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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

 

 

The Best of the ICR

ICR in Dallas

ICR in Dallas

The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) has been around in some form since 1970, when Henry M. Morris, and Nell and Kelly Segraves organized the Creation Science Research Center in Santee, California.

Recently I came across this item on the ICR Web site. It had the following title:

Should Evolution be Immune from Critical Analysis in the Science Classroom?

Michigan State physiology professor Robert S. Root-Bernstein wrote regarding his introductory course on evolution: “I encourage [students] to be skeptical—as long as their skepticism is based on logic and evidence. . . . Questions are what drives science, not answers. . . . Take nothing for granted, I counsel my students: that is what makes a scientist” (“Darwin’s Rib,” in Discover, September 1995, pp. 38–41).

Taking a cue from professor Root-Bernstein that “questions are what drives science, not answers,” what follows is a partial list of questions that could be used to critically examine and evaluate evolutionary theory.

These questions would make good classroom discussions, initiated by either teacher or student, or good student research assignments.

There follows a list of 33 questions that, presumably, creationist should ask in a biology class. So far I’ve had a quick look at them, and most of them are already quite familiar to me and to others. If these ever came out on a CD the disk might be titled The Best of the ICR. I call them the best of the ICR, because this kind of thing is about the best the ICR can come up with.

Since this is a lot of stuff I have posted my responses to each of David Buckna’s 33 questions on the Skeptical Analysis blog.

Stupidity on Stilts

It’s the now-famous Megan Fox review of modern science. Reposted from Skeptical Analysis.

– by John Blanton

Up front, full disclosure: I did not coin the phrase, “stupidity on stilts.” My inspiration is Professor Paul Braterman of Glasgow University.  When blogger  asked him about some creationist pseudo scientific babble he called it “bullshit on stilts.” I’ve merely given bullshit another name and adopted the phrase for my own use. I’m thinking I’m going to find it a lot of employment. Let’s start here.

In  the video embedded below, fundamentalist Christian home-school mom and conservative cultural critic Megan Fox — no relation to “Transformers” actress Megan Fox — visits the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and purports to “audit” the museum for its “liberal bias.”

This is so remarkable. What I will do is hopscotch through the 30-minute clip and pick up legible pieces of Fox’s monologue and then apply some Skeptical Analysis. I will start with a screen shot from the video as available on YouTube. The original is not top-notch videography, and there’s not much I can do about that. I pumped up the contrast a bit, but that’s as far as I could go.

MeganFox-01

She starts by examining a display on eukaryotic cells. The display seems to be explaining the distinction between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. She’s puzzled, having not been exposed to the concept before. True confession: Before I started following the creationists around 25 years ago this was a puzzle to me, as well. If they covered this in my high school class I must have been asleep. For the record, prokaryotes are simple cells with no nucleus. Eukaryotes are more complex cells, having their chromosomes contained within a cell nucleus. Bacteria are prokaryotes. Complex life forms such as us are made up of eukaryotic cells. Here’s what Fox has to say:

Now they’re going to tell you how the evolution of the cell begins.

She reads from the display, and I’ll just transcribe from the image.

MeganFox-02

Eukaryotes are different from other cells because they have a nucleus, which contains the cell’s DNA, and other specialized compartments. These different compartments perform different tasks within the cell.

Only, after Fox says “DNA” she just continues with “blah blah blah.” Then she resumes reading.

At first, all eukaryotes were single-celled, and many still are today.

The display text continues:

But every organism, living and extinct, that is not single-celled—including you—is made up of eukaryotic cells.

What Fox says at this point is so remarkable.

What? If many still are today, then that would support the theory that they have never changed, that have always been as they are today. Not that they started some place else, and they are here, but that they were always this, and still are today. This makes no sense. No sense.

Fox quotes the text:

… living and extinct, that is not single-celled—including you—is made up of eukaryotic cells.

Then:

Well then doesn’t that suggest that everything was made up of eukaryotic cells in the beginning? Also that they weren’t something else that became eukaryotic cells. They are always and have been eukaryotic cells.

None of this makes any sense. It doesn’t make sense to a 5th grader. It doesn’t make sense to a 3rd grader. It doesn’t make sense to a 30-year-old. None of this makes any sense.

She continues.

This is muddled thinking. This is thinking from like Darwin thinking from, you know, a hundred years ago. And we should know better by now. We really should know better by now. Darwin once said that if the single cell is more complex than I think it is, then all of my theory is … I’m going to have to start all over again.

Between now and then what we have discovered is that the single cell … if the single cell back then were, you know, a Buick, then the single cell now is a galaxy. So Darwin, himself, would have said, “OK, back to the drawing board. None of this makes any sense.” But yet we’re still stuck with 100-year-old science. Disgusting. No one cares. Does no one care? Does no one want to know the truth? Because I want to know the truth. Because this [pointing to the display] makes no sense.

At this point Fox heads off toward another display, leaving views to ponder. Is this for real? Is all this just a put up by some anti-creationists to make creationists look stupid?

Let’s assume for the moment that this is not a joke. Let’s apply some Skeptical Analysis. First of all, who is Megan Fox?

Don’t confuse this Megan Fox with the actor Megan Fox. This one is so-called conservative social critic Megan Fox. That said, about the earliest I could find about this Megan Fox is that she has a YouTube channel and a Facebook page. It does not appear that Fox writes a bunch of stuff. She posts videos on her YouTube channel and then links to them on Facebook. Taking a look at her Facebook page we can get the idea of her conservative bent. First, she seems to be a fan of Ben Carson, a politically conservative hero to many and potential candidate for president as a Republican. Here’s Fox’s take on Carson’s latest book:

Fans of Megan Fox

STORY TIME! Megan Fox checks out Dr. Ben Carson’s newest book. Dr. Carson would make a terrific President. Time to have someone in the Oval Office who is not a lawyer or career politician. Time to have someone with real world experience and the skills of a neurosurgeon to get his country back on track the way he’d tend to a sick patient. His book is HIGHLY recommended!

Fox also seems to align herself with some conservative views on illegal immigration:

Fans of Megan Fox

The CDC has been burying evidence that the “mystery respiratory illness” was rare in the United States until the surge of invaders from Central America over the summer. This disease is caused by the enterovirus that is common in Central America but rare here. The people the Obama regime allowed to flood our border and then redistributed around the country brought this virus with them, and now American children have it.

She does not seem to be a big fan of science and likes to trumpet failures of the scientific establishment.

ANOTHER SCIENTIST CAUGHT MANUFACTURING DATA AND FAKING RESULTS: This is a real problem in the scientific community in the year 2014. I think this started in the late 1990s and into the 2000s. There’s been a culture change, where Alinsky political methods became adopted by the scientific community and they have a “ends justify the means” attitude toward their work now. There’s no longer an atmosphere where faking results and manipulating data to reach desired outcomes is frowned upon. Scientists seem to do this all the time now, and that’s because scientists have become too politicized. This is the result of so many of them getting caught up in the Anthropogenic Apocalypse Cult and joining in the mob intent on propping up the doomsday assertions that the Left wants propped up. Since they fake data for that purpose, it’s no longer forbidden to fake data in other areas too. Like this scientist in Japan caught doing just that, manipulating data to get the results that she wanted:

That posting links to a news story about scientific misconduct:

Japan scientist quits as cell research discredited

Her attitude toward science is colored by a distaste for modern theories of biology and other fields that support biological evolution:

SCIENTISTS ARE AGAIN BAFFLED AND PUZZLED BY DISCOVERY OF NEW FISH IN PLACE THEY THOUGHT FISH COULD NOT EXIST. Life finds a way to continuously defy what scientists say can’t exist or can’t be true. Again and again, scientists are caught having to admit they were wrong (again!) when it comes to some creature that is not as fragile as they claimed. That’s the problem that I have with modern science: claiming all the animals are so fragile. When in reality humans still don’t know all there is to know about the natural world and the assumptions that scientists make are so often wrong. They say animals can’t exist below certain depths…until we find out there’s thriving life down there. They say certain animals went extinct…until we find out they didn’t. The problem with modern scientists (which sets them apart from scientists of the past) is that today these people claim to be the definitive experts on things that we are still learning about. There’s a hubris to these people that did not exist in the past. 30 years ago, scientists weren’t baffled and confounded so often as they are now because the scientists didn’t claim to know everything. The problem is that when science became politicized and the scientists started pushing agendas they left true science behind to pursue this “the animals are fragile!” agenda. In reality, nature is hearty. The animals will thrive long after humans are gone. Watch an abandoned building: in a year, nature has reclaimed it. In five years, the place is unrecognizable. In 10 years, it’s like no building even existed. This is not a fragile planet.

That posting links to a story from ABC News:

How Scientists Found Deepest-Ever Fish 5 Miles Down

What is especially notable is a comparison between what’s in the ABC news item and what Fox says in response. Take for example this excerpt:

They say animals can’t exist below certain depths…until we find out there’s thriving life down there.

Then read the remainder of the ABC News item. I have highlighted a pertinent text:

“We’re pretty confident it’s a snailfish,” Dr. Alan Jamieson from the Oceanlab at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland told ABC News. “Not that we know. It’s a new species.”

The Ocean Schmidt Institute and Oceanlab carried out the 30-day voyage on the ocean vessel, the Falkor, as part of the Hadal Ecosystem Studies (HADES), an international project funded by the National Science Foundation that explores trench and hadal ecosystems. The Falkor, using unmanned landers, encountered the critter with two or three other new species of fish while recording 104 hours of footage at depths as low as 10,990 meters.

The fish is 20 centimeters in length, with a distinct snout similar to that of a cartoon dog. It also has long and very thin and fragile fins described as “tissue paper underwater,” though scientists will not be able to identify it until a physical sample is captured, according to Jamieson.

“If you don’t have a sample, a physical sample in your hand, you cannot do it,” he told ABC News. “Which is why we can’t do it for the fish.”

Fish contain osmolyte, a protein that allows their cells to function under high pressures, allowing them to thrive at low depths. Scientists theorize that the lowest level at which a fish can survive at is 8,200 meters below the surface.

Timothy Shank, the director of the program and an associate scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said the program hopes to capture a physical sample in the near future.

“Absolutely. No doubt,” Shank said. “We put out fish traps. We put out landers that have baited traps on them. We very much want to capture these deep-sea living fish.”

Other voyages in the Mariana Trench through HADES will continue, with one set in the coming weeks on the Falkor again, according to Shank. The current voyage took one physical sample of another, unidentified species of snail fish. It will take approximately one year to formally declare a name for that species.

Jamieson told ABC News that deep-sea exploration is important and necessary for learning more about fish life and the depths at which they can thrive.

“There are still things to find because we weren’t expecting that,” Jamieson said. “And it shows that complex animals such as fish can exist much deeper than we thought.”

“Scientists theorize that the lowest level at which a fish can survive at is 8,200 meters below the surface.” This fish was found at a depth of 8,145 meters. Does Fox have a problem with reading comprehension? If not, is it possible she thinks her readers do?

Again Fox: “When in reality humans still don’t know all there is to know about the natural world and the assumptions that scientists make are so often wrong.” Yes, humans still don’t know all there is to know about the natural world. That’s why we have the study of science. Scientific study is aimed at finding out stuff we don’t already know. Yes, the assumptions scientists make are often wrong. Correcting false assumptions is part of what science does.

Fox’s misinterpretation of what was reported in the ABC News item is one of 1) comical, 2) reflective of a poor understanding of the real world, 3) deliberate misrepresentation. Or some of all three.

What I have noticed is that creationists, Fox apparently being one of them, tend to have issues with science in general. They don’t trust science. Science is telling them things about God and Jesus they don’t want to hear. Science is Neil deGrasse Tyson getting on television and telling kids the universe was not created in six days. Science is bad. Scientists are bad or at least fools.

Unfortunately the creationism camp tends to get followed by the politically conservative faction of society, and these conservatives vote together and put into places of power like-minded people. These elected officials tend to vote against grants for politically disfavored scientific studies, and they attempt to incorporate pseudo scientific notions such as creationism into public school curricula.

It is, then, with particular glee that Fox has highlighted the story of discredited researcher Haruko Obokata. See, science is bad. Evolution is science. Evolution is bad. (my interpretation) What Fox fails to notice, much less emphasize, is that Obokata’s research fell victim to the scientific method. The scientific method incorporates attempts to falsify scientific theories. When one researcher reports something, other scientists attempt to replicate the results. Failing the ability to replicate, scientists get suspicious and demand a closer look. Science, as a result, has proved to be a highly-reliable method for discovering the truth. Only people not comfortable with the truth will find fault with this approach.

I’ve gone all this way examining who and what Megan Fox is, but I’ve yet to examine her examination of the Natural History Museum exhibits. It’s time to do that.

The exhibit discusses prokaryotic cells versus eukaryotic cells. Since I didn’t get any of that from my high school biology (asleep?) I will just take it off the top of my head. Prokaryotic cells are simple. No nucleus. The DNA just exists unconstrained within the cell’s cytoplasm. Eukaryotic cells are more complex. The principal DNA exists in the chromosomes within a defined cell nucleus. The cytoplasm of eukaryotic cells harbors any number of mitochondria. Mitochondria perform a number of useful function for the eukaryotic cell, and they are thought to have originated as bacteria that infiltrated eukaryotic cells in the deep evolutionary past. Mitochondria participate in cell mitosis (splitting) by, themselves, splitting and becoming introduced both daughter cells. Sperm cells (generally) do not have mitochondria, so in sexual reproduction only the female’s mitochondria are passed on to the offspring.

I’m thinking Fox did not know all of that.

The exhibit explains that originally all organism that were composed of eukaryotic cells were single-celled. Now eukaryotic cells make up all multi-cellular life. No multi-cellular life is composed of prokaryotic cells. So Fox makes the comment, “What? If many still are today, then that would support the theory that they have never changed, that have always been as they are today.”

This 74-year-old brain of mine is unable to come to grips with Fox’s conclusion. How does the statement that previously all eukaryotic life was single-celled, and now all multi-cellular life is composed of eukaryotic cells support the “theory that they have never changed?” May I be allowed to answer that one?

First of all, “they” in fact never changed. “They” all died. A long time ago. What we see around us are “their” descendants. What has happened is biological evolution. The populations of succeeding generations have changed over the millions of years, and we now see, not only single-celled eukaryotic life forms, but multi-celled eukaryotic life forms. An example of a single-cell eukaryote is the paramecium. An example of a multi-cell eukaryote is Megan Fox.

I’m going to leave the remainder of Megan Fox’s commentary for the reader to digest. In fact, I’m going to leave the remainder of Fox’s museum tour for subsequent posts, because this post is becoming overly long. Keep reading.

NBC’s Mysterious Origins of Man

Here’s a repost from the Skeptical Analysis blog. The story has aged a lot since it first aired on TV, but the concern is still the same. Speculation and fabrication are presented as valid accounts.

– John Blanton

It can’t be possible I have not already done a post on this. Apparently I have not. It’s about time.

Charlton Heston introduces the documentary

Charlton Heston introduces the documentary

It’s been nearly 20 years since this came out. OK, nearly 19. But I’m not going to wait for the the anniversary. I will get this going by reposting my notes from 18 years ago. This appeared in the April 1996 issue of The North Texas Skeptic shortly after the show first aired on NBC. I will follow up this post with a series of posts touching on the main topics of the documentary.

NBC’s Mysterious Science

by John Blanton

“The Mysterious Origins of Man,” which aired on NBC in February, had a lot not to like about it. Besides giving a very good impression of an attack on science, it exhibited on the part of its producers and major players an appalling ignorance of some basic facts of the universe. In this cynical world, where, it would seem, half the population is trying to manipulate the other half, there is a temptation to find wonder in such innocence and naivet. Would that the enemies of this country were such babes in the wilderness.

If you did, you should not have missed it. Besides Charlton Heston (more famous as Moses and Ben Hur), there were our own local creationists Don Patton and Carl Baugh, come to explain how the scientific establishment continues to ignore their evidence and to promulgate the myth of evolution. Those even faintly acquainted with Patton and Baugh will be struck with one glaring irony in the program. The luster of national exposure for their young-Earth agenda was more than slightly dimmed by the show’s continual reference to fossils millions of years old. Maybe that’s why at the MIOS meeting the following week, Don showed considerable modesty when making reference to his appearance. I further noted that many of the creationists at the meeting had not seen the program. It aired when many of them were at church.

Naturally, the program has its detractors. I will not dwell on their remarks. I have a video of the program. Watch it, and you can supply your own comments. The producers have responded to their critics, however, and they have graciously allowed us to reprint the text. To me these thoughts, spilled out on paper, make my case completely (John Blanton):

PRODUCERS’ RESPONSE TO THE CRITICS

By Bill Cote, Carol Cote and John Cheshire

(Reprinted with permission)

As we expected, the response to our show has been heated. We’ve been accused of pseudo-science and setting back the course of education in America. But our goal was simply to present the public with evidence which suggests an alternative view to some of our most accepted theories. After all, the theory of evolution is still a theory, not a fact, and therefore alternative views should be welcomed, not banned.

Probably the most common criticism is that the show gave no opposing view from the academic community. The producers’ position is that the accepted view has been so frequently presented to the public that only a brief summary by the host was necessary. It was more valuable to focus on the documented anomalous evidence.

For example, if man evolved from the apes around 5 million years ago, then how does the scientific community explain tools of modern man found in rock strata dating to 55 million years old? (J.D Whitney, California State Geologist, Table Mt. Mine) Those artifacts currently reside in a museum in Berkeley, California. When we applied for permission to film them, we were denied by the museum.

Another criticism is that the information in our show is presented by experts who do not hold degrees in their fields of expertise and therefore their opinions are not endorsed by the scientific community. But Dr. Virginia Steen McIntyre holds a Ph.D. in Geology and was a fellow with the USGS when she did her field work in Mexico. Her conclusions about the age of the spear points she dated (250,000 years BP) were backed by two other USGS members, yet because of their implications, the findings were ignored and her career was ruined.

In the case of the Paluxy River man tracks, to our knowledge, no accredited archaeologist has ever proven the prints to be fake. Furthermore, many scientists have referred us to an article written by Kuban and Hastings who seem to be the experts on this site. They categorically deny that there is any validity to the prints and that the case has been solved.

It is interesting to note that the scientific community refers to this report as if it is definitive proof, when in fact neither gentleman is an accredited archaeologist, anthropologist or paleontologist. If this is to be a fair discussion let’s all play by the same rules.

Many of our critics are using very strong language, calling us morons, liars, and subversive creationists. These are emotional responses, not logical arguments. To set the record straight, we are not creationists or affiliated with any group whatsoever. We are being attacked on a personal level, because we are questioning issues that have been deemed too fundamental to be questioned.

We are fully aware that the information presented is highly controversial. This was re-iterated by Charlton Heston in the show, “We’ve seen a broad range of evidence, some of it highly speculative. But there are enough well documented cases to call for a closer look at the conventional explanation of man’s origins.”

We never take the stance that we know the answers or in any way suggest that we will provide them. We are merely offering an alternative hypothesis. In this way, we feel that the American public is fully capable of making up its own mind. Bill Cote, Carol Cote and John Cheshire Producers of The Mysterious Origins of Man. To follow the controversy on our World Wide Web site:

http://www.bcvideo.com/bcvideo

– Copyright 1996: Bill Cote, Carol Cote and John Cheshire. . . . May reprint with permission. – Distributed (not written) by Thomas Burgin . . . Direct any inquiries to bcvideo@interport.net.

Crazy on Stilts

I picked up on this item about Food Babe a few weeks ago. Here is a repost from the Skeptical Analysis blog:

– John Blanton

Emily Finke posted this on Facebook. Thanks, Emily. Just when I thought crazy had maxed out, you put the spotlight on this. It’s a page cached on Google, and it appears to have come from an actual site called Food Babe. Now I learn that Food Babe is the blog of Vani Hari:

Vani Hari, also known on her blog as the Food Babe, is an American blogger known for her criticism of the food industry. She has gathered over 350,000 signatures via petitions pressuring food companies to remove ingredients from their products or change their production processes. Companies including Kraft, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, and Subway have changed or reconsidered ingredients in their products as a result of her campaigns. She has been frequently criticised for promoting pseudoscientific claims and beliefs in her work.

[Some links deleted]

Think the critique is a bit strong. You may get a better idea after reading a post from apparently 23 August 2011:

This is Google’s cache of http://foodbabe.com/2011/08/23/no-reason-to-panic-on-the-plane/. It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on Nov 10, 2014 21:01:32 GMT – See more at: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Ffoodbabe.com%2F2011%2F08%2F23%2Fno-reason-to-panic-on-the-plane%2F#sthash.ZtonmYFq.dpuf

Food Babe Travel Essentials – No Reason to Panic on the Plane!

I’m on the plane to LAX, the first leg en route to our first stop – Tokyo! I can’t think of a better time or place to write this article.

Airplane travel, is unfortunately (and fortunately!) a big part of my way of life. I’d be surprised if you added up the amount of travel I have conducted for work and personal if it didn’t end up being a full year of my life. For this reason, I set out to find out exactly the best strategies to keep your body energized, free of aliments, and flying high when you are on the bird!

A few facts about what airplanes do to your body –

When your body is in the air, at a seriously high altitude, your body under goes some serious pressure. Just think about it – Airplanes thrive in places we don’t. You are traveling in a pressurized cabin, and when your body is pressurized, it gets really compressed!

Compression leads to all sorts of issues. First off your body’s digestive organs start to shrink, taxing your ability to digest large quantities of food. Secondly, this compression reduces the ability for your body to normally circulate blood through your blood vessels. Sitting down for long hours while this is happening, exacerbates these issues, leading to what they call “Economy Class Syndrome.” Economy Class Syndrome results the action of sitting in a cramped space for a long period of time, thus resulting in blood flow loss to the legs. A unhealthy person or someone who eats a poor diet, smokes, has heart disease, diabetes or an auto-immune disorder has a larger risk of developing DVT, which basically causes a blood clot in your one of your large veins in your leg and you risk death.

Additionally, the pressurized cabin reduces the humidity by 40% of what humans typically thrive at. The Sahara Desert has more humidity at ~25% than your airplane does at ~10%. Remember your body is made up of 50% water, if the humidity is reduced by 40%, your body becomes very dehydrated, very quickly and usually without you feeling the effects until after you get off the plane. Dehydration causes all sorts of issues from fatigue, headaches, constipation, light headedness and even death in extreme cases.

The air you are breathing on an airplane is recycled from directly outside of your window. That means you are breathing everything that the airplanes gives off and is flying through. The air that is pumped in isn’t pure oxygen either, it’s mixed with nitrogen, sometimes almost at 50%. To pump a greater amount of oxygen in costs money in terms of fuel and the airlines know this! The nitrogen may affect the times and dosages of medications, make you feel bloated and cause your ankles and joints swell.

Did you know certain countries require that airplanes and even passengers be sprayed with pesticide before they take off? This means if you are visiting one of these countries you are breathing in these fumes potentially all flight, especially if they were sprayed on board. Horrific!

Ok enough horror facts about airplane travel (especially while I am flying right now!)…Here’s my Food Babe tips on what you can do to avoid and/or protect yourself of all the facts I mentioned above.

Food Babe’s Tips: First Class Airplane Tips for your Body

Before you Fly:

  1. Choose a seat as close to the front as possible. Pilots control the amount of airflow and it is is always better in their cabin.
  2. Eat a light meal or fast, it is better to digest as much of your food as possible before getting on the plane
  3. Exercise! You reduce your risk of developing DVT dramatically and you will also improve your body’s circulation ability
  4. Drink at least 16 ounces of water before your flight, and limit alcohol and caffeine
  5. Bring your own food. Airport and airplane food is overly processed and contains more GMO, pesticides, MSG, and chemicals than can make your head spin! Bring circulation enhancing foods! Some great ones that are easy to travel with are dark chocolate, blueberries, grapes, oranges, avocados, ginger, and pumpkin seeds.
  6. Don’t forget to pack an empty water bottle to be filled at the airport, or to buy water before your flight. I like to bring at least 32 ounces of extra water with me on any flight.
    I can’t tell you how many times the airlines have been stingy giving me water (even in First Class!)
  7. Ask your Acupuncturist or Nauropath for herbs that can help prevent you from contracting colds, flus and other viruses through the recycled air
  8. The following two things are a must for international flights! Moisturizer and a little spray bottle of evian spritzer can do wonders in rehydrating your skin on long flights.

In Flight:

  1. Drink 8 ounces of water for every hour of flying time
  2. If you experience a headache, pains or aches, think about using turmeric, garlic or willow bark which are all natural alternatives to aspirin
  3. Fast or eat small light carbohydrate rich whole foods. Limit any heavy dairy or protein rich foods. Whole grain carbohydrates are better tolerated than proteins at a high altitude.
  4. Do not drink alcohol or caffeine on long flights
  5. Walk or stretch every 30 mins while in flight, if you can’t get up from your seat, rotate your ankles and raise your arms over your head to stretch
  6. Keep your hands clean with natural hand sanitizer spray and avoid touching your face as much as possible
  7. Don’t forget to take your natural herbs that can strengthen your immune system

After your Flight:

  1. Continue to drink 8 ounces of water every hour
  2. Aim to do at least 15 mins of yoga or other form of exercise
  3. Consider getting a massage, which as been known to reduce jet lag
  4. Continue eating circulation enhancing foods
  5. As soon as you can – swim, take a shower and/or a steam bath to rehydrate your skin

Exercise before the plane: Check!

Now that you have read all of that:

Let’s compare the nonsense with the facts:

  • “You are traveling in a pressurized cabin, and when your body is pressurized, it gets really compressed!” Fact: Airliner cabin pressure is maintained at the 8000-foot level. As the aircraft ascends the pressure is allowed to drop. When the altitude exceeds 8000 feet the cabin is pressurized from air taken from the engine compressors. While flying in an airliner your body is not compressed. It’s at less pressure than it was at the airport (unless you got on the plane at La Paz).
  • “Additionally, the pressurized cabin reduces the humidity by 40% of what humans typically thrive at.” Fact: The airliner compensates for the lack of humidity by adding moisture to the air that’s pumped into the cabin.
  • “The Sahara Desert has more humidity at ~25% than your airplane does at ~10%.” Fact: Humidity in the Sahara rarely exceeds 30%. It’s typically at 4% to 5%. Airliner cabin humidity is kept low—in the 10% range. This is about typical of a day in Tuscon, Arizona. You stay hydrated by drinking water during the flight.
  • “The air you are breathing on an airplane is recycled from directly outside of your window. That means you are breathing everything that the airplanes gives off and is flying through.” Fact: See the above. Cabin air comes from the engine compressors. It’s as clean as any fresh air you will find in nature.
  • “The air that is pumped in isn’t pure oxygen either, it’s mixed with nitrogen, sometimes almost at 50%.” Fact: Air, at sea level, at 40,000 feet, is 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, plus carbon dioxide, argon and other trace gases. That’s what you get from the engine compressors.
  • “Choose a seat as close to the front as possible. Pilots control the amount of airflow and it is is always better in their cabin.” Fact: The entire cabin gets the same air. Sitting up front will not get you better air.

There is enough bullshit in the foregoing to question anything else from the Food Babe. Vani Hari has done all women a disservice by tagging her blog as “Food Babe.” This kind of thing wants to give the impression that “babe” is associated with “airhead.” Don’t fall for it. I know lots of babes, and they are not airheads.

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