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Scientist Sees Evolutionary Sense in Coordinated Complexity
You may now all emit a collective groan. Make sure it is heard at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia, where certain people need to be turned right-side up. Evolutionary sense: hows that for a prize-winning oxymoron? David Berlinski put it well: The unfathomable complexity of living systems, Darwins theory affirms, is the result of random variation and natural selection. Is it indeed? Of these concepts, the second is hopelessly confused and the first is of no intellectual interest (Daily Californian, 04/01/2005). No wonder he began that essay with the line, Wearing pink tasseled slippers and conical hats covered in polka dots, Darwinian biologists are persuaded that a plot is afoot to make them look silly. Thats about all theyre wearing, too.Watch the process of evolutionism manufacture in action, from deduction to storybook: see 04/20/2006.
Southpaw Explanations Out of Left Field
Gotta give Schultz a hand for trying. Whats the sound of one left hand clapping? in a vacuum?Tip Link
Quick video on spider silk how this stronger-than-Kevlar material is being mass produced with goats (cf. 01/18/2002). See the flick at Live Science.
Clock Gene Same in Humans and Birds
Evolution is fluid, except when it is conserved. Evolution is rapid, except when it is slow. Evolution shows diversity, except when it shows commonality; it shows homology, except when it shows analogy. See The Story of Evolution (12/19/2007 commentary) for even more opposite things evolution explains. Evolution is even numerically quantifiable. Through evolution we can observe rate heterogeneity, (03/26/2002), a biological version of Skinners Constant.* So you see: Darwins theory is at once most elegantly mathematical and versatile. Is there anything that evolutionary theory cannot explain?Noahs Ark on Mars 04/28/2010
April 28, 2010 We apologize for this improbable headline to draw attention to two stories making the rounds: new claims about Noahs Ark on Mt. Ararat, and new claims about life on Mars. Headlines on these topics show up periodically in the news. What do the subjects have in common? How do they differ? Do the most recent instances affirm tradition or break new ground?
Claims about Noahs Ark are usually made though not exclusively by some Bible-believing Christians (also some Muslims and Jews), while claims about life on Mars are typically made (though again, not exclusively) by some evolutionists. There is nothing about the Biblical story of Noah that prevents an unbeliever from being interested in claims about a boat on Ararat, and there is nothing that prevents a Christian from accepting the possibility of life on Mars. Nevertheless, advocates are generally divided along those ideological lines, and critics equally divided along the opposing lines: evolutionists are often boisterous in their ridicule of Arkeologists (while some Christians are, too), while Bible-believers often ignore or sneer at claims about life in outer space (while some evolutionists do, too).
The latest Ark claim burst onto the scene April 25 with a press conference and a website (noahsarksearch.net) showing detailed pictures and video of a wood structure allegedly found inside a cave high on Mt. Ararat in Turkey. It seemed too good to be true. Instead of the usual vague shapes of rock that might resemble a ship from some angles, here was unmistakable artificially-manipulated timber shaped into rooms and structures found above timberline. Unless the eyewitnesses were all liars, it seemed straightforward. One of them said he was 99.9% sure it was Noahs Ark. Some creation organizations snatched up the tantalizing news with cautious optimism; others, having been burned in the past, seemed to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. CMI put out a short press release with daily updates, but expressed the need for cautionin both directions.... The story made Fox News, ABC News and other leading news organizations. Skeptics like those at the James Randi Foundation were quick to moan not again! with dismissive vituperation against what they perceive as Christian gullibility. Alan Boyle in his Cosmic Log at MSNBC positioned the claim in the tradition of reports that surface occasionally, remarking that a boatload of skepticism is in order. Then on April 27 a letter from Dr. Randall Price surfaced. He is a Biblical archaeologist and member of a rival search team. His letter, reproduced at Bible Places Blog, claims that the site is a cleverly-devised hoax. The timbers were hauled up there from the Black Sea, he claims, by Turks who misled the Chinese into thinking they were the remains of Noahs boat. Nevertheless, that claim does not answer all the questions. Some diehards are questioning Prices motives, because he lost money on the deal and may not be impartial because he has his own search going on. They also doubted his first-hand knowledge of details mentioned in the letter. Subsequent to Prices hoax allegation, World Net Daily posted a lengthy article sharing some of the diversity of opinions about the claim, and so did the Christian Science Monitor. The rest of this story is TBD.
Update 12/07/2010: Randall Price was interviewed by CBN and claims he has proof it is a hoax by a disreputable guide who misled the Chinese team. But he also claims his own team has found a rectangular anomaly under the ice with ground-penetrating radar, and hopes to excavate it next summer. Video at World of the Bible.
Whats lively on Mars? News about Martian microbes tends to
come around more frequently than Noahs Ark reports. This month has been no
exception. In a way kind of mirroring the Chinese Ark story, there was a short-lived headline that
NASA had new evidence of life on Mars posted by The
Sun, a British tabloid, which NASA quickly denied as positively false according to
Clara Moskowitz on Space.com.
More serious sources kept hope alive, though.
Scientist updated notions with optimism: Life on Mars, if it ever existed, may be easier to find than
previously thought, an article said, announcing that common Mars rocks can preserve life after all.
New research on terrestrial rocks suggests that a type of rock common on Mars can preserve fossilised
microbial life, rather than erasing evidence of it as previously thought. But thats only
a possibility, not a discovery. The possibilities for unique Martian life were dimmed somewhat by
PhysOrgs report from the American Society for
Microbiology that Earth microbes may contaminate the search for life on Mars. This is
another in the too late category: our landers may have already contaminated the Red Planet with
our own germs. (In a sense, then, if Earth were destroyed, Mars could be a kind of Ark preserving
at least some organisms; but thats hardly a justification for the tabloid headline to this entry.)
James Urquhard announced a headline on New
Scientist sure to give fodder to cartoonists: Look for Mars life with laughing gas.
Scientists at the University of Georgia think that nitrous oxide could provide an atmospheric biomarker
for future missions hunting Martians: This could be an easy way to sniff around
the surface of Mars looking for pockets of sub-surface brine that might be hotspots for extreme microbial life.
It goes without saying that the relatively new science of astrobiology has ambitions
beyond Mars. Europa, Titan, and Enceladus are all hot targets, and the skys the limit: millions of dollars have been
spent on missions like Kepler, the Space Interferometry Mission, Terrestrial Planet Finder
and other stepping stones to the discovery of life among the stars. And then theres SETI:
privately funded, but just as eager to find an unseen, hoped-for reality.
This comparison and contrast is not meant to depict the two camps as equal and opposite, nor the implications of each belief system as equally credible and equally ridiculous, or any such thing. For goodness sake, look at the asymmetry in funding! Astrobiology gets millions of dollars from the federal government and is supported by the major universities, whereas Ark researchers struggle with private donations on a thankless and difficult search in a remote, politically-dangerous part of the world. Ark research is tangible and potentially falsifiable. The mountain is finite. Disproving astrobiology would amount to disproving a universal negative. The Flood may be ridiculous to certain anti-Christian rationalist skeptics (you know, the ones with the Enlightenment baseball caps who act skeptical of everything but their own skepticism about that, they are certain). These people love to yuck it up over the credulous Christians falling for the latest Noahs Ark hoax. Out come the clippings of Jammal and all the rest to parade before the press again. They never seem to recognize their own credulity when it comes to the Mars meteorite and every whiff of methane or laughing gas that is detected that might suggest the remotest possibility, against astronomical odds, that life could have emerged there by unintelligent causes. Recently one of their heroes, Stephen Hawking, proposed that life might exist in the interior of stars (see Rob Sheldon blog). Did any of them blush at that? Let them tell us on what scientific observations such a preposterous suggestion could possibly be based. Its beyond the credibility of even science fiction. It sounds like something a drunk Smogarian would say after staring at a lava lamp. Let them laugh at Christians who believe in the Flood account all they want; they are laughing in the face of Jesus Christ, who mentioned the story of Noah as if it were a fact of history (Matthew 24:38-39). And they had better not forget that millions of smart Christians and scientists in the intelligent design community, find evolutionists astrobiological beliefs even more ridiculous. Life by chance? in primordial soup? Youve got to be kidding. So Dykstras Law holds: everybody is somebody elses weirdo. Understood? Come, let us reason together. (Just remember that by reasoning you are partaking of Judeo-Christian assumptions, so park your naturalism at the door if you want in.)Five years ago, on 04/27/2005, we reported on Natures cover story about the rise of intelligent design groups on college campuses. Featured on the cover was a personable young man named Salvador Cordova, who was active in the founding of an ID club at George Mason University. It turned out that Creation-Evolution Headlines had been very influential in triggering Salvadors interest in intelligent design. He wrote our Feedback line a very appreciative letter after reading our entry, and has since become an influential person in the I.D. movement, writing for Uncommon Descent and other blogs, and engaging evolutionists one-on-one in dialogue about design.
New Theory on Evolution of Bat Flight
Typically, positive selection will act on only a few sites and for a short period of evolutionary time; thus the signal for positive selection usually is swamped by the continuous negative selection that occurs on most sites in a gene sequence. Even after a short period of positive selection, this is commonly followed by a long period of purifying selection, which would obscure the selective processes. These processes explain why it has been so difficult to detect positive selection in mtDNA, despite extensive studies.Nevertheless, they defended several independent tests, such as branch-site models, to try to weed out and distinguish other signals, and thus support their identification of positive selection.
Now surely, they must realize there has to be more to it than that, right? Well, but of course. Their paper ends with this paragraph:
Bats are unique in being the only mammals capable of powered flapping flight. As in birds, bat flight is a highly energetically expensive form of locomotion. However, it is also a very efficient mode of transport and assists flyers in feeding and breeding as well as avoidance of predators. The evolution of flight in bats was a major factor leading to the success of this amazing group of mammals, although the evolution of this ability has required complex changes in the anatomy of these animals. In addition to other important factors, such as changes in bone density and development of the wings, bat flight also requires a significantly higher metabolic rate, a rate well above the maximum capable by other similar-sized terrestrial mammals during exercise. Aerobic metabolism by mitochondria plays a vital role as the energy production centers of cells The OXPHOS pathway of mitochondria has adaptively evolved to meet the demands of changing environmental and physiological conditions. Because the mitochondrial respiratory chain has a dual genetic foundation (mitochondria and nuclear genomes), here we examined both genomes to obtain insights into the evolution of flight by mammals. Both mitochondrial genes and nuclear-encoded OXPHOS genes showed greater evidence for adaptive evolution; this result supports our hypothesis that energy metabolism genes were targets of natural selection that included a balancing cytonuclear coevolutionary constraint, which allowed adaptive changes in energy demands and thus played a crucial role in attainment of flight by bats.
1. Yong-Yi Shen, Lu Liang, Zhou-Hai Zhu, Wei-Ping Zhou, David M. Irwin, and Ya-Ping Zhang, Adaptive evolution of energy metabolism genes and the origin of flight in bats, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published online before print April 26, 2010, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0912613107.
2. For more on the pitfalls of measuring positive selection, or tying it to adaptive fitness, see 09/05/2008, 01/13/2010 bullet 6, and 02/17/2010 bullet 4.
We will have to call this the Mighty Mouse theory of bat evolution. Its about as credible as the character who always managed to fly in for the rescue at the last moment (Wikipedia), and about as cartoony, too.Cosmologist Suffers Paranoid Delusions: Media Promotes His Views 04/26/2010
April 26, 2010 Theyre coming to get us, and Im sure of it, because I know everything. What would you think of someone who talked like that? What if he were one of the most famous cosmologists alive today? The man is Stephen Hawking that wheelchair-bound math wizard who talks with a speech synthesizer and once fell into a black hole in The Simpsons. Now, the Discovery Channel is poised to air his views on SETI and alien life, and the science media, as usual, cant get enough of his opinions.
The BBC News reported that Hawking considers it perfectly rational to believe that aliens exist, but he also believes we should do everything possible to avoid making contact. He said, We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldnt want to meet. Normally, scientists do not try to build a universal principle from a sample size of one, nor make such generalities castigating all sentient beings in the universe because of the sins of some.* PhysOrg briefly parroted these opinions without comment, as did Jessica Griggs at New Scientist. Clara Moskowitz gave Hawking the most paranoid-sounding headline, though, on Space.com: If Aliens Exist,They May Come to Get Us, Stephen Hawking Says.
Along with Hawkings evidence-challenged delusions that theyre out to get us, he believes he has an inside scoop on the secrets of the universe. The next episode of his Discovery Channel series, Moskowitz revealed, is titled, The Story of Everything.
* This is the Hollywood Fallacy. Consider two filmmakers making documentaries about Los Angeles. One shows off all the glamour and glitz: Hollywood movie stars, Rodeo Drive, Disneyland, beaches with gorgeous girls, all the best. Filmmaker #2 makes a film about gangs, drugs, riots, fires and earthquakes. Which is the truth?
Hawking is undoubtedly thinking of the downside of European conquest of the Americas, and perhaps other instances of conquest, but such broad-brush depictions are not useful without specifics. The Portuguese were interested primarily in trade, for instance, whereas their neighbors, the Spaniards, sailed to conquer. And not all the conquered people were worse off after conquest (though many were). Before the 16th century, the Mayans were throwing girls to volcano gods and committing ritual human sacrifice in ways that shock archaeologists today. Tribal warfare in some lands before Europeans arrived was brutal and vicious. It was often replaced by colonization that was also brutal in different ways, but not always. And we must ask, what peoples did the well-known tribes conquer before them?
Many of the early mountain men were respectful to the Native Americans; trade was welcome, and developed into a mutually beneficial relationship. Is it their fault if later generations took advantage of the doors they had opened? Some of the mountain men were appalled at treatment of the Indians and intervened on their behalf. Sometimes the immigrants tried to be peaceful and introduce trade, only to be massacred for their kindness. We all know the bad cases (slavery, genocide, epidemics); colonization and empire are often synonymous with greed and avarice. But some colonizers attempted to be peaceful and benevolent and establish mutually attractive relationships with natives, and some native peoples accepted the terms. Once in awhile colonization brought new blessings and opportunities.
Theres another more major problem with Hawkings fear of aliens. Can he really compare what happened on Earth, where all the parties involved belong to Homo sapiens, with what might happen between people and aliens? When you talk specifics, you can have a meaningful conversation and bring clarity. Generalities often serve only to reinforce stereotypes.
With all due respect to Hawkings struggle with ALS and the courage he has exhibited in his many years proving that a life is valuable despite physical disabilities, these factors are no excuse for saying dumb things. The men in blue suits tried to cure this madman of his delusions by subjecting him to shock treatment in NASAs Vomit Comet in 2007 (picture on Engadget.com), but it obviously didnt work. But then, would you expect evolutionary psychologists (02/16/2010, 02/28/2010) to cure paranoia brought on by evolutionary cosmology? The Discovery Channel should look for more rational content at the Discovery Institute. We had a little fun here at Hawkings expense, the poor, good-natured genius. Now read what physicist Rob Sheldon thinks of all this.To Sleep, To Dream: To Dream, Perchance, to Learn 04/25/2010
April 25, 2010 When you have learned a complex task, take a nap and dream about it. A new study shows that dreaming helps consolidate the memory in your mind and helps you perform the task better next time around.
Science Daily reported on research by scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. They tested 99 subjects by having them learn a 3D maze. Some subjects reviewed the task while awake; others were given a 90 minute nap. A few hours later, the subjects were retested on their ability to work the maze. Only the subjects who napped and dreamed about the maze performed better up to 10 times better.
Dr. Robert Strickgold, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and senior author of the study, was surprised and excited about these results. Whats got us really excited, is that after nearly 100 years of debate about the function of dreams, this study tells us that dreams are the brains way of processing, integrating and really understanding new information, he said. Dreams are a clear indication that the sleeping brain is working on memories at multiple levels, including ways that will directly improve performance.
Even though subjects reported diverse dreams about the maze, like being lost in a bat cave, or just hearing the background music from the maze, dreaming appeared to be associated with success in the second trial. Just thinking about the maze while awake did not have the same beneficial effect. One researcher thought that the dreams were an outward reflection that the brain had been busy at work on this very task. In other words, the dreams dont cause you to remember the task they are just indications that the brain is at work consolidating and integrating the information for the next run. The hippocampus may be solving the details of the maze, while the higher cortical areas may be thinking of how that task applies to other similar complex tasks. Co-author Dr. Erin Wamsley offered this explanation:
Our [nonconscious] brain works on the things that it deems are most important, adds Wamsley. Every day, we are gathering and encountering tremendous amounts of information and new experiences,she adds. It would seem that our dreams are asking the question, How do I use this information to inform my life?Strickgold offered an evolutionary speculation for the apparent unique aspect of brain physiology that allows this integration and consolidation during sleep:
In fact, says Strickgold, this may be one of the main goals that led to the evolution of sleep. If you remain awake [following the test] you perform worse on the subsequent task. Your memory actually decays, no matter how much you might think about the maze.It appears that just like Phillip Benfey in the 04/23/2010 entry, Dr. Strickgold has just offered a requirement for evolution without a specification for how it could have been fulfilled. He also begged the question why sleep would evolve as a solution. In addition, in speaking of the evolution of any complex phenomenon, any mention of one of the main goals is grounds for disqualification from Darwinism.
Sorry to have to keep excusing these Darwinist indiscretions; hope you can pardon the transgressor and move along to the soul of this story, if you will pardon the suggestive term.Who helped Copernicus the most? The surprising answer, according to astronomy historian Owen Gingerich, was the Protestants. Wait weret those the ones who tried to suppress the new view? Your history is wrong. Read about it in the 04/30/2004 entry.
Dinosaurs Lived in Vast Ecological Zones
To the extent the conclusions in this study are reliable, they raise interesting questions about climate as well. Todays western interior is highly stratified into biomes characterized by temperature, rainfall, flora and fauna. There are deserts, riparian zones, grasslands, chaparral, arboreal forests, and timberline meadows. Does the presence of dinosaur species across nearly continent-sized regions indicate that the climate or geography was radically different in the past? If so, what would that imply about earth history as well as political debates over human impact on the environment? These are questions that can be posed, not answers we are proposing.April 23, 2010 Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome (2005) is an original and important piece of research by Dr. John C. Sanford that casts serious doubt on the Darwinian paradigm. Sanford, a highly qualified scientist and genetics researcher from Cornell, invented the gene gun process, pathogen-derived resistance and genetic immunization.
Phillip E. Johnson highly recommended this book, which provides a lucid and bold account of how the human genome is deteriorating, due to the accumulation of mutations. This situation has disturbing implications for mankinds future, as well as surprising implications concerning mankinds past. Sanford has since devised Mendels Accountant, a much more realistic computer model of evolution than the pro-Darwinist counterparts. Even under the most optimistic conditions, this open-source program shows that Darwinian evolution cannot lead to progress under realistic mutational load. Buy Genetic Entropy from Amazon or other booksellers readily found with an internet search on the title.
Next resource of the week: 04/17/2010. All resources: Catalog.
Update on Interplant Internet
They also add a new element to the already complex interplay in Arabidopsis roots between two proteins, known as Scarecrow and Short-root, that Benfeys team had described in earlier work. Those proteins interact and restrain one another to allow the assembly of a waterproofing layer of cells that ultimately enables plants to control precisely how much water and nutrients they take in.The two-way communication works across cell borders. The internet nature of these between-cell signals is essential for correct patterning of tissues, the article explained. Susan Haynes of NIH said, This study provides important insight into how cells communicate positional information to orchestrate the complex process of tissue and organ development.
The article concluded by noting that the specific instances discovered here are most likely indicators of a general phenomenon that will be noticed throughout biology. Duke systems biologist Philip Benfey tacked on an evolutionary comment:
He said theres also reason to think that the specific regulatory interactions theyve uncovered were key in the evolutionary transition from single-celled algae to land plants.This comment amounted to a requirement without a specification.
It was really painful to reproduce Benfeys Darwin malapropism in this otherwise fascinating entry. Its kind of like having to endure someone telling an insensitive joke or belching during a speech. Lets deal with it quickly and move along. This is another indiscretion from an evolutionist who has not learnt good manners. One cannot simply assume that miracles will occur on cue, simply because Mr. Darwin needs them. A single-celled alga needs a tube to conduct water. Yes, the tube needs a waterproofing layer, too. Without these requirements being met, you cant grow a tree or sunflower. Fine; understood. But Mr. Benfey, who is going to snap his fingers and call for Tinker Bell to zap the alga with her mutation wand by your script? How many gazillion algae will have to die before one struggles to get the internet right and the email system working? Remember, you dont believe in miracles or end-goals, so this all has to happen by an undirected process with each and every step producing survival value. LOL, LOL (Lots of Luck, Laugh out Loud).Blood Clotting Fibers May Lead to Better Networks 04/22/2010
April 22, 2010 We all know that blood clotting has kept us alive many times. We would never have survived childhood scrapes and cuts had it not been for a cascade of responses in blood that builds a network of fibers quickly upon which a scab of tissue stops the flow of blood and begins repairs. That first network of fibers must be flexible enough to withstand stretches and strains that are likely to be ongoing as the child runs to mom (or a wounded soldier gets airlifted by medics). How is the strain distributed to keep the network from tearing? Scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill wanted to know, and Science Daily told about their findings.
In short, individual fibers of fibrin become stiff when they stretch. As they stiffen, the less-stretched fibers nearby have the flexibility to take up some of the strain. Dr. Michael R. Falvo explained: So in effect, strain stiffening in the individual fibers acts to distribute strain equitably throughout the network and thereby strengthen it.
This simple yet elegant solution is pregnant with possibilities. The article said that their findings may bring about a better understanding of this remarkable strengthening mechanism and may help to guide new design strategies for engineered materials.
Long-time readers will recall that the blood-clotting cascade was one of Dr. Michael Behes examples of irreducible complexity in his classic book Darwins Black Box. Here we see a second aspect of evidence for intelligent design in the same subject: research into the design of blood clotting leads to human design solutions. One can envision better fishing nets, a more robust electrical grid, or a better internet because of the concept of strain distribution discovered in fibrin networks already at work in your body. Can anyone find anything in this story for which Darwin can take credit? Its intelligent design from every angle.A Users Guide to Life by a materialist. Where does it go wrong? Find out in the 04/25/2003 entry.
What Can Fossil Leaf Measurements Tell About Evolution?
The number of assumptions in the method and its presuppositions outweigh any validity of the conclusions. First, the dating of the fossils is imbued with evolutionary assumptions. Second, the statement the Albian marks the time when angiosperms begin to be very diverse and important ecologically is miracle talk. It is distraction for We have no idea what happened. Basically, complex plants emerged and exploded onto the scene, like universes, Cambrian animals and everything else does in Darwinian theory.Crows Use Tools in Sequence 04/20/2010
April 20, 2010 Watch a one-minute video clip on the BBC News. A New Caledonian crow in New Zealand figures out how to use three tools in sequence to get at food that is out of reach. This amazing display of animal intelligence surprised researchers at the University of Auckland who already knew about the legendary problem-solving behavior of corvids, a group that includes crows, rooks and ravens (see 08/11/2009, Crow Fulfills Aesop Story).
The article said, The crows, which use tools in the wild, have also shown other problem-solving behaviour, but this find suggests they are more innovative than was thought. They can even whittle branches into hooks and tear leaves into barbs to reach hard-to-get food. Until recently, scientists had thought these tool-making skills were restricted to primates. The article continues, saying that primate mammals now have rivals in tool-making with these birds. Experiments have shown that the birds can craft new tools out of unfamiliar materials, as well as use a number of tools in succession. The lead author of the paper in PNAS about the experiments said, Finding that the crows could solve the problem even when they had to innovate two behaviours was incredibly surprising.
These observations raise questions about the interpretation of tool use as a measure of intelligence. Even octopi have been seen using halved coconut shells as tools, by scooping them from the seabed, galloping off with them and then later using them as a shelter (see 12/16/2009, bullet 1). But does this differ in extent or in kind from the work of a hermit crab, or a diatom, or of bees in building a honeycomb?
When the crow makes a space shuttle to build a space station, we will really take notice. Its great fun to watch smart animals, but there is really no comparison, even with chimpanzees. Think about the tools we take for granted: elevators, automobiles, cell phones, video games, Facebook these are all light-years beyond pulling a nut out of a cage with a stick. All things being equal, if we were stuck with beaks and wings, we would probably have computers with peckboards by now and ten thousand ways of interpreting inflections of the word caw.Flies Turn on a Dime 04/20/2010
April 20, 2010 A fly can turn 180 degrees in one tenth the time it takes you to blink an eye. Beating their wings 250 times a second, they dont even have to think about each wing beat, PhysOrg said about studies at Brown University using high-speed cameras and image tracking software. [Attila] Bergou discovered that flies rely less on their brains than previously thought and more on the clever design of their wings, the article said. To make a turn, a fly simply twitches a muscle that rolls its shoulder slightly. The wing does the rest, naturally adjusting over the course of a few beats, tilting by about 9 degrees, and creating drag forces that wheel the insect around. The article includes a 32-second video clip that allows you to watch the turn in slow motion.
The U-turn of the fly is much faster than anything man-made can achieve. A scientist at Harvard is looking enviously at the fly, the article said, for envisioning electrical flying robots that may some day come close to matching the flys design specifications.
Evolution makes sense when you think in generalities. When you look at things in detail, and measure what is required to make them function, you start thinking in terms of design specifications. You want to imitate them. When you try to imitate them, and find out how hard it is, you become an intelligent design believer. Darwinian excuses like, Evolution had a million year head start, begin to sound like desperate question-begging attempts to hang onto an obsolete dogma that has lost its credibility in the details.Can evolution be programmed? Check out three attempts at evolutionary computing last year (04/06/2009) and see if it was evolution or something else.
Maxwells Demon Helps Run Your Muscles
Interestingly, it has been shown that this unidirectionality arises during the transition from the weak microtubule-binding to the strong microtubule-binding states; the same result has been reported for the conventional kinesin. These results imply that the energy landscape for the kinesin-microtubule interaction is asymmetric (with 8-nm periodicity of the microtubule), suggesting that the same Brownian ratchet mechanism as found here is inherent in the kinesin-microtubule system. Myosin V moves along the actin filament in a dimeric form with high processivity. A clock-escapement-like mechanism to regulate ADP release has been shown to play a critical role in the high processivity. In addition, the longer and more positively charged loop 2 of myosin V, which makes the energy landscape for the actin-myosin interaction deeper, would contribute to the high processivity. The asymmetric funnel would also help the detached head of myosin V, which exhibits an extensive Brownian motion, to quickly find the preferential binding site. A Brownian ratchet-like mechanism may also contribute to the force generation via a strain-dependent weak-to-strong transition, as has been shown by a recent in vitro SME [single-molecule experiments] of myosin VI.The folding funnel refers to the process by which proteins fold upon exiting the ribosome another active area of research. It appears that thermal noise ratcheting also plays a role in achieving efficient and robust solutions quickly in that environment.
The authors did not speculate about how evolution might have hit upon this ingenious mechanism for efficient transportation. Instead, they said the mechanism was designed to fulfill functions efficiently and robustly, leaving the identity of the designer as a separate question. Their phrase clock-escapement-like mechanism recalls some familiar terminology from a long-forgotten, pre-Darwinian scholar by the name of William Paley.
1. Takano, Terada and Sasai, Unidirectional Brownian motion observed in an in silico single molecule experiment of an actomyosin motor, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online April 12, 2010, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0911830107.
How Maxwell would have marvelled to know that the benevolent demons (actually, little robotic angels) he envisaged were busily at work inside him, keeping his heart beating, his lungs breathing, and his fingers writing across the page. His contemporary, Darwin, would undoubtedly have cringed to hear the phrase clock-escapement-like mechanism to describe something in the cells he dreamed were little more than undifferentiated blobs of jelly-like protoplasm.Genetic Subcode Discovered 04/18/2010
April 18, 2010 Computer programmers know all about subroutines. One master program can easily call other programs, which can return results back to the master program. Thats very 1960s. Todays modular software responds dynamically from disparate sources and responds to feedback from embedded triggers. They can call routines written in other codes or languages. Were beginning to find that the genetic code is also far more advanced than the 1960s image of DNA to RNA to protein the Central Dogma, as it was called. Now, researchers in Europe have uncovered novel sequence biases and their role in the control of genomic expression.
Science Daily reported on work from the Computer Science Department of ETH Zurich and the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics. Researchers there have been chasing possible sub-codes in genomic information. One of the problems with the Central Dogma was understanding how translation is regulated. Cells need to respond quickly to stimuli and risks. What determines which genes are switched on and off, and the rate at which protein products are produced?
The researchers from ETH and SIB now identified a new sub-code that determines at which rate given products must be made by the cell. This information has several interesting implications.The insight into an additional level of genetic information stored in sub-codes can also provide a new look at the translation processes in the ribosome, the article said. It can help scientists understand how the ribosomes know at what rate to recycle their transfer-RNAs (tRNA) to achieve optimum rates of protein synthesis.
The article said nothing about evolution. Surprised? Of course not. If mutations were marginally tolerable in the days of the Central Dogma, they are going to be much tougher now that we know the genetic information system involves codes within codes and hierarchical levels of information. Darwinists will deal with this like they always do: by pumping out more Central Fogma.*Cosmix
Albert Instant was grimacing. His Caltech buddy Kan x 10-3 had challenged him to say cosmological constant five times fast, and it left him with hair in a tussle and tongue sticking out. This will never work. I need a catchy marketing phrase for the term, he thought. Ask your colleagues for ideas, Elsa said. A waste of time, Albert replied; Neils a bore, and Edwins bubble-headed ideas are more toil and trouble than theyre worth.
So he hopped on his bicycle, shifted into red, and rode down the world line where Stephen was hawking history books for a brief time. As he was riding through Pasadena, the crisp logo on a Max Factor store caught his eye. Olay! Thats it, he exclaimed. Smooth, isotropic, stabilizing and most of all, easy to pronounce! And that, students, is how Max Factor became almost synonymous with the expansion term in the instantaneous field equations of cosmetology, the study of the makeup of the universe.*
Maybelline we should get back to our regular science reporting....
Next headline on: Cosmology
*Explained on AVON television documentaries.
Robert Bakker is a renowned dinosaur expert. He had some strong words to say about the creation-evolution controversy. Which side do you think got more of his heat? Prepare to be surprised: revisit the 04/13/2008 entry.
Psychologists Portray I.D. as a Form of Evolution
The authors note that even such grand human engineering achievements as suspension bridges and the space shuttle evolved through a process that owes more to lessons learned from failure than to foresight and purpose. Similarly, close examination reveals that such behaviors as Olympic high jumping and jockeys thoroughbred riding styles can also be found to have originated through trial-and-error learning, in which the inventor may be blissfully unaware of the achievement until only after it has emerged.They called Richard Dawkins argument about drawing a line between things that are designed and things that merely looked designed an arcane argument. Thats because in a way, Wasserman and Blumberg argued, everything evolves.
At first glance this must strike some as terribly simplistic, or an equivocation that offers no solution at all. Its hard to believe no one in the Darwin or I.D. camps has not given such things plenty of thought already and shot them down, else the battle would not still be raging. But press releases can sometimes leave out important points. Did the paper fill in some missing pieces of argument?
The key point in the paper is that human intelligent design does not usually involve foresight and planning as is usually assumed. Having introduced William Paley, Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins, with their evolving ideas about design, the authors aimed their critique at the intuitive but dubious assumption that humans always engineer their contrivances with foresight and purpose. They referred to engineer Henry Petroski, who wrote in 1993 that human inventions do not spring fully formed from the mind of some maker but, rather, become shaped and reshaped through the (principally negative) experiences of their users.... Form doesnt follow function; it follows failure.
Such uncritical acceptance of purpose and foresight in human design may well be unwise. After all, do we really know how door hinges and can openers were created? In fact, we may know less about the origins of these everyday contrivances than we know about the origins of bivalve shells, sharks and hedgehogs. By attributing the origins of animals and artifacts to different kinds of designersone blind, the other intelligentboth Darwin and Dawkins lapse into the same kind of designer thinking that ensnared creationists like Paley. Such thinking rests on the familiarity and deceptive simplicity of mentalistic explanations of behavior, as when Dawkins uncritically appeals to the foresight and purpose of the watchmaker rather than entertaining possibly deeper questions about the origins of the watch. He may be giving human designers too much credit.From there, Wasserman and Blumberg argued that the history of any human invention is usually a history of failure and modification a kind of evolutionary history. They drew from examples in the origin of powered flight, bridges, pyramids, cathedrals and space shuttles. It is through this plodding process that todays designstypically instantiated in the form of a detailed blueprintembody all of the hard, painful, but often unacknowledged lessons of the past, they said. Most of us are ignorant of that history, yet we glibly proclaim that the final products were intelligently designed, thereby perpetuating the myth of the creative moment. Clearly, though, there have been some cases of invention that did not take this path of failure, but went directly from original concept to plan to product. Did they list any of those examples? No.
Their next step was to evolutionize the mind so as to set the human designer into the context of organic evolution: Because of the writings of Darwin, Dawkins and other biologists, many of us are now open to understanding the organic world in evolutionary termsbut are we equally willing to apply such evolutionary thinking to that last bastion of designer intelligence, our minds? The brave or fools follow as Wasserman and Blumberg draw from examples of tool making by crows and chimpanzees. Do they represent examples of emergent creativity and insight in the animal kingdom, or just collected learning experiences? The authors declare their skepticism of mentalistic explanations for animal tool-making; Indeed, we are unconvinced that creativity and insight are proper explanations even for human behavior. One hopes that creativity and insight were not requirements for writing their paper.
Of course, few people are unnerved when the cognitive prowess of crows or other animals is questioned. Things get stickier when we express similar skepticism about the human mind. Yet as with the invention of human artifacts, we see good reason to doubt the prevailing belief that novel human behaviorswhat we might call behavioral inventionsare necessarily the products of a designing mind.For evidence, they went to the world of sports. High jumpers and jockeys have learned novel ways of achieving better performance sometimes by accident. Without design or forethought, athletes discover, once in awhile, new moves that work better. If they work, they are kept: thats psychologist Edward Thorndikes Law of Effect, propounded decades after Darwins death: successful behavioral variations are retained and unsuccessful variations are not. Sounds positively Darwinian. Darwin, who believed everything in nature proceeded according to fixed laws, would have been pleased to see even human intelligent design encompassed by an extension of his own law of natural selection. Wasserman and Blumberg were pleased, too:
Our prime point here is the importance of the search for origins. Darwin has taught us that the search for the origin of species reveals the action of natural mechanisms that do not require guidance from a creative, intelligent designer. Similarly, Petroski has taught us to look beyond the romance of the iconoclastic inventor and the drama of the creative moment to appreciate the real origins of human artifacts. Petroskis insight should free evolutionists from their continuing dispute with creationists over where to draw the line between things that really are designed and things that only appear to be designed. Belief in the existence of that false line only serves to obscure the powerful selectionist processes that are at work in producing so many of the worlds creationsboth organic and synthetic.It sounds like they have just subsumed all of intelligent design into Darwinism.
1. Edward Wasserman and Mark Blumberg, Designing Minds: How should we explain the origins of novel behaviors? American Scientist 98:3 (May-June 2010), page 183, DOI: 10.1511/2010.84.183.
Thats one way to win a debate: eat your opponent. Im afraid Mr. Darwin will find his meal a bit disagreeable and will end up vomiting it up, only to be swallowed up himself by what he disgorged, which, like a Klein bottle, leaves an outside observer wondering who is inside and who is outside. But if you are looking at a Klein bottle, you are outside it by definition, using your mind to observe it. This implies that Darwin just swallowed himself. Q.E.D.April 17, 2010 Sometimes you want bite-sized reading material when sitting in the recliner while the TV is on mute for commercials. Then have a copy of How To Be An Intellectually Fulfilled Atheist (or Not) by William Dembski and Jonathan Wells beside you. Each self-contained chapter is just 2 or 3 pages. The subtitle explains the purpose of this 2008 paperback: The compelling argument for Intelligent Design behind the controversial documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The authors, both double-PhD credentialed, need no introduction as leaders of the I.D. movement.
This book fills in many of the scientific details the film didnt have time to cover. Its 25 short chapters will inform you about Millers zap experiment, the RNA World, spontaneous generation, the problem of oxygen and mixed-handed amino acids in origin-of-life experiments, panspermia, God-of-the-gaps arguments, irreducible complexity and other subjects that can round out your knowledge of the case for intelligent design. Published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute; find it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
Next resource of the week: 04/10/2010. All resources: Catalog.
Darwin as Canary in a Coal Mine
Well, we probably were brought together over the teaching of evolution. That was issue [number] one, ... because biology without evolution is kind of like physics without gravity. Its also sort of a canary in the coal mine for the state of science education. Theres so much propaganda against evolution, but you see the same sort of techniques being used against climate science or stem cells or whatever it might be.Note: This is Sean B. Carroll, not the cosmologist Sean M. Carroll of Caltech; far enough back, though, they probably had a common ancestor.
1. Elisabeth Pennisi, Newsmaker Interview: Sean Carroll and the Evolution of an Education Maven, Science, 16 April 2010: Vol. 328. no. 5976, p. 294, DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5976.294.
Lets see if years of research and teaching has elevated Dr Carroll above the lot of mortals so that he can lecture the rest of us on how not to engage in propaganda. First of all, since he is keen to protect Saint Darwin from the Neanderthals, has he in his own research demonstrated the innovative power of evolution? Pennisis article would certainly have produced the best example of his PhD expertise to impress the would-be challengers to the title of pioneer in the field of evolutionary development. Here it is. Ready? His most recent paper describes how the polka dots on a fruit fly wing were patterned according to the distribution of a molecule involved earlier in the flys development. Well, Whoopie View with a polka-dot dress. He starts with fruit flies, he ends with fruit flies; but not one polka dot developed into a canary. It sounds, therefore, like we are at liberty to parse his paragraph for possible propaganda. Baloney Detectors, ON!SETI and other Pointless Gimmicks 04/15/2010
April 15, 2010 Astrobiologist Paul Davies sure knows how to ask interesting questions, and ruffle feathers in the process. His new book about SETI, The Eerie Silence, reviewed by Leslie Mullen in Astrobiology Magazine, defaced some long-standing notions. But are his suggestions any improvement?
Davies thinks the Voyager record was a pointless gimmick. He thinks that SETI has been described as a religion. He argues that it is probably useless to look for life in radio signals. Yet he thinks we should expand the search for alien intelligence in marks of intervention in our DNA, or in neutrino beams, or in interstellar waste dumps.
At times he seems to be talking like an intelligent design advocate masquerading as a materialist. Mullin quotes him:
But in the next sentences, he is talking about some law of evolution accounting for the origin of life as well as its development into physicists like himself. At one moment Davies describes SETI as a religion, but then says the discovery of ETI would be hard on traditional religion. He deplores the silence on the one hand, but then calls it a golden silence to consider how precious it would mean life is. Whether or not Davies beliefs are coherent, they represent a mind struggling honestly with stubborn realities of physics, life and intelligence and questions that the eerie silence are keeping in front of astrobiologists. Mullins ends, By stretching our minds to try to envision all the possibilities in our search for aliens, not only may we one day find what we seek, but in the process we also will learn about many other deep and enduring mysteries of the cosmos.To a physicist like me, life looks to be a little short of magic: all those dumb molecules conspiring to achieve such clever things! How do they do it? There is no orchestrator, no choreographer directing the performance, no esprit de corps, no collective will, no life force just mindless atoms pushing and pulling on each other, kicked about by random thermal fluctuations. Yet the end product is an exquisite and highly distinctive form of order. Even chemists, who are familiar with the amazing transformative powers of molecules, find it breathtaking. George Whitesides, Professor of Chemistry at Harvard University, writes, How remarkable is life? The answer is: very. Those of us who deal in networks of chemical reactions know of nothing like it.Most of the extrasolar planets found so far are gas giant planets like Jupiter, and are not likely to have life as we know it. Davies says there is nothing in the laws of chemistry or physics to indicate life is inevitable, or even a cosmic imperative. He notes there is no mathematical regularity to life, revealing some underlying basic law of nature. Instead, the chemical sequences seem totally haphazard. And yet, life has its own sense of order, since re-arranging those chemical sequences can upend the whole system.
Learn to question glib statements. Consider that last platitude by Mullins. Is it always a good thing to stretch your mind to envision all the possibilities of things? Stretch your mind to consider all the possibilities of pigs flying. Did that do you any good in the deep and enduring mysteries of flying porcines? Some minds stretch so far they break. Some minds stretch in the wrong directions; they consider useless mysteries that do no one any good. Some stretch to imagine evil things. Was it good for Eve to consider the possibilities of disobeying God? Come now; stretch your mind wisely.Lucy was a gorilla, and other Peanuts puns (04/10/2007).
Conflicting Reports About Earthlike Planets
To account for the new retrograde exoplanets an alternative migration theory suggests that the proximity of hot Jupiters to their stars is not due to interactions with the dust disc at all, but to a slower evolution process involving a gravitational tug-of-war with more distant planetary or stellar companions over hundreds of millions of years. After these disturbances have bounced a giant exoplanet into a tilted and elongated orbit it would suffer tidal friction, losing energy every time it swung close to the star. It would eventually become parked in a near circular, but randomly tilted, orbit close to the star. A dramatic side-effect of this process is that it would wipe out any other smaller Earth-like planet in these systems, says Didier Queloz of Geneva Observatory.Only two of the six have a nearby companion that might qualify as perturbation sources. The addition of gravitational influences complicates an already problematic theory of planet formation. National Geographic has diagrams of the weird orbits of the newly-discovered planets.
These reports illustrate how little scientists know about planet formation, and how much speculation rides on flimsy data.Venus May Be Hot with Active Volcanoes 04/13/2010
April 13, 2010 We already know Venus is hot from its suffocatingly dense atmosphere, but additional heat could be coming from underground. Results from the European Space Agencys Venus Express orbiter suggest that volcanoes have erupted any time between now and 2.5 million years ago, a geologically recent time compared to the assumed age of the planet (4.5 billion years). The evidence consists of compositional differences on three lava flows that suggest they have not been exposed to weathering as long as others.
PhysOrg and Space.com are among the news outlets reporting the findings. All are mentioning the old conundrum about Venuss young-looking surface. The geological history of Venus has long been a mystery, Sue Smrekar at JPL remarked. Thats because the paucity of large craters, and their apparent closeness in age, suggests that the whole planet was resurfaced relatively recently in the last 10% of its history.
That scenario was challenged this month in a paper in Geology, however.1 Hansen and Lopez believe that a rich and complex history is revealed in features named ribbon tesserae terrain (RTT). They believe the RTT are old and predate the global resurfacing (see summary on this GSA press release). Since this idea runs contrary to what other geoscientists have been claiming about Venus since the days of the Magellan mission (1990-1993), we will have to wait and see whether their claim can withstand critical analysis. On first glance it appears to be vulnerable to charges of special pleading that the oldest terrain somehow escaped catastrophic processes that admittedly smothered at least 80% of the surface. The authors argue that the RTT formed during a distinct ancient epoch on Venus but that individual units, some covering millions of square kilometers, display temporal evolution that records a rich and prolonged history that awaits discovery.
1. Hansen and Lopez, Venus records a rich early history, Geology, April 2010; v. 38; no. 4; p. 311-314; DOI: 10.1130/G30587.1.
There are numerous problems with standard explanations of Venus, and these add to the problems. The fact that our sister planet is so different from Earth is the main one. No plate tectonics, an extremely slow spin, a choking poisonous atmosphere, no large moon the list was aggravated when Magellan led scientists to conclude that 90% of the planets history had been erased. Hansen and Lopez are trying to rescue some of that history, but still need to explain what kind of mechanism would smother 80% of a globe the size of earth in what looks like a single event so late in its history. Imagine something like that happening on Earth. The energy required to support that kind of catastrophe is phenomenal. Why did it slow down to a near stop, such that evidence for continuing activity has been difficult to detect? For a planet smothered in lava it would be surprising not to find activity going on now. Whatever the history, it is anything but uniformitarian. There are many questions that deserve a fresh look by clear-thinking scientists not beholden to the moyboy* club.Life, an Elegantly Simple Mistake 04/12/2010
April 12, 2010 The ribosome is a complex molecular machine made up of multiple protein and RNA parts. Last year, winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (see 10/10/2009) were praised for elucidating the structure and activity of ribosomes. News stories described the whole complicated process of transcription initiation, an operation that is of crucial importance in all organisms, because it determines which genes are expressed, and when. The process from gene to protein must be carried out with great precision and involves the use of complicated assemblies made up of many different proteins, often referred to as molecular machines. (See also 09/03/2009 and the 08/24/2009 entry, DNA Translator More Complicated Than Thought.)
Researchers at the Salk Institute, however, essentially said this week in a press release, Elementary, my dear Watson-Crick: as for the origin of life, elegantly simple organizing principles seen in ribosomes. The press release explained, Taking their hints from relics of this evolution left behind in modern cells, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies concluded that after only two waves of matching and some last minute fiddling, all 20 commonly used amino acids were firmly linked with their respective codons, setting the stage for the emergence of proteins with unique, defined sequences and properties. Their conclusions are being published by PNAS next week.
If you are asking who did the linking, matching and fiddling, it was not a person, like an intelligent designer, in their thinking. They spoke of their findings shedding light on the origin and evolution of the genetic code. The number of ways evolution was personified in this short press release was astounding. Like some goddess, Evolution seemed to be working toward personal goals all over the place:
Their data does not shed much light on the early code, consisting of prebiotically available amino acidsthe kind generated in Stanley Millers famous zap-experiment.Zap experiment. Has kind of a Frankenstein ring to it, does it not? PhysOrg echoed the whole press release without a double-take.
Heres an entry parents can use to hone their precocious students baloney detecting skills. Its too easy for high schoolers, though. Better put this in the file for junior high. The whole article is like a primer on how not to reason scientifically. Many of the classic fallacies are present: personification, of course, but also glittering generalities, loaded words (euphemism), card stacking, sidestepping, circular reasoning, non-sequitur, and much more. Particularly noteworthy are the miracle phrases (emergence; gave birth to the entire tree of life) and personifications hidden in passive-voice verbs and subjunctive mood constructions (amino acids were firmly linked with their respective codons; the modern code proved so robust that, once it was established). A simple exercise when seeing these phrases is to stop and ask, WHO linked it? WHO proved it robust? WHO established it? It will be a profound educational revelation for a young student to realize there are actually irrational people in our scientific institutions saying dumb things.Remember the Gospel of Judas flap of 2006? We reported on it in the 04/09/2006 and 04/07/2006 entries (the day after the Fish-a-pod Tiktaalik flap, 04/06/2006).
Evolution as Scientific Literacy Dropped by NSB; Sets Off Firestorm
NSB officials counter that their decision to drop the survey questions on evolution and the big bang from the 2010 edition was based on concerns about accuracy. The questions were flawed indicators of scientific knowledge because the responses conflated knowledge and beliefs, says Louis Lanzerotti, an astrophysicist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark and chair of the boards Science and Engineering Indicators (SEI) committee. John Bruer, a philosopher and president of the James McDonnell Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri, and the lead reviewer for the chapter, says he recommended removing the text and related material because the survey questions seemed to be very blunt instruments, not designed to capture public understanding of the two topics.Bruer noted that 72% of Americans answered the question about humans evolving from earlier species correctly when the question was prefaced with the phrase, according to the theory of evolution. This shows that the questions reflect factors beyond unfamiliarity with basic elements of science. The controversy over Indicators thus boils down to the question whether a student needs to believe, rather than simply know, the facts of a theory to be considered scientifically literate. Critics of the change, however, see the preface as biasing the answers students will give.
Bhattacharjee ended by showing signs that the controversy over inclusion of evolution questions in Indicators will undoubtedly surface again in the next round. Lanzerotti feels the board should have explained why the questions were dropped, while Miller believes that removing the entire section was a clumsy attempt to hide a national embarrassment.
1. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, NSF Board Draws Flak for Dropping Evolution From Indicators, Science, 9 April 2010: Vol. 328. no. 5975, pp. 150-151, DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5975.150.
Well, now, it sounds like the NCSE has flip-flopped on whether there is a controversy about evolution. Their talking points used to say that there is no controversy over evolution. Any putative controversy is one concocted by creationists and the Discovery Institute. Now, NCSE rep Josh Rosenau got uptight about Indicators because it downplays the controversy. What controversy? The controversy over whether there is a controversy? Does he think now we should teach the controversy?April 10, 2010 Heres a good book for parents who want to inspire their children to excel. John Hudson Tiner has written a number of excellent biographies of scientists aimed at precocious students. This time, we point out For Those Who Dare (Master Books, 2002). In this handy-size book there are 101 brief biographies of great Christians and how they changed the world. Each is just two or three pages, appealing to the young person on that rainy April day needing something to occupy time without overloading the attention span.
Tiners characters cover all kinds of fields from actors to explorers to inventors, but there is a strong contingent of great scientists included many featured here in Scientist of the Month. Tiner keeps his facts straight while keeping the stories interesting. Adults will enjoy this one as much as the students. Find it at Master Books or search online for other booksellers.
Next resource of the week: 03/27/2010. All resources: Catalog.
You Live in a Wormhole in a Black Hole
But he also notes that since observers can only see the outside of the black hole, the interior cannot be observed unless an observer enters or resides within.Got that? Find out more at the source: Indiana University news room. Ker Than accepted all of this as wonderful science in National Geographic News. Like part of a cosmic Russian doll, our universe may be nested inside a black hole that is itself part of a larger universe, he said, in a fact-free rhapsody of joyful speculation. In turn, all the black holes found so far in our universefrom the microscopic to the supermassivemay be doorways into alternate realities. By all means, then, we should investigate these realities with the scientific method. He handed the mike to Poplawski, who gave the operative quote of the story: Its kind of a crazy idea, but who knows? Another cosmologist chimed in with, Everything people ask in this business is pretty weird.
1. Radial motion into an Einstein-Rosen bridge, Physics Letters B, by Nikodem J. Poplawski. (Volume 687, Issues 2-3, 12 April 2010, Pages 110-113.)
Cosmologists have way too much time on their hands. Imagine that; universes just emerge from black holes, and then cosmologists emerge to tell about it. Instead of inhabiting theoretical universes, where angels can dance on the head of a pin, how about coming back to the one and only universe science could ever know about? If academia wants to fund speculation like this in the name of science, just because the math works, then open up the playing field to those who can also find adequate causes in their white-hole cosmologies, like Humphreys.Blind Fish Lead the Blind 04/09/2010
April 09, 2010 Imagine miniature subs that can negotiate tight spaces or murky waters in the dark. Meet Snookie: a device created by researchers at the University of Technology Munich, who took their inspiration from blind cave fish.
The report on Live Science says that the blind Mexican cave fish Astyanax mexicanus is born with eyes that degenerate in adulthood, because eyes are of no use in the darkness of its cave habitat. Instead, the fish has a heightened sensitivity along its lateral line a sense organ running from gill to tail that contains hundreds to thousands of fine sensory hairs located on the scales or in tiny ducts beneath the skin. Like the inner ear, the article says, the lateral line can pick up tiny variations in pressure and water flow that give it an exquisite sense of its surroundings. An African frog uses its lateral line to distinguish between edible and inedible insects purely on the vibrations they set up in the water.
So why not build a similar organ on robotic submarines? Thats what the team at University of Technology Munich did. Their Snookie swimming robot can orient itself in murky waters with an artificial sensory organ inspired by the lateral line. It had to be small enough to get into tight places but large enough to hold all the electronics. They found out that getting a sensory picture from pressure vibrations is harder than with light, but its good enough to report pressure changes less than one percent in a tenth of a second from obstacles and movements a hands breadth in front and on either side.
Who would have thought that blind cave fish would inspire robots? One day, Snookies descendents could inspect sewer lines, investigate shipwrecks, locate flight recorders, assist scuba divers, and much more. They might even swim in swarms and explore environments with teamwork. Undoubtedly their descendents will be products of intelligent design not mutation and selection.
This fun and interesting story needs one clarification; the fishs lateral line did not emerge by evolution as if stimulated from its dark cave environment. It was already there, as it is in most fish and amphibians. They have what they need; landlubbers have what they need by design that we can study and imitate.Excellent role models said scientists at Johns Hopkins University of what? cockroaches. Find out why in the 04/13/2005 entry.
Another Fossil Human Ancestor Claimed
Update 04/09/2010: True to tradition, the counter-claims quickly ensued. Please, please, not again, moaned Carl Zimmer in Slate, recalling the hype about Ida last year (05/19/2009, 03/03/2010). Zimmer accepts evolution but denies (with Berger) that the term missing link have any validity. As for this fossil, None of the experts I spoke to this week were ready to accept Bergers hypothesis about A. sedibas special place in the hominin tree, he said. It might actually belong to a different branch of hominin evolution. It may have evolved its Homo-like traits independently of our own ancestors. It would seem its ability to illuminate much of anything about human history is dubious. Zimmer quoted Daniel Lieberman of Harvard admitting, The origins of the genus Homo remain as murky as ever.
Meanwhile, Nature News weighed in on the significance (or lack of it) of this fossil. Claim over 'human ancestor' sparks furore, headlined Michael Cherry: the researchers suggestion that the fossils represent a transitional species in human evolution, sitting between Australopithecus and Homo species, has been criticized by other researchers as overstated. Quotes from Tim White (UC Berkeley) were especially harsh. He said the Berger teams claim that these skeletons had anything to do with the rise of Homo is fossil-free speculation adding with Ida overtones, the obsession with Homo in their title and text is difficult to understand outside of a media context. Another said the bones could represent nothing more than variation within other known species. Another noted that the earliest Homo skeleton predates this find by half a million years. Berger countered that the earlier fossils are less complete. A supporter of Bergers classification may have taken more than he gave when he said, The Malapa specimens will rekindle the debate about the validity of the taxon Homo habilis, and will make us look more carefully at the variability of Australopithecus africanus and her sister species. (For info on Homo habilis, see 08/09/2007, 05/27/2009, and 09/21/2009). Cherry ended his article with doubt: the latest finds raise important questions about the ancestry of humans. That statement raises the possibility that Bergers fossil is a step backwards in understanding. For difficulties with the Homo classification, see the 05/27/2009 entry.
1. Berger et al, Australopithecus sediba: A New Species of Homo-Like Australopith from South Africa, Science, 9 April 2010: Vol. 328. no. 5975, pp. 195-204, DOI: 10.1126/science.1184944.
2. Michael Balter, Candidate Human Ancestor From South Africa Sparks Praise and Debate, Science, 9 April 2010: Vol. 328. no. 5975, pp. 154-155, DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5975.154.
3. Dirks et al, Geological Setting and Age of Australopithecus sediba from Southern Africa, Science, 9 April 2010: Vol. 328. no. 5975, pp. 205-208, DOI: 10.1126/science.1184950.
If the storytellers cannot agree on their own story, why should the audience judge the performance a history class rather than a comedy? The bones are real; the interpretations are highly questionable and fallible. Most likely this is another extinct ape out of many extinct apes that lived not so long ago. Wishful-thinking Darwinian paleoanthropologists are eager to divine human attributes in whatever bones they find. They fight and squabble over where the bones fit into their mental picture of how philosophers emerged from screeching monkeys in the trees. Pay them no mind; weve seen this comedy show so many times before, and we know the eventual outcome. Someone else will appear on stage with a new bone and announce, Everything you know is wrong. (02/23/2001, 02/19/2004).Leapin Lizards: Giant Lizard Discovered 04/07/2010
April 07, 2010 A large species of lizard unknown to science has been discovered alive and well in the Philippines. The BBC News has a picture of the monster, a class of monitor lizard, that measures 2 meters from snout to tail. That makes it about 2/3 the size of its famous cousin from Java, the Komodo Dragon. The new lizard, Varanus bitatawa, sports bright blue, green and yellow skin. Footnote: the fearsome-looking creature eats fruit.
See also the National Geographic story for more information and pictures. It ends with the tantalizing possibility that additional species may be out there, waiting to be found.
Update 04/27/2010: Live Science reported the discovery of another monitor lizard, Varus obor, in Indonesia. This species, nicknamed the Torch monitor, is 1.2 meters long, has a black body and bright orange head. In contrast to the fruit-eating one found in the Philippines, this one lives on small animals and carrion.
Some lessons from this story: (1) There may be more large animals around our globe that remain to be discovered. (2) You cant always tell the diet or behavior of an animal by appearance alone. How much more so when dealing with fossils? Other monitor lizards, like the Komodo dragon, eat pigs, and sometimes people. (3) What is unknown to science is not necessarily unknown to humanity. The local tribespeople knew all about Varanus bitatawa; they hunted it for meat. So get famous; go find that missing supersaurus that is lurking in the jungles of some tropical isle.Smelling Evolution in Bird Genes 04/07/2010
April 07, 2010 The zebra finch genome has been sequenced; it revealed some surprises. In the chicken, only 70 of the 500 genes encoding smell receptors produce active proteins. In the zebra finch, 200 do. What does this mean? According to a press release from Weizmann Wonder Wander at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel, it means Darwin has been at work in strange ways:
A comparison of the zebra finch genome to those of other bird species sheds some light on how this sense evolved in the birds: Unlike mammals, in which all the different species share most of their smell receptor gene families, 95% of the receptors in the finches appeared to belong to families unique to them. In other words, it is possible that each bird species evolved its own array of smell receptors separately, rather than using ones passed down from a common ancestor.If this idea is true, evolution is apparently capable of focusing hundreds of finely-tuned mutations toward a goal and not only that, but tailoring the results individually to every species of bird.
Statements like this make you wonder where the Weizmann Wonder Wander scientists have been wandering. If they were really wise men, they would wonder about the history of their land as they wonder (reference) instead of wandering into a bar.Fake Darwinism Created by Intelligent Design. Find out what that paradoxical headline means in the 04/13/2004 entry.
Early City Uncovered in Syria
Why is this called an enigmatic period? Its not enigmatic at all if you understand the Table of Nations and Biblical chronology after Babel. People with complex culture and intelligence spread out and built cities rapidly and the first were in the fertile crescent, just like this one. Given how quickly we know humans can migrate, its no wonder that other societies sprung up far and wide soon after. And how do they know these intelligent people did not have wheels? Maybe they just didnt find any yet. Undoubtedly they are not expecting such early people to be that intelligent.Human Genome Infinitely More Complex Than Expected 04/05/2010
April 05, 2010 Ten years after the Human Genome Project was completed, now we know: biology is orders of magnitude more complicated than scientists expected. So wrote Erika Check Hayden in Nature News March 31 and in the April 1 issue of Nature.1
An air of daunting complexity haunts the article. The Human Genome Project was one of the great scientific investigations of the end of the 20th century. Some compared it to the Manhattan Project or the Apollo program. It used to be tedious, painstaking work to read the sequence of DNA letters. Now, deciphering genomes is a matter of course. But with the rush of data coming from genomes of everything from yeast to Neanderthals, one thing has become clear: as sequencing and other new technologies spew forth data, the complexity of biology has seemed to grow by orders of magnitude, Hayden wrote.
A few things were surprisingly simple. Geneticists expected to find 100,000 genes in the human genome; the count is more like 21,000. But with them came a huge surprise in the accessory molecules transcription factors, small RNAs, regulators all arranged in dynamic interacting networks that boggle the mind. Hayden compared them to the Mandelbrot set in fractal geometry that unveils deeper levels of complexity the closer you look.
When we started out, the idea was that signalling pathways were fairly simple and linear, says Tony Pawson, a cell biologist at the University of Toronto in Ontario. Now, we appreciate that the signalling information in cells is organized through networks of information rather than simple discrete pathways. Its infinitely more complex.Hayden acknowledged that the junk DNA paradigm has been blown to smithereens. Just one decade of post-genome biology has exploded that view, she said, speaking of the notion that gene regulation was a straightforward, linear process genes coding for regulator proteins that control transcription. Biologys new glimpse at a universe of non-coding DNA what used to be called junk DNA has been fascinating and befuddling. If its junk, why would the human body decode 74% to 93% of it? The plethora of small RNAs produced by these non-coding regions, and how they interact with each other and with DNA, was completely unexpected when the project began.
These realizations are dissipating some of the early naďveté of the Human Genome Project. Planners predicted we would unravel the mysteries behind everything from evolution to disease origins. Cures for cancer were envisioned. We would trace the path of evolution through the genetic code. That was so 1990s. Joshua Plotkin, a mathematical biologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said, Just the sheer existence of these exotic regulators suggests that our understanding about the most basic things such as how a cell turns on and off is incredibly naďve. Leonid Kruglyak, a geneticist at Princeton University in New Jersey, commented on the premature feeling that the data would speak for itself: There is a certain amount of naivety to the idea that for any process be it biology or weather prediction or anything else you can simply take very large amounts of data and run a data-mining program and understand what is going on in a generic way.
Some are still looking for simple patterns in the complexity. Top-down approaches try to build models where the data points fall into place:
A new discipline systems biology was supposed to help scientists make sense of the complexity. The hope was that by cataloguing all the interactions in the p53 network, or in a cell, or between a group of cells, then plugging them into a computational model, biologists would glean insights about how biological systems behaved.The p53 network she spoke of is a good example of unexpected complexity. Discovered in 1979, the p53 protein was first thought to be a cancer promoter, then a cancer suppressor. Few proteins have been studied more than p53, she said. ...Yet the p53 story has turned out to be immensely more complex than it seemed at first. She gave some details:
Researchers now know that p53 binds to thousands of sites in DNA, and some of these sites are thousands of base pairs away from any genes. It influences cell growth, death and structure and DNA repair. It also binds to numerous other proteins, which can modify its activity, and these protein–protein interactions can be tuned by the addition of chemical modifiers, such as phosphates and methyl groups. Through a process known as alternative splicing, p53 can take nine different forms, each of which has its own activities and chemical modifiers. Biologists are now realizing that p53 is also involved in processes beyond cancer, such as fertility and very early embryonic development. In fact, it seems wilfully [sic] ignorant to try to understand p53 on its own. Instead, biologists have shifted to studying the p53 network, as depicted in cartoons containing boxes, circles and arrows meant to symbolize its maze of interactions.Network theory is now a new paradigm that has replaced the one-way linear diagram of gene to RNA to protein. That used to be called the Central Dogma of genetics. Now, everything is seen to be dynamic, with promoters and blockers and interactomes, feedback loops, feed-forward processes, and bafflingly complex signal-transduction pathways. The p53 story is just one example of how biologists understanding has been reshaped, thanks to genomic-era technologies, Hayden said. ....That has expanded the universe of known protein interactions and has dismantled old ideas about signalling pathways, in which proteins such as p53 would trigger a defined set of downstream consequences.
Biologists made a common mistake of assuming that more data would bring more understanding. Some continue to work from the bottom up, believing that there is an underlying simplicity that will come to light eventually. Its people who complicate things, remarked one Berkeley researcher. But one scientist who predicted the yeast genome and its interactions would be solved by 2007 has had to put off his target date for a few decades. Its clear that our understanding remains very rudimentary. Hayden said in conclusion, the beautiful patterns of biologys Mandelbrot-like intricacy show few signs of resolving.
Theres a bright side to the unfolding complexity. Mina Bissell, a cancer researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, confesses she was driven to despair by predictions that all the mysteries would be solved by the Human Genome Project. Famous people would get up and say, We will understand everything after this, Hayden quoted her saying. But it turned out for good, in a way: Biology is complex, and that is part of its beauty.
1. Erika Check Hayden, Human genome at ten: Life is complicated, Nature 464, 664-667 (April 1, 2010) | doi:10.1038/464664a.
Who predicted the complexity: the Darwinians or the intelligent design proponents? You already know the answer. The Darwinians have been wrong on this matter time and time again. The origin of life would be simple (the Warm Little Pond of Darwins dreams). Protoplasm would be simple. Proteins would be simple. Genetics would be simple (remember Darwins pangenes?). The carrier of genetic information would be simple. DNA transcription would be simple (the Central Dogma). The origin of the genetic code would be simple (the RNA World, or Cricks frozen accident.). Comparative genomics would be simple, and we would be able to trace the evolution of life in the genes. Life would be littered with the trash of mutations and natural selection (vestigial organs, junk DNA). Simple, simple, simple.The Earth Should Have Frozen 04/03/2010
April 03, 2010 According to stellar evolution theory, the earth should have frozen solid four billion years ago, because the young sun could not have put out the heat it does in its middle age. Called the faint young sun paradox, this problem has puzzled scientists for decades. A new study has failed to solved the puzzle.
Science Now described work by a team at the University of Copenhagen. They studied minerals in rocks in Greenland thought to be 3.8 billion years old among the oldest claimed on Earth for hints of carbon dioxide levels:
Too much CO2, and magnetite cant form, whereas the opposite is true for siderite. Based on the ratio of the minerals, the team reports in tomorrows issue of Nature1 that CO2 levels during the Archean could have been no higher than about 1000 parts per millionabout three times the current level of 387 ppm and not high enough to compensate for the weak sun.These very surprising results were no comfort to theorists who had hoped that Earth could have avoided a big freeze via greenhouse gases. Now they are toying with other ideas: less land and bigger oceans, which might have allowed water to absorb more warmth; or early life that reduced the kinds of atmospheric gases that help clouds form, allowing more sunlight to reach the surface. Their favorite suggestion was that Earths albedo (reflectivity) was lower back then, eliminating the need for greenhouse gases to compensate. Isnt it amazing, though, how the albedos changes were tuned to the suns output to keep the temperature stable?
The Earth’s surface environment over the approximately 4 billion years (Gyr) recorded in geologic formations appears to have been maintained within a relatively narrow range in which liquid water was stable. This is surprising because the factors that determine surface temperature have evolved owing to temporal variations of the Suns irradiance, the Earths albedo and cloud cover, and concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases over geologic time. It is not readily apparent to what extent this apparent thermostasis can be attributed to physico-chemical feedback mechanisms, metabolic interventions from living organisms, or combinations of unrelated secular changes.
The paper by Rosing et al boasted that there is No climate paradox under the faint early Sun, but then admitted to quite a few other uncertainties:
Others think there is still a need for some greenhouse-induced global warming back then; Temperatures during the Archean were at least as high as they are today, despite the weaker sun, claimed James Kasting [Penn State], according to the Science Now article. Rosing shrugged his shoulders and said, I think that our paper is just one link in a long chain of further refinements of our understanding of the early Earth and of the dynamics of our planet a lot of words meaning clueless.
1. Rosing, Bird, Sleep, Bjerrum, No climate paradox under the faint early Sun, Nature 464, 744-747 (1 April 2010) | doi:10.1038/nature08955.
Evolutionary scientists can be such braggarts. They say they know this, and they know that, but you look at their assumptions and methods, and there is no basis for confidence about any of it. The only thing that is rock solid in their mushy opinions is unwavering allegiance to Darwin and the billions of years he needed. Even when it causes insurmountable challenges from other branches of investigation, like stellar evolution, they just chalk it up to future work a long chain of further refinements of our understanding. Did you see much understanding in these articles? How about letting some others exhibit their understanding without the requirement of allegiance to Darwin. Look, to have a chain of understanding, youve got to have some links solid links. A chain of spaghetti-O's wont hold much. This primordial spaghetti-O chain of reasoning needs to be fortified with iron. Its so insipid, its enough to make a young son faint.One reader said the mock courtroom drama in our 04/15/2003 commentary made his day.
Snakes Alive! An Evolutionary Tale
In other words, the snakes went rafting, crossing oceans aboard floating vegetation stocked with their insect prey.Science Daily elaborated on how evolutionists came to this conclusion. Since fossils are nonexistent for these animals, their history was inferred from genetics. Floating across oceans seems an unlikely mechanism for a burrowing animal to spread to new continents, Science Daily admitted, but then proposed that it happened more than once. If the snakes could have lived six months on vegetation rafts stocked with their insect prey, maybe, just maybe, it could have happened. After all, in evolutionary theory, stuff happens.
Welcome to modern evolutionary science, where the storys the thing. The more preposterous, the better. These same people will refuse to hear (or even acknowledge) theories by Biblical creationists about how animals became distributed after the Flood. If unlikely events nonetheless happened in... history is an acceptable explanation, we need a level playing field.Is the Internet Age Redefining Science? 04/02/2010
April 02, 2010 To a middle school student, science is a clear category; its a subject you take, along with history, language, or P.E. You have a science teacher; you read a science textbook. You learn about the scientific method. In the real world, though, categories are not always so clearly delineated. In fact, the leading science journal, Nature, seems to be asking some fundamental questions about the methods and materials of its very reason for being.
This week, Nature presented a debate between two cancer researchers on whether scientific research should proceed hypothesis first or data first. The controversy has arisen, in part, by the technology available. Large-scale genomic surveys are now possible, and funds are being focused away from traditional methods toward obtaining vast databases of genetic information. Robert Weinberg is alarmed at the trend; he argued that mere data collection without understanding is pointless and that the funding shifts are discouraging small research projects from which major insights have been traditionally been made.1 Todd Golub argued that patterns in complex phenomena become apparent only when there is sufficient data available.2 It takes a lot of data to separate signal from noise; therefore data collection is essential before new hypotheses can be generated. The interesting thing about these articles is not who won the debate, but that a question so basic about the scientific method needs to be asked nearly 400 years after Francis Bacon. To what extent is the question a consequence of the sheer volume of data that can be accumulated and stored? The scientific method was devised when data was written with a quill on parchment.
Peer review is another focal point of dispute. Last week, Nature applauded a British research council that is cracking down on the practice of flooding review agencies with grant applications.3 Because the odds of winning a grant are low, low success rates lead researchers to submit more applications in the hope of securing at least some funding, overburdening peer reviewers, the editors explained. The system ends up rewarding safe, short-term research proposals that meet everyones approval, at the cost of the innovative suggestions it should be supporting. The council now says that if you dont secure funding, you are limited to one application the following year. They feel the councils new blacklisting rule is a radical, unpopular but courageous effort to address a crisis in the peer-review system. But will the cure be worse than the disease?
The consequences of the revised policy are uncertain. Thanks to other peer-review changes, applications have already been cut by about a third since last year, and success rates are up. But the new policys threat of exclusion may further discourage adventurous funding bids. The EPSRC also runs the risk of alienating its community, making it harder to find peer reviewers who are in increasingly scarce supply.The rule has already generated inequities and complaints. Nature still thinks it was a good move that requires fine-tuning. No one is sure at this point what will happen. Could luck play a role in who gets in the game? Other scientists have worried that an application is marked unsuccessful if it falls below the halfway point on a list of proposals ranked by panels of peer reviewers — a criterion that not only seems arbitrary, but also risks taking out good researchers who are simply unlucky. Imagine if the loser in this process had been a young new Isaac Newton. The editors left it open if the councils gutsy gamble will work, and noted that other councils are watching what happens.
Letters to the editor are often interesting to read. Three biologists from three widely respected scientific institutions wrote Nature last week in a huff, challenging the editors definition of science. As a follow-up to the Human Genome Project, now 10 years old, Natures editors had written that it is Time for the epigenome project.4 The three scientists were astonished at that editorial,5 claiming that it seemed to disregard principles of gene regulation and of evolutionary and developmental biology that have been established during the past 50 years. Their complaint was not just about disagreements on traditional practices, but about Natures acceptance of the idea that the epigenome has a scientific basis at all. Undoubtedly the editors would take umbrage at challenges to their ability to judge what constitutes science.
The internet age is shifting the dynamics of scientific practice. However comfortable the world was with the peer-reviewed publishing paradigm, times have changed. Instant internet access is democratizing science in many ways. Nature has read the tea leaves and is adjusting. In a dramatic move, Natures editors are opening up their once-impregnable editorial fortress and letting the peasants in. Natures new online commenting facility opens up the entire magazine for discussion, the Editorial announced this week.6 They have some concerns about signal to noise; comments will be vetted and monitored to weed out libel, obscenity or unjustified accusations but not trivia. They will review their approach after a few months. Nevertheless, the popularity of internet blogs has not been lost on Nature and they are seeing the value of interesting and lively dialogue. It appears from the comments to this editorial that many think its a great idea.
Perhaps the best way to evaluate good science is with some form of measurement. Alas, another paper in Nature pointed out serious failings in that regard. In an Opinion piece last week,7 Julia Lane proposed, Lets make science metrics more scientific. She wasnt discussing better ohmmeters or ammeters the subtitle explained, To capture the essence of good science, stakeholders must combine forces to create an open, sound and consistent system for measuring all the activities that make up academic productivity, says Julia Lane She described the problem in stark reality:
Measuring and assessing academic performance is now a fact of scientific life. Decisions ranging from tenure to the ranking and funding of universities depend on metrics. Yet current systems of measurement are inadequate. Widely used metrics, from the newly-fashionable Hirsch index to the 50-year-old citation index, are of limited use. Their well-known flaws include favouring older researchers, capturing few aspects of scientists jobs and lumping together verified and discredited science. Many funding agencies use these metrics to evaluate institutional performance, compounding the problems. Existing metrics do not capture the full range of activities that support and transmit scientific ideas, which can be as varied as mentoring, blogging or creating industrial prototypes.Whether Lanes suggestions will solve these is another question. The fact that she opened them up for discussion in Nature should be enough to raise eyebrows among those who think of science as an unbiased enterprise. Lanes paper did more to elaborate on the problems than to solve them. Moreover, her solutions sound like an internet-age Web 3.0 pipe dream:
How can we best bring all this theory and practice together? An international data platform supported by funding agencies could include a virtual collaboratory, in which ideas and potential solutions can be posited and discussed. This would bring social scientists together with working natural scientists to develop metrics and test their validity through wikis, blogs and discussion groups, thus building a community of practice. Such a discussion should be open to all ideas and theories and not restricted to traditional bibliometric approaches.Something should be done, she ended: Some fifty years after the first quantitative attempts at citation indexing, it should be feasible to create more reliable, more transparent and more flexible metrics of scientific performance. She claimed The foundations have been laid but its evident that little is being done yet. That means all the problems she listed are todays risks and realities. Someday, over the rainbow, Far-sighted action can ensure that metrics goes beyond identifying star researchers, nations or ideas, to capturing the essence of what it means to be a good scientist.
Its clear that science is evolving, as it always has. But what is it evolving from, and what is it evolving toward? If science itself is not stable, has it ever been or will it ever be a reliable method of gaining understanding?8
1. Robert Weinberg, Point: Hypotheses first, Nature 464, 678 (1 April 2010) | doi:10.1038/464678a; Published online 31 March 2010.
2. Todd Golub, Counterpoint: Data first, Nature 464, 679 (1 April 2010) | doi:10.1038/464679a; Published online 31 March 2010.
3. Editorial, Tough love, Nature 464, 465 (25 March 2010) | doi:10.1038/464465a; Published online 24 March 2010.
4. Editorial, Time for the epigenome, Nature 463, 587 (4 February 2010) | doi:10.1038/463587a; Published online 3 February 2010.
5. Ptashne, Hobert and Davidson, Questions over the scientific basis of epigenome project, Nature 464, 487 (25 March 2010) | doi:10.1038/464487c.
6. Editorial, Content rules, Nature 464, 466 (25 March 2010) | doi:10.1038/464466a; Published online 24 March 2010.
7. Julia Lane, Lets make science metrics more scientific, Nature 464, 488-489 (25 March 2010) | doi:10.1038/464488a; Published online 24 March 2010.
8. Understanding is not the same thing as explanation, prediction, and control. Scientific theories can provide those things and still be wrong or lacking in understanding of reality. See the 3/17/2010 commentary.
Science is mediated through fallible human beings. It is not out there in the world, to be retrieved in some unbiased way. Human beings have to figure out not only what nature is showing us they have to figure out what nature is, and what science is. At every step there are decisions to be made by creatures who dont know everything and who werent there at the beginning. We must divest our minds of the notion that science is an unbiased method that obtains incontrovertible truth. That is certainly not the case to an evolutionist. If blind processes produced human beings, we have no necessary or certain access to external reality. Some philosophers have tried to defend evolutionary epistemology a notion that if evolution had not put us in touch with reality, we would not have survived. Thats a self-referential fallacy that assumes reality is real and that evolution is capable of addressing philosophical questions.Tree of Life or of Evil Knowledge? 04/01/2010
April 01, 2010 Evolutionary trees are now widely available in a web database. Scientists can upload and download huge amounts of information on evolutionary relationships of plants, animals and protists. But is this a case of scientific progress, or of mass deception?
You can go to TreeBase.org and find a treasure trove of phylogenetic information. The number of people involved, papers referenced, and information stored is impressive. PhysOrg quoted Bill Piel of Yale explaining why it was needed: Phylogenies were being published at an explosive rate. What we needed was a database where we could compile them so people could use them later. Digital trees can now be shared among scientists and provided to the public. Since the first prototype was developed, researchers have contributed more than 6,500 trees from over 2400 articles, describing the relationships among well over 60,000 terminal taxa. The press release describes the amount of work and effort that has gone into the project, making improvements and upgrades to the software, standardizing the formats and adding features. Visualization tools in particular have received a major upgrade. One user called it a huge leap forward.
One question no one seems to be asking is whether the information is valid. Last year, Bapteste and Doolittle announced that Darwins tree of life was dead and New Scientist proclaimed Darwin Was Wrong: Cutting Down the Tree of Life on its cover (01/22/2009; see also 02/01/2007 and 04/11/2008).
This is an important lesson on the danger of symbolism over substance. If you look at TreeBase.org, you could be swayed by the air of sophistication of the site. How could so many scientists be wrong? All that effort, all that technology, all that collective activity carries with it an implicit message that This Must Be True. Its like a mighty bandwagon full of fanfare and glory proclaiming the Emperor in his new clothes.Get a load of this evolutionary tale: sharks are closer to humans than to bony fish. (Evolutionarily, that is; not in the sense of scuba diving.) Read about the wacky claim in the 04/09/2002 entry.