bit of surprise. Although they have found a constraint on adaptive radiation in this classic case, they are confident that island studies are good for evolutionary theory. They conclude:
Studies on islands have revealed many of the fundamental mechanisms of evolution, particularly the paramount influence of geographical isolation to diversification. Here, we add an important caveat to these studies, showing that prevailing ocean currents may influence gene flow and adaptive divergence in a terrestrial vertebrate. The adaptive radiation of anoles in the Caribbean is thought to have arisen by ecologically based natural selection related to habitat use. However, the level of gene flow between populations will impose an upper limit on the ability of natural selection to drive adaptive divergence. We have provided evidence that weather-related abiotic phenomena might have important effects on the evolution and adaptive radiation of lizard populations. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
1Ryan Calsbeek and Thomas B. Smith, Ocean currents mediate evolution in island lizards, Nature 426, 552 - 555 (04 December 2003); doi:10.1038/nature02143.
You better believe it might have important effects on evolution. It stops it.Editorial: The Cult of the Prize 12/03/2003
In a letter to the editor in the Dec. 4 issue of Nature1, historian Robert Marc Friedman (U. of Oslo) asks, Is science losing out in the race for recognition? The race for honors, he feels, is diminishing science:
Raymond Damadians public dispute (see Physician launches public protest over medical Nobel Nature 425, 648; 2003) should make us ask whether science is best served by a culture obsessed with rankings and winning prizes. The history of the Nobel Prize makes it clear that the medallion is etched with human frailties.Friedman alleges that the Nobel Prize does not necessarily correlate with achievement. It is a decision made by one Swedish committee whose predilections and interests necessarily enter into their deliberations and influence their judgments. As an example, Academy physicists had no intention of recognizing Einsteins theories of relativity, he claims, quoting them, even if the whole world demands it.
He also points out that the decisions are very difficult to make, when often many individuals are deserving but only a few can be chosen. Consequently, There are no grounds for assuming that the laureates constitute a unique population of the very best in science. Furthermore, he continues, Let us not forget that some important branches of science are not addressed by Nobels testament. Some of the greatest intellectual triumphs of the past century have not been celebrated in Stockholm.
Friedman calls the annual Nobel frenzy the cult of the prize and claims the media, who whipped up frenzy about it from the start, are largely responsible. Leaders of national scientific communities willingly climbed on the bandwagon, he adds, and over time the number of parties with a stake in maintaining the cult of the prize has grown.
Damadians campaign to have a share in the prize for his work on developing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a product of a scientific culture based on competition for personal and institutional aggrandizement. Whatever Alfred Nobel might have meant when he set up prizes for those whose work conferred the greatest benefit on mankind, he did not have in mind the promotion of narrow professional interests, nor institutional and national boosterism.He rhetorically asks, in conclusion, Should racing to discovery define the soul of science? Its heritage is far richer than the quest for prizes might suggest.
1Robert Marc Friedman, Is science losing out in the race for recognition?, Nature 426, 495 (04 December 2003); doi:10.1038/426495a.
Be that as it may, Damadian knew that in our culture, the Nobel Prize constitutes a quasi-official roster of the greatest discoverers in science. Textbook writers, historians, and teachers are wont to take the 2003 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine as the authoritative statement on who discovered MRI. For a man whose entire adult life has been consumed with medical MRI, and whose initial discovery in the lab made it all possible, it was understandable for him to try to head off at the pass the revisionism he sees coming. We can all pitch in by writing letters, as one of our readers did, to papers and magazines that forget the facts. He told Science News,Dinosaur Family Tracks Discovered 12/02/2003Nobel prizes go to scientists harnessing odd phenomena (SN: 10/11/03, p. 229: http://www.sciencenews.org/20031011/fob5.asp) didnt include even a hint about the controversy about the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Many people believe that Raymond Damadian should have gotten at least a share in the prize. Damadian saw and demonstrated the potential for using MRI as a medical-scanning technique when others found the idea laughable.Friedman does not excuse or endorse Damadians media campaign, but rightly points out that we need to get our attention off prizes. Not every great athlete wins Olympic gold, nor every great author a Pulitzer. In science, especially, prizes should not be the metric for esteem. We dont remember Newton for awards won, or Kelvin for honorary doctorates. We remember them for what they accomplished: uncovering natures laws. If scientists become motivated to win prizes instead of explore the workings of nature, we will all suffer.
A set of dinosaur tracks of different sizes pointing in the same direction has been found on the Isle of Skye, reports the BBC News. It seems to indicate one adult and 10 juveniles, all of the same species, were moving together. To Neil Clark, curator of the Glasgow Museum, these tracks tell a story not only that a mom hatched her young, but that they continued their family ties for some time: Its extremely rare to find evidence of post-hatching parental care in dinosaurs, he said. To my knowledge, there are no other examples of ornithopod prints showing juveniles and adults moving as a group like this. There is certainly evidence of juvenile ornithischian dinosaurs with adults from the same geological horizon, but not with such a clear relationship.
Observation: tracks of various sizes moving in one direction. Conclusion: this was a loving family of dinosaurs, with loyal children gently following their tender mother up the beach. Are such stories justified by the evidence? Why not try my version: Run, kids! The waters rising!Vega Has a Neptune? 12/01/2003
The BBC News and EurekAlert are pretty excited about a discovery at Vega, the sapphire-blue star that hangs overhead in summertime (from the Northern Hemisphere; Aussies see it at the horizon). Astronomers think they see a clump of material that might be at the distance from the star similar to Neptunes distance from the sun. It might take 300 years for the clump to orbit.
Try not to get too excited, astronomers. There is not much data to go on. The articles are talking 95% model, 5% data. This little clump is not going to save your theories (see 05/30/2003 headline). EurekAlert exclaims that Vega has a planetary system around it which is more like our own Solar System than any other so far discovered. Hold your horses. Vega is not the kind of star you would want to live around unless you like getting cooked well done. There is a need in modern science for judicious restraint. Scientists need to learn to subdue the news reporters who are watering at the mouth for juicy manna from the gods. Tell them if they went to Vegas clump they would make a fine burnt offering.