So theres a beginning; theres a point in time from which it all started, and thats a remarkable thing, because it has a very strong theological flavor to it. And that intrigued me, because I am an agnostic. And if there was a beginning a moment of creation of the universe then there was a Creator. And a Creator is not compatible with agnosticism.
The title of this entry comes from the data, not from the claims being made about it. The cover story in Cell1 this week has set off a flurry of startling headlines: EurekAlert pronounces, Evidence that human brain evolution was a special event and University of Chicago researchers discovered that humans are a privileged evolutionary lineage.
The gist of the research by Dorus et al. from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and University of Chicago is that there is a huge genetic gap between human brains and those of our nearest alleged ancestors. EurekAlert explains:
One of the studys major surprises is the relatively large number of genes that have contributed to human brain evolution. For a long time, people have debated about the genetic underpinning of human brain evolution, said [Bruce] Lahn [HHMI}. Is it a few mutations in a few genes, a lot of mutations in a few genes, or a lot of mutations in a lot of genes? The answer appears to be a lot of mutations in a lot of genes. Weve done a rough calculation that the evolution of the human brain probably involves hundreds if not thousands of mutations in perhaps hundreds or thousands of genes and even that is a conservative estimate.
1Dorus et al., Accelerated Evolution of Nervous System Genes in the Origin of Homo sapiens, Cell Volume 119, Issue 7, 29 December 2004, Pages 1027-1040, doi:10.1016/j.cell.2004.11.040.
We are glad to be able to announce the downfall of Saddam Darwin to end this eventful year, 2004. Now there are just a few Darwin Party insurgents to mop up, and the public will be free of this deadly totalitarian regime. (Would that it were so easy; it would be like Bushs premature victory speech.)Cells Find Signal in the Noise 12/20/2004
Parents at an amusement park know the challenge of picking out their childs voice, or even hearing their own hollering, in the noise of the crowd. Yelling wont help much if the rest of the crowd is yelling also. Acoustic engineers know that raising the volume while playing back a noisy tape amplifies the noise as well as the signal. Cells have a novel way of meeting this challenge, as two Japanese mathematical biologists discuss in PNAS.1 Cells are continuously sending and receiving chemical messages, a process called signal transduction. Treating the cell signal transduction network like a physical system of receivers and amplifiers, the researchers noted that a cell, like an amusement park, is an intrinsically noisy place, yet some of the reactions are very sensitive. How cells respond properly to noisy signals by using noisy molecular networks is an important problem in elucidating the underlying design principle of cellular systems, they say in the introduction. How do the sensitive reactions get their messages through all that noise?
Because intracellular processes are inherently noisy, stochastic reactions process noisy signals in cellular signal transduction. One essential feature of biological signal transduction systems is the amplification of small changes in input signals. However, small random changes in the input signals could also be amplified, and the transduction reaction can also generate noise. Here, we show theoretically how the abrupt response of ultrasensitive signal-transduction reactions results in the generation of large inherent noise and the high amplification of input noise. The inherently generated noise propagates with amplification through intracellular molecular network. We discuss how the contribution of such transmitted noise can be shown experimentally. Our results imply that the switch-like behavior of signal transduction could be limited by noise; however, high amplification reaction could be advantageous to generate large noise, which would be essential to maintain behavioral variability.They categorized the noise as intrinsic, coming from the reaction itself, to extrinsic, coming from other reactions. This is somewhat like hearing your own voice vs. the yelling of those around you. The intrinsic noise has higher frequency than the extrinsic noise. As one source of noise becomes dominant, it reaches a crossover point where the other source is less dominant. This provides a kind of signal, or switch, which the cell can use to advantage:
From our result, it can be further suggested that if the extrinsic noise dominates, the upstream reactions affect the fluctuation of the most downstream reaction, which determines the cellular behavior. As a result, the behavioral fluctuations are made up of the contributions of the fluctuations of several upstream reactions. On the other hand, if the intrinsic noise dominates, only the intrinsic noise of the most downstream reaction determines the behavioral fluctuations. As a result, the behavior could be simpler than the case in which extrinsic noise is dominant....As a result, a bacterium can respond to chemicals in the environment, the hemoglobin in your blood can respond to changing conditions in the capillaries, genes can respond correctly to requests for expression, and complex cascades of cellular reactions can respond to the signal from any reaction in the series, in the midst of all the noise. Therefore, they conclude, the result implies that the extrinsic noise is essential to maintain the behavioral variability in wild-type bacteria. Their experiments related to three relatively simple reactions, and their analysis considered primarily linear response. Many cellular reactions involve nonlinear behavior. In these cases, they admit, the relation between the response and the fluctuations can be more complicated than the relations we studied. The authors made no attempt to explain how these capabilities evolved.
1Tatsuo Shibata and Koichi Fujimoto, Noisy signal amplification in ultrasensitive signal transduction, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0403350102, published online before print December 29, 2004.
Evolutionists accuse the intelligent design movement of never publishing anything, and then cry foul when they do (see 09/08/2004 and 12/28/2004 headlines). Actually, there are thousands of ID papers, and they are published regularly, not in obscure outlets, but in the major, high-impact journals. They may not mention the buzzword intelligent design explicitly, but they do everything the ID movement advocates: explore the design of a phenomenon as if it has a purpose, follow the evidence where it leads, and leave the philosophical or religious implications to the reader. We regularly highlight such articles right here (see 11/10/2004, 10/27/2004, 10/27/2004, and 09/22/2004 headlines for a few recent examples). Notice how these authors used the phrase design principle but had no use for the evolutionary hypothesis. Very few papers try to explain in any detail how a complex feature evolved. Most, if they mention evolution at all, merely assume it in passing, as if fulfilling the obligatory pinch of incense to Father Charlie (see 11/18/2004 and 11/04/2004 and 10/01/2004 recent examples). If the criteria were rearranged with these considerations in mind, the ID movement could claim the vast majority of scientific papers as their own, and the Darwin Party would be left with a handful of just-so stories. Demand a recount.Did Darwin Explain Human Behavior? 12/29/2004
I continue to be surprised by the number of educated people (many of them biologists) who think that offering explanations for human behaviour in terms of culture somehow disproves the suggestion that human behaviour can be explained in darwinian evolutionary terms. Thus begins a book review in Nature1 by Robin Dunbar (U of Liverpool). Fortunately, he continues, we now have a book to which they may be directed for enlightenment. The book to which he refers is Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution by Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd (Chicago U Press, 2004). Does it deliver Dunbars promised enlightenment?
This is an updated book of their 1985 treatise, but without the equations, to make it more accessible to non-mathematicians: there is not a single equation to disturb the tranquility of your reading, not even a graph, Dunbar notes.
Richerson and Boyds position, in a nutshell, is that culture is as good a candidate for darwinian treatment as behaviour and morphology. Genetic processes and individual learning provide mechanisms whereby successful phenotypes can be passed on from one generation to the next. In humans, and possibly in other species, including apes and cetaceans [whales], culture provides another such mechanism for behavioural phenotypes. It is true that, in humans, cultural inheritance has been raised to an art form. But all this means is that the evolutionary dynamics that arise from both its intrinsically different modes of inheritance (sideways as well as vertically) and its complex interactions with more conventional genetic mechanisms make human behaviour a more challenging and therefore more interesting field for evolutionary biologists to explore.Yet the authors compare their subject with one of the biggest challenges in all of evolutionary theory: The existence of culture, comment Richerson and Boyd, is a deep evolutionary mystery on a par with the origin of life itself. Where does one begin on such a challenging subject? Non-evolutionists may not get it, Dunbar warns:
Their position is founded on an evolved psychology that predisposes humans to use imitation as a quick and inelegant way of cutting through the costs of obtaining information about the world first-hand. This is useful whenever environments change slowly but the information available about the change is poor or costly to obtain. Culture may be maladaptive on occasion, but that is not an evolutionary issue something that non-evolutionists invariably fail to understand. Evolutionary explanations are statistical by their nature, and depend on the balance of the costs and benefits.By this, Dunbar apparently means that evolution can make progress like dialectical materialism: i.e., three steps forward, two steps back. All this is a build-up to the big story of the book he tantalizes, which is how to explain hierarchical group structures in traditional human societies, and the forms of indiscriminate altruism that often accompany them. This, he believes, the authors do admirably with their theory of culture. Culture is the thing that enforces commitment to the group strong enough to prevent the age-old tension between self- and group-level interests tearing the fabric of groups apart.
What is most startling about Dunbars book review is his disdain for the late Stephen Jay Gould. This is surprising, considering Gould was the darling of the media, often portrayed as the consummate Darwinist. Yet in castigating the just-so storytelling of the disciples of Gould, has Dunbar something better to offer?
In many ways, this book is really addressed to social scientists, who, as Richerson and Boyd remark, learned their evolutionary biology from the mischievous writings of Steven Jay Gould, but failed to realize that his seductive polemics have little empirical support. Functional explanations for natural phenomena are, they remind us, often difficult to see without a great deal of hard empirical work. Gouldian arguments of spandrels as non-adaptation are, they remind us, usually at least as much just so stories as adaptationist explanations if not more so, as they are rarely backed by anything resembling empirical evidence. And it is evidence, they insist, that is the core to good evolutionary biology. No amount of armchair theorizing can substitute for hard-earned natural-history knowledge, as the seminal examples of Aristotle (whose biology, incidentally, was outstanding, however bad his physics might have been) and Darwin remind us.
1Robin Dunbar, Beyond the culture shock, Nature 432, 951 - 952 (23 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432951a.
Dunbar just preached to us about the need for empirical evidence instead of storytelling. Now read his summary of the darwinian explanation for heroic altruism:Nature Prints Anti-ID Letters 12/28/2004Conventional evolutionary explanations, such as kin selection and reciprocal altruism, work well [see 06/30/2003 and 03/17/2003 headlines] for small-scale societies, like those found among monkeys and apes. But they do not work quite as well on the larger scale of human tribal societies, where kinship and interaction frequencies are too dilute to sustain indiscriminate altruism. When individuals ecological and reproductive success depend on the success with which they can cooperatively solve the problems of survival, something is needed to prevent the age-old tension between self- and group-level interests tearing the fabric of groups apart. Something is needed to enforce commitment to the group, and that something, Richerson and Boyd argue, is culture, creating a sufficiently strong sense of group identity and conformity to enable groups to do their job for the individual.We want the equations back. How could they ever quantify this, empirically measure it, and raise it above the status of a just-so story? Culture is such a vague concept, it could include anything, including contradictory subcultures. This is just another silly-putty theory of evolution (see 12/14/2004 headline) guaranteed to provide job security for fat, lazy, Darwin Party storytellers (see 12/22/2003 headline). The conclusions do not come from the data. They come from the a priori necessity of cramming all of reality into their chosen philosophy: materialism. But a house divided against itself cannot stand. The Dunbar tribe of the Darwinites is going to make the Gould tribe angry at these war cries, while Dunbar is afraid his ultra-adaptationist position is going to scare away the Darwinite-social-science tribe, who fear the adaptationists are a bunch of niche-hunting cannibals. They dont realize they are all cooking in the same stew of naturalistic philosophy.
One can never know how many letters a magazine receives on a given topic, but Nature printed two letters last week decidedly against intelligent design. Specifically, they responded to the comments Nature made about an ID paper published by Stephen Meyer in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (see 09/08/2004 and 09/24/2004 headlines).
Day B. Ligon and Matthew B. Lovern1 (Oklahoma State) said that the publication of Meyers paper was worse than bad science because, he fears, ID supporters will use it as ammunition for influencing school boards to include ID in the curriculum. This trend, alarmingly, is bearing fruit even though the paper, published in a relatively obscure journal, was unlikely to influence scientists. However, they allege, this does little to diminish its usefulness to ID proponents, who wish to influence public rather than scientific opinion.
Kristofer M. Helgen2 (U of Adelaide) had a different complaint. He agreed Meyers paper was clearly out of place and represented a lapse of the journals usual editorial policies that was swiftly repudiated. But he took issue with Natures put-down of the Smithsonian journal:
Svetlov describes the Proceedings as a journal that enjoyed much-deserved obscurity. This characterization is not accurate. A cursory review of authorship in the Proceedings throughout its 122-year history reveals a list of everyone whos anyone among systematic biologists, including scores of notable past and current scientists from the Smithsonian Institution.Helgen says that the relevance of papers published in low-impact journals often exceeds that of publications in the well-known journals like Science, Nature and Cell. And the quality of the peer review process can be just as high. So, although the publication of Meyers paper is lamentable, it need not be used to trivialize the Proceedings long, respectable and ongoing tradition of cataloguing global biodiversity.
1Day B. Ligon and Matthew B. Lovern, Meyer publication worse than just bad science, Nature 432, 949 (23 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432949c.
2Kristofer M. Helgen, Meyer paper: dont hang the Soc. Wash. out to dry, Nature 432, 949 (23 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432949b.
Its fun to see the Darwin Party lament a little. They have been so arrogant about their political power over the journals, its time for them to shed some tears. Its hard, after so many years, having to learn manners, like how to share the table with scientists who believe we should follow the evidence where it leads (Meyer does, after all, have a Ph.D. from Cambridge, and his paper was reviewed by three scientists and approved by Rick Sternberg, a scientist with two doctorates). Do the crybabies actually try to address any of the points made by Meyer? No. They just whine about having to share the sandbox with political rivals who believe in playing fair. And the little elitists whine about the less-enlightened school board members and public who might be influenced by Meyers paper you know, all those people out there who have no brains and cannot think, like scientists can. Yes, go ahead and lament. Its about time.Flagellar Oars Beat Like Galley Slaves In Synchronization 12/26/2004
The Dec. 14 issue of Current Biology1 investigated another mystery in the operation of eukaryotic flagella:
Flagella are microtubule-based structures that propel cells through the surrounding fluid. The internal structure of a flagellum consists of nine parallel doublet microtubules arranged around a central pair of singlet microtubules (Figure 1). Force for propulsion is provided by thousands of dynein motors anchored in rows along one side of each doublet, which can walk along the microtubule of the adjacent doublet. In order to produce coordinated bending of the flagellum, these dynein motors organized into multi-headed complexes called the inner and outer dynein arms must produce their power strokes in synchrony, like the oarsmen on an ancient Mediterranean war-galley. But whereas oar-strokes were coordinated by a continuous drum-beat, it is much less clear how flagellar dynein motors are synchronized.The authors of the paper consider growing evidence that the central microtubule pair provides the drumbeat, with the aid of a protein complex called the dynein regulatory complex, located between the spokes and the dynein arms. However, The molecular mechanism by which the central pair regulates dynein is not known.
1Kimberly A. Wemmer and Wallace F. Marshall, Flagellar Motility: All Pull Together, Current Biology Volume 14, Issue 23, 14 December 2004, Pages R992-R993, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.11.019.
Thus another deeper level of complexity becomes apparent. A collection of parts is not enough; they must coordinate their actions. No wonder Antony Flew considered Darwins Black Box an amazing book and has become a theist (see 12/09/2004 entry).Huygens Heads for Titan 12/24/2004
At about 7:25 p.m. JPL time Christmas Eve, anxious scientists and engineers watching their monitors received bits from 800 million miles away, indicating that the Cassini spacecraft had successfully released the Huygens Probe over an hour earlier, with no faults or problems, right on schedule. In mission control, engineers with Santa hats could be seen cheering, clapping, shaking hands and congratulating one another. Some sample news reports: BBC News, MSNBC, Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Twelve hours after release, the Cassini orbiter snapped this photo of the distant probe flying away.
This begins the Probes 22-day solo flight to smog-shrouded Titan, where its three parachutes will deploy in sequence on January 14 to settle the 700-pound craft on the surface of the largest piece of unexplored real estate in the solar system. For some good accounts of the Huygens mission, see Space.com, BBC News, National Geographic News, and the official press releases at European Space Agency and Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Take a look also at Astronomy Picture of the Day artwork of Huygens Arrival and Probe Landing. (Unlike in the artwork, however, Saturn would not be visible, because it will be behind the moon from the landing spot, and the Cassini orbiter, of course, would be way too far away to see.) The Planetary Society has also been posting numerous articles about Titan. For the technically minded, there is a 68-page press kit, and for all ages, JPL has a photo essay. The ESA Site has some cool animations showing the orbital path of the probe.
Before signing off for Christmas, lets review some of the other recent findings from Cassini. Some exciting news was announced at last weeks conference of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco:
Watch for exciting news from Titan on January 14-15. There are not many first time ever adventures left in the solar system, and this should be one of the best in our lifetime. Congratulations to the many team members, some of whom have been working for 20 years for this moment. What will Huygens see as it samples, measures and photographs the atmosphere and surface of this bizarre, frozen world that is bigger than Mercury and Pluto? The world may soon know.Archaeologists Discover Biblical Pool of Siloam 12/24/2004
MSNBC News reports that a team of archaeologists working in an Arab portion of Jerusalem believe they have located the pool of Siloam, where according to the Gospel of John, ch. 9, Jesus healed a blind man.
In other archaeology news, MSNBC also reported that the Israeli Antiquities Authority is calling an alabaster pomegranate alleged to be a relic of Solomons temple a forgery, as well as the acclaimed James ossuary that mentions the name of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Review magazine, however, is standing by its claim for the authenticity of the ossuary, accusing the IAA of unscientific analysis and bias.
Debates will continue about the ossuary, the Jehoash inscription and some other artifacts, but many objects and sites mentioned in the Bible are corroborated by the archaeologists spade. Unlike holy books of man-made religions, the Bible speaks of real places, events, and people. As such, it is open to historical investigation: in fact, it encourages the honest seeking for the truth.Galaxy Evolution Explorer Finds Living Fossils 12/21/2004
Some galaxies are 10 times brighter in ultraviolet than others, and are thought to be young galaxies undergoing violent star formation with frequent supernova explosions. In theory, they populated the early universe but should have quieted down by now. The Galaxy Evolution Explorer, an ultraviolet wide-field orbiting telescope, launched April 2003, has just made a surprise announcement: young, ultraviolet-bright galaxies are right in our backyard. The press release says that three dozen of them lie within 4 billion light-years of earth. The recent discovery suggests our aging universe is still alive with youth. Team leader Dr. Tim Heckman (Johns Hopkins U) added, Its like finding a living fossil in your own backyard. We thought this type of galaxy had gone extinct, but in fact newborn galaxies are alive and well in the universe. (See also similar announcement last week, 12/15/2004.)
Wait a minute; they said before that most of the star birth occurred in the first epoch of the universe (see 01/08/2002 headline), and that galaxies got mature fast (see 03/03/2003 and 12/16/2002 headlines). They also told us they found young stars in an old galaxy (see 07/08/2002 headline). If they dont even have a handle on the age of globular clusters (see 10/05/2003 headline), which are part of our own Milky Way, how can we believe them when they tell us what is old and young? This many anomalies should cause a serious reconsideration of basic assumptions, but these days in science, the model is the constant, and the data are the variables. Biologists pull the same shenanigans when telling us about earth-bound living fossils (see 10/13/2004 headline).Paleoanthropologists Fight Tooth and Nail 12/21/2004
Ann Gibbons, reporter for Science, seems to enjoy watching the fights about human ancestry. At Science Now, she began a news item about an alleged fossil human ancestor with a joke:
How many paleoanthropologists does it take to locate a molar on the correct side of a fossil jawbone? The short answer to this joke, which was has been winging around the Internet this month, is 28. Thats the number of paleoanthropologists who, in the current issue of the South African Journal of Science, declare that a fossilized wisdom tooth belonged in the right rather than the left lower jaw of a famous fossil of a putative human ancestor from Chad.Her description of the row includes allegations of withholding publication of findings, using questionable methods, conflict of interest, intimidation tactics, and squelching scientific debate. Gibbons metaphorically describes the controversy as fighting tooth and nail and kicking their teeth in.
This is boring stuff; what would really be news would be if the human-evolution crowd actually behaved like civilized people and agreed on something. How many paleoanthropologists does it take to screw in a light bulb? The answer is irrelevant, because they never get that far; since they can never agree on the socket type, the wattage, the voltage, the location, or how long the old bulb has been there, they just keep arguing in the dark.Future of Computers Lies in Harnessing DNA Circuitry 12/20/2004
According to EurekAlert, researchers at University of Minnesota are making progress using DNA molecules for information storage and processing. A DNA scaffolding that is being studied has the potential to hold information 1,000 times as densely as the best information processing circuitry and 100 times the best data storage circuitry now in the pipeline.
This would be a good time to review the information storage capacity of DNA, as described here 08/16/2002.Why Workouts Work for Humans, Not Pickups 12/20/2004
Space Daily began an article on space medicine with a thought-provoking comparison:
Most machines dont improve with use. Old pickup trucks dont gradually become Ferraris just by driving them fast, and a pocket calculator wont change into a supercomputer by crunching lots of numbers. The human body is different. As weightlifters know, the more that people use their muscles, the stronger they become. And unused muscles do not remain preserved; neglect causes them to waste away, or atrophy.The rest of the article, written by Patrick L. Barry, delves into how space physiologists are working to improve the exercise programs used by astronauts. They are striving to understand muscle response at the genetic and molecular level.
Muscles respond to stress by growing stronger because of programming. Our genes have billions of lines of code, and each cell is equipped with exquisite environmental sensors and molecular machines that carry out the instructions for repair and growth (read about just one example, among thousands, on EurekAlert).Wet-Marsers Win, But Life Unlikely 12/20/2004
The discovery of evidence for past water on Mars made Science magazines Breakthrough of the Year.1 Most recently, the Spirit rover found goethite, an iron oxide that forms most readily in water, announced a JPL press release Dec. 13. Although Richard A. Kerr at Science feels this second discovery on the opposite side of Mars from the Opportunity Rover provides a second chance for life, he admits its a long shot: Mars was taking a different environmental path [from Earth], one too stressful for any life that might have managed to take hold. Even at Meridiani [where Opportunity is roving], the most habitable site found so far, the water was acidic, briny, and, at least at the surface, intermittentnot a promising place for life to originate.
Update 09/21/2007: Data from the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter indicates that Mars probably never had much water: see 09/21/2007.
1Richard A. Kerr, On Mars, a Second Chance for Life, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5704, 2010-2012, 17 December 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5704.2010].
Life does not just originate any more than a castle will originate on an outcrop of marble. So Mars may have had intermittent, briny, acidic pools of water that stunk. Sounds like a graveyard for organic chemicals, not a Garden of Eden.Da Vinci Code Not Gospel Truth, Says National Geographic 12/17/2004
National Geographic News took a break from its usual nature articles to discuss the popular novel The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, and examine its historical claims. No Gospel in the story, it decides; while giving Browns theory a hearing, it concludes there is no evidence Mary Magdalene married Jesus, that they had a child, that a secret society of his descendants was formed, or that Leonardo da Vinci believed the legend and painted Mary as the wife of Jesus in The Last Supper.
The article also discounts the validity of the apocryphal Gospel of Mary that Brown uses as a principal source. Another assertion roundly disputed in the article written by Stefan Lovgren states, Browns assertion that the divinity of Jesus Christ was an invention by the Roman emperor Constantine in A.D. 325 is widely dismissed by scholarsChrists divinity had already been described in the New Testament. (See Hebrews 1:1-4, Colossians 1:15-20, and John 1:1-4 and many other similar references.) Browns controversial best-seller is the subject of a two-hour documentary to air on the National Geographic Channel this Sunday. It presents the view of scholars who argue that Brown is relying on discredited sources and flimsy connections to make his bloodline theory.
National Geographic is hardly a pro-Biblical source, so if they say the novel is based essentially on historical hogwash, why should anyone else trust it?Did Early Islam Promote Science? 12/16/2004
Nature published a news feature this week crediting a religion, Islam, with advancing science, but saying nothing about the Christian roots of science.1 It begins,
Western science owes much to Islams golden age a debt that is often forgotten. To help redress the balance, Fuat Sezgin has reconstructed a host of scientific treasures using ancient Arabic texts. Alison Abbott reports.Sezgin (professor emeritus on the history of science at the University of Frankfurt) is given very positive press. His mission is to help Westerners realize that the Arab world was the guardian of the ancient Greeks scientific knowledge during the Middle Ages, before the European Renaissance rediscovered and extended it. He has opened a museum in Germany with 800 machines built from descriptions in medieval Arab texts.
1Alison Abbott, Islamic science: Rebuilding the past, Nature 432, 794 - 795 (16 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432794a.
For contrasting view, see our online book in progress, The Worlds Greatest Creation Scientists. 432, 794 - 795 (16 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432794a.
The history of science is a complex subject involving centuries of political and ideological trends, thousands of players, and multitudes of documents, but two things are clear: true modern science was born in countries that had a Christian world view, and the greatest scientists of the scientific revolution came from a Christian background. Without slighting the contributions of the Greeks and Arabs, to portray otherwise is to distort history.Cretaceous Temperature Estimates Point Out Flaws in Climate Models 12/15/2004
Nature1 this week described evidence for high temperatures in the Arctic during the Cretaceous that it termed astounding. Based on work by Jenkins et al. that Arctic waters were 15°C, as warm as modern coastal waters off France and Maryland.
For a region blanketed in darkness for half of the year, the Arctic Ocean was astoundingly warm. It may have been even warmer earlier in the Cretaceous: proxy evidence indicates that the climate had been slowly cooling for nearly 20 million years. Although astounding, the new estimate of Arctic seawater temperature is not without precedent. Fossil evidence of the tropical breadfruit tree Artocarpus dicksoni and of champsosaurs, extinct crocodile-like reptiles, has been found in sediments from the high Canadian Arctic dating to the middle Cretaceous (90-100 million years ago).Did volcanic eruptions increase the global concentrations of carbon dioxide? Models show levels 3 to 6 times as high as todays, but even those do not raise Arctic temperatures that high. But raising levels higher also produces higher temperatures at mid-latitudes, temperatures that exceed the estimated values using proxy methods and approach the tolerance level of organisms. Christopher Poulson (U of Michigan), author of the news item, uses these findings to point out inadequacies in climate models:
Why do simulations of the Cretaceous climate predict polar temperatures that are too cold and Equator-to-pole temperature gradients that are too large? The solution to the problem may lurk in the climate models themselves. Attempts have been made to solve it by incorporating the effects of ocean heat transport, stratospheric clouds, ocean passageways, and vegetation. The result, however, has been only incremental improvements. Climate models still do an inadequate job of simulating the extreme warmth of a past greenhouse world a troubling proposition for predictions of a future greenhouse world.
1Christopher Poulson, Paleoclimate: A balmy Arctic, Nature 432, 814 - 815 (16 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432814a.
Yet National Geographic in the September 2004 issue made the case that global warming was absolutely, certainly happening without a doubt, and only the ignorant or politically motivated would deny it. Is this additional evidence that NG cannot be trusted in its science reporting? (see 10/24/2004 headline). We all know that aliens cause global warming, anyway (see 12/27/2003 editorial).Late Bloomer Galaxy Just Now Getting Into Star Formation? 12/15/2004
According to a story in New Scientist, a young galaxy is just now starting its process of star formation.
Most galaxies formed more than 10 billion years ago. Those born later tend to be fashioned from recycled gas rich in metals that were forged by previous generations of stars. But astronomers Trinh Thuan of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and Yuri Izotov of the Main Astronomical Observatory in Kiev, Ukraine found the gas in the youngster, named I Zwicky 18, contains very little metal and is more like the pristine gas left over from the big bang.1The astronomers are claiming this galaxy gives them an excellent opportunity to study the early stages of the evolution of galaxies. This galaxy made Astronomy Picture of the Day December 3.
1Yuri Izotov and Trinh Thuan, Deep Hubble Space Telescope ACS Observations of I Zw 18: a Young Galaxy in Formation, The Astrophysical Journal, 616:768-782, 2004 December 1.
Does something sound really fishy about this story? Like, maybe, trying to keep the story going in spite of the evidence, or trying to force-fit objects into preconceived categories of old and young? All they found was a galaxy with a lot of gas and few stars, and low metallicity in the gas. So? Look for the evidence of a prior assumptions in the abstract:Did Martians Win the War of the Worlds? 12/14/2004The question of whether there are young galaxies in the local universe forming stars for the first time is of considerable interest for galaxy formation and cosmological studies. There are several reasons for this. First, cold dark matter models predict that low-mass dwarf galaxies could still be forming at the present epoch because they originate from density fluctuations considerably smaller than those giving rise to giant galaxies. Thus, the existence of young dwarf galaxies in the local universe would put strong constraints on the primordial density fluctuation spectrum. Second, while much progress has been made in finding large populations of galaxies at high (z =+ 3) redshifts (e.g., Steidel et al. 1996), truly young galaxies in the process of forming remain elusive in the distant universe. The spectra of those faraway galaxies generally indicate the presence of a substantial amount of heavy elements, implying previous star formation and metal enrichment. Thus, it is important to have examples of bona fide young galaxies in the local universe because they can be used as laboratories to study star formation and chemical enrichment processes in environments that are sometimes much more pristine than those in known high-redshift galaxies. Moreover, their proximity allows studies of their structure, metal content, and stellar populations with a sensitivity, precision, and spatial resolution that faint distant high-redshift galaxies do not allow. Finally, in the hierarchical model of galaxy formation large galaxies result from the merging of smaller structures. These building-block galaxies are too faint and small to be studied at high redshifts, while we stand a much better chance of understanding them if we can find local examples.So they went into their observations with preconceived notions of what they were looking for and what it meant. Thats a recipe for delusion. Meanwhile, the young galaxies that should be at high redshifts, and presumably therefore more pristine, are nowhere to be found; they already have heavy elements. Where is the evolution?
In the H.G. Wells version, the Martian invaders with their tripod machines and death rays, wreaking havoc on Earth, were defeated by Earth bacteria. The new scientific plot envisioned by scientists, reported on Space.com, is that the Martians had the bacteria, and invaded Earth with it to either conquer Earth life or spread it onto our lifeless world. Or was it the other way around?
We know very little about the origin of life on the Earth... how it happened, what kind of environment it might have happened in, and how long it look to go from the origin to the last common ancestor of life as we know it a very complex organism very much like modern life, [Carrine] Blank [Washington U in St. Louis] said.So maybe the Martians won the war of the worlds. Jack Farmer, an astrobiologist at Arizona State at Tempe, thinks the War of the Worlds scenario is a serious possibility. Reporter Leonard David relayed some questions that raises in Farmers mind: Who would win? Is there the possibility for a competitive co-existence between life forms that originated on a different basis?
Much of this discussion was prompted by the evidence for water found by the Mars Exploration Rovers (see 12/03/2004 headline). Now, Spirit has found evidence for past water from a layered rock in the Columbia Hills, reports JPL. For more on the complexity of the hypothetical last universal common ancestor (LUCA), see 02/29/2004 headline.
Does water equal life? Does mud equal a mud-brick pyramid? Is science the art of building maybes on top of mights? Does might make right? Can they say the word genesis in school? Does life just happen? Can we say it happened when we know very little about the origin of life? Can students have a chance to hear the controversy about evolution (see next headline), instead of the diet of empty speculation dished out by astrobiologists spending too much time watching old movies and not thinking straight? Can they hear Jonathan Wells instead of H. G. Wells, and learn some science facts instead of science fiction?Debate: Should Schools Teach the Controversy Over Darwinism? 12/14/2004
The San Francisco Chronicle published a written debate between Stanford evolutionist Robert Sapolsky and Discovery Institute fellows Stephen Meyer and John Angus Campbell. The subject is whether schools should teach the controversy over evolution. Both articles can be read on the Discovery Institute website.
Meanwhile, the ACLU is suing another school district, this time in Dover, Pennsylvania; all the news media, like this example on Fox News, are talking about it in the usual terms. (Its kind of funny how the automatic pop-up ads home in on keywords; this article says, Free Evolution: Get Free $250 Gift Card for Evolution.) Surprisingly, in the Dover case, the intelligent design think tank Discovery Institute thinks the policy is misguided and asks for its withdrawal. John G. West explains that the institute recommends allowing the teaching of intelligent design, but not mandating it.
You, and only you, can help prevent the Atheist Charlie Lawyers Union from succeeding with scare tactics. Just one victory over these bullies will energize sensible parents all over this country. You might save $250 on your next purchase of Evolution, but who wants it for Christmas except the Grinch?For Better Workouts, Head for the Hills 12/14/2004
Science News1 reported on a study by the American Heart Association that shows hiking in the mountains is good for you. Experiments on people hiking in the Austrian Alps showed that going uphill, the body improves the processing of fats called triglycerides, and walking downhill improves the processing of glucose sugar. 45 volunteers who were healthy but generally inactive took part in the study by hiking up a 30-degree slope in Austria 3 to 5 hours per week and riding the cable car down. After two months, they switched and rode up and walked down. Each hike was preceded by intake of fats and glucose, and after each hike their blood level concentrations of the substances were measured.
1Ben Harder, Up and down make different workouts, Science News, Week of Dec. 11, 2004; Vol. 166, No. 24, p. 380.
Running on level treadmills is for mice. Get out and breathe the fresh air and tackle a mountain. Heres a picture to inspire you, and heres an encore. For more benefits, join the club.Introducing the Stretch & Squish Theory of Evolution 12/14/2004
Evolution is too slow if theorists rely on single point mutations, say two biologists from U. of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, who published their ideas in PNAS1 (see summary on EurekAlert). Instead, evolution proceeds by rapidly distorting, stretching and squishing what is already there, they claim.
They claim that even Darwin knew that evolution was fast: In an observation that has evolved into the modern theory of punctuated equilibrium, Darwin inferred from the fossil record that evolution frequently occurs in rapid bursts. In an effort to find a molecular basis for speeding up evolution to make rapid changes possible, they examined genetic sequences called tandem repeats from the blood of different breeds of dogs.
Most scientists agree that over very long periods of time, mutations in the genetic code are responsible for driving evolutionary changes in species. One widely accepted hypothesis is that random, so-called single-point mutations a change from one letter to another among the billions of letters contained in the code minutely but inexorably change an organisms appearance.Mutations in tandem repeat sequences apparently occur 100,000 times as often as point mutations, and produce noticeable changes in appearance quickly, they claim. Dr. John Fondon explains:
I was struck by the prevalence of very highly mutable tandem repeats in the coding regions of genes responsible for development, he said. Thats when it occurred to me that this may be an important mechanism whereby our genomes are able to create lots of useful variations in genes that are important for our development, our shape and structure, and our overall appearance. Many of the shape difference that we see in evolution are not suddenly adding a wing or a leg. They are distortions, the stretching or squishing of a body part. Mutations in these repeat sequences are responsible for such incremental, quantitative changes.In the case of humans, mutations in neurons might have distorted, stretched and squished our brains: Humans rapidly evolved big brains, which helped them survive as well, suggested the other researcher, Dr. Harold Garner.
Update 12/22/2004: Elizabeth Pennisi in Science2 calls this the Ruff Theory of Evolution. She notes that not all agree with the hypothesis that tandem repeats drive the evolution dogsled:
Sean Carroll from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, worries that Fondon and Garner overestimate the importance of tandem repeats in typical evolution, noting that dog owners have bypassed natural selection by breeding for physical characteristics without thought to how the resulting changes would impact a dogs survival in the wild. Intensive breeding may have prompted the rampant changes in tandem repeats, more so than would occur under natural conditions. But David King, an evolutionary biologist at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, argues that it doesnt matter whether natural selection or artificial breeding is at workthe role of tandem repeats is now clearly important: [Fondon and Garner] have shown that tandem repeats are effective for fine-tuning evolution.
1John W. Fondon and Harold R. Garner, Molecular origins of rapid and continuous morphological evolution, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0408118101, published online 12/13/2004.
2Elizabeth Pennisi, A Ruff Theory of Evolution: Gene Stutters Drive Dog Shape, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5705, 2172, 24 December 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5705.2172].
This evolutionary food for thought is fit for a King. (Here, King; here, boy.) How do you squish an arm into a wing, or stretch a fin into a leg? This sounds like the silly putty theory of evolution. An intelligent kid can purposefully make things out of silly putty, but the putty by itself is silly and has no goal in mind. Put the silly putty into a random machine of moving parts and chaos results.Cassini Passes Titan a Third Time 12/13/2004
Raw images from Cassinis Titan-b flyover from 750 miles (see animation) have been uploaded to the website: Cassini Raw Images (proceed from this link). Improved, processed images are now being posted at saturn.jpl.nasa.gov, such as this high resolution of dark terrain. Look also at JPL the and Cassini Imaging Team websites. In addition, teams monitoring the infrared, ultraviolet, radio, plasma and magnetic field data will have their results soon.
Scientists are still not sure what they are looking at on Titan. Better interpretation of surface features will require overlap of radar altimetry with visible and infrared images over the next few months. The dark and light areas are remarkable for their sharp boundaries and paucity of impact craters, indicating a young surface (see the global composite from October). Something resurfaced this moon recently, and active geology is probably still going on. When the infrared images from this encounter are published, they should show remarkable surface details in color (see infrared composite from October). Scientists are also eagerly searching for evidence of changes since October 26, the previous close flyby at this range (see 10/28/2004 headline).
On Dec. 14, Cassini flies by Dione at 50,000 miles to image the strange frosty streaks that puzzled Voyager scientists. Also, Cassini recently obtained the best pictures to date of Iapetus, showing tantalizing detail visible on both the dark and light hemispheres. Closer snapshots of Iapetus are coming January 1. With a string of spectacular successes since June (see 07/01/2004 and 06/14/2004 headlines) and bigger adventures just ahead, the Cassini team is feeling their excitement rise to a crescendo.
Keep your eye on Titan; its the moon to watch over the next few weeks as the Huygens Probe mission climaxes on January 14 (see European Space Agency story). Titan looked like a bland orange fuzzball when Voyager flew by 23 years ago, but now we can finally glimpse the surface under all that dense haze, and see that it is a planet-sized world beckoning a new generation of explorers. This second-largest moon in the solar system, almost as big as Mercury and the only moon with a substantial atmosphere, is going to have amazing stories to tell stories that are bound to rewrite theories of the origin of the moons and planets.Monkeys Have No Ear for Music 12/13/2004
Consonance and dissonance have no meaning to monkeys, studies have shown. Nature Science Update reported on experiments on cotton-top tamarins showing that, unlike humans, they do not find consonant tones more pleasing than dissonant ones.
If you want to look at the evolution of music its important to do these types of studies, says Laurel Trainor, a neuroscientist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. She adds that this research supports the idea that humans have a special preference for consonance, one of the most basic structural elements of music. This could account for the fact that as far as we know, only humans produce songs simply for enjoyment, she says.How this accounts for the dissonance in pop music among humans was not explained, but the report suggests that musicality may be restricted to humans alone.
Cotton-top tamarins may resemble some youth of today, but without literature, semantic language, music or art, it looks like their monkey culture is pretty undeveloped. They might relate to rap, which is more on their level, but even the Monkees seems too highfalutin for their taste.Gene Deserts Not All Dead 12/10/2004
Researchers continue to find evidence for function in the so-called gene deserts (stretches of DNA that do not code for genes) but are not yet ready to give up the concept of junk DNA entirely. According to EurekAlert, scientists at Lawrence Livermore found that the highly-conserved sections tend to contain regulatory agents, but they assume the variable regions contain accumulated junk. Recent experiments on mice showed that large portions of non-coding DNA were not essential for life and health; when removed, the mice apparently got along fine.
They need to keep looking. Even if these stretches do not code for genes or for regulatory agents, there could be other reasons they are there. Maybe they provide structural integrity, scaffolding, bulk, or contain encrypted backup copies of genes, or provide something else no one has even considered yet. If you looked at files on a computer, some would be easily readable but others would look like nonsense, and could be deleted without apparent harm. That does not mean they were junk; maybe the function was just not discovered yet. Maybe it was a device driver for a device you had not yet tried to use. The apparently healthy mice with large portions of DNA removed might have been deprived of something they needed in a different environment, or might have aged quicker, or might have lost immunity to something. The intelligent design approach is to assume there is a reason for it, and work hard to find it, not give up prematurely and call it junk. This approach was successful in overturning the evolutionary myth of vestigial organs. It will likely prove fruitful in this case as well.Intelligent Design Evidence Convinces Atheist of Designer 12/09/2004
According to an AP report on ABC News, a famous British atheist now believes in God based on scientific evidence. At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England. He wrote recently, It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism.
For nearly five decades one of Britains most outspoken atheists, Antony Flew said that he was always taught to follow the evidence wherever it leads, and the case for a designer was too strong. The investigation of DNA has shown, he has concluded, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved.
Hes just a deist now, pausing at the halfway house on the way to real faith. Halfway, unfortunately, is just as lost as square one. At least he admits the scientific evidence could not support the atheistic story that Nature assumes (see 12/08/2004 headline).Now We Know How Birds Fly 12/09/2004
Elementary physical science students know how airplane wings generate lift, but bird flight poses special challenges. The aptly-named swifts, for instance, can practically turn on a dime, dive steeply, and halt in mid-air to catch insects in ways that make a stunt pilot stall. Its not just flapping, and its not just leading-edge feather shape, say some Netherlands scientists publishing in Science1 this week; birds generate leading-edge vortices [LEVs] that provide additional lift and drag for their skillful aerobatics. Instead of using wind tunnels, the researchers figured this out with experiments in water tunnels.
The current understanding of how birds fly must be revised, because birds use their hand-wings in an unconventional way to generate lift and drag. Physical models of a common swift wing in gliding posture with a 60° sweep of the sharp hand-wing leading edge were tested in a water tunnel. Interactions with the flow were measured quantitatively with digital particle image velocimetry at Reynolds numbers realistic for the gliding flight of a swift between 3750 and 37,500. The results show that gliding swifts can generate stable leading-edge vortices at small (5° to 10°) angles of attack. We suggest that the flow around the arm-wings of most birds can remain conventionally attached, whereas the swept-back hand-wings generate lift with leading-edge vortices.The arm-wings of birds (i.e., the parts near the body) have the conventional airplane-wing shape, but the swept-back hand-wings of swifts and some other birds create the delta-wing jet-fighter look. The leading-edge feathers on these hand-wings are sharp and generate little conical tornados sweeping back from the wing tips that add lift and drag:
LEVs are robust, lift-producing aerodynamic flow systems allowing high angles of attack. At high angles of attack, the drag component of the aerodynamic force is large. We assume that swifts take advantage of the high lift as well as the high drag component of the LEVs to increase their agility in flight. They can, for example, use the high angle-of-attack LEVs to brake in midair without losing height immediately, as they do while catching insects in flight.The authors do not discuss how this wing system evolved, but in the same issue of Science,2 Müller and Lentink mention that insects have usually been considered the masters of unconventional lift. Since birds now are also seen to have caught onto the same trick, they suggest that birds, insects and fighter-jet designers have something in common with Darwin: evolution and aeronautic engineering converged on the same solutionvariable wing sweep.
1Videler, Stamhuis and Povel, Leading-Edge Vortex Lifts Swifts, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5703, 1960-1962, 10 December 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1104682].
2Ulrike K. Müller and Lentink, Enhanced: Turning on a Dime, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5703, 1899-1900, 10 December 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1107070].
Dont let that last sentence ruin your day. Watch the Blue Angels, and watch the swifts at dusk sweeping in formation through the air. Enjoy the fruits of intelligent aeronautical engineering design. Maybe the designers of F16 tactical fighter aircraft someday will converge on the solution of building nests under the eaves of a barn, and reproducing exact copies that can grow, sing and catch fast-darting objects in mid-flight.Chicken, Silkworm Genomes Published 12/09/2004
Now that the chicken genome has made the cover of Nature1 and the silkworm genome has been published in Science2 this week, evolutionists are busily mining the data for clues to evolutionary ancestry of very disparate groups of animals, says EurekAlert (also here and here). For example, in the paper on the silkworm genome, the authors say, Lepidoptera are unusual because they have holocentric chromosomes with diffuse kinetochores. This characteristic is a potential driver of evolution because of the ability to retain chromosome fragments through many cell divisions. Yet in this case evolution is assumed; what was observed was an example of something that provides functional integrity.
1Jeremy Schmutz and Jane Grimwood, Genomes: A fowl sequence, Nature 432, 679 - 680 (09 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432679a.
2Biology Analysis Group, A Draft Sequence for the Genome of the Domesticated Silkworm (Bombyx mori), Science, Vol 306, Issue 5703, 1937-1940, 10 December 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1102210].
Most of the evolutionary claims merely assume evolution, or make empty promises about how the new genomes will help shed light on evolution. Example: As life on Earth evolved over time, genes have been created, kept, discarded or deactivated, and reorganized. At the particular point in evolutionary time over which a species first develops, these processes may have changed a gene in ways that allow scientists to use it to get a better fix on the human version of the gene.Crows and Apes Related by Convergent Evolution 12/09/2004
Scientists have noticed that crows have some of the same tool-making skills as apes, and in fact, are even better tool makers. How could such vastly different animals show such similar mental skills? Science1 explains this as another example of convergent evolution:
Discussions of the evolution of intelligence have focused on monkeys and apes because of their close evolutionary relationship to humans. Other large-brained social animals, such as corvids [crows and ravens], also understand their physical and social worlds. Here we review recent studies of tool manufacture, mental time travel, and social cognition in corvids, and suggest that complex cognition depends on a tool kit consisting of causal reasoning, flexibility, imagination, and prospection. Because corvids and apes share these cognitive tools, we argue that complex cognitive abilities evolved multiple times in distantly related species with vastly different brain structures in order to solve similar socioecological problems.Yet that poses a conundrum; how could a crow or an ape evolve a cognitive toolkit without having the reasoning ability to decide they needed the toolkit to solve socioecological problems? The evolutionary jargon is sufficient explanation for these evolutionists: cognition in corvids and apes must have evolved through a process of divergent brain evolution with convergent mental evolution.
See also the report on National Geographic News, which says crows rival many nonhuman primates in intelligence. James Owen concludes, If were as smart as we think we are, perhaps we need to keep an even closer eye on those clever old crows. A picture of crows perched happily on the arms of a scarecrow comes to mind....
1Nathan J. Emery and Nicola S. Clayton, The Mentality of Crows: Convergent Evolution of Intelligence in Corvids and Apes, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5703, 1903-1907, 10 December 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1098410].
How this kind of nonsense makes it past peer review is a study in the devolution of intelligence. They just make up phrases out of Darwin Silly Putty and call it an answer; divergent evolution and convergent evolution. That explains everything. How many million mutations had to converge for this trick? The authors show good flexibility, imagination and prospection, but need to evolve some better causal reasoning.Nature Takes Note of Religious Influence 12/09/2004
The surprisingly strong show of support for moral issues in the recent U.S. election has been the talk of the news for weeks now, and Big Science cant ignore it. The voices of religion are more prominent and influential than they have been for many decades, begins a prominent editorial in Nature1 Dec. 9, entitled Where theology matters. But taking note of it is about all it can recommend: Researchers, religious and otherwise, need to come to terms with this, while noting that some dogma is not backed by all theologians.
The dogma of mention is primarily doctrine that leads to positions against abortion and stem cell research namely that of Catholics and evangelical Christians, as portrayed by Tony Reichhardt and two assistants in a news feature exploring varying religious views on embryonic stem-cell research.2 In the section on evangelicals, Reichhardt quotes Bible verses they use to support their view that life begins at conception: in particular, Psalm 139:13 and Jeremiah 1:5. These are the religions that give scientists the most grief over bioethics. Presumably the diversity of views listed implies that scientists do not need to take the arguments of evangelicals and Catholics all that seriously, because so many other religious groups disagree. But in the same issue, Nature3 published a surprisingly friendly news feature about the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhists, admiring their spirituality and support for science.
The editors realize this is an old fight, but claim problems arise when religion and science encroach on each others turf. Why not just accept the views of Aquinas or Einstein or the Pope, and let each field live and let live?
The reason is that the two traditions regularly stray onto each others territories and stir up trouble. Consider the political battles over the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in schools an attempt by some religious people to foist their beliefs, masquerading as science on others. Science bases its conclusions on empirical data, not on the authority of the Talmud, Bible or Koran. And even though some may find it distressing that science recognizes no god, forcing it to do so will only produce bad scienceBut lest the reader think all fault is on the religious side, the editorial quickly adds, Meanwhile science, allied with business, is encroaching on religions turf by unleashing technologies that raise profound questions about human nature. Natures advice? Religious thinkers and secular ethicists are right to raise concerns, and scientists shouldnt just charge ahead without listening to them. In testimony on the Presidents Council on Bioethics, for instance, the editors were struck by the high-mindedness and sincerity of the discussion. They recommend each side avoid caricaturing the other, like godless Frankensteins versus ignorant Bible-thumpers.
The last line sounds like advice from one atheist to another: Secular scientists (probably the majority) should avoid underestimating the influence and rights of those who believe that only a god can give meaning to the world, human suffering and mortality.
1Editorial, Where theology matters, Nature 432, 657 (09 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432657a.
2Tony Reichhardt, Religion and science: Studies of faith, Nature 432, 666 - 669 (09 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432666a.
3Jonathan Knight, Religion and science: Buddhism on the brain, Nature 432, 670 (09 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432670a.
They just dont get it, do they? This article gives only faint praise to non-atheists. It basically says, instead of charging ahead to redefine humanness and secularize all ethics, stop and listen for five seconds to the concerns of a few numbskulls who need the crutch of a god to give them meaning, then proceed to charge ahead and redefine humanness and secularize all ethics. Just dont give a microsecond of ear to those rascally creationists and ID folk who are trying to foist their beliefs on us unenlightened materialists. Stop a moment to appease the religious folk by dropping a flower at the feet of the Dalai Lama and chanting a mantra, then get on with the business of our godless world view.The Evolution of Irresponsibility 12/07/2004
Evolutionists at the University of Minnesota have developed a theory for the evolution of impulsive behavior, reports EurekAlert. They say that because our ancestors were hunter-gatherers, they had to grab what they could without thought of future reward or punishment:
When psychologists study kids who are good at waiting for a reward, they find those kids generally do better in life. It looks as though this is a key to success in the modern world, so why is it so hard for us to accept delays? The answer may be because we evolved as foragers who encountered no penalties for taking resources impulsively.Surprisingly, experiments with blue jays show that the birds cannot learn to bypass a small immediate reward for a bigger deferred prize, even after a thousand repetitions. Evolutionists had thought that the birds could figure out that a seed in the hand was worth two in the bush. One researcher, puzzling over this, said, I think we were asking them the wrong question. Further experiments seemed to show that the impulsively-acting birds ended up with just as much reward as they would have had they learned to wait.
The paper to be published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society claims this might help explain addiction and other compulsive, impulsive human behavior.
Thats all Dad needs, another excuse for Johnny to explain why he cant help being an irresponsible jerk. Here is another example of evolutionary theory rationalizing the worst in human behavior: humans cant help themselves, because they evolved that way. If so, whatever is, is right, so why let modern society get in the way of our own evolution?Haeckel Vindicated? Parathyroid Glands from Gills? 12/07/2004
Human gland evolved from gills trumpeted a BBC News science article without apology.* It gives uncontested press to a team from Kings College that is claiming the human parathyroid glands evolved from gills. This is claimed on the basis that they have similar functions (calcium regulation) and are located in the neck region. Fish have no parathyroids; their gills help them extract calcium from seawater. The parathyroids in mammals are attached to the thyroids in the neck and are vital for regulating the amount of calcium in the blood.
Calcium is the most tightly regulated of all elements in the body; it performs essential functions in cell signaling, nerves, muscle and bone. The parathyroids (unrelated to the thyroid glands) regulate calcium by manufacturing and secreting a specialized hormone, 84 amino acids in length, into the blood. When calcium levels fall below normal, parathyroid hormone stimulates at least three processes to conserve it: resorb it from bone, absorb more from food, and prevent loss in urine. (For anatomy and physiology of the parathyroids, see these sites: Colorado State, Dr. Howard Glickman, and Parathyroid.com).
Professor Anthony Graham, part of the team making the connection between fish and humans, told the BBC Ernst Haeckel has been vindicated:
The researchers also found a gene for parathyroid hormone in fish, and they discovered that this gene is expressed in the gills.The researchers also based their claim on the fact that the gills in fish and the parathyroids in mammals stem from the same location in the developing embryo (but then, so do many other organs and structures, including the tongue, epiglottis, pharynx, Eustachian tube, and more; see Temple University site for details).
Does anyone really need help to see how dumb this is? Three strikes and they are out:Are Local Microwaves Cooking the Cosmic Background? 12/06/2004
Science Now has a surprising announcement that may alter astronomers confidence in the structure of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation. Since the WMAP probe data was analyzed (see 09/20/2004 headline), cosmologists have boasted that the high resolution detections of fluctuations in the temperature supported their models of big bang inflation and dark matter / dark energy proportions. Now, a paper by Schwartz et al. in Physical Review Letters1 has found evidence that some of the fluctuations may be caused by our own solar system, which may be producing or absorbing some of the microwaves. They found a disproportionate number of fluctuation vectors are aligned with the ecliptic, the plane of the solar system. Adrian Cho writes, That would mean the strength of the undulations in the truly cosmic radiation wouldnt jibe with the predictions of inflation. One of the team members commented that this would point to some serious problem with our understanding of the universe at the largest scales. The WMAP team, however, is calling the preferential alignment of vectors a fluke of chance.
1Schwartz, Starkman et al., Physical Review Letters, 93, 221301 (2004), 26 Nov 2004.
The WMAP cosmologists were trying to squeeze too much tall tale out of millionths of a degree anyway. It was already evident from claiming that 95% of the universe is mystery stuff that they had a serious problem with [their] understanding of the universe at the largest scales.Cosmology Mavericks Turn On the Red Light 12/06/2004
According to the majority of astronomers, redshifts are cosmological: that is, they represent the effect on spectral light of the expansion of the universe. A minority group of astronomers, however, claims otherwise, that at least a component of redshift represents intrinsic motion effects of rapidly moving objects irrespective of cosmic expansion. For evidence, they point to active galaxies that appear to have quasars with very different redshifts apparently associated with them; their theory is that quasars have been ejected from the galactic nuclei. These maverick astronomers include Halton Arp, Geoffrey and Margaret Burbidge, J.V. Narlikar, M. B. Bell and the late Fred Hoyle. Some of these have also been vocal critics of the Big Bang theory.
Bell has published a new paper in The Astrophysical Journal1 (Dec. 1) providing more evidence for the ejection theory. He studied the redshifts that appear to cluster at preferred (quantized) distances and examined the wings or distributions around the peaks. If the redshifts were cosmological, one would expect the wings to be symmetrical. If quasars (also called quasi-stellar objects, or QSOs) were ejected from active galactic nuclei, the average velocity vectors for a sample due to ejection would be spherically symmetric with respect to the host galaxies. But from our vantage point, the radial components receding from us by the ejection would be additive to the cosmological component along our line of sight. This should produce a larger wing on the red side of the spectral peak, and that is what Bell claims he has found in two samples, one at large redshift and one at lower redshift. These results offer further evidence, he argues, in favor of the model proposing that QSOs are ejected from active galaxies.
Bell does not claim that this overthrows the standard Big Bang model, but says, inflation may be in trouble if it suggests that all the density structure in the universe (e.g., galaxies and clusters) was preset during the inflationary period. He believes, instead, that quasars are smaller objects that were ejected early in the evolution of active galaxies, and represent the seeds of new galaxies in the early universe. Still, his findings cast doubt on the usual interpretation of redshift, and means that quasars are not the superluminous bodies at vast distances usually assumed, because such beliefs come entirely from the assumption that their redshifts are cosmological, he says.
There are still many mysteries out there. The Hubble Space Telescope just took a picture of a nearby baby galaxy (see Astronomy Picture of the Day) that astronomers claim is just now forming stars out of a gas cloud that formed after the big bang, according to New Scientist. Why this galaxy should wait so long after others have matured is a puzzle. (The evidence is merely low metallicity in this particular small galaxy; the story is concocted to fit it into the standard model.) The Hubble press release puzzles over this galaxy assumed to be 500 million years old, nearly yesterday in cosmological terms: Our Milky Way galaxy by contrast is over 20 times older, or about 12 billion years old, the typical age of galaxies across the universe.
1M.B. Bell, Distances of Quasars and Quasar-like Galaxies: Further Evidence That Quasi-stellar Objects May Be Ejected from Active Galaxies, The Astrophysical Journal, 616:738-744, 2004 December 1.
The ongoing debate about redshifts has attracted the attention of creationists and other skeptics of Big-Bang-to-man philosophy. This paper does not call into question any age estimates for the universe, since Bell believes it fits into the age estimates for the standard model, but it reinforces doubts about the interpretation of redshifts. It also provides some support for the idea that redshifts are quantized, i.e. that they cluster around preferred distances like waves in a pond. Does this provide support for the idea Earth is located somewhere near the center of the universe? Will the maverick astronomers succeed in overcoming the dogma of the majority of cosmologists? Since Bob Berman of Astronomy thinks the majority party is clueless anyway (see 11/06/2004 headline), it seems open season to offer alternatives. No claims are made here about the validity of this paper other than to give it a hearing for interested researchers. But please, please, dont think that willingness to be a maverick justifies emulating the Los Alamos caveman.SETI Researcher Thinks Big: Send Internet Smut to the Aliens 12/05/2004
Seth Shostak (SETI Institute), in an article on Space.Com, answers the question, What do you say to an extraterrestrial? He said we no longer need to limit ourselves to short messages like What hath God wrought?,* the phrase Samuel F. B. Morse sent with the first telegraph. The bandwidth we have available now is huge, so why not beam the Google servers to space? Sure, the Web contains a lot of redundant information, he says, (and a lot of unsavory material, too, but after all, thats part of the human condition).
His idea is that even if the aliens dont know our language, the wealth of data would allow them to figure it out. The difference between Samuel Morses first, terse telegraph message and the bit stream spewed by a modern telecommunications satellite is enormous.... if were really thinking about interstellar messages, we should think big.
Weve come a long way. What message do we want to send? From a Bible verse to smut enough to make the angels blush. Since the majority of internet traffic is pornography, the aliens would learn a lot about the human condition, all right: Those earthlings are really sick. Lets beam them a copy of the Word of God, the message He has wrought for our salvation.Did Life Begin as Failed Mineralogy on the Seafloor? 12/03/2004
Exclusive Another origin-of-life expert made a presentation to a filled auditorium at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Dec. 2 (cf. 11/05/2004 headline). His scenario differed radically from last months. Instead of trying to get ribose (for RNA) to form in a desert, he put his speculative natural laboratory 4 to 10 km underwater at the bottom of the sea. Why? Because the surface of the Earth would have been a deadly place: under attack by UV radiation (disastrous on the early earth, he said; for contrasting opinion, see 05/28/2003 headline), volcanoes, and meteorite impacts of world-wipeout class. For his model, he needed a safe haven out of harms way, and found one, he believes, near deep sea vents.1
Dr. Michael Russell (geologist, U. of Glasgow) believes life began in an alkaline hydrothermal reactor. Russell has a simple view of life: Life emerges because of a chemical disequilibrium, he said, as a kind of natural feedback mechanism to solve the problem of the need for a catalyst between carbon dioxide (oxidizing) and hydrogen (reducing). Dont be vivocentric, he cautioned the audience; a mineral-based catalytic cycle does the same thing as life, acting as a natural regulator between extreme conditions. He also emphasized that living systems rely on convection, and generate byproducts. What does life do? It makes waste, he began. (The waste in his model that might provide astrobiologists with clues on other planets is acetate or acetic acid, i.e., vinegar.) At another point, he dismissed life as simply failed mineralogy.
Building on his belief that life emerges in environments far from equilibrium, his scenario proposes an environment with strong gradients. His illustrations portrayed a battle between high temperature water, laden with alkaline substances and metals, rising up through cracks in the crust to face the cold, acidic ocean water, loaded with dissolved carbon dioxide. He explained that this sets up a temperature gradient, a redox (oxidation-reduction) gradient, and a kinetic barrier that produces a 500 millivolt energy source at just the right temperature, about 40° C (hot, but not too hot, like California), where life could start cooking. At the junction of all this turmoil, a membranous froth forms, providing a nest where organic chemicals like amino acids could form and evolve. He thought that 35,000 years or so (the presumed lifetime of the Lost City thermal ventssee 07/25/2003 Quick Takes), was plenty of time to get life started. Amino acids would link up, with help from mineral platforms, into chains up to six units long. These, in turn, through hydrogen bonding with nucleotides, could spontaneously induce a prototypical coding that would not have depended on one-handed (homochiral) peptide chains. Heterochiral polymers would have actually been preferable at first, he said, and might have been selected for homochirality later, the left-handed ones winning the luck of the draw over the right-handed.
Another thing life requires is compartmentalization a membrane. With apologies to the biochemists, who assume todays lipid membranes would have been a requirement for life, he proposed that iron sulfide (FeS) might have been just the thing at that early stage. It might have formed sandwich layers where the polymers of life grew, spalled off, with more forming in their place, producing a steady supply of prebiotic ingredients on which natural selection could act. He did not discuss harmful cross-reactions or interfering products, but made the setup appear like a self organizing proto-enzymatic system, a forerunner of the complex acetyl-coenzyme A pathway employed by todays living cells, which is assisted by proteins called ferrodoxins that act as electron-transfer agents. The extremely steep gradients at the seafloor, he felt, could allow FeS to handle the electron transfer work.
In short, he proposed a peptide world first instead of an RNA world, the popular choice among those in the origin-of-life research community (see 08/26/2003 for other options). In fact, he felt it a big mistake for most researchers to promote the RNA World hypothesis (see 07/11/2002 headline), because to him it is highly unrealistic, given the assumed geological conditions on the early earth. Youre not going to get RNA in the early earth; it is too unstable in water, he emphasized (yet failed to mention how it appeared in the primitive coding with peptides he described earlier.) Moreover, he flatly admitted the Urey-Miller experiment was completely unrealistic (see 05/02/2003 and 10/31/2002 headlines), because everyone since Darwin knows that carbon dioxide (not hydrogen or methane) must have been the predominant atmospheric gas.
By contrast, he sold his model as meeting all the realistic early-earth geological requirements, and getting free fringe benefits as a bonus. For instance, he touted his model as providing a mechanism for proton motive force (pmf), in addition to electron transfer. Pmf is observed in all organisms to build ATP. Understanding how pmf arose in prebiotic conditions is, for most researchers, a difficult problem, but he claimed his model produced it as a free lunch. This represented the tone of his talk: getting life is quick and simple. In a somewhat overconfident manner, he described life as a natural consequence of disequilibrium conditions readily available deep under the sea, here on Earth or on any world undergoing convection and chemical disequilibrium. The audience gave him a hearty round of applause.
Noting that the audience may have missed the fact that his scenario falsified the previous speakers (and vice versa), this reporter asked during the Q&A period about it. Benner said that ribose was essential to life, yet is unstable in water, so he theorized it had to form in a desert with borate to stabilize it, I said. You are proposing that it formed in a deep sea environment. How do you reconcile your view with his? I dont, he responded without hesitation. Im a geologist hes a biochemist. To me, you must start with a realistic geological scenario for the early earth. There were no deserts! There was no borate, a rare mineral in cosmic terms. I consider that a highly unlikely scenario.2 He had stated emphatically earlier in the lecture that organic molecules did not come from space, as some astrobiologists suppose. Regardless of what the cosmologists say, There were no organic molecules on the early earth, he said forcefully, even from space. He didnt need special delivery anyway; all the ingredients cook up just fine in his frothy alkaline reactors. No primordial soup here; in fact, his first life has to invade the oceanic crust to survive, because the open ocean is the last place to put fragile early life forms. Like a desert, it would have provided nothing to eat.
When a listener asked him his opinion about when life originated, he speculated confidently it was about 4.4 billion years ago in geological terms, almost immediately after the earth cooled enough for the oceans to form. He made it seem an almost automatic result of the circumstances. To someone not vivocentric, it appeared to be no big deal.
1Russell agreed with Stanley Miller and Jeffrey Bada (see 06/14/2002 headline) that black smokers are not suitable locales; too acidic and too hot (400° C). He suggested pH of 10-11 (strongly alkaline) was more appropriate. Contrast this with the highly acidic conditions found on Mars (see next headline).
2Quotes are paraphrased but quite close to the actual statements.
This reporter could not suffer bluffing to go uncontested, so he went up afterwards to talk to the speaker in person. A series of questions nailed the bluffing to the wall:Mars Opportunity for Life Must Tolerate Salty Acid 12/03/2004
The first slew of scientific papers from the Mars Exploration Rover mission appeared in Science Dec. 3,1 with the focus of interest on Opportunitys evidence for past water at Meridiani, because Spirit found only volcanic rock rubble and inorganic soils in the presumed lakebed at Gusev Crater. Jeffrey Kargel (U.S. Geological Survey) sums up the 11 reports this way:2
The analyzed rocks mainly consist of iron oxides and hydrated magnesium, calcium, and iron sulfates; they were deposited in or altered by salty, acidic water, perhaps a sea. Together with orbital observations, the reports for the first time document the geology and geochemistry of a martian hydrological event. The results indicate aqueous sedimentation or aqueous alteration and are consistent with models of a warmer, wetter martian past.Some of the features, like polygonal cracks, could have a non-aqueous explanation, such as repetitive freezing and thawing of ice, he admits, and the laminae could be explained by ultracold concentrated acid solutions. The consensus view, however, involves cycles of wetting and drying, with minerals spending a good deal of time soaking in water. But water, water everywhere was surely none to drink: The mineral jarosite detected at Meridiani Planum requires highly acidic conditions, he says, and the other minerals are consistent with an acid brine environment: The mineral assemblage and chemistry is typical of acid mine drainage systems affected by sulfide oxidation .... Does martian geochemistry resemble a global acid mine pollution site of ochre and sulfate mineralization? he asks.
Now that scientists believe there was some water for some time, how does this bode for hopes life existed in the past, and perhaps survives to this day on the red planet? The ESAs Mars Express found methane, he reminds us, which could be a biomarker (see 11/14/2004 headline). Kargel cant rule it out, but it seems a stretch:
Could martian methane be formed by life? Might Meridiani Planums salts be linked through life and water to regional concentrations of methane? Life exists on Earth at acidities and salinities comparable to those inferred for Meridiani Planum. A cold acid-sulfate geochemical model of Meridiani Planum overlaps with some models of the ocean on Europa, one of Jupiters moons where life could exist. Such extreme environments are rare on Earth, but may be common elsewhere. Few terrestrial species tolerate conditions that are simultaneously supercold, salty, and acidic; none of those that can survive such extremes also generate methane, but maybe on Mars they do, or maybe martian methanogens live in more alkaline and reducing regions.Opportunitys ORV racetrack resembles no other place on earth, but it resembles somewhat the Rio Tinto acid mine drainage in Spain, which has specialized microbes. Nevertheless, Mars may never have been very earth-like, he sighs, and Although Meridiani Planum provides a record of aqueous processes, it might be a poor astrobiological site.
The paper by Squyres et al.3 on the evidence for water, hopeful as it begins, explains why. It says that, although High acidity and salinity do not pose insurmountable challenges to microbial life on Earth, the organisms that survive it are specially built: Such organisms, however, belong to specialized populations that have evolved to survive in highly acidic or saline environments. It is less clear, therefore, that such conditions are suitable for the kinds of prebiotic chemical reactions commonly invoked to explain the origin of life (see 09/17/2002 headline on problems with salt). Not only that, but theres another challenge any incipient life would have faced. Rover Opportunity found wind-driven sand among the assumed water-deposited minerals. This suggests that water on Meridiani Planum may have been regionally extensive but temporally discontinuous, increasing the difficulty of biological persistence over long time intervals.
What does the debate about Martian water and life mean to us at home, who live on a privileged planet, where life is found in every environment from acid mine drainages to the lush thickness of tropical rain forests? The remote plausibility of any life on Mars contrasts sharply with what we observe on Earth, where living things thrive in the sea, in the desert, in caves, in the mountains, in the air, and on bustling freeways filled with humans driving to work, including scientists heading to NASA centers and universities, eager to read the latest radio signals from their distant robotic emissaries. How will we interpret the answer to the question: is there, or was there ever, life on Mars? Kargel concludes his summary with the alternatives:
The possible future discovery of life (or fossil life) beyond Earth, anticipated for millennia, would complete the Galilean revolution that removed Earth and its life from the center of the universe. Alternatively, if we search martian aqueous deposits and find them barren, then Earth might be seen as the only land of the living for light-years around. Methane and salts may then provide humans with raw materials for building a new civilization on Mars and with an increased respect for life on our own planet.
1Linda Rowan, Opportunity Runneth Over, Science, Vol 306, Issue 5702, 1697, 3 December 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5702.1697].
2Jeffrey S. Kargel, Proof for Water, Hints of Life? Science, Vol 306, Issue 5702, 1689-1691, 3 December 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1105533].
Someone send Kargel a copy of The Privileged Planet video; hes got Galileo and Copernicus and their views mixed up. They were creationists and put God at the supreme position in creation, not man; Earth was a cosmic sump where the dregs and filth descended, and Satan was at the center of the Earth. Moving Earth to the status of a planet was a promotion, not a demotion, explains Dennis Danielson (editor of The Book of the Cosmos) in the film.The Politics of Academic Scientists: Democrats Vastly Outnumber Republicans 12/02/2004
A news item in Science1 entitled Academia as a One Party System will probably attract the attention of conservative talk show hosts:
Universities in the United States are very keen on fostering diversity as long as its not ideological diversity, according to the National Association of Scholars (NAS), a conservative group of academics. Last year NAS surveyed members of scholarly societies in six fields in the social sciences, asking which political party they identified with. About 30% of the 5486 people polled responded; of these, 80% were Democrats. Economist Daniel B. Klein of Santa Clara University in California and Charlotta Stern of the Institute for Social Research in Stockholm, Sweden, conclude that because the prevalence of Democrats was even higher among younger academics, it appears that lopsidedness has become more extreme over the past decades, and ... unless we believe that current professors occasionally mature into Republicans, it will become even more extreme in the future.The ratios of Democrats to Republicans varied from 3 to 1 in Economics to 30 to 1 in Anthropology, with Political Science, History, Philosophy and Sociology scaling in between.2 Surprising as it may seem (sarcasm intended), it appears that Republicans are an endangered species on college campuses.
This announcement motivated us to check the National Association of Scholars website to see if there were similar statistics for science faculty, and sure enough, there were. Klein and Andrew Western have a working paper from their survey of Stanford and Berkeley.3 The Democratic-Republican (D:R) ratios for the hard sciences track those for the social sciences: Biology 21:0 (Berkeley) and 29:2 (Stanford); Chemistry 32:4 (Berkeley) and 10:5 (Stanford); Mathematics 23:6 (Berkeley) and 12:3 (Stanford); Neurology/Neurobiology 55:4 (Berkeley) and 13:2 (Stanford); Physics 28:2 (Berkeley) and 14:3 (Stanford).
Though not as pronounced, the trend held up in the Engineering departments: Civil Engineering 14:4 (Berkeley) and 10:3 (Stanford); Electrical Engineering 22:7 (Berkeley) and 18:6 (Stanford).
There was not a single subject area where Republican faculty members had representation even close to parity with Democrats. Several had zero or one Republican, like Anthropology (12:0 Berkeley and 6:0 Stanford), Psychology (28:1 Berkeley and 24:0 Stanford), Sociology (17:0 Berkeley and 10:0 Stanford), English (29:1 Berkeley and 22:1 Stanford), French/Italian (12:0 Berkeley and 1:0 Stanford), History (31:1 Berkeley and 22:0 Stanford), Linguistics (7:1 Berkeley and 6:0 Stanford), Music (13:1 Berkeley and 4:0 Stanford), Philosophy (9:1 Berkeley and 10:1 Stanford), Journalism (4:0 Berkeley). Even Religious Studies was dominated by Democrats (2:1 Berkeley and 7:0 Stanford).
The overall ratio of Democrats to Republicans for the Hard Sciences and Math categories at these two prestigious universities was 237:31, nearly eight to one. For the Social Sciences categories, it was 177:13, almost 14 to one. For the Humanities, it was 175:8, almost 22 to one. The overall score in all 23 departments was 720 Democrats and 81 Republicans, nearly nine to one. The authors make their conclusions clear and forceful:
A ratio of even 2 to 1 is deadly to the minority. A ratio of 5 to 1 means marginalization. Someone of a minority viewpoint is dependent frequently on the cooperation of her departmental colleagues for many small considerations. Lopsidedness means that dissenters are avoided or expelled, and that any who survive are very unlikely to be vocal critics of the dominant viewpoints.
1Random Samples, Academia As a One-Party System, Science, Volume 306, Number 5702, Issue of 03 December 2004.
2Surveys on Political Diversity in American Higher Education, National Association of Scholars.
3Daniel B. Klein and Andrew Western, No. 54: How Many Democrats per Republican at UC-Berkeley and Stanford? Voter Registration Data Across 23 Academic Departments, Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics. See also the Students for Academic Freedom website.
Here is our long-sought data to corroborate what we declared was intuitively obvious back on 09/22/2003: the Darwin Party is virtually synonymous with the Democratic Party. In academia, many of them are liberals, secularists and socialists. So connect the dots. Who are the ones writing all those Darwinian just-so stories in the science journals? Are they the neutral, objective, unbiased scientists in lab coats? Do they represent a cross-section of American political spectrum, such that it could be claimed the evidence supports evolution to any unbiased observer? Do these professors reflect a cross-section of American culture, values, and ideals? No. They are the same ones protesting the war against terrorism, voting for same-sex marriage, standing silent as courts trump the will of the people, and loathing the military.Archaeology Is Hindered by Evolutionary Assumptions 12/01/2004
Why was a complex village uncovered in Uruguay called unexpected? Peter W. Stahl (anthropology, Binghamtom U.) asks the question in the Dec. 2 issue of Nature:1
Evidence of unexpected complexity in an ancient community in Uruguay is a further blow to the conventional view of prehistoric development in marginal areas of lowland South America.The answer is that for over 60 years, archaeologists have been taught to think certain ways about marginal areas and primitive peoples. They have been taught an now-outmoded belief in cultural evolution, culture areas and trait diffusion; environmental determinism; a sketchy archaeological record; and an underestimation of the effects of European conquest on native populations, Stahl claims. Authorities like Julian Steward inculcated notions of slow urban development gradually creeping to outlying areas, and traditional Indians living out their simple lives, surviving relatively unchanged since deep time. Stahl takes issue with this, noting the number of contradictions with the evidence. Although few would buy into these ideas today, he says, Stewards culture history has had an enormous impact on archaeological interpretation, both academic and popular.
Its hard to dislodge old myths. Stahl is not surprised by the complexity of outlying villages, like the one by Iriarte et al. that showed:
a large formal village plan, consisting of mound and plaza features, at a time (more than 4,000 years ago) and in a place where conventional wisdom would not have expected them to exist. Moreover, subsequent occupation, intentional remodelling, settlement planning and village size indicate both a permanence and a density of population previously unthought of for this area. Innovative analyses of plant microfossils and starch grains extracted from stone tools yield evidence for the early exploitation of maize, squash, beans and root crops in an area that was long considered non-agricultural, at least for prehistoric populations.It appears these people were doing what humans have always done: applying their brains and intentions to organize their lives with intelligence and skill. This example not only rejects much of the interpretational baggage carried by generations of archaeologists, but also exposes the potential for prehistoric culture in grasslands and wetlands, which were historically viewed as marginal areas, he says. In conclusion, he preaches, Marginality and atrophied development are part of a flawed historic perspective. Our expectations for indigenous achievements should be greater.
1Peter W. Stahl, Archaeology: Greater expectations, Nature 432, 561 - 562 (02 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432561a.
Who gave the scientific world an image of primitive man evolving in marginal areas, living hand to mouth with very slow cultural evolution? Who portrayed the relatively recent cities as the places where the lights of humanity first went on, and progress slowly spread into the outlying areas? Was it not the Darwinists in Victorian Britain, who tended to view themselves as the intellectually superior race? The history of Darwinian racism and treatment of indigenous peoples is a shameful lesson that has no justification today, as Stahl points out.A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Blurs 12/01/2004
How was National Geographic able to publish an artists reconstruction of Homo floriensis (aka Hobbit Man) the same day Nature published the find? (See 10/27/2004 headline). Martin Kemp (U. of Oxford, UK) explains in the Dec. 2 issue1 how Peter Schouten, an artist, got the gig:
Tim Flannery, director of the South Australian Museum .... suggested to Richard Bert Roberts of the University of Wollongong that Schouten be asked to produce a picture of Flores Man. The resulting painting was purchased jointly by the university and the National Geographic Society, and the society then acquired the image rights (their television channel will air a programme on the discovery early next year). The image was released to the public as soon as the original scientific papers appeared in Nature....Kemp seems a bit put off at all this. He takes pride in the fact that Nature was rigorously sober and impeccably scientific in its portrayal of the scientific data, and avoided caricaturing the individual in artwork:
Scientists will readily recognize that Schouten, like any artist relying largely on bones, had to make some key assumptions, not least with respect to fleshy and surface features, including secondary sexual characteristics. For a historian of images, a series of questions arise about the character with which the envisaged figure is endowed. We cannot portray any figure without giving it some kind of definite persona, however subjectively its characteristics may be read by different spectators. The features that speak most powerfully to us the eyes, nose and mouth are among the most speculative.Kemp notes that Schouten made the male individual look stoical and macho, spear in hand, holding its prey over its shoulder, hairy and transitional. Darwinian ape-men, he observes, are almost invariably portrayed as miserable and destitute, living in grinding discomfort, clearly waiting desperately for evolution to happen even if not in their lifetimes. The guy does not look like a bundle of fun, he quips.
Are these portrayals helpful in educating the public? Such images flourish in the popular domain but tend to be denigrated within science, he adds, and ends with a note of cynicism about the power of the artist over the work of the scientist:
But the battered skull and bony fragments do not stick in our memory in the way that Schoutens skilful painting does. The process of discovery and publication has thrown up an instant icon that will be very hard to dislodge. We can change our mind about recorded facts, but a potent image, for good or for ill, tends to become indelible.
1Martin Kemp, Science in culture, Nature 432, 555 (02 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432555a.
The history of Darwinist propaganda can be understood as a series of indelible icons of evolution that often have little or nothing to do with the facts, but become very hard to dislodge. This is the propaganda value of visualization. The Darwin fish, the horse series, hairy ape-men in a cave, Darwins finches, peppered moths on tree trunks, Darwins tree of life, Haeckels embryos these all illustrate Thumbs second postulate, An easily-understood, workable falsehood is more useful than a highly-complex, incomprehensible truth. (Useful to whom?)