No Blade of Grass

I’m reposting this from the Skeptical Analysis blog.

I was trying to remember how I got to this topic, and then I recalled we were having crackers with our salad, and crackers are made of wheat, which is a grass. So we were eating grass. And I got to wondering how long people have been eating grass, and I recalled that grass has not been around all that long. The earliest grass fossils (as I recalled) were only 30 or so million years old. Being the skeptic that I am I decided to look it up. I entered something like “origins of grass” in Google, and this is one of the thingsthat came up:

The origin of grass pushed well back into the ‘Mesozoic’

Michael J. Oard

Creationists are often challenged on the fossil record. Evolutionists commonly confront us with such questions as: if practically all fossils are the remains from a pre-Flood environment, where was such and such an organism at a particular time within the geological column? One of those challenges has been the first appearance of grass, which supposedly evolved in the Cenozoic. ‘Why aren’t grasses found in pre-Cenozoic rocks?’ evolutionists charge.

Whoa! Where is this coming from? And just who is Michael J. Oard, and why is he speaking in nonsensical terms?

And now we are back to the creationists. Michael Oard is associated with Answers in Genesisand has published several creation “science” articles in their in-house journalAnswers. Together with Peter Klevberg he has contributed “Green River Formation Very Likely Did Not Form in a Postdiluvian Lake”. Indeed. For the junk rag Creation he has written, among other things, “Do Rivers Erode Through Mountains”. His answer is that a global flood must be assumed. The geological evidence is … absent. He has also written the book “Flood by Design”. You see where this is going.

All right. That explains a lot. I should have suspected. The tip off should have been the language—in particular the way certain words are used.

  • creationists: not used in a disparaging context
  • evolutionist: used in place of the term “scientists”
  • Flood: capitalized as though the reader already knows which flood and of which fame

Of course, I should have glanced to the bottom of the page:

JOURNAL OF CREATION 21(1) 2007

That’s it. This is from a “creation science” journal. We started seeing this kind of thing 50 years ago:

Creation science (dubbed “scientific creationism” at the time) emerged as an organized movement during the 1960s. It was strongly influenced by the earlier work of armchair geologist George McCready Price who wrote works such as The New Geology (1923) to advance what he termed “new catastrophism” and dispute the current geological time frames and explanations of geologic history. Price’s work was cited at theScopes Trial of 1925, yet although he frequently solicited feedback from geologists and other scientists, they consistently disparaged his work. Price’s “new catastrophism” also went largely unnoticed by other creationists until its revival with the 1961 publication of The Genesis Flood by John C. Whitcomband Henry M. Morris, a work which quickly became an important text on the issue to fundamentalist Christians and expanded the field of creation science beyond critiques of geology into biology and cosmology as well. Soon after its publication, a movement was underway to have the subject taught in United States’ public schools.

[Some links deleted]

A subsequent book is Scientific Creationism by Henry Morris.

Additionally court rulings, beginning, several decades ago, have prohibited teaching biblical statements regarding the creation of the universe, the special creation of the human race and Bible-based history in public schools. The courts have correctly ruled there is no factual basis for these stories and, further, that teaching them amounted to religious proselytizing through government authority and at public expense. Religious fundamentalists, particularly Christians in the United States, sought a way around these legal constraints by seeking to establish biblical stories as scientifically grounded, and thereby allowable under the law. “Creation science” was given birth in this manner.

What so impresses me about finding this item is that such things still exist. A Supreme Court decision in the case McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education in 1982 affirmed that “creation science” is religion and not science. The Court further ruled in 1987 in the case  Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987 that a Louisiana law mandating equal treatment of “creation science” with the principles of biological evolution was in violation of the Constitution, because the law was religiously motivated and served no secular purpose.

Creationists reacted to this ruling almost immediately, and religious proponents with legitimate scientific credentials began work on resurrecting the concept of Intelligent Design, most notably outlined over 200 years ago by William Paley. Paley’s idea was that living forms are so complex and so uniquely constructed that they cannot be the consequence of materialistic processes. They must have been designed by a higher intelligence.

I was living in Dallas, Texas, at the time, and a local religious organization under the direction of Jon Buell was in the process of developing a book directed toward science education at the high school level. The organization still exists. It’s the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, and the book is Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins. The book came out in 1989, and the FTE followed up with a second edition, which corrected some errors from the first. A follow up book, The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems by Jonathan Wells and William Dembski came out in 2007. Wells and Dembski are fellows with the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture, the leading organization promoting Intelligent Design.

The Pandas book did not fare much better with the courts than traditional “creation science” had before it. A plan to introduce the book into the science curriculum of the Plano, Texas, public schools was forced to back track under pressure from local citizens. A subsequent attempt by a school board in Pennsylvania led to the court case Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. In that case Federal Judge John E. Jones III ruled that Intelligent Design rests on religious concepts and has no demonstrated scientific merits.

I have previously reviewed the Pandas book in a disjoint series of posts.

Anyhow, seeing this item from the Journal of Creation brought back old times. These were times when the argument against creationism involved simply laying out a few facts and then enjoying a good belly laugh. It’s good to see the fun has not gone out of the game. Where to start?

Let’s take the “journal” article itself. If I had picked up this piece of paper early in the morning before having my cup of coffee I might possibly have mistaken it for something published in a scientific journal. Unfortunately I do not drink coffee, but I do read some scientific journals, and this item attempts mightily to impersonate one. For your reading pleasure, and in case creation.com ever goes out of business,  I have posted a copy of this item. It has:

  • A title
  • An author’s name
  • No abstract, unfortunately
  • The journal name, volume number and page number at the bottom of the page
  • A list of references

Let’s look at the references:

1. Oard, M.J., The geological column is a general Flood order with many exceptions; in: Reed, J.K. and Oard, M.J. (Eds.), The Geological Column: Perspectives within Diluvial Geology, Creation Research Society Books, Chino Valley, AR, pp. 99–121, 2006.
2. P r a s a d , V. , S t r ömb e r g , C .A. E . , Alimohammadian, H. and Sahni, A., Dinosaur coprolites and the early evolution of grasses and grazers, Science 310:1177–1180, 2005.
3. Piperno, D.R. and Sues, H.-D., Dinosaurs dined on grass, Science 310:1126–1128, 2005.
4. Anonymous, Dung grasses up dinosaurs, Nature 438:399, 2005.
5. Piperno and Sues, ref. 2, p. 1126.
6. Prasad et al., ref. 1, p. 1,179.
7. Piperno and Sues, ref. 2, p. 1127.
8. Barrick, W.D. and Sigler, R., Hebrew and geologic analyses of the chronology and parallelism of the Flood: implications for interpretation of the geologic record; in: Ivey, Jr., R.L. (ed.), Proceedings of the Fifth International
Conference on Creationism, Pittsburgh, PA, pp. 397–408, 2003.
9. Note: see also Catchpoole, D., Grass-eating dinos: A ‘time-travel’ problem for evolution, Creation 29(2):22–23, 2007.

This is so good. The references are numbered and cite original sources of the pertinent content. Some citations are to legitimate scientific research. Others, not so much.

The first reference cites Michael J. Oard, the author of this paper. Of course, what better authority to cite for this material than the person writing it. I don’t have a copy of the referenced book, The Geological Column: Perspectives within Diluvial Geology, but Earth’s Surface Shaped by the Genesis Flood, also by Oard, is on-line. The following illustrates the level of science practiced by these old-style creationists:

Figure 3.2. Tas Walker’s biblical geological model for biblical earth history (courtesy of Tas Walker, http://biblicalgeology.net/).

In Oard’s paper on the origin of grass, he seems to argue that the mythical flood of Noah in the Bible explains the fossil record for the origin of grass. That’s likely not Oard’s exact intent, because the story of creation in Genesis has that grass of all varieties came into being during the week of creation, about 6000 years ago.

In telling his story, Oard unfortunately finds it necessary to fall back on terminology used by real scientists. In their arguments for biblical inerrancy creationists often must use traditional scientific language. this is because the creationists have never gone through the process of creating a complete scientific framework for their suppositions. Left without a complete and coherent framework, they often find themselves posing their arguments in language that contradicts their argument. For example, “Mesozoic” and “Cenozoic” describe periods in Earth’s history millions of years in the past, which past is supposed to have begun only 6000 years ago in the creationists’ arguments.

Oard compounds his difficulties by having to rely on actual scientific research, research that contradicts his premise. He cites two articles from the journal Science, articles which also argue that dinosaurs ate grass. In making these references, he ignores the findings of the cited research. The following diagram is from Piperno, D.R. and Sues, H.-D., Dinosaurs dined on grass, Science 310:1126–1128, 2005:

Phylogeny for grasses from GPWG (11)

This figure is a cladogram showing the phylogeny of Poaceae:

The Poaceae (also called Gramineae or true grasses) are a large and nearly ubiquitousfamily of monocotyledonous flowering plants. With more than 10,000 domesticated and wild species, the Poaceae represent the fifth-largest plant family, following the Asteraceae,Orchidaceae, Fabaceae, and Rubiaceae. Though commonly called “grasses”,seagrasses, rushes, and sedges fall outside this family. The rushes and sedges are related to the Poaceae, being members of the orderPoales, but the seagrasses are members of order Alismatales.

Grasslands are estimated to compose 20% of the vegetation cover of the Earth. Poaceae live in many other habitats, including wetlands, forests, and tundra.

Domestication of poaceous cereal crops such as maize (corn), wheat, rice, barley, and millet lies at the foundation of sedentary living and civilization around the world, and the Poaceae still constitute the most economically important plant family in modern times, providing forage, building materials (bamboo, thatch) and fuel (ethanol), as well as food.

[Some links deleted]

What this cladogram illustrates is something that is not supposed to exists in Michael Oard’s world. This lays out the biological evolution of different species of grasses. This evolution, according to Oard, was not supposed to have happened. Oard believes, and he wants others to believe, that all species were created at one time by a mythical person only a few thousand years ago. Yet, he is unable to tell his story, he is unable to make his argument, without falling back on the very science he denies.

What Oard seeks to demonstrate in his paper is that the geological record is produced not by successive layers of fossils laid down in chronological order by natural sedimentation processes, but are the result of a cataclysmic flood (the “Flood of Noah”) a few thousand years ago. What real scientists consider to be a chronological record is interpreted by religious fundamentalists as the result of “hydrological sorting” that occurred when almost all life on Earth was extinguished by the supposed flood. Creationists go to great lengths to fabricate this case.

The following is also from Oard’s on-line book:

Figure 3.3. Graph of the timing of the Flooding and Retreating Stages with Walker’s five phases (drawn by John Reed).

This is a graphical representation of the biblical account:

Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.

11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.12 And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

13 On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. 14 They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. 15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. 16 The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then theLord shut him in.

17 For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. 18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. 20 The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits.[g][h] 21 Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind.22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.

24 The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

Oard takes the biblical story a step further as he starts to form the argument for hydrological sorting:

Figure 3.4. Walker’s two stages of the Flood (left) with the two phases of the Retreating Stage (right). (Stages and phases renamed and drawn by Mrs. Melanie Richard).

The Science papers describe research that incorporates not actual grass fossils, but fossilphytoliths recovered from dinosaur coprolites, fossilized dung. The phytoliths are typically silica formations in plants, and they tend to remain after the soft components decay. Since different plants produce different phytolith forms, scientist study phytolith fossils to trace the existence of the related plants. Finding phytolith fossils characteristic of Poaceae in fossil dinosaur dung has led the researchers to conclude that grass existed as far back as into the Mesozoic:

Grasses (family Poaceae or Gramineae), with about 10,000 extant species, are among the largest and most ecologically dominant families of flowering plants, and today provide staple foods for much of humankind. Dinosaurs, the dominant megaherbivores during most of the Mesozoic Era (65 to 251 million years ago), are similarly one of the largest and best known groups of organisms. However, the possible coevolution
of grasses and dinosaurs has never been studied. Now, Prasad et al. (1) report on page 1177 of this issue their analysis of phytoliths—microscopic pieces of silica formed in plant cells—in coprolites that the authors attribute to titanosaurid sauropods that lived in central India about 65 to 71 million years ago. Their data indicate that those
dinosaurs ate grasses.

[Dinosaurs Dined on Grass, Dolores R. Piperno and Hans-Dieter Sues. Science 310, 1126 (2005); DOI: 10.1126/Science. 1121020]

Oard takes this bit of serious research and runs with it, some may conclude further than is justified:

From a creationist point of view, this study pushes back another taxon in the continued extension of
fossil ranges with further research.1 Moreover, we can ask, why hadn’t grass been well documented from
earlier than the mid Cenozoic? Could it be that the Flood was too catastrophic for its preservation? We also wonder what other fossils will be found in much earlier and much later strata, according to the uniformitarian geological column.

The coprolites also bring up an interesting question in relation to the Flood paradigm. Where did the dinosaurs obtain grass and other vegetation during the Flood? The coprolites certainly mean that the dinosaurs died soon after eating. I suggest that these dinosaurs were not overwhelmed at the very beginning of the Flood but later, allowing for a time of terrestrial habitation (including eating) as the waters rose. The dinosaurs could have already inhabited relatively higher areas before the Flood, or else had fled to higher ground at the start of the Flood. But, then when these dinosaurs were overwhelmed by the Floodwaters, their demise and deposition within the strata was quick. Such an idea would favour the creationist hypothesis of ecological zonation and possibly the fleeing of the animals to higher ground as the Floodwaters continued to rise on the earth. Furthermore, this could offer support for the idea that the Ark did not start floating until Day 40 because it was built on higher ground.8,9

I can say little beyond what Oard has already stated. If ever there was fantasy on display, this is it. If ever ignorance were enshrined, this would be its temple. For this gift the civilized world thanks Michael Oard.

 

 

 

Creating Information

Two summers ago I volunteered to review physics texts for the Texas Education Agency. The reviews were held in a large hall in a hotel in Austin, and other teams were reviewing other books. In particular I ran into a creationist I had met twenty years previous. He is Walter Bradley, and he was reviewing biology texts for the State of Texas. What I found odd about this was:

  • Dr. Bradley has no academic standing in the subject of biology. He is former chairman of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University.
  • Bradley is an acknowledge creationist, a position he has taken in opposition to basic principles of biology.

Here is Dr. Bradley with fellow creationist Ide Trotter at the text book review:

Wikipedia has this to say:

Bradley was one of the pioneers of the concept of intelligent design, attempting to explain topics not yet understood by science as the activity of God. Bradley’s writings on the subject anticipated some of the concepts later articulated by William Dembski and Michael Behe, and he was a participant in early meetings regarding the wedge strategy, a religious public relations campaign with a goal of reshaping American culture to adopt evangelical Protestant values.

I struck up a conversation with Dr. Bradley, and the topic naturally turned to Intelligent Design. What is pertinent to this is that Bradley posed this question to me: As new organisms develop by biological evolution, where does the new information come from?

I knew the answer to the question, but I did not press Dr. Bradley on it. I will give the answer now, and it is counter-intuitive. New information comes from completely random processes. I have highlighted that statement. Carry this forward to the discussion of observed evolution by random mutation and natural selection—Darwinian evolution.

Prior to the development of Nylon, there was no bacterium that could eat the substance. You have a fabric made of wool or cotton, and it is subject to attack by any number of bacterial agents. Not so with Nylon. Eventually a bacterium was discovered that could “eat” Nylon:

In 1975 a team of Japanese scientists discovered a strain of Flavobacterium, living in ponds containing waste water from a nylon factory, that was capable of digesting certain byproducts of nylon 6 manufacture, such as the linear dimer of 6-aminohexanoate. These substances are not known to have existed before the invention of nylon in 1935.

Further study revealed that the three enzymes the bacteria were using to digest the byproducts were significantly different from any other enzymes produced by other Flavobacterium strains (or, for that matter, any other bacteria), and not effective on any material other than the manmade nylon byproducts.

A random mutation had produced a bacterium that could eat Nylon. This was a new organism that filled a newly-created niche (Nylon) in the environment. This was Darwinian evolution in action. What do the creationist say in response?

Many supporters of evolutionary theory have claimed that nylon-eating bacteria strongly demonstrate the kind of evolution that can create new cellular structures, new cells, and new organisms.1 However, examining only the apparent, visible beneficial trait can be misleading. Recent research into the genes behind these traits indicates that no evolution has taken place.2In fact, the genes of nylon-eating bacteria show that they have been degraded through mutation.

The gene that mutated to enable bacteria to metabolize nylon is on a small loop of exchangeable DNA.3 This gene, prior to its mutation, coded for a protein called EII with a special ability to break down small, circularized proteins. Though synthetic, nylon is very protein-like because inventor Wallace Carothers modeled the original fiber based on known protein chemistry. Thus, after the mutation, the new EII protein was able to interact with both circular and straightened-out nylon. This is a clear example of a loss of specification of the original enzyme. It is like damaging the interior of a lock so that more and different keys can now unlock it.

This degeneration of a protein-eating protein required both the specially-shaped protein and the pre-existence of its gene. The degeneration of a gene, even when it provides a new benefit to the bacteria, does not explain the origin of that gene. One cannot build a lock by damaging pre-existing locks. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution. Science continues to reveal, though, how benevolent is our Creator God, who permits bacteria to benefit from degradation, and man also to benefit from bacteria that can recycle synthetic waste back into the environment.

The three references cited are listed below:

  1. Thwaites, W.M. 1985. New Proteins Without God’s Help. Creation/Evolution. 5 (2): 1-3.
  2. Anderson, K.L, and G. Purdom. 2008. A Creationist Perspective of Beneficial Mutations in Bacteria.Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Creationism. Pittsburgh PA: Creation Science Fellowship and Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research, 73-86.
  3. Yasuhira, K. et al, 2007. 6-Aminohexanoate Oligomer Hydrolases from the Alkalophilic Bacteria Agromyes sp. Strain KY5R and Kocuria sp. Strain KY2. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 73 (21): 7099-7102.

The author of this is “Brian Thomas, M.S.

Brian Thomas received his bachelor’s degree in biology in 1993 and a master’s in biotechnology in 1999 from Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas. He taught junior high and high school at Christian schools in Texas, as well as biology, chemistry, and anatomy as an adjunct and assistant professor at Dallas-area universities. Since 2008 Mr. Thomas has been a science writer and editor at ICR, where he contributes news and magazine articles, speaks on creation issues, and researches original tissue fossils. He is the author ofDinosaurs and the Bibleand a contributor to Guide to Creation Basics,Creation Basics & Beyond, and Guide to Dinosaurs.

Interesting points of his argument are:

  1. This degeneration of a protein-eating protein required both the specially-shaped protein and the pre-existence of its gene.
  2. The degeneration of a gene, even when it provides a new benefit to the bacteria, does not explain the origin of that gene.
  3. One cannot build a lock by damaging pre-existing locks.
  4. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution.
  5. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution.
  6. Science continues to reveal, though, how benevolent is our Creator God, who permits bacteria to benefit from degradation, and man also to benefit from bacteria that can recycle synthetic waste back into the environment.

1. Regarding the prerequisite of a specially-shaped protein, another prerequisite is the existence of the bacterium. I hate to be picky, but still another prerequisite is the existence of the planet Earth. This is not a well-based point to argue from.

2. The origin of the original gene is not explained. The origin of the original gene is not at issue here. Darwinian evolution is classically step-wise. Every novel feature is derived from or is built upon an existing one.

3. The “lock” mentioned here is an analogy. A mechanical lock is a device that is used by people, and Thomas is reminding us that a lock that is damaged, such as by putting a .357 Magnum slug through it, does not produce a useful mechanism. The problem with this argument is this is not a lock mechanism built by people. This is a gene that expresses the production of a protein (or an RNA sequence), and it has been altered, and the altered form produces a result that allows the bacterium to digest Nylon.

4. Yes, this is micro evolution. What did Thomas think this was all about? Just about all gene mutations produce micro changes in the offspring. Darwinian evolution, including the the formation of new species, is the accumulation of micro-changes.

5. I am going to let Brian Thomas have this point. I mean, if it’s God doing all of this, then who am I to dispute it?

Back to Walter Bradley’s challenge. New information does come from random processes. People who employ genetic algorithms to develop improved systems (e.g., Diesel engines) use random processes to inject variation into trial designs. It works in modern industry. It works in nature.

Anthropogenic Global Warming

The NTS program presentation for today is Anthropogenic Global Warming.

  • 2:00 p.m.
  • Center for Community Cooperation
  • 2900 Live Oak Street
  • Dallas, Texas

Some members will be participating by Skype. To join the discussion on Skype connect to prasadgolla75075.

A PDF copy of the presentation is on-line here.

Phone Prasad Golla if you have problems connecting: 972 351 3342

The Heat Of Darkness

This is being reposted from the Skeptical Analysis blog in conjunction with our planned discussion of anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

The Heat Of Darkness

I will try to keep the introduction brief. It’s a little bit of physics that I was supposed to have learned a long time ago but retained only a little.

The planet Earth reflects about 30% of the light it gets from the sun. One way of saying this is the albedo of the Earth is 30%. Wikipedia says 30% to 35%, but I was only guessing. The remaining 65% to 70% the Earth gets to keep, and this warms the Earth.

Keep this in mind. The Earth does not keep this energy forever. If it did, then the Earth would keep getting hotter and hotter until it melted, and we know that has not happened recently. When the surface of the Earth is warm it radiates invisible infra-red energy out into space. The hotter the surface becomes the more intensely it radiates energy. After a time the Earth’s surface reaches a temperature at which the combined reflected and radiated energy exactly equal the energy received from the sun. This is a system in equilibrium.

OK, that’s not strictly true. One problem we poor students had to solve was to calculate this average surface temperature. The solution was about 20 degrees F cooler than what we actually measure. What was wrong? What was wrong, and we knew this going in, is that the sun is not the sole source of heating for the Earth. The Earth contains within it a vast nuclear reactor, large quantities of uranium and thorium undergoing radioactive decay and releasing heat. Enough heat to keep the Earth’s average surface temperature where it is now. Which some would say is just about right.

Electromagnetic energy (including visible light and infra-red) must pass through the Earth’s atmosphere coming in and going out. The atmosphere intercepts some of that energy passing through in both directions. To get to the point, the Earth’s surface reflects some visible light and some infra-red, but it (mostly) only emits energy in the form of infra-red radiation. Without consulting any charts I am going to say a large amount of infra-red energy passes through the atmosphere on the way out into infinite space, never to return again. But some of this infra-red making the trip out gets absorbed by the atmosphere.

This illustration from Wikipedia shows what goes on with energy and radiation in this circumstance. The plots for an idealized absorber/emitter show that as surface temperature increases, the body emits more energy and preferentially in the short wavelengths (for example, visible light). When the surface temperature is lower the total emission is less, and the distribution is concentrated in the longer wavelengths (infra-red). At ordinary surface temperatures on Earth (especially not the glowing lava from a volcano) the emission is entirely in the infra-red and longer wavelengths.

So, what would happen if the amount of energy getting absorbed on the way out were to increase? To answer my own question, more energy would be retained by the Earth as a whole (atmosphere plus ground plus water). The temperature of the Earth’s surface would rise until it reached a point that the amount of energy starting the trip out would be enough so that enough would make it out, and the inward and outward flows would balance again.

What would cause the atmosphere to increase its infra-red absorption rate (absorb a greater fraction of the infra-red passing through)? The answer is “some change in the nature of the atmosphere.”

The atmosphere is mostly nitrogen and oxygen gas. Water vapor makes up some, and argon gas and carbon dioxide make up even less. Due to some well-known principles of quantum mechanics, water molecules interact readily with photons in the infra-red part of the spectrum. Water molecules have a number of energy levels at which to store energy, and certain wavelengths of infra-red have just the right energy to raise the energy of a water molecule by the amount of the difference of two of the molecule’s well-defined energy levels. A water molecule readily interacts with a photon of the proper wavelength and absorbs all of its energy. This kind of interaction likes to be all or nothing. That’s why they call it quantum mechanics.

So, water vapor in the atmosphere is an excellent absorber of infra-red energy and contributes greatly to keeping the Earth’s surface warm. What about carbon dioxide? The same is true with carbon dioxide, but not so much, because, for one thing, there is much less of it. Water accounts for 36% to 72% of the I-R absorption, and CO2 accounts for 9% to 26%. CO2 makes up 0.039% of the atmosphere, while water makes up about 0.4%. It’s apparent that of the two major “greenhouse” gasses in the air, CO2 is pound for pound more absorbent of infra-red than water.

People who doubt the effect that something like water has on heat retention need to visit a desert climate. In Tucson, Arizona, the relative humidity may linger around 10%, and in the day time the temperature regularly exceeds 110F. When the sun goes down you look up, and you see nothing between you and the cold void of outer space but a layer of dry air. The temperature rapidly drops as energy radiates into space. The sky “feels” cold. A demonstration with CO2 uses an IR imaging system and a CO2 fire extinguisher. On the imaging view screen you can see all manner of objects in a completely dark room, because they emit IR. Spray a cloud of CO2 in front of these objects, and they disappear, because the CO2 has absorbed the IR.

Even so, water has a greater over-all effect on heat retention in the atmosphere, so what’s all the fuss about CO2? We regularly put a lot of water in the air and never give it a thought. The difference is that water has a transport mechanism called “rain” that removes it from the atmosphere as fast on average as it goes in. CO2 has no such mechanism. CO2 is removed mainly by the process of photosynthesis by plants, and it takes a long time to remove a large slug of CO2 from the air. The average life of a water molecule in the air is about 9 days. The average life of a CO2 molecule in the air is 20 years. That large slug of CO2 will show effects for about 200 years.

That was my brief introduction, and I now get down to the business of what has come to be called global warming. The CO2 concentration in the air has gone up 35% since the advent of the industrial revolution, and it appears that much of this has been due to the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of forests.

Carbon dioxide is just carbon and oxygen joined into a molecule. The atmosphere contains a lot of oxygen (about 21%) but no carbon except in carbon dioxide, methane and some other minor gasses. If you can manage the carbon, you can keep the CO2 out of the atmosphere. Fossil fuels (coal-almost pure carbon and hydrocarbons-petroleum and natural gas) transport carbon, that has been sequestered underground for millions of years, back to the atmosphere. Trees store a lot of carbon, as well, and removing them without growing new ones to replace them returns their carbon content of the atmosphere.

None of that would matter if there were not detrimental effects of global warming. Nobody has yet projected more than a two to five degrees rise in atmospheric temperature in the next 100 years. However, even that small amount will have a very noticeable effect. If the oceans warm by that amount they will expand, and the sea level will rise. If the water locked in the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melts and flows into the oceans, the sea level will rise by several feet. There are some places that cannot tolerate such a rise in sea level. The Republic of Maldives is a collection of islands in the Indian Ocean on average less than five feet above sea level. The state of Florida is not much better, and the city of New Orleans is right at sea level with some parts lower than the surface of the Gulf of Mexico just a few miles away.

Also, there is concern with runaway warming. If warming melts the northern snow belts, then the darkened landscape will absorb more heat from the sun, and warming will increase, causing more snow and ice to melt. It’s called positive feedback.

Again, none of this would be controversial, except that some people do not want to take responsibility for what we are all doing to contribute to global warming. People do not want to stop burning gasoline in their cars. They do not want to stop burning coal in their power plants. They want to cut down forests to plant annual crops. And so on.

So, what do people do? They do what people always do. They shoot the messenger who brings the bad news. It’s as though if the message goes away then the problem will go away. As with all problems there is a profit to be made solving the problem. Which brings us to the matter of Heartland Institute.

A quick trip to their home page reveals their message in a circulating marquee:

HEARTLAND FIGHTS BACK

Left-wing groups commit fraud, but we’re fighting back! Join our legal defense fund and remove false and defamatory materials and prosecute the true criminals.

The site also mentions a number of these “left-wing” groups:

NCSE (National Center for Science Education)
Greenpeace
Desmogblog
Huffington Post
Thinkprogress
Pacific Institute

Some of these groups I am familiar with, others not so much. The Huffington Post I read often, and I can swear to you it has a liberal slant. Also, let’s call Greenpeace a given, although I am not sure why. When did protecting the environment become a liberal idea? How come conservatives have not picked up on this and marched with it? This is what I sometimes wonder when I consider the original meaning of the word conservative.

The NCSE promotes the teaching of science-based concepts in public schools. What conservative organization would be against this idea? It’s possible that because creationism has become the foster child of conservative politicians the NCSE is now on Heartland’s radar. The NCSE has been for the past 30 years a champion of teaching the science of biological evolution, and this science is now targeted by conservative groups. The NCSE strongly opposes teaching creationism, including the story of Genesis and the modern Intelligent Design form, in public science classes. Let’s make matters even worse. Recently the NCSE put “global warming” denial alongside creationism as one of the pseudo sciences it will oppose.

A little reading of Thinkprogress gives the impression of a liberal attitude, and Desmogblog is obviously liberal due to its stance against climate science denial. That brings us to Pacific Institute.

Pacific Institute was founded by Peter Gleick, an American scientist specializing in environmental issues. More recently he stepped down as head of the organization after revealing he had obtained confidential documents from Heartland using a faked identity. He created a bogus Gmail account and sent e-mails to Heartland claiming they were from a named board member and asking that duplicate notices from Heartland be sent to the new address, as well. He received confidential documents from Heartland and released these documents to various outlets, including Desmogblog, which has posted them on the Internet.

Gleick has clearly stepped beyond the bounds of legitimate science and into the realm of advocacy. In addition to his disconnection from the Pacific Institute, the San Francisco Chronicle has dropped his on-line blog.

Gleick was apparently motivated to tap into Heartland materials by an anonymous correspondence he received containing a memo that Heartland now says was forged. Heartland acknowledges the other published documents obtained by Gleick but contends the forged document has harmed its reputation. They are threatening legal action.

It is impossible to reconcile Gleick’s actions as those of a serious scientist. Particularly his release of unsubstantiated evidence is outside accepted practice. Regarding the materials Gleick obtained from Heartland, it was not his job to do this kind of thing. This is best left up to others, such as Desmogblog and this blog. The Skeptical Analysis blog makes no claim for political neutrality, but there will always be an advocacy for real science and for doing the right thing.

I have reviewed the purloined materials, and I am happy to report they confirm what everybody knew all along. It brings me to wonder why Gleick went to all the trouble to expose the obvious. Did anybody think for a moment that Heartland has a legitimate agenda that caters to the public interest? Any difference between Heartland and a for-profit propaganda mill is difficult to discern. Here is part of an item posted on Desmogblog regarding the materials from Gleick:

We are releasing the entire trove of documents now to allow crowd-sourcing of the material. Here are a few quick highlights, stay tuned for much more.

Confirmation that Charles G. Koch Foundation is again funding Heartland Institute’s global warming disinformation campaign. [Update: Apparently even the Koch brothers think the Heartland Institute’s climate denial program is too toxic to fund. On Wednesday, Koch confirmed that it did not cut a check for the $200K mentioned in the strategy memo after all. A statement released on KochFacts.com and the charleskochfoundationfacts.org states that “…the Charles Koch Foundation provided $25,000 to the Heartland Institute in 2011 for research in healthcare, not climate change, and this was the first and only donation the Foundation made to the institute in more than a decade. The Foundation has made no further commitments of funding to Heartland.”]

The allusion is apparently to an item in Heartland’s 2012 fundraising plan. It shows an anticipated $25,000 expected for this year from Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. For those who do not watch the news, the Koch (coke) brothers are politically conservative billionaires whose family fortune originated with the petroleum industry.

Particularly telling is a Heartland memo titled “Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy” and dated January 2012. The contents appear to be no longer confidential, so a bit of disclosure is in order.

One paragraph speaks of the development of a “Global Warming Curriculum for K-12 Classrooms.” This is being developed by David Wojick, who has a long history of working for industrial organizations opposed to climate science. According to Sourcewatch, “He has a Ph.D. in philosophy of science and mathematical logic from the University of Pittsburgh, and a BS in civil engineering from Carnegie Tech. He has been on the faculty of Carnegie Mellon and the staffs of the US Office of Naval Research and the Naval Research Lab.” Also “Wojick has been described as a journalist and policy analyst. According to a search of 22,000 academic journals, Wojick has not published any research in a peer-reviewed journal on the subject of climate change.” The Heartland memo states that Wojick will be paid $100,000 to develop 20 educational modules with the funds coming from “The Anonymous Donor.”

The memo also states that Heartland funds “high-profile individuals who regularly and publicly counter the alarmist AGW message.” These include Craig Idso at $11,600 per month, Fred Singer at $5000 per month (plus expenses) and Robert Carter, at $1667 per month.

About Idso, Sourcewatch has this to say:

Craig D. Idso is Chairman, founder and former President of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, a contrarian Arizona-based group funded in part by ExxonMobil. He is the son of its president, Sherwood B. Idso[1], and the brother of its vice president, Keith E. Idso.

According to Sourcewatch, Fred Singer “runs the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP).., which publicizes his own views on various topics, primarily climate change, ozone depletion, risks of chemical pollution (from DDT and others), nuclear power, and space policy.” He has a long history of advocacy for concerns who have behaved badly in the public arena. Again from Sourcewatch:

In 1993, Singer collaborated with Tom Hockaday of Apco Associates to draft an article on “junk science” intended for publication. Apco Associates was the PR firm hired to organize and direct The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition for Philip Morris. Hockaday reported on his work with Singer to Ellen Merlo, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Philip Morris.

Sourcewatch has this to say about Robert Carter:

According to the Sydney Morning Herald in 2007, Carter was “on the research committee at the Institute of Public Affairs, a think tank that has received funding from oil and tobacco companies, and whose directors sit on the boards of companies in the fossil fuel sector” and believed, SMH said, that “the role of peer review in scientific literature was overstressed.”

If you have been reading along with me you have noticed one peculiar consistency. None of the people just mentioned are serious scientists working in the field of atmospheric science, environmental issues or any of the topics they are being paid to speak on. The word propaganda has a long history of various implications, but this case best illustrates the modern English usage.

When a dedicated cadre of serious scientists develops an idea that many in our society find objectionable, the only recourse for those who oppose this idea is to out-talk the scientists and call them liars and fools. The irony of this approach is that the accuser must take on the role of a liar or a fool. Another course of action would be to do real scientific research and develop opposing conclusions. The various industrial and political groups could take that route if they chose. Obviously they have not, and the reason they have not is because they cannot. If they could, they would. But they cannot, and they do not.

Political Science

This is being reposted from the Skeptical Analysis blog. I used copy and paste, which may or may not work out so well.

We are considering a discussion of AGW (anthropogenic global warming) at the April meeting. Stay tuned for updates.

Billboards in Chicago paid for by The Heartland Institute along the inbound Eisenhower Expressway in Maywood, Illinois. Photograph: The Heartland Institute

Billboards in Chicago paid for by The Heartland Institute along the inbound Eisenhower Expressway in Maywood, Illinois. Photograph: The Heartland Institute

We had a new candidate announce her campaign for the presidency yesterday. Later today we have another person announcing. But this is about politics and science:

GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?

Marco Rubio: I’m not a scientist, man.

We get that. But, is he a high school graduate? That question is likely to be on any high school science quiz in the nation. With the exception of some schools, of course.

So why is Senator Rubio pretending not to know the answer to this simple question? The answer, dear voters, is ourselves. A certain segment wants the government to confirm their basic religious myths. Answer the question incorrectly, and you don’t get their vote. You may not have to sell your soul to obtain public office, but your brain is up for grabs. At least your intellectual integrity.

Not so fast:

There is no denying it: Climate-change deniers are in retreat.

What began as a subtle shift away from the claim that man-made global warming is not a threat to the planet has lately turned into a stampede. The latest attempt to deny denial comes from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful group that pushes for states to pass laws that are often drafted by industry. As my Post colleagues Tom Hamburger, Joby Warrick and Chris Mooney report, ALEC is not only insisting that it doesn’t deny climate change — it’s threatening to sue those who suggest otherwise.

Threatening to sue? Over what?

In 2013, ALEC planned legislation that would weaken state clean energy regulations and penalize homeowners who install their own solar panels and redistribute the electricity back into the grid, whom ALEC has described as “freeriders” because they do not pay for the infrastructure costs of recirculating their generated power.

Also in 2013, ALEC adopted a model bill saying that the role of human activity in causingclimate change was uncertain, that man-made climate change could be “deleterious, neutral or possibly beneficial,” and that the cost of regulating greenhouse gas emissions could cause “great economic dislocation.” ALEC has also invited climate change skeptics such as Craig Idso to speak at its national meetings. Environmentalist groups such as Common Cause and theLeague of Conservation Voters have pointed to such behavior to accuse ALEC of denying climate change. In 2015 ALEC wrote letters to these groups threatening legal action, denying that ALEC supports climate change denial, and saying it has more recently welcomed debate on the subject and supported renewable energy and carbon tax policies to curb global warming.

If ALEC won’t support global warming denial, then what use is it to its core principles—the promotion of short term gains at the expense of our future well being? With ALEC it has not been a matter of the truth being the first casualty. It’s a matter of the truth never being invited to the party. We have covered this before. Seventeen years ago we were getting the “kettle defense” from anti-environmentalists:

The neighbor offers his defense in three parts: 1) “I never borrowed the kettle.” 2) “It was already damaged when I got it.” 3) “It was in perfect condition when I returned it.”

That’s the essence of the “kettle defense” as explained in February 1998 issue of The North Texas Skeptic. This relates to the arguments of the anti-environmentalists:

Here’s another: 1) “There’s no way adding CO2 to the atmosphere will produce global warming.” 2) “Human activities are not adding enough CO2to the atmosphere to produce much global warming.” 3) “Natural sources are the cause of all this CO2.” 4) “Actually, more CO2in the atmosphere is helpful—it makes plants grow.” 5) “Hey, global warming will forestall the next ice age, which the climatologists were predicting earlier.” To this I might add a suggested 6) “I always wanted ocean front property in Orlando anyhow.”

A few Sunday’s ago I heard arguments 4 and 5 being advanced by an oil company executive on a news show. He sells products that routinely put a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere, and proposed remedies are going to change his company’s business drastically. He’s trying to make as many points as he can in case one of them can’t be supported. Actually, point 4 demonstrates he does have reason to worry. More recently, as seen on TV, a scientist studying an imminent volcano eruption in the Northwest was showing off a large section of forest killed off by CO2seeping from the ground. Not CO, not H2S, but CO2 is killing the trees.

Of course, there is a lot of silliness being advanced in the name of science these days, and it needs to be refuted by people who really know what they are talking about. I am glad to see every now and then knowledgeable people taking time off from their real jobs and standing in front of a camera explaining the facts and separating the wheat from the chaff. And they don’t have to use the kettle defense.

[As I write this it’s 62 degrees outside. Of course it’s January. At night.]

That last part was a dig at a previous item in the newsletter. The writer, no friend of the science behind global warming, had mentioned what cool weather we were experiencing. He liked to call people who deny environmental science “skeptics.” Here is an excerpt:

If you did not see the June 1 issue of Newsweek, please go to the library and catch up on it. The headline on the cover reads, “No More Hot Air: It’s Time To Talk Sense About The Environment.” Inside, there are several articles examining a variety of environmental controversies, all offering a rational, well-researched perspective that proved sadly absent from most of the speeches and reporting emanating from the Earth Summit.

One article in particular, “A House Of Cards” by Gregg Easterbrook, does an excellent job of explaining the problems with the “greenhouse effect” theory, and with making any long range predictions about world climate. Just a few examples…

Fifty years ago, England’s Royal Meteorological Society predicted that because of increased carbon dioxide emissions, a greenhouse effect had begun, and the Earth would heat irreversibly. Immediately, it got cooler.

After 30 years of cooler temperatures, environmentalists declared in the late 1970s that a new Ice Age was beginning. Immediately, it got hotter.

When the same global computer models that predict global warming are fed with climate information from the year 1880, they predict that temperatures should have risen five degrees by now. The actual increase is at most one degree, and this could be explained by variances in measuring standards and equipment.

There are many more such eye-opening facts throughout this issue of Newsweek, all of which added together show the difficulty of making any kind of accurate, longterm predictions about the weather. Indeed, a year or so ago, the Dallas Morning News interviewed meteorologists from local television stations, and all of them admitted that even their “five-day forecasts” are virtually worthless, and are only offered because of viewer demand. They’re like horoscopes … “presented for entertainment purposes only.”

Newsweek did an exemplary job of cutting through the political rhetoric that surrounds environmental issues, particularly “global warming.” The magazine probably surprised a lot of people who took it for granted that the doomsday scenarios were scientifically established. At the same time, the writers made clear the necessity for protecting the environment and the benefits that can come from taking immediate, rational action. Newsweek does not recommend clear-cutting the rain forests, even if you are building a meeting hall for environmentalist big-shots … they merely suggest cutting through the nonsense, so we know what really needs to be done and can begin doing it as soon as possible.

The alternative is the currently popular “Chicken Little” approach: the belief that it’s best to take some sort of radical action now, no matter what the cost or effectiveness, and even if it attacks a problem that doesn’t exist while ignoring worse problems that do. Like Leacock’s knight, we are urged to jump on our horse and ride off in all directions.

No thanks. Frankly, I believe that it isn’t the stuff you don’t know that can hurt you most … the most damage is done by the stuff that you know for a fact to be true, and which turns out to be wrong.

To be sure, some serious skeptics have voiced opposition to the science, notably James Randi and Penn Jillette. Then maybe not.

To heap ridicule on the anti-science crowd it’s only necessary to quote some of the extreme wack jobs.Here’s one:

In a recent interview with MSNBC, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) argued that human activity can’t be causing climate change because there were no humans around when the dinosaurs went extinct.

“But then, why did the dinosaurs go extinct?” Miller asked. “Were there men that were causing – were there cars running around at that point that were causing global warming? No. The climate has changed since Earth was created.”

As I mentioned at the time, this is a slam dunk argument. There is no way to refute it.

Apparently ALEC is not alone in the retreat:

The turnabout at ALEC follows an about-face at the Heartland Institute, a libertarian outfit that embraces a description of it as “the world’s most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change.”

But on Christmas Eve, Justin Haskins, a blogger and editor at Heartland, penned an article for the conservative journal Human Events declaring: “The real debate is not whether man is, in some way, contributing to climate change; it’s true that the science is settled on that point in favor of the alarmists.”

Previously Heartland was less circumspect:

Development of our “Global Warming Curriculum for K-12 Classrooms” project.

Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective. To counter this we are considering launching an effort to develop alternative materials for K-12 classrooms. We are pursuing a proposal from Dr. David Wojick to produce a global warming curriculum for K-12 schools. Dr. Wojick is a consultant with the Office of Scientific and Technical Information at the U.S. Department of Energy in the area of information and communication science. His effort will focus on providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science. We tentatively plan to pay Dr. Wojick $100,000 for 20 modules in 2012, with funding pledged by the Anonymous Donor.

The image at the top of this page was provided by Heartland, and the billboard carries the Heartland endorsement. Much to Heartland’s dismay (we can only hope) there was broad and hilarious response:

HeartlandBillboard-03

HeartlandBillboard-02

I am sure Heartland did not put up these billboards. Or these:

HeartlandBillboard-04

HeartlandBillboard-07

It goes to remind that a hint of giggle is worth a ton of scorn.

All of this would be for nothing were there no real science behind claims for anthropogenic global warming. I once attempted to address this and posted a lengthy item titled The Heat Of Darkness. I’m going to repost the entire piece to the NTS site later today, but for now here are a couple of excerpts plus some graphics. Included three years ago was a snippet captured from Heartland’s site:

HEARTLAND FIGHTS BACK

Left-wing groups commit fraud, but we’re fighting back! Join our legal defense fund and remove false and defamatory materials and prosecute the true criminals.

The site also mentions a number of these “left-wing” groups:

NCSE (National Center for Science Education)
Greenpeace
Desmogblog
Huffington Post
Thinkprogress
Pacific Institute

Fortunately they did not mention The North Texas Skeptics, or we would have been in a world of hurt. Maybe the kind of hurt we seek out. The science part might make readers’ eyes glaze over, so to save you from having to read the entire explanation, here is the Schaum’s Outline version:

Keep this in mind. The Earth does not keep this energy forever. If it did, then the Earth would keep getting hotter and hotter until it melted, and we know that has not happened recently. When the surface of the Earth is warm it radiates invisible infra-red energy out into space. The hotter the surface becomes the more intensely it radiates energy. After a time the Earth’s surface reaches a temperature at which the combined reflected and radiated energy exactly equal the energy received from the sun. This is a system in equilibrium.

OK, that’s not strictly true. One problem we poor students had to solve was to calculate this average surface temperature. The solution was about 20 degrees F cooler than what we actually measure. What was wrong? What was wrong, and we knew this going in, is that the sun is not the sole source of heating for the Earth. The Earth contains within it a vast nuclear reactor, large quantities of uranium and thorium undergoing radioactive decay and releasing heat. Enough heat to keep the Earth’s average surface temperature where it is now. Which some would say is just about right.

Electromagnetic energy (including visible light and infra-red) must pass through the Earth’s atmosphere coming in and going out. The atmosphere intercepts some of that energy passing through in both directions. To get to the point, the Earth’s surface reflects some visible light and some infra-red, but it (mostly) only emits energy in the form of infra-red radiation. Without consulting any charts I am going to say a large amount of infra-red energy passes through the atmosphere on the way out into infinite space, never to return again. But some of this infra-red making the trip out gets absorbed by the atmosphere.

And here is a sample graphic:

blackbody

This is all very complicated stuff, of course, and we can only hope that next year’s presidential contest does not devolve into a science quiz. If it does, some candidates are going to have to find a reverse gear.

Structured Water (H9)

On a lovely Saturday morning on 14th of this month in Irving, Texas, I was at a martial arts competition. I saw a booth right next to the restrooms in the main venue of the competition. See photo below.

At first glance my mind played a trick on me. I thought they were selling mercury. You know, the liquid metal at room temperature, mercury? It goes by the symbol hg from Hydrargyrum, an archaic term for it. But I was glad to realize that this isn’t the symbol for that poisonous metal at all but stands for a molecule, which all my lost years learning chemistry were informing me wasn’t simply possible. Nine hydrogen atoms forming a molecular bond. This “water” is supposed to super-hydrate us and provide us energy. The thinking may be something like this: “More hydrogen, more will be the hydration.”

struturedwater I find prices too prohibitive at these venues. So, I chose to pass up on it.

NTS is now a member of the SPI Coalition

We are happy to inform you that NTS is now part of the Secular Policy Institute (SPI) coalition. Our name appears in the list of organizations in the Texas section at this SPI’s page.

NTS board of directors discussed the request from SPI to join the coalition. The board voted to join the coalition.

Being a member of the SPI coalition was seen as a positive for NTS since SPI promotes science globally.

Stupidity Writ Large

This was a topic for discussion at the January meeting on Saturday. I had previously posted the following on the Skeptical Analysis blog, and I’m re-posting it here for NTS members.

– John Blanton

AntiVaccine-03

Thursday I caught a bit of Erin Burnett Outfront on CNN. She had an interview with Doctors Armand Dorian and Jack Wolfson. The conversation turned into a shouting match about the measles vaccine, or lack thereof.

Owing to a number of people declining to be vaccinated for measles there’s been a recent outbreak of measles, particularly in areas rich with anti-vaccine sentiment. See the map.

AntiVaccine-02

California is rife with vaccine craziness, which, unlike a lot of lame brain thinking, seems to cross liberal-conservative boundaries. Wolfson, out of Phoenix, Arizona, seems to be one of those who refuse to recognize the heavier benefit of vaccination. His attitude, at least in this sector, seems to be for letting nature run its course.

AntiVaccine-01

Jack Wolfson, M.D.

Dorian was aboard to counter a lot of Wolfson’s nonsense, but his wisdom generally got lost in the back and forth. I’m just going to highlight Wolfson’s comments, because stupid stuff is what this blog is all about. I transcribed the following from the video. There are likely mistakes in the transcription, but the gist is captured accurately. First, Burnett asks a question. Then, Wolfson responds. Burnett’s comments are in bold.

Why are you opposed to the vaccine?

What I’m opposed to is the fact that we’re injecting chemicals into our children. This aluminum, mercury, sometimes aborted fetal proteins. There’s antibiotics in there. We’re doing something that is totally foreign, that is totally unnatural to our children. We’re experimenting on our children. Our children have the right to get infections. We have immune systems for that purpose.

As the doctor previously said, there were millions of cases, and rarely did anybody die from this. These are typically benign childhood conditions. We cannot sterilize the body. We cannot sterilize our society. We need to be affected by these viruses, bacteria.

He states that he is a board-certified cardiologist.

Whether it’s chicken pox, it’s measles, it’s mumps, rubella. Listen, there’s 70 people who have it right now. 80, whatever the number is. They’re not dying. These are benign childhood conditions that, once the child gets it, they will be immune forever.

You are artificially injecting chemicals to try and stimulate the immune system. That’s not the same thing. We all had chicken pox as children, and we’re all fine because of this. It is our right, and we’re not going to inject chemicals…

[Burnett mentions pneumonia, lifelong brain damage, deafness and death.]

Bad things can happen to anybody. We can be in a car accident. We can be in a toaster fire…

My view: Breath-taking inanity.

So, I’m thinking, “What do we need a doctor for?” You got a bad heart? Maybe it’s nature’s telling you that it’s time to die.

There’s obviously more to be said on this. Here’s something from the Washington Post:

It’s 6:30 p.m. in eastern Arizona, and an energetic doctor who has gained notice due to his disdain for vaccinations has just gotten home. It’s been a busy day. He’s already spoken to USA Today. He just did a segment on CNN. And he’s closely monitored his Facebook page, which has collected 4,000 “likes” in the span of 48 hours. But Jack Wolfson always has time to discuss vaccinations — his hatred of them and his abhorrence of the parents who defend them.

“Don’t be mad at me for speaking the truth about vaccines,” Wolfson said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post. “Be mad at yourself, because you’re, frankly, a bad mother. You didn’t ask once about those vaccines. You didn’t ask about the chemicals in them. You didn’t ask about all the harmful things in those vaccines…. People need to learn the facts.”

Not inclined to being mean-spirited, it is not my wish that Doctor Wolfson ever comes down with the measles.

January 2015 Annual Meeting

The NTS held its annual meeting 31 January 2015 to elect board members and to appoint officers for 2015. This year we tried an experiment, conducting the meeting partly by Skype conference video. It would appear everybody but me attended at the CCC. I joined in from San Antonio, and I made a short video.

Here are the new North Texas Skeptics directors:

  • Amy Maass (1 year)
  • Claudia Meek (2 years)
  • Erling Beck (1 year)
  • John Blanton (2 years)
  • John Brandt (1 year)
  • Prasad Golla (2 years)
  • David Price (1 year)
  • Mike Selby (2 years)

The board elected the following officers and other positions:

  • Prasad Golla, President (golla@ieee.org)
  • Claudia Meek, Vice President (claudia.meek@ttuhsc.edu)
  • John Brandt, Secretary (jhbrandt@clear.net)
  • David Price, Treasurer (daprice@pobox.com)
  • Erling Beck, Liaison Officer (erling.beck@gmail.com)
  • Amy Maass, Social Director (ajhorsegirl@gmail.com)
  • David Price & John Blanton, Web Masters (daprice@pobox.com, jf_blanton@yahoo.com)

A full list of directors, officers, emeritus, advisers is on the About page.

Here’s a short video clip from the Skype session. My video skills can use some maturity, but we will be doing this again soon, and hopefully we will get more video participation and also better video technique. Here’s the link:

Heart of Stupid

This is a cross post from the Skeptical Analysis blog.

I borrowed the title from Joseph Conrad. I’m holding onto it for continuity. These posts are in response to comments from creationist David Buckna. Here is a link to the previous post.

IMG_8505

Creationist David Buckna commented on a prior post. One comment included the following three links. I have previously responded to other parts. The following is from David Buckna:

http://creation.com/dawn-of-the-mammals

http://creation.com/mammal-ear-evolution

http://creation.com/could-the-mammalian-middle-ear-have-evolved-twice

All three links are to pages on the Creation Ministries site. The first was posted last March by creationist Russell Grigg and is titled David Attenborough’s Dawn of the Mammals. Grigg sets out to critique Episode 2 of the TV series, Rise of Animals. He instructs readers on how to avoid being convinced by Attenborough’s presentation. For starters:

In order to show the alleged progress of evolution over millions of years, Attenborough’s tactic is to show fossils of animals with alleged different ‘beneficial’ characteristics in a descending order of alleged ‘long’ ages. These are not the various fossils’ real ages, but are the ages that evolutionists have allotted to the various strata in which the fossils have been found. And how is the age of any particular stratum determined ultimately? Answer: By the fossil(s) which it contains. This is circular reasoning, and such ‘illogic’ would have no validity as ‘evidence’ or be tolerated in any other scientific discipline. It is unique to the theory of evolution. Make no mistake: radiometric dating does not break this circle—there are many examples of radiometric ‘dates’ being trumped by the fossil ‘dates’, as shown in How dating methods work.

Grigg’s initial effort is apparently to cast doubt on deep time. A frequent challenge by creationists, particularly by those adhering to the recent creation of the Earth story in the Bible, is to contradict geologists’ methods for determining the ages of formations. Note Grigg’s use of the wording “alleged ‘long’ ages.” Modern science dates geological formations to the millions and billions of years old. This must be countered by creationists of the first kind.

As Grigg alludes, paleontologists determine the age of fossils by the age of the geological formation in which they are found. This is not unreasonable.

  • There usually is no method for direct determination of the age of a fossil.
  • The ages of various geological formations can be and have been determined with good assurance.

If an animal  fossil is determined to have been encased in a specific formation at the time the formation was laid down, then there is the good presumption the animal died during the time the formation was laid down. The age of the fossil is then presumed to be of the same age as the formation.

Often, geological formations, layers of rock or sedimentary material, encompass large regions. If a study of the entire formation determines there is good certainty the entire formation was laid down during the same period, then varied regions within the formation are presumed, not unreasonably, to be of the same age.

If the location of a fossil find cannot be directly measured, but another region of the same formation can be, then the reasonable conclusion is the fossil is the approximate age of the region that can be dated.

If a geological formation spans a large period of time (bottom part is much older than the top part), then the age of a fossil can be adjusted with respect to the measured point in the formation by assuming some rate of growth of the formation.

If no point in a formation can be dated, then geologists can look to formations that overlay the one in question and also formations below. If the ages of formations above and below can be determined, then the age of the formation in question can be estimated by the bracketing ages. The initial presumption is that formations on the bottom were laid down prior to formations on the top.

This sequence can be skewed, however. There is a geological process called over thrusting. Once formed, two adjacent regions can be pushed together, causing one to overlay the other. This causes some older rock to overlay some younger rock. In other cases a layer can be folded by horizontal force, causing a region to be completely overturned, reversing the order in which the layers were originally formed. Professional geologists recognize when this has happened and make allowances.

Grigg uses this much-abused argument: “These are not the various fossils’ real ages, but are the ages that evolutionists have allotted to the various strata in which the fossils have been found. And how is the age of any particular stratum determined ultimately? Answer: By the fossil(s) which it contains. This is circular reasoning, and such ‘illogic’ would have no validity as ‘evidence’ or be tolerated in any other scientific discipline.” This would make some sense if it were not false at its base. What undoes this argument is that ultimately the ages of formations are determined by radiometric dating.

Grigg needs next to attack the validity of radiometric dating. His link to radiometric dating. is not to a scientific source but to another page on the Creation Ministries International site. Following that, his link to How dating methods work is to yet another page on the CMI site. So far, Grigg has not pointed readers to any reputable sources to make his argument. I am now left with the choice of continuing to follow David Buckna’s chain of links in search of elusive validity or calling a halt to this charade. I’m going to choose the latter.

David submitted a comment to my prior post. That post stated, in part:

I’m continuing a review of comments from creationist David Buckna. I will keep the current title for this series in order to maintain continuity. Additionally the wording tends to reflect the sense of the comments I’ve been receiving.

I stated that I was not going to respond to his lengthy comment all at once, but would piece my response out in manageable bites. This led to an email dialog and the three links I noted above.

Rather than address my original statements directly, David has responded with links to numerous sources of dubious quality. If I pursue this dialog in the manner of David’s choosing I will be left with putting hours of response for each of David’s links to nowhere. My preference would be to have a dialog with somebody who has facts in hand and is willing to make an argument based on these facts. That person is not David Buckna.

Readers are invited to challenge me on this. Why am I not pursuing each of David’s links in turn and spinning out long analyses of each point in these long chains? Fair enough. If anybody reading this wants analysis of a particular claim by David or by any of the sources he has linked to, then I am eager to respond.