Archive for the 'Science' Category

Terminator 3 was underrated.

Oct 07, 2011 in Science

In Terminator 3, Skynet is an AI that instantly subverts our national defense system the second it goes online. In ominous news, a keylogger virus has infected US drones:

None of the remote cockpits are supposed to be connected to the public internet. Which means they are supposed to be largely immune to viruses and other network security threats.

But time and time again, the so-called “air gaps” between classified and public networks have been bridged, largely through the use of discs and removable drives. In late 2008, for example, the drives helped introduce the agent.btz worm to hundreds of thousands of Defense Department computers. The Pentagon is still disinfecting machines, three years later.

Use of the drives is now severely restricted throughout the military. But the base at Creech was one of the exceptions, until the virus hit. Predator and Reaper crews use removable hard drives to load map updates and transport mission videos from one computer to another. The virus is believed to have spread through these removable drives. Drone units at other Air Force bases worldwide have now been ordered to stop their use.

In the meantime, technicians at Creech are trying to get the virus off the GCS machines. It has not been easy. At first, they followed removal instructions posted on the website of the Kaspersky security firm. “But the virus kept coming back,” a source familiar with the infection says. Eventually, the technicians had to use a software tool called BCWipe to completely erase the GCS’ internal hard drives. “That meant rebuilding them from scratch” — a time-consuming effort.

I had enough trouble last week putting Vista on an older PC. It’s certainly a stunning victory for entropy in that viruses can so easily infiltrate and disrupt highly complex systems, yet their sub-megabyte sized files are so hard to eradicate.

-hw

The smug self-satisfaction of False Equivalence Monkeys.

Oct 03, 2011 in Clueless Conservatives, Politics, Science, Sophistry

Fer fuck’s sake:

But as I commented at scienceprogress, the way I see the ledger, the religious Right gets a handful of anti-science points for views on evolution (and related rationalizations about the age of the earth, etc.), and for some dismissal of climate change theory, but the Left gets many more anti-science points for exaggerating the health and ecological risks of POPs; DDT; GMOs; plastics and plasticizers; pesticide residues; conventional agriculture; low-dose EM radiation; high-tension powerlines; climate change; population growth; resource depletion; chemical sweeteners; species extinction rates; biodiversity decline; and I’m sure the list could go on.

Many more anti-science points! Not just a few, they lap the Republicans on anti-science points. Again: Fer. Fuck’s. Sake.

First of all, those stances do a good job of summing up the mush-headed girl I dated before the brilliant Mrs. Whistler, but hardly any other liberals I know or read, and almost no political leaders or other important media figures. Jenny McCarthy, I concede…

And if we get to include New Agers worried about power lines, then we get to include Republicans who think Obama is the Anti-Christ (a quarter…good grief, click the link for the stupid things they think about him, disgusting).

Next, Mr. Green’s logic is deficient. It isn’t so much that liberals believe things that aren’t scientific, but that they “exaggerate the risks” of certain things, which prefaces his entire list. That’s a nice way of sweeping up any liberal who’s concerned about the possible risks of something like climate change that itself is not scientifically questionable. Get your numbers wrong about the rate of ocean level rising and you’re the same as somebody who thinks women were created out of a man’s rib. Or if you’re concerned that humanity is basically engaging in an ongoing experiment with GMOs, chemical exposure, cell phone use, etc. and would like more research done before we plunge ahead with certain ventures, you’re somehow against scientific research? I’ve met some people pretty strict about wanting to eat organic food, but the most I’ve seen them ask for is fair laws on labeling so massive corporations can’t bribe federal agencies into letting just anybody slap “organic” on their food. Doesn’t everybody without a financial stake in the matter want objective and informative labeling of foods?

No, this sophist isn’t about to claim that species extinction isn’t real, or that population growth doesn’t threaten earth’s natural resources. This allows him to not actually go out on any limbs and smear a whole lot of people at the same time, hiding behind the amorphous charge of “exaggeration.” Meanwhile, rightwingers are actually gearing up to go after the EPA. Does Kenneth Green think they’re going to present a lot of good science behind doing so?

This guy auditioning for Beltway attention by proving he can say LIBERALS DO IT TOO no matter what shouldn’t fool anybody, but he surely will.

-hw

My god, it’s full of stars…wait, no-

Jan 19, 2011 in Science

For a good primer on dark energy and how Einstein saw the signs but lost faith in himself, this is a must read.

If the dark energy doesn’t degrade over time, then the accelerated expansion of space will continue unabated, dragging away distant galaxies ever farther and ever faster. A hundred billion years from now, any galaxy that’s not resident in our neighborhood will have been swept away by swelling space for so long that it will be racing from us at faster than the speed of light. (Although nothing can move through space faster than the speed of light, there’s no limit on how fast space itself can expand.)

Light emitted by such galaxies will therefore fight a losing battle to traverse the rapidly widening gulf that separates us. The light will never reach Earth and so the galaxies will slip permanently beyond our capacity to see, regardless of how powerful our telescopes may become.

Because of this, when future astronomers look to the sky, they will no longer witness the past. The past will have drifted beyond the cliffs of space. Observations will reveal nothing but an endless stretch of inky black stillness.

This kind of stuff is like liquid crack to me…

-hw

Laugh while you weep.

Sep 06, 2010 in Science

Science News Cycle

-hw

There are not infinite yous.

Mar 14, 2010 in Science

Often it has been said of multiple universes marching toward infinity that by definition everything that is happening in this universe had happened before in another universe. Also, almost everything that has happened in this universe has happened in another, except in that alternate universe you had coffee instead of orange juice. And in another alternate universe, you slipped and drowned in the bathtub. Don’t think so? It’s infinity! Mathematically, all these juggling balls will come up in a similar configuration an infinite number of times!

I read this way too often in scientific literature, but somebody finally broke the loop for me:

The problem is, it’s provably mathematically false. In mathematics all sorts of things go to infinity without ever repeating.

Well, that kind of settles it. Follow the link to see some more deconstructions of the too-cute notion. On your twin popping up somewhere:

To argue that variety is insufficient to allow for “reincarnation” at one generation, but sufficient to allow for it in a 187th cousin 500 years ago is to misunderstand genetics as simple statistics (and to misunderstand statistics, for that matter).

Nevertheless, even were there a digital copy of yourself persevering after your death, you would remain dead, while another entity continued the task of being you (more of a task for some people than others, mind you). You never live again, but it really never was you, and so you end up with the only authentic experience.

-hw

Evolutionary scientists tend to be smarter than rightwinger talk radio buffoons.

Oct 23, 2009 in Science, Sophistry

Hugh Hewitt demonstrates why he’s better at being a hack radio host than a lawyer, trying to get some kind of win on Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is remarkably patient with Hewitt’s constant attempts to find holes in evolutionary theory. At one point, Hewitt suggests that the fact that evolutionary evidence is harder to understand than, say, evidence of the Holocaust, could cause other people to conclude that Dawkins is radical for suggesting both evolution and the Holocaust are indisputable. Of course, rightwinger listeners who don’t understand evolutionary theory would lap this up, but under no circumstances can the complexity of evidence be seen as undermining said evidence. The world is complex. Life is complex. A simple stone is more complex than most people are really capable of comprehending. Evolutionary theory peels back the surfaces of our world and explores the inner workings. Of course the science is astoundingly complicated, but failure to understand it is not a failure of science.

-jb

Holy smokes.

Jun 02, 2009 in Science

I am ordinarily inclined against talking about video games here, but this strikes me as a remarkable technological development which will have applications well beyond what you see here:

A key watermark in robotics is the ability of computer intelligence to actually understand the world its superhuman eyes can see. This increase in pattern recognition means AI is one step closer to being able to do what our brains can.

-jb

Critique of science FAIL

Mar 15, 2009 in Science

Man spends entire op-ed railing against scientific research at universities, then rebuts self:

Does all this mean the system is broken? Surprisingly, no. Ultimately, science tends to be self-correcting, and flawed ideas are eventually recognized and disregarded. There really does seem to be a marketplace of ideas, and many good ideas eventually gain traction and persist, while many attractive but incorrect hypotheses eventually fall under the weight of compelling evidence. The system is far from perfect — especially with regard to the exploitation of the most junior (and most vulnerable) researchers, who support much of this ecosystem — but like capitalism, it may represent the best available option.

Okay, so why does this piece exist?

The writer, who worked as an endocrinologist and stem cell researcher at Harvard University, is now a management consultant in New Jersey.

Hey, WaPo, can I get some op-ed space to bitch about my old job?

-jb

It’s never fun to do the hard work.

Feb 24, 2009 in Religion, Science

A letter that should be cut-and-pasted every time a creationist/ID-theorist thinks scientists owe them debate time:

Instead of spending time on public debates, why aren’t members of your institute publishing their ideas in prominent peer-reviewed journals such as Science, Nature, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences? If you want to be taken seriously by scientists and scholars, this is where you need to publish. Academic publishing is an intellectual free market, where ideas that have credible empirical support are carefully and thoroughly explored. Nothing could possibly be more exciting and electrifying to biology than scientific disproof of evolutionary theory or scientific proof of the existence of a god. That would be Nobel Prize winning work, and it would be eagerly published by any of the prominent mainstream journals.

“Conspiracy” is the predictable response by Ben Stein and the frustrated creationists. But conspiracy theories are a joke, because science places a high premium on intellectual honesty and on new empirical studies that overturn previously established principles. Creationism doesn’t live up to these standards, so its proponents are relegated to the sidelines, publishing in books, blogs, websites, and obscure journals that don’t maintain scientific standards.

Finally, isn’t it sort of pathetic that your large, well-funded institute must scrape around, panhandling for a seminar invitation at a little university in northern New England? Practicing scientists receive frequent invitations to speak in science departments around the world, often on controversial and novel topics. If creationists actually published some legitimate science, they would receive such invitations as well.

So, I hope you understand why I am declining your offer. I will wait patiently to read about the work of creationists in the pages of Nature and Science. But until it appears there, it isn’t science and doesn’t merit an invitation.

It kind of makes me sad that there are people somehow constitutionally incapable of accepting what science discovers about the world and moving forward, but so it goes to demonstrate that we are hardly guaranteed understanding of who and what we are. Given the difficulty of the actual answer, it isn’t always easy to blame people for coming up with gods and devils, Heaven and Hades.

-jb

Darwin’s cat.

Feb 14, 2009 in Religion, Science

From alicublog:

Just so with Darwin. In their politically degenerate phase, conservatives can loosen up about him — there’s not much powder or provender there in the Age of Obama; no need to play dumb. When a stimulus moment arrives, they’ll have the option of putting the masks back on, and you’ll see Jonathan Wells and Ben Stein and all those guys riding on the top of the float again. It’s sort of like the routine done at Big Hollywood and in other such conservative movie games — denouncing film as a liberal plot at one end of the mood swing, declaring film a conservative phenomenon at the other — but played out much more slowly over a longer period of time, as befits the evolutionary model.

Right wingers don’t understand Darwin to begin with. Take for instance their frequent abuse of the phrase “survival of the fittest”. They use it as a metaphor for natural selection and only when they are looking to bully people with a bunch of “free market” rubbish or rationalize some preferred atrocity. Natural selection only occurs when the environment favors a coincidental genetic mutation. My favorite example is Felis silvestris lybica, the progenitor of the common house cat. When the earliest farmers of ancient history perfected the cultivation of crops and the storage of grains in the Fertile Crescent, mice, rats and other pests were attracted to these abundant sources of food and thus attracted wild desert cats which hunted them. That particular agrarian environment favored a domesticated cat because of the unique combination of ample rodentia and humans and over a long enough time period a genetic mutation occurred that produced a phenotype that was both happy to hunt mice and fall asleep on your lap. As an obvious consequence this breed of newly domesticated feline prospered and was widely put to use as an effective method of vermin control. Sea merchants recognized the benefits of the cat and they were soon a frequent companion on trade ships. From there, as they say, the rest is history. Right now as I type this there is a cat snoozing quietly to the left of my keyboard and like every other house cat in the world she is a direct descendant of some goofy desert kitty that just happened to enjoy the company of humans some ten thousand years ago.

So when the radical right wing speaks of “survival of the fittest” they’re actually espousing a form of crude eugenics. And regardless of what they might believe about the fastest among us passing along their superior traits in some genetic marathon the baton that they’re handing off is composed of the same shabby and imperfect DNA that made its first appearance on this rock some two hundred thousand years ago. There isn’t even any directional selection. Natural selection also approves of the slow, who do not charge into danger. How do we know? Because it only has one criteria: if it exists, natural selection has approved of it, for now.

The incompetence of the Washington Times Rev. Sun Myung Moon adherent and columnist that leads the alicu-post is another part and parcel of the GOP.

Actually, Darwinism has always been more philosophy than science.

There is no support, of course, except Jonathan Wells and his inability to understand Darwinism. Darwinism is the core of the biological sciences. I understand that people like Mr. Wells manage to acquire degrees in biology, somehow, but the body of science that has accumulated around Darwin’s initial hypothesis is more vast than most single minds can wrap themselves around. But lo and behold:

This assumption is still an assumption. No one has ever observed the origin of a new species by variation and selection – much less the origin of new organs and body plans.

Aha! As in, “If you’re a rube who doesn’t understand science at all, or feels hostile towards it, AHA I HOOKED YOU YOU SUCKER!” As in, have you ever seen a fish jump out of the water and grow legs? AHA YOU WILL NOW FIND ME CREDIBLE!

This is, of course, a moron’s test of what is “science.” No, while Mr. Wells may be doing his best imitation of a baboon, actual scientists are, every single day a)discovering new evidence that supports Darwin’s theory and b)using the theory of evolution in order to make new predictions that largely bear out. Given that anybody who understands the process takes eons (although Ray Kurzweil makes the case that evolution has sped up exponentially since it began) knows they will never see a significantly new species arise, the science proceeds along quite undisturbed.

Indeed, for your pleasure, observe the top ten signs of evolution in the human species.

Or merely consider that Darwin made his predictions before the discovery of DNA. Now we have a massive body of knowledge based around the study of DNA, we can see the commonalities between human and fruit fly, and we understand that all living species use the same essential framework.

Wells sniffs as he notes that most educated conservatives long ago put aside Scriptural Creationism. Ah, no, Mr. Wells, they just moved back the goal posts to where the science became difficult and uncomfortable again for the emotional soup-cans they call their brains.

Nature’s ways are subtle and yet tremendous. The shortness of human life is not a concern. If the entire human species were wiped out tomorrow, it would be no more than a hiccup in the lifespan of the universe. There is absolutely no guarantee that our brains are capable of getting around the riddles that led to them. Especially when people say shit like this:

Darwin lacked sufficient evidence for the latter, however, so he ruled out the former by simply declaring that only natural explanations are “scientific.”

Yes…when you say, “God did it!” and go home to pray instead of doing further research, that isn’t science. When you make predictions, and evidence confirms them, and you use that to make more predictions, and further evidence confirms them, and when this continues for a century or so, that is science. People like Mr. Wells will draw the line and say, “Well, yeah, but God did the rest.” Until “the rest” is restricted further.
Such are the ways of fools who place more stock in the writings of men than the observations of the actual universe “God” placed them in.

Naturally, not one stunning scientific insight occurs in the length of Mr. Wells’ article. Instead, he just wants language welfare, where his whining can be classified as “scientific” and where people who spit out their drinks and laugh at his idiotic suggestions are hampering his “academic freedom.”

So with that, I declare 2+2=5, deplore those who only consider numbers and counting and such things to be mathematic, and condemn those who snicker as academic Hitlers.

Will the fail never end?

-mg&jb, in that order:)

A scientist for science advisor?

Dec 20, 2008 in Barack Obama, Politics, Science

Nah, doubt it will work.

In a sign that President-elect Barack Obama intends to elevate science to greater prominence, John P. Holdren, a Harvard physicist widely recognized for his leadership on energy policy and climate change, will be appointed White House science adviser this weekend, the Globe confirmed yesterday.

Second in a row, actually:

The news, coming in the same week as Nobel laureate physicist Steven Chu’s appointment as secretary of energy, was heartening for the scientific community.

Not just any old scientist either. He was one who stood up for the truth when the Bush administration decided scientists were a thorn in his side.

Many scientists have objected to the Bush administration’s policies, from restrictions on embryonic stem cell research to the pace of action on climate change.

“I think they’ll be restoring the role of science in the federal establishment,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Cambridge-based advocacy organization. “We’ve got a bunch of people across the [new] administration who get it.”

In 2004, Holdren joined other prominent scientists to sign a letter accusing the Bush administration of undermining and censoring scientists.

“When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions,” the letter said.

Gosh, I bet those guys think that the laws of physics apply the same all over the universe from its inception…suckers!

I know a nice scientist who will tell me things that match my holy book. So much easier that way.

-jb

Science bad.

Oct 30, 2008 in Racism, Science

Test your biases. Be honest with yourself, and lie to anybody who asks you how you scored.

Via Kristoff.

-jb

p.s. If you’re a rightwinger, avoid the instinct to skip the tests and pronounce yourself completely unbiased.

Science good.

Oct 30, 2008 in Politics, Science, Uncategorized

Science is a way of governing, not just something to be governed. Science offers a methodology and philosophy rooted in evidence, kept in check by persistent inquiry, and bounded by the constraints of a self-critical and rigorous method. Science is a lens through which we can and should visualize and solve complex problems, organize government and multilateral bodies, establish international alliances, inspire national pride, restore positive feelings about America around the globe, embolden democracy, and ultimately, lead the world. More than anything, what this lens offers the next administration is a limitless capacity to handle all that comes its way, no matter how complex or unanticipated.

Sen. Obama’s embrace of transparency and evidence-based decision-making, his intelligence and curiosity echo this new way of looking at the world. And that is what we should be weighing in the voting booth. For his positions and, even more, for his way of coming to them, we endorse Barack Obama for President of the United States.

Nerds for the win.

-jb

The only relief from gas prices you’ll really see.

Jun 28, 2008 in Energy, Science

I guess I didn’t know everything about plug-in hybrids.

hen one of the world’s mightiest corporations throws everything it’s got at a project, and when it shreds its rule book in the process, the results are likely to be impressive. Still, even for General Motors, the Volt is a reach. If it meets specifications, it will charge up overnight from any standard electrical socket. It will go 40 miles on a charge. Then a small gasoline engine will ignite. The engine’s sole job will be to drive a generator, whose sole job will be to maintain the battery’s charge—not to drive the wheels, which will never see anything but electricity. In generator mode, the car will drive hundreds of miles on a tank of gas, at about 50 miles per gallon. But about three-fourths of Americans commute less than 40 miles a day, so on most days most Volt drivers would use no gas at all.

The gasoline engine only generates electricity? Niiiiice. This is a step further removed from today’s version of the horse-drawn carriage. The car is almost a pure electric car, but with back-up in case you’re short on outlets or time. $5 to $7 gas (and you better believe it can reach $10)ain’t no thang when you only need to fill up a couple times a year, if that. (more…)

ADHD as society’s disease.

Jun 16, 2008 in Culture, Drugs, Health Care, Science

Common sense suggests, for many, that ADHD as a “disease” is a crock of shit. Rather, it’s a set of personality characteristics developed for sensible reasons in our long, long history that becomes suddenly inconvenient and exacerbated when their bearers are planted in our high-speed information-plastered minute-managed era. William Saletan, an occasional wanker, had his curiosity piqued by a Northwestern University study that revealed nomadic tribes benefited from the genes typically associated with ADHD, moreso than settled ones:

Increased impulsivity, ADHD-like traits, novelty-seeking like traits, aggression, violence and/or activity levels may help nomads obtain food resources, or exhibit a degree of behavioral unpredictability that is protective against interpersonal violence or robberies. … It might be that the attention spans conferred by the DRD4/7R+ genotype allow nomadic children to more readily learn effectively in a dynamic environment (without schools), while the same attention span interferes with classroom learning in Songa, the settled community. 7R+ boys might develop into warriors (the life-stage of an Ariaal male that lies between childhood and manhood) and men who can more effectively defend against livestock raiders, perhaps through a reputation of unpredictable behavior that inspires fear. Among 7R+ men in the settled community of Songa, such tendencies might be less well suited to practicing agriculture and selling goods at market. It might also be that higher activity levels in 7R+ nomads are translated into increased food production, while such activity levels in settled men are a less efficient use of calories in food production.

As a friend of mine was told by a psychiatrist recently, paraphrased, “You’d be fine running around with a spear or sword in your hand.”

I don’t know whether the speculated reasons for the gene’s benefits will pan out. But the benefits do seem real. And that finding suggests two things. First, we should be careful about designating diseases and disease genes. Traits that are harmful in one setting can be helpful in another. Advantages or “defects” that we think of as natural may actually be products of our cultural decisions. As Eisenberg puts it, we might “begin to view ADHD as not just a disease but something with adaptive components.”

Second, our society may be the wrong place to assess a gene’s evolutionary harm or benefit. As the authors note, “[N]on-industrialized or subsistence environments … may be more similar to the environments where much of human genetic evolution took place.”

My experience is that our society is capable of inducing ADHD-like characteristics in anybody, and that while its qualities aren’t very helpful in the classroom (in fact, let me say they are a goddamned pain in the ass) kids pick up on the fact that surviving and succeeding in the adult world nearly requires it. As we facilitate the means of communication to “save time,” free time becomes, ironically, less excusable.

Research may provide new revelations in time, but I think it be a safe presumption that kids are better served being put in environments where their predispositions are more useful instead of being subjected to constant chemical infusion.

-jb

UPDATE: A cure exists!

[youtube RkzytidhP1M]

Is regulating the Human Growth Hormone this strictly necessary?

Feb 29, 2008 in Science

My sister brought to my attention a bill sponsored by Chuck Shumer which would classify HGH as a Schedule III drug and clamp down on prescriptions written for illicit purposes. This is relevant to her because my adorable niece Maggie does have a pituitary deficiency which HGH has effectively combatted, allowing her to grow 10 inches in the last two years to a height comparable to other children her age. My sister is passing around a petition which objects to this bill because of a fear that turning HGH into a Schedule III drug will impact the ability of parents who have children like Maggie to get the drug prescribed. Here is an excerpt from the petition:

ATTENTION MAGIC FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN USING OR IN NEED OF GH TREATMENTS
Congress has almost completed its work on new legislation which will place REALLY tight restrictions on GH prescriptions to the point it could make it even more difficult for our children to receive the medical treatments they need.
Please take the time to read the actual text of the bill. You can get to it by clicking on the following link:
Related Bills: S.877

It is very important that you contact your state senators and representative to voice your concerns. Here is a link to find email addresses for your local Senators.

The following statement is an example of the needs to be addressed when writing to your senator. Please act on this today. It can affect the future of many children on growth hormone and for those in future need of growth hormone.

Dear Senator: I am very concerned about Senate efforts to pass S. 877, a bill that would make hGH (human growth hormone) a controlled substance and negatively affect my family. As the parent of a child with [fill in diagnosis] my family strongly opposes this measure. From what we understand, the interests of patients and healthcare givers have to date been completely ignored in this process, and we urge Congress to take no steps that preclude a full public discussion. As the parent of a child who uses hGH regularly, we would be happy to tell you about our positive experience with this drug and why abusers like major league athletes should not be allowed to make our access to this drug more difficult.

Now I obviously share my sister’s concern that HGH be readily available and prescribable for children like Maggie. On the other hand, here is the description of a Schedule III drug:

Schedule III drugs have less potential for abuse or addiction than drugs in the first two schedules and have a currently accepted medical use. Examples of Schedule III drugs include Anabolic steroids, Codeine, Ketamine, Hydrocodone with Aspirin, and Hydrocodone with Acetaminophen. Schedule III drugs may be available with a prescription, but not all pharmacies may carry them.

The same note is attached to all the drugs, even Schedule IV, that not all pharmacies may carry them. Schedule V drugs in general do not require a prescription, and of course there’s few guarantees that a particular store will have in stock what you’re looking for. So Schedule III, while requiring prescription, is a fairly weak classification that doesn’t strike me as a problem for any parent with a child diagnosed with a pituitary problem. I really do not understand after reading everything I’ve been given how Maggie will have any more difficulty getting the drug than she did before. She sees one of the two specialists in Iowa that deal with this problem, and surely nobody will accuse this doctor of prescribing my niece HGH so that she can hit home runs.

That said, I don’t see what this is about other than this baseball fracas and efforts to regulate athletics. There are some negative side effects from abuse, but most worries relate to fraud and incorrect dosages.

Overall, I’d have recommended HGH be a Schedule IV drug that required a prescription, but the difference seems to be largely negligible. I can’t say this is a serious issue one way or the other.

-jb

Explaining rightwinger antipathy towards science.

Feb 19, 2008 in Clueless Conservatives, Science

I don’t think this covers every aspect of the phenomenon, but Jim Manzi certainly outlines a relevant angle I hadn’t thought of before, at least not so clearly:

The debate about evolution is a great example of the kind of sucker play that often ensnares conservatives. Frequently, conservatives are confronted with the assertion that scientific finding X implies political or moral conclusion Y with which they vehemently disagree. Obvious examples include (X = the Modern Synthesis of Evolutionary biology, Y = atheism) and (X = increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 will lead to some increase in global temperatures, Y = we must implement a global regulatory and tax system to radically reduce carbon emissions). Those conservatives with access to the biggest megaphones have recently developed the habit of responding to this by challenging the scientific finding X. The same sorry spectacle of cranks, gibberish and the resulting alienation of scientists and those who respect the practical benefits of science (i.e., pretty much the whole population of the modern world) then ensues.

In general, it would be far wiser to challenge the assertion that X implies Y. Scientific findings almost never entail specific moral or political conclusions because the scope of application of science is rarely sufficient. In fact, for the two examples that I provided, I have tried to show in detail that X does not come close to implying Y.

Certainly, evolution precludes a literal reading of the Bible, but it leaves the door open for all sorts of spiritual conjecture, even Christianity if you just gotta have it. And concern about global warming could lead one towards many healthy capitalistic incentive-based solutions that don’t require much in the way of regulation or taxation (although a little could go a long way).

Dogmatic and authoritarian thinking, however, isn’t content to encourage others to explore new ways of thinking. The problem has already been solved ideologically, the solution has been written down, and it must be the law. Anything that interferes with that specific law must be done away with.

Of course, some might retort that dogmas can form on the left as well. However, disagreeing with soft and contested economic theories like supply-side Reaganomics doesn’t exactly count, righties. Examples where leftist dogma conflicts with peer-reviewed scientific research are notably scarcer. The only topic that comes to mind is arguments over race and IQ, but such research often does not say what it is misconstrued to mean.

Naturally, I’m sitting here trying to think of what aspect of the rightwing jihad against science this explanation doesn’t cover, since I opened my big mouth. This would be a good time to be running a major blog with hundreds of commenters who would figure it out for me…

-jb

I’d like my scorpion-tailed flying horse NOW, please!

Jan 24, 2008 in Science

Hurry up with the research before God strikes us dead!

Taking a significant step toward the creation of man-made forms of life, researchers reported Thursday that they had manufactured the entire genome of a bacterium by painstakingly stitching together its chemical components.

While scientists had previously synthesized the complete DNA of viruses, this is the first time it has been done for bacteria, which are much more complex. The genome is more than 10 times as long as the longest piece of DNA ever previously synthesized.

The feat is a watershed for the emerging field called synthetic biology, which involves the design of organisms to perform particular tasks, such as making biofuels. Synthetic biologists envision being able one day to design an organism on a computer, press the “print” button to have the necessary DNA made, and then put that DNA into a cell to produce a custom-made creature.

How about an octopus with eight giant penises…we could stomp the shit out of Tokyo with it if we pump it up on growth hormones. Cloverfield my ass.

-jb

Scientists are so dumb.

Dec 06, 2007 in Religion, Science

Trying to figure out why animal life exploded in the Cambrian Era!?!? Intelligent design, hello! God did it, stop speculating further! Stop all that exploring and investigating! What? Organisms developing the ability to poop might have allowed evolution to take off? That’s a very poop-y theory!

-jb

Do your sharks have conventional lasers?

Nov 12, 2007 in Science

Mine will have femtosecond lasers.

Raydiance has purportedly developed a laser that “looks like an ordinary slide projector,” yet can emit “burst of photons so intense that it can vaporize matter without creating heat.” Its uses could span every area from removing tattoos…without burning the skin, killing cancer cells without affecting healthy ones, or handling any undercover task that the military may require.

One step closer to editing reality.

-jb

Yonder did they roam the world, and new madnesses forge.

Oct 29, 2007 in Racism, Science

Phew. Andrew Sullivan persists on the right to begin a sentence, “…since it’s scientifically proven that blacks are dumber than whites, we should (insert denial of their rights and equality here). He links to Selwyn Duke, who tries to ask, “What is Racism?”

Now granted, reading the article one can see that Duke didn’t just slap the argument together, and proceeds from a fairly prickly scientific perspective: Who cares what offends you, scientists talk about what the results show. They’re not willing to censor themselves whether the issue is race, evolution or global warming. If studies show that smarter humans went exploring the world and evolved beyond the relatively stagnant Africans, then that’s what a true scientist will tell you when you ask him what the science says.

Since my personal agenda places Science as an extension of Reason, and thus paramount in consideration of other beliefs, I have to express some sympathy with this argument. Yes, it’s true. A scientist’s duty is to be objective and to dispel errors in reasoning with information and superior rationality. Questions over the accuracy and method of certain studies are certainly warranted.

Such people shouldn’t exactly be surprised, however, to see that when it comes to going beyond the data and making bigger conclusions about what our test scores say about us, they intrude on territory that many more people lay claim to. After the data is reported, thinkers and philosophers of all stripes, whether they be logical or theological, claim a right to interpret it. Some can point to lower test scores and learning disabilities and say, “See, I was right, this proves it all along, everybody knew the blacks were dumber, and…”

Oh, wait, that’s the first step the GOP white-voter-values base wants to make.

My take is that the science can report all sorts of differences between the loose groups of races, but that one should still avoid constructing sentences that use the premise, “Since it is proven that blacks are not too bright…” Unfortunately, this isn’t self-evident, as in James Watson’s extraordinary display of the tendency of old people to lack inhibition on race issues (“GORMS: Grumpy Old Racist Man Syndrome. Example: Grandpa’s got the GORMS real bad for my half-black children!”). It seems to me that a more educated and elegant mind understands race with more subtlety than that, and is remarkably hesitant to dismiss the value of certain human lives over things like percentile points on math scores.

Scientists have a duty to report what they observe, and to meld it with the best reasoning, but the belief in human equality has a very long pedigree that goes well beyond matters strictly scientific. Prudence suggests being very conservative (the real meaning of the word, not the political monstrosity) about the limits and wisdom of racial proclamations.

-jb

For The Love Of Science

Oct 11, 2007 in Science, Uncategorized

So word on the street, by which I mean “the internet,” is that they’re probably gonna give Al Gore the Nobel Peace Prize tomorrow. I personally don’t know one way or the other whether he deserves it or not, because I – this may come as a shock to some of you – am not on the Nobel committee. What I do know is exactly what our friends on right-leaning blogs all through our beloved series of tubes will have to say about it. They’re going to be outraged. Some of them are likely to lose coherence about it. Let it never be said that wer are not lookin’ out for our unhinged friends! We have done your bloviating for you in advance, since we are pretty sure we know exactly what you already plan to say. Copy and paste away, Patriots!

As predicted weeks ago here on [name of blog; hypertext link to post that doesn’t actually predict anything], the once-proud Nobel Prize was today degraded, when, in a purely partisan act, it was awarded to Al Gore. Never mind that [hypertext link to blog post referencing a scientific study bankrolled by Exxon-Mobil] his theories have been roundly debunked and discredited, though they have [on each word of the preceding phrase, three consecutive hypertext links to blog posts, two of which cite the presence of rain somewhere in the world as solid scientific evidence that there is no such thing as climate change, while the remaining argues that since it’s a nice warm day, things can’t be so bad]. What chafes me is that this prize, about which I once cared so much, and which I follow heatedly every year [link to previous years’ entries about the Nobels; or no such link to any such entries, in their, ahem, absence], has now become yet another typical leftist exercise in America-hating. By awarding this prize to an American politician whose position on climate change is wholly uncontroversial within the general scientific community, the Nobel committee announces to the world that they’re not concerned with being on the vanguard of science. While the process of hypothesis/data/analysis has to it a certain romantic appeal, isn’t it time we moved forward? Everyone I know agrees that opinion/hypothesis/presentation of supporting data – in that order – is the cutting edge of what I like to call “the new scientific method.”

It’s a little depressing that the Nobel committee, in its rush to annoy me personally by not joining in on more mindless partisan lulz, has overlooked the real growth that has taken place in science over the past seven years. Universities may have once been where we looked for answers, but the writing is on the wall: real research, the kind I can use, is freely available. One need only follow links on political blogs, and enjoy the amateur speculation of middle-management dudes
who once took chemistry and are now skimming the abstracts of studies who academic provenance is meaningless to them. I know if Alfred Nobel were alive today, he would join me in decrying Al Gore, because Al Gore was in the Clinton administration, and there is consequently no way I’m going to agree with anything he has to say, even if, as I’ve said, an overwhelming scientific consensus suggests he’s on the right side of the fence here.

There will be an alternate award given to Dr. Kent Hovind by this blog
later in the week.

-Thomas Tallis

Those scientists never really know for sure!

Sep 11, 2007 in Environment, Global warming, Science

Ha! They didn’t see this coming!

In just the last six days, researchers say 69,000 square miles of Arctic ice has disappeared, roughly the size of the Sunshine State.

Scientists say the rate of melting in 2007 has been unprecedented, and veteran ice researchers worry the Arctic is on track to be completely ice-free much earlier than previous research and climate models have suggested.

“If you had asked me a few years ago about how fast the Arctic would be ice free in summer, I would have said somewhere between about 2070 and the turn of the century,” said scientist Mark Serreze, polar ice expert at the NSIDC. “My view has changed. I think that an ice-free Arctic as early as 2030 is not unreasonable.”

Ooh, what’s next? 2015? They’re probably making the Arctic out to be larger than it is just so we can’t point our fingers and laugh at their tiny limited man-brains! Ah, but when New York is under water, who’ll be laughing then?

The unreliability of science. Pfft!

-jb

Final Frontiers.

Aug 15, 2007 in Iowa, Science

I never quite understood this drive to colonize either our moon or Mars. I’ll admit that when thought of in terms of the enormous sums we shovel into the coffers of Halliburton or Blackwater, manning a space station seems a helluva lot more compelling mode of Military Keynesianism. Still, I’ve always thought that we could probably save the money and colonize an area just as inhabitable and crummy; the Arctic. I may be on to something. Turns out Tibet is most like Pluto. I would have guessed Humboldt, Iowa in mid January. It’s cold, lifeless, and the inhabitants certainly behave like bizarre, single-celled organisms.

– mg

Finishing up a thread…

Apr 19, 2007 in Politics, Science

…over at Iowa Voice with our beloved village idiot, regarding stem cell research. I always love writing two pages and then finding the comments section closed. Click below to read my last epic salvo.

-jb

(more…)

Wheels within wheels…

Apr 14, 2007 in Science

Who says only the religious are filled with wonder at the workings of the universe? My only difference is that I can be overwhelmed without resorting to fairy tales…

A more in-depth look at the process of photosynthesis.

Electronic spectroscopy measurements made on a femtosecond (millionths of a billionth of a second) time-scale showed these oscillations meeting and interfering constructively, forming wavelike motions of energy (superposition states) that can explore all potential energy pathways simultaneously and reversibly, meaning they can retreat from wrong pathways with no penalty. This finding contradicts the classical description of the photosynthetic energy transfer process as one in which excitation energy hops from light-capturing pigment molecules to reaction center molecules step-by-step down the molecular energy ladder.

The possibility of being able to calculate the workings of this “everywhere-at-once” process is extremely exciting.

-jb