Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

All present-day life arose from a single origin

From Science News:

Protein analysis rules out multiple sources

Web edition : 2:57 pm
A new study uses statistics to test whether life on Earth can be traced back to a common ancestor (example shown in a) or multiple primordial life forms (b). Dotted lines indicate gene swapping between species. M. Steel and D. Penny/Nature 2010

One isn’t such a lonely number. All life on Earth shares a single common ancestor, a new statistical analysis confirms.

Science continues its march forward, while the creationists/IDer’s will fall over themselves trying to explain this away.


A Tribute to Our New School Board Members

Climate Change and the Integrity of Science

From Skeptical Science:

Climate Change and the Integrity of Science: a letter to Science

A letter Climate Change and the Integrity of Science has been published in the journal Science. It’s written by 255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences, including 11 Nobel laureates (here’s the complete list plus their university affiliations). I recommend reading the entire letter but here is an excerpt:

There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet…

… The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other scientific assessments of climate change, which involve thousands of scientists producing massive and comprehensive reports, have, quite expectedly and normally, made some mistakes. When errors are pointed out, they are corrected. But there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change:

  1. The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.
  2. Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
  3. Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth’s climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.
  4. Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic.
  5. The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more.

Much more can be, and has been, said by the world’s scientific societies, national academies, and individuals, but these conclusions should be enough to indicate why scientists are concerned about what future generations will face from business-as-usual practices. We urge our policy-makers and the public to move forward immediately to address the causes of climate change, including the un restrained burning of fossil fuels.

The scientists are the members of the NAS most familiar with climate science, as explained by lead signer Peter Gleick:

It is hard to get 255 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to agree on pretty much anything, making the import of this letter even more substantial. Moreover, only a small fraction of National Academy members were asked to sign (the signatories are all members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences but were not speaking on its behalf). Because of a desire to produce a statement quickly, the coordinators of the letter focused on those sections of the NAS most familiar with climate science and the ongoing debate. But the NAS (and Academies of Sciences and other professional scientific societies from dozens of other nations) has previously published a long set of assessments and reviews of the science of climate change, which support the conclusions laid out in the Science essay.

Lastly, here is a link to the National Academy of Science’s Policy advice, based on science, to guide the nation’s response to climate change.

Misconception: Scientists Disagree on Everything

Another excellent article rom Recovering Fundamentalists in their misconceptions about science series:

This misconception is frequently alluded to in Christian circles in an attempt to discount the findings of the scientific community as merely “one man’s opinion.” While there is a constant hum of debate among scientists, Christians seem to think that no one agrees on anything, and that there are no theories that aren’t questionable.

This is not true. The body of accepted scientific knowledge is vast and elegantly interwoven. But this is only accomplished through dialog and criticism.

Resurrected Mammoth Blood Very Cool

This is fascinating:

ScienceDaily (May 3, 2010) — A team of international researchers has brought the primary component of mammoth blood back to life using ancient DNA preserved in bones from Siberian specimens 25,000 to 43,000 years old.

Science as Faith?

From Recovering Fundamentalists:

Misconception #2: Theories Require “Faith” to Believe.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that scientists have just as much faith in their theories as religious people do in their dogma. It frustrates me every time. Anyone who says this is defining theory, faith, or both, incorrectly.

Faith has multiple definitions.

1. Confidence or trust in a person or thing
2. Belief that is not based on proof
When Christians make the statement that science requires faith, it seemingly defines “faith” under definition #1, but the implication bleeds into definition #2. The statement implies that just as Christian principals [sic] haven’t been proven, scientific theories haven’t been proven either. One implication, for example, that the Theory of Evolution is “just a theory” and therefore should not be believed.

The word “Theory” also has multiple definitions. Here are two:
1. A coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena
2. A proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.

Christians often think the scientific use of the word “theory” falls under definition #2. That is incorrect. Science uses the word as defined in definition #1. Evolution is a theory that explains the developing complexity of life. Gravity is a theory that explains physics. If a person doesn’t believe in either theory, then they are faced with the daunting task of refuting the mountains of data that support them. Simply saying, “well, gravity is just a theory” is a very weak argument against gravity, and reveals an incorrect usage of the word “theory.”
So if someone says it requires faith to believe a theory, they are being slippery with definitions and implying something absolutely wrong.

Evolution and Global Warming are frequently referred to as religions by fundamentalists.  Its misleading and dishonest and nothing more than a desperate attempt to undermine science that threatens their preconceived notion of how the world should work.  Read the rest of the article here.


New Intelligent Design Journal

The Discovery Institute has created a new “peer-reviewed” journal dedicated to promoting intelligent design called BIO-complexity.  They have created it because they can’t get their research published in any reputable journals so they can now claim that they have peer-reviewed researched to back up their claims.  I have pointed out before that simply getting a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal is only the first step in developing scientific theories.  If the paper is ignored by the scientific community then it is a good indication that its findings aren’t considered important or credible.  This happens not just to intelligent design oriented work but to a whole host of other scientists pursuing mainstream scientific ideas.  It took decades for plate tectonics to be taken seriously.  Many papers submitted to reputable journals such as Science and Nature get rejected because they haven’t followed sound protocol or simply because the ideas presented in the paper are considered quackery.  The Discovery Institute makes it sound like ID is the only subject that gets rejected outright by journals.  There isn’t a reputable journal around that would publish a paper claiming to have found a way to trisect angles, create perpetual motion machines or confirm that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around the earth.  Intelligent design/creationism is in the same categories as those long dismissed relics of ignorance. 

The Discovery Institute also likes to trot out Richard Sternberg as their poster child for ID persecution.  In the same article the link above points to, they hold him out again as their martyr and continue to spread the same misinformation regarding his dismissal from the Smithsonian. 

But surely, you might ask, there’s an open-minded editor at some journal somewhere who would give ID a fair shake? I do know of one such editor, Richard Sternberg, who several years ago sent out for review an article by some guy defending a design perspective and then, when the article passed peer-review, Sternberg published it. If there are any remaining open-minded editors willing to send out similar articles for peer-review, the Sternberg affair reminds them what will happen if they do.

Check this link out for the real story behind Sternberg.  It was Sternberg himself who violated protocol and did not get the paper properly reviewed.  He essentially peer-reviewed it himself. 

It will be interesting to see if BIO-complexity allows papers advancing evolution and/or challenging ID to be published.  After all, the Discovery Institute is highly committed to academic freedom and teaching the controvers,y and for so long they have criticized journals for discriminating against views that are contrary to the journal’s ideological bent.  Will they uphold the same principles that they demand mainstream journals uphold?  I doubt it.