It’s been a couple months since I’ve even been on wordpress (had more pressing matters than words – if you’ll excuse the phrase). However this news story came out of the New York Times and I found it rather exciting:

Now the title may be a stretch yet, but scientists were able to extract protein material from the preserved bone marrow of a T-Rex.

Much cooler is that they were able to test the sequences they’d retrieved for genetic similarities with current organisms. 3 of the 7 sequences reacted to chicken in a way that really supports the contested idea that dinosaurs eventually evolved into birds. Strong genetic correlations with dinosaurs and birds is a great find.

The best thing about this procedure is there may be some other fossils where protein can be extracted… I can see a bunch of paleontologists reading the initial reports and, in shock, spitting their coffee all over their monitors as they rush to go examine some of their fossils.

But the thought that DNA and protein can survive so long is a a great turn of events. This may mean that Jurassic Park may be possible in the future. This is great for everybody. Ok, well maybe it’s not great for creationists. =P

At the very least, this answers the immortal question of, “What would a T-Rex taste like?” Like Chicken!

Mike

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I can respect Tom Cruise as an actor…

Sure he plays pretty much the same role in every movie (the cocky jackass who finds humility, loyalty and other virtues), but he plays that one role very well!

Yet riding on the hype of War of the Worlds he announced to the world that he was, indeed, a nutjob and basketcase. Professing faith in scientology he offended rational people everywhere.

My current feelings for Tom Cruise are best represented by this picture:

This just perfectly sums up Tom.

This came out of a brief photoshop lesson and it seems so perfect, so… him. We’ve got the purple crown with a strange symbol (it’s really a wristband and symbol for the Bleed Purple Foundation) which is pure silliness contrasted with a stern and perceptive staring into the distance look (good ol’ Tom is keeping a watch out for the minions of Lord Zenu). We have a yellow background to contrast everything even further.

Yes, this is the prophet of scientology. This is the man that, in 2000 years, people may actually be worshiping as a demigod or the son of some diety. They will say he healed the sick, he defeated the robot uprising unwittingly unleashed by Microsoft, he died and came back to life in his true alien form, and so on. That the whole religion was created in 1954 as a bet will be long forgotten. There is no science, only TOM.

This picture is the future folks. Peace.

Mike

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As someone with a science background I tend to be quite skeptical of most claims, but this article is nevertheless unnerving.

Global warming: the final verdict

A study by the world’s leading experts says global warming will happen faster and be more devastating than previously thought

Robin McKie, science editor
Sunday January 21, 2007
The Observer

Global warming is destined to have a far more destructive and earlier impact than previously estimated, the most authoritative report yet produced on climate change will warn next week.A draft copy of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, obtained by The Observer, shows the frequency of devastating storms – like the ones that battered Britain last week – will increase dramatically. Sea levels will rise over the century by around half a metre; snow will disappear from all but the highest mountains; deserts will spread; oceans become acidic, leading to the destruction of coral reefs and atolls; and deadly heatwaves will become more prevalent.

The impact will be catastrophic, forcing hundreds of millions of people to flee their devastated homelands, particularly in tropical, low-lying areas, while creating waves of immigrants whose movements will strain the economies of even the most affluent countries.

‘The really chilling thing about the IPCC report is that it is the work of several thousand climate experts who have widely differing views about how greenhouse gases will have their effect. Some think they will have a major impact, others a lesser role. Each paragraph of this report was therefore argued over and scrutinised intensely. Only points that were considered indisputable survived this process. This is a very conservative document – that’s what makes it so scary,’ said one senior UK climate expert.

Climate concerns are likely to dominate international politics next month. President Bush is to make the issue a part of his state of the union address on Wednesday while the IPCC report’s final version is set for release on 2 February in a set of global news conferences.

Although the final wording of the report is still being worked on, the draft indicates that scientists now have their clearest idea so far about future climate changes, as well as about recent events. It points out that:

· 12 of the past 13 years were the warmest since records began;

· ocean temperatures have risen at least three kilometres beneath the surface;

· glaciers, snow cover and permafrost have decreased in both hemispheres;

· sea levels are rising at the rate of almost 2mm a year;

· cold days, nights and frost have become rarer while hot days, hot nights and heatwaves have become more frequent.

And the cause is clear, say the authors: ‘It is very likely that [man-made] greenhouse gas increases caused most of the average temperature increases since the mid-20th century,’ says the report.

To date, these changes have caused global temperatures to rise by 0.6C. The most likely outcome of continuing rises in greenhouses gases will be to make the planet a further 3C hotter by 2100, although the report acknowledges that rises of 4.5C to 5C could be experienced. Ice-cap melting, rises in sea levels, flooding, cyclones and storms will be an inevitable consequence.

Past assessments by the IPCC have suggested such scenarios are ‘likely’ to occur this century. Its latest report, based on sophisticated computer models and more detailed observations of snow cover loss, sea level rises and the spread of deserts, is far more robust and confident. Now the panel writes of changes as ‘extremely likely’ and ‘almost certain’.

And in a specific rebuff to sceptics who still argue natural variation in the Sun’s output is the real cause of climate change, the panel says mankind’s industrial emissions have had five times more effect on the climate than any fluctuations in solar radiation. We are the masters of our own destruction, in short.

There is some comfort, however. The panel believes the Gulf Stream will go on bathing Britain with its warm waters for the next 100 years. Some researchers have said it could be disrupted by cold waters pouring off Greenland’s melting ice sheets, plunging western Europe into a mini Ice Age, as depicted in the disaster film The Day After Tomorrow.

The report reflects climate scientists’ growing fears that Earth is nearing the stage when carbon dioxide rises will bring irreversible change to the planet. ‘We are seeing vast sections of Antarctic ice disappearing at an alarming rate,’ said climate expert Chris Rapley, in a phone call to The Observer from the Antarctic Peninsula last week. ‘That means we can expect to see sea levels rise at about a metre a century from now on – and that will have devastating consequences.’

However, there is still hope, said Peter Cox of Exeter University. ‘We are like alcoholics who have got as far as admitting there is a problem. It is a start. Now we have got to start drying out – which means reducing our carbon output.’

If it’s indeed true that this report was compiled by a wide array of scientists with all manner of different viewpoints, then this could be the most unbiased and accurate account of the possible dangers. It’s certainly worth considering. So far there seems to be a mountain of evidence in support global warming. The arguments against it seem soundly refuted from what I’ve seen and read, and the Michael Crichton novel (which probably deserves its own blog) has similarly been debunked as the fiction it is.

At the risk of sounding like an alarmist I’m starting to think we really should do something about this before it winds up being too late. It is better safe than sorry, and it definitely would be nice to clean up our act a bit and get some fresher air.

– Mike

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The trouble with Evolution is that everyone *thinks* they understand it.

– Richard Dawkins

This has come up recently, I was informed about a speaker in my area who could “scientifically prove” that evolution is false. Of course anybody with comprehension of science and the scientific process (less than 30% of you if you’re American) knows how ridiculous this is, for reasons I’ll get into later.

I have seen and heard these speakers before, and they prey on the misconceptions and ignorance of their audience. They exploit the perceptions of those who are faithful and have very limited knowledge of the principles of evolution. They only reinforce what the faithful want to believe, they assuage cognitive dissonance with fallacies – and the faithful blindly accept the distortions because it makes them feel comfortable and secure in their beliefs. It’s very probable that the speakers themselves fully believe what they’re saying, but the issue is that they don’t understand evolution at all. It’s easy to persuade somebody with no knowledge that something is wrong.

I am not trying to attack or disparage the faithful or these speakers, I am instead pointing out that many of them don’t really “get it.” Indeed the general level of education in America is pathetic with surveys showing almost 48% of the population believing humans co-existed with dinosaurs (Chapter 7 – “Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Public Understanding”, Report: Science & Engineering Indicators – 2003, National Science Board, National Science Foundation, April 2002)…

I’m glad I come from a family of scientists and have taken many unversity courses in anthropology and other such research so I know more than the vast majority of Americans.

Almost every other developed country accepts evolution more than we do, and consequently they are better educated on evolution than we are (we are on the bottom of both charts). Is that a coincidence? Certainly not. We live in a religious society that mistakenly sees evolution as a threat to faith, and it is easier to defeat something you don’t understand. A great many of the scientists who study evolution are religious and they don’t perceive it as a threat to their beliefs, and they actually understand it.

Now I won’t actually get into the evolution vs. creation debate because there is little hope of changing people’s minds. What I will do is illustrate many of the fallacies committed by these speakers and evangelical advocates against evolution.

The most important thing about science is that it’s not a belief system. You often see the faithful mistakenly align science as a belief, and you sometimes hear about some speaker who “proves evolution wrong scientifically”. Evolution has never been proven wrong scientifically, and if it was it would be from a scientist, not some evangelical speaker.

The truth is that science is its own harshest critic, scientists are more skeptical of science than the faithful are, that’s the nature of the beast. The very structure of science is to make a hypothesis and do every thing imaginable to prove it wrong. If it can’t be proven wrong (based on strictly empirical evidence and study) it becomes a theory. If it is absolutely unbeatable and incontrovertible then it becomes a law. If there was anything that legitimately disproved evolution than it would cease to be or undergo severe revisions to be consistent with new data. Darwin was wrong on a number of things, scientists were the ones to find his mistakes and change the theories (NOT the evangelicals). Indeed evangelicals like to use the outdated Darwin models and argue against them, ignoring or not knowing that they’ve been out of date for the last 100 years.

So let’s get in to some of the common myths you see…

Myth: Evolution is just a theory.

Essentially true, but dismissing it as “just a theory” a grave distortion of what a scientific theory is. A scientific theory is not the same as a hypothesis, it is not a guess by any possible stretch. A theory is an organized set of information that has been confirmed repeatedly and not yet proven untrue. A theory is demonstrated to be true, it’s observable, repeatable, and far more supported and confirmed than any guess. Of course evangelicals like to distort the word “Theory” to make it sound weak when it isn’t. Here are some more examples of scientific “theories:”

Quantum Theory: This deals with subatomic particles and some crazy stuff, it is the reason we have cell phones and computers.

Stress Theory: This is the theory that allows engineers to construct buildings, bridges, roads, planes, cars, etc. It works.

As you are probably in a building and on a computer, your very situation in life at this moment is hinged upon scientific theory. Should you pretend your computer doesn’t exist and never cross another bridge because it’s “only theory”?

Oh and it’s only the mechanisms through which evolution is accomplished that are theory. Explanations such as genetic drift, natural selection, mate selection, those are the theories of the mechanics of how evolution works. Evolution in itself is a biological fact.

Myth: Evolution doesn’t explain how life started.

True. But then it was never meant or intended to. No scientist worth his degree has ever claimed that evolution indubitably explains how life sprang into existence. Evolution is the study of the way life changes, adapts and evolves over time and from adversity. Being analogous it explains how the leaves fell from the tree, not how they came to be in the first place. The idea that “evolution doesn’t explain where life came from so it’s wrong” is as stupid as saying “We don’t know how human civilization started so recorded history is all wrong.”

The notion that life arose from inanimate matter, the “primordial ooze” or “primeval soup” the abiogenesis hypothesis. Note that it’s a hypothesis and NOT a theory. It’s an educated guess. Now you see why creationists like to use the origin of life argument? It’s easier to defeat an untested or unproven hypothesis/guess than it is to even begin an attack on a scientific theory. This is an example of twisting words and misguiding people.

Some people also like to clump evolution together with the big bang theory which is completely absurd. They are completely different scientific entities.

Myth: We evolved from monkeys.

False. This is a misconception perpetuated largely by that drawing of apes becoming man… which if I recall was originally drawn to mock Darwin, it was part of an early smear campaign to discredit him by distorting his theory. It is with great irony (but not surprising in a religious country like the USA) that it has become a symbol of evolution.

According to evolution we did NOT evolve from apes, we simply share a common ancestor many millions of years ago. We both evolved from Pierolapithecus catalaunicus. You can actually say that Apes evolved from humans and be equally incorrect.

Hell, there are very distinguishable differences in the ethnicities of humans, both in appearance in genetics, and that came about over a couple hundred thousand years of separation… Imagine if we had continued without mingling or seeing each other for several million years – the differences between whites/Asians/blacks/etc. would have been astounding, we’d eventually have become different species. Imagine if technology was lost and the planet surface was divided by impossible crevasses and the west coast, the north and the south were all separated for millions of years – we would be completely different with the Southerners probably becoming something like Morlocks.

Myth: Evolution is random.

False. Random chance is very contrary to the principle of Natural Selection, which is one of the fundamental concepts of evolution. Members of a species that are less suited to survive die out while those more capable thrive and expand. There is nothing random about it, life under evolution progresses in a natural and logical manner.

We all have genetic differences and mutations that are chance, (you might be taller or shorter than the rest of your family, may have more hair, a better brain for math, a unique allergy, may be double jointed, and so on) and these differences make us stronger or weaker in certain areas. Natural selection actively selects which strengths are suited for survival in an environments and which aren’t. There is a very small element of chance, but selection is the opposite of random.

No, we did not develop eyes at random, we developed eyes over an exceptionally long, gradual process of trial and error. Eyes were not spontaneously or miraculously generated, and there was never “half an eye.” Eyes began as a simple cluster of cells that were sensitive to light and they slowly increased in complexity and capability until they were able to see directions and eventually colors and complex shapes.

To be taken step by step through how this could have occurred, watch this segment from an instructional lecture (it’s like a British kid friendly show from 1991) by Richard Dawkins called “Climbing Mount Improbable.” He demonstrates exactly how something as complex as the eye evolved through natural selection (and then goes on to explain wings and camouflage).

To flip the fallacious “watch maker argument” around, watches were also not created at random. The creation of the watch was a slow and gradual process of trial and error, of experimentation and exploration. Like the lightbulb it took many attempts and a lot of revision before it was finally done right. No watch maker magically popped into existence and started crafting watches on his first go. The watch itself had to evolve.

Myth: Complex things don’t come naturally:

False. For reasons above.

Myth: Evolution isn’t testable or repeatable.

False. Evolution has been observed in a number of species and it is testable and repeatable with bacteria and other simple, short lived lifeforms. Even kids can do it. When I was in high school my biology class genetically augmented and evolved some ecoli strains.

For a solid example refer to: (Weinberg, J.R., V.R. Starczak, and D. Jorg, 1992, “Evidence for rapid speciation following a founder event in the laboratory.” Evolution 46: 1214-1220) For more observed instances of speciation, refer to this FAQ.

It should be noted that nobody has been able to spontaneously generate an entire new species out of thin air or inanimate matter.

Perhaps one of the strangest things was the advocates for “intelligent design” were the ones to frequently (and mistakenly) accuse evolution of being untestable or unrepeatable when their own idea was utterly impossible to test, observe, repeat, or prove. Fortunately the intelligent design craze seems to have died down a little since most religious leaders (including the Pope and the Vatican) have openly said that it’s absurd and not a science by any possible stretch.

And those are just a few of gross misconceptions and egregious misunderstandings of evolution. I may get into more at a later date.

Now on another note…

Here’s an interesting thing… If you think about it, Evolution has to exist for the bible to be true. IF there were an Adam and Eve (there wasn’t) and they began as the only two humans on the planet (they weren’t) that doesn’t account for the wide genetic differences and variations across the human spectrum. Let’s say they were Arabic: dark brown hair, brown eyes, and bronze skin… if there is no evolution then where did the Asians come from? Where did the blacks come from? And the whites? The Filipinos? The Eskimos? Etc. Even if they had been originally very different (Adam was black and Eve was pale white with blonde hair and blue eyes) there is still no possible way for their descendants to have developed very different eye colors (brown, green, blue, grey, black, etc.), hair colors (different shades of brown, black, blonde, and red), skin (we all know the differences here), facial features (the features between whites, blacks, Mexicans, arabs, Asians and so forth are visibly obvious), sizes (heights and weights) and so on without evolution. It’s not possible… unless of course evolution is true.

Hell, if the story of Noah was true we’d all be descended from him and his family, which would guarantee even less genetic variance (particularly as it – according to theists – occurred not that long ago) as they were certainly all similar in race, and appearance. So where could all these vastly different humans come from?

And another(even less related) thing. If the great flood apparently wiped out all life on the planet except for those on the ark, then how come christians point to “many cultures have stories of a great flood” as evidence that it happened. That other cultures still existed disproves the great flood in the first place!

Food for thought.

-Mike

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