Archive for the 'science' Category

Not evil, just wrong.

This woman is remarkable.

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Jenny McCarthy Body Count?

though probably not the kind you were hoping for. I think the “Anti-Vaccine Body Count” version is the better one to use, but the Jenny McCarthy one will be used because it’s more sensational and attention grabbing, the same reasons anti-vaxers use Jenny McCarthy as their spokeswoman.

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What passes for moral clarity

Creating a human embryo for the purpose of experimentation and destruction = Good.

Creating a  human embryo for the purpose of creating a born human person = Bad.

How does it work that way?

Also, some argue that Obama’s statements opposing human cloning are misleading. Derrick Jones, spokesman for the National Right to Life Committee, said the administration has left the door open to create, and then destroy, embryos through cloning for the sole purpose of harvesting stem cells.

And he’s right. If a person believes that we ought to worry about it or not, this is what happens. An embryo, quite often a clone, is created and then destroyed. The difference is that we don’t value that bit of cells, not that we don’t agree with cloning.    Nothing at all wrong with cloning if the clone is destroyed.

So what is it that makes anyone who approves of the clone and destroy method, disapprove of the clone and birth method?    Obama seems to think that the difference is crystal.

“We cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse. And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction,” Obama said. “It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society.”

Wow. No place in any society. Bad, bad, bad.

Why? What does he think a “clone” is? Why is it so clearly wrong to create an embryo and let it live?

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So This is How the Zombie Apocalypse Starts

The good news is that it starts in Russia.

According to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, a mosquito managed to live 18 months clinging to the outside of the International Space Station, without any food, being bombarded by radiation and enduring fluctuating temperatures ranging from minus 230 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We brought him back to Earth. He is alive, and his feet are moving,” Anatoly Grigoryev of the Russian Academy of Sciences told RIA Novosti.

The bad news is that there are a LOT of people in Russia.

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The Cult of Nutritionism Suffers a Setback

(photo: gualtiero)

In a fine blow to the pseudoscientific cult of nutritionism, an intensive study conducted by the National Institutes of Health applied the same laboratory standards to vitamin supplements as are routinely applied to pharmaceuticals. Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that the supplements exerted no preventive benefit against cancer, heart disease, or any other illnesses. Dr. Edgar R. Miller, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, puts it nicely:

“These things are ineffective, and in high doses they can cause harm. People are unhappy with their diets, they’re stressed out, and they think it will help. It’s just wishful thinking.”
(Los Angeles Times)

As Damian Thompson argues in Counterknowledge (his magnificent polemic against the rise of quackery and conspiracy theories in contemporary society), the alternative in ‘alternative medicine’ is to science and modernity, and has entirely predictable results.


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Stem Cells and Blood Supply

Next Big Future
“Human blood have been grown from embryonic stem cells for the first time during research that promises to provide an almost limitless supply suitable for transfusion into any patient.”

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Jupiter Unveiled

A simply stunning series of pictures of Jupiter and its moons. Lots more at the link.

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Earth’s Evolution

Earth2_medium Do you ever find yourself holding views that are mutually exclusive?  If so, do not despair.  My experience is that virtually all of us do this, even if very rarely.  With the thousands of issues and millions of details pertaining to those issues, it would not be shocking to note that at times, some of what we hold to be so conflicts.

Still, if you are like me, you do your best to review your beliefs frequently.  If you see that some positions are illogical, you analyze and reconsider.

Should a number of liberals do this vis a vis evolution and “saving the planet”?  In my opinion, fer sure.  Most liberals I know scream bloody murder if anyone offers a shred of a doubt that evolution isn’t settled fact.  Yet, when it comes to practice with Our Earth – underlying notions of evolution seem to fly out the window.

Take Nancy Pelosi and Paul Krugman today.  (I know; I know – please forgive me.)  They want to “save the planet” – both hoping against hope that it is not “too late.”

It’s true that scientists don’t know exactly how much world temperatures will rise if we persist with business as usual. But that uncertainty is actually what makes action so urgent. While there’s a chance that we’ll act against global warming only to find that the danger was overstated, there’s also a chance that we’ll fail to act only to find that the results of inaction were catastrophic.

Does man have a major impact on the Earth’s temperature?  Like all of us, I have seen data both confirming and disproving.  My own extremely non-professional viewpoint is that the answer is: perhaps, but if so, not to a tremendous degree.  Nevertheless, I am a proponent of conservation, searches for alternative energy sources, escaping the stranglehold of the middle-east on our energy needs and the like.  These beliefs are related to other benefits, however; not to “saving the planet.”

Why do some among us imagine that Earth should remain forever as it is in 2008?

Long before man came on the scene, this planet changed cataclysmically.  Glaciers formed and melted.  Chunks of continents broke off and fell into the sea.  Volcanoes erupted.  Islands that existed disappeared – not to mention the scores of living creatures that sailed off into extinction due to climate changes.  All this and much more happened prior to our firing up SUV’s, using incandescent light bulbs and keeping our homes above 63 degrees in the winter.

As mentioned previously, we have many good reasons to conserve and not waste our resources.  And, it may be the case that a small portion of doing so can have a beneficial effect on Earth.

But, if these radical, enormous changes occurred in the planet long before Adam accepted that round red offering from Eve, then why should we assume that they cannot occur now, irrespective of what we all do?

If liberals believe in evolution and want it taught in the classroom – then why don’t they apply it to the nature of our planet?  “Save the planet”?  I say:  “Save the notion of evolution.”

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It’s the Pollution, Stupid

Or more specifically it’s the soot, from our tailpipes, our industries, most of our electricity generation—and also from forest fires, volcanoes, and the wind. Black carbon soot is causing most of the loss of polar ice according to this recent piece from Scientific American. Yes, that Scientific American. The same Scientific American that seems to put global warming on it’s cover every other issue, usually including a Soviet-esque five year plan proposed by the editors. Check it out:

Belching from smokestacks, tailpipes and even forest fires, soot—or black carbon—can quickly sully any snow on which it happens to land. In the atmosphere, such aerosols can significantly cool the planet by scattering incoming radiation or helping form clouds that deflect incoming light. But on snow—even at concentrations below five parts per billion—such dark carbon triggers melting, and may be responsible for as much as 94 percent of Arctic warming.

“Impurities cause the snow to darken and absorb more sunlight,” says Charlie Zender, a climate physicist at the University of California, Irvine. “A surprisingly large temperature response is caused by a surprisingly small amount of impurities in snow in polar regions.”

What’s more, Charles Zender, the climate physicist at UC Irvine quoted in the piece, believes that this is warming we can actually do something about, and with policies far less drastically disruptive than those aimed at carbon dioxide production:

He argues that simple steps, such as fully burning fossil fuels in more efficient engines and using cleaner-burning cooking stoves, could help preserve the dwindling Arctic snow cover and ice (see video here). Even changing the timing of such soot emissions could play a role. “If you have to burn dirty fuel, you can do it in the fall or winter” when it will be buried under subsequent snowfall, Zender says. “If you can time your emissions so they have the least impact then you will not trigger these very sensitive regions to start warming by this ice albedo feedback process.”

Al Gore, call your office.

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Thoughts on Brains

Guess what part of your brain is not primarily for storing information about a two gyrating hippos on a camping trip.

The right parahippocampal gyrus. Much to your (and my) surprise, that part of the brain is used to detect sarcasm. Because apparently there is not enough info about gyrating hippos to fill up the left one, and then the right one would have nothing to do, so it got sarcasm detection instead.

“Stupid brain.”

[HT: Hot Air]

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Backdoor Kyoto — The Next Chapter

polar bears swimming

The march of the watermelons towards control of US policy continues apace:

Polar bears will now be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

But in announcing the listing, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne said the decision should not be “misused” to regulate global climate change.

“Listing the polar bear as threatened can reduce avoidable losses of polar bears. But it should not open the door to use of the Endangered Species Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, power plants, and other sources,” said Kempthorne.

“That would be a wholly inappropriate use of the ESA law. The ESA is not the right tool to set U.S. climate policy.”

It is certainly an inappropriate tool for shaping such policy. And it just as certainly the tool that will be used quite effectively to do so. Like I wrote over a year ago, this is nothing more than a backdoor way of implementing Kyoto in the US.

If the polar bear were listed as a threatened species, all federal agencies would have to ensure that anything they authorize that might affect polar bears will not jeopardize their survival or the sea ice where they live. That could include oil and gas exploration, commercial shipping or even releases of toxic contaminants or climate-affecting pollution.

Environmentalists hope that invoking the Endangered Species Act protections might eventually lead the government to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and other heat-trapping “greenhouse” gases blamed for warming the atmosphere.

“The Interior Department has pretty much explicitly said that they don’t think they have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emission, but we know that the Endangered Species Act goes well beyond these walls, that it’s taken into account by other agencies,” said Kert Davies, research director for Greenpeace.

Since the above was written, the Supreme Court has ruled that the EPA does have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, but more importantly, under the ESA the government is required to evaluate any project that may have an impact on endangered species. Normally this would be limited to such species within the geographical span of the proposed project, but you can bet your bottom dollar that Greenpeace, et al., will attempt to draw a direct connection between whichever new project they are challenging and polar bears using the threat of increased greenhouse gas emissions.

The coup de grace, of course, will be when all private industry and behavior is brought with in the realm of the EPA’s regulation authority (my emphasis):

As Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne noted, the 1973 Endangered Species Act is “perhaps the least flexible law Congress has ever enacted.” In 2005, green litigants took advantage of this rigidity, suing the government to force it to label the polar bear at risk for extinction. Since the 1980s, the sea ice that the bears use to hunt and breed has been receding. Although the population has increased from a low of 12,000 in the 1960s to roughly 25,000 today – perhaps a record high – computer projections anticipate that Arctic pack ice will continue to melt over the next half-century. This could, maybe, someday, lead to population declines.

The lawsuits were hardly motivated by concern for polar bear welfare. Instead, environmentalists asserted that the ice is thinning because of human-induced global warming. A formal endangered listing is one more arrow in their legal quiver as they try to run U.S. climate policy through the judiciary.

They’ll argue that emissions from power plants, refineries, automobiles – anything that produces carbon – would contribute to warming, thus contributing to habitat destruction, and thus should be restricted by the Endangered Species Act. This logic could be used to rewrite existing environmental policy to accommodate greenhouse gasses, purposes for which they were never intended but with economy-wide repercussions.

Is there any doubt that granting full regulatory control over all productive activities is the ultimate goal of these lawsuits? I’m sure that some in the movement are motivated entirely by their heart-felt concern for the welfare of animals and the environment. But the vast majority of these environmental activists are driven by the desire to bring capitalist forces to heel, towards which end their totalitarian instincts guide them. Passage of the ESA in 1973 was the first step in that cause. The combined forces of the AGW movement with this latest court victory may be all that’s needed to achieve their goal.

See also: McQ, who has more on the listing of polar bears as a threatened species.

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Man Regrows Finger, Amazing or Not?

Reading Instapundit I came across this story from BBC about a man who’s used a special powder of pig bladder cells to regrow the tip of his finger that he’d chopped off. I share the professor’s futurist view and optimism, but I’m not so sure that it’s warranted in this case.

You see, it’s not that unusal for finger tips to grow back, (Warning, graphic pictures at the jump) and from the pictures of the injury he doesn’t look to have lost that much. This seems to be the case of some hyping by the clueless media (and us bloggers too, mea culpa!).

However, this is not to say that this regenerative dust might not work, but we just don’t have a control group to compare this to. Would it have grown back slower? More deformed? More scarred? Not at all? We don’t know, but more science and testing will show us.

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Stop the Madness

Sooner rather than later.

And this:

Perhaps turning food into transportation fuel would make sense if massive amounts of grain spoiled every year from a lack of demand, but that certainly isn’t the case. Farmers love the higher prices that come from the new demand to fill gas tanks, but higher prices have consequences for poorer nations that have just begun to be felt. Morally speaking, shouldn’t we feed people before we feed cars?

What makes this even more absurd is ethanol itself. It burns cleaner, but has significant problems as a transportation fuel. It has only two-thirds the potential energy of gasoline, which means more of it has to be used to get the same mileage. Ethanol has to be shipped by truck as it cannot be pumped through a pipeline, so much more energy has to get expended just to bring it to market. In order to use more than just a small amount in a mixture, car engines have to be designed differently to use it, which means more energy and resources have to go into producing the vehicles.

Every fill of the tank with ethanol uses the same amount of corn a child would eat in a year, and let’s not even talk about the amount of potable water used to grow the corn in the first place. Given the above, which is the better use of the corn?

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Open Minds

One of the toughest tasks to master is to keep an open mind.  We work hard to discover what we ultimately believe to be the truth.  After all that effort, often the last thing we wish to do is have to re-analyse, check – and toss out what we have labored so long to achieve.

Nevertheless, sometimes the honest course is to do just that!

Here is a man who took that course.

Science shows that adding chlorine to drinking water was the biggest advance in the history of public health, virtually eradicating water-borne diseases such as cholera. And the majority of our pharmaceuticals are based on chlorine chemistry. Simply put, chlorine is essential for our health.

My former colleagues ignored science and supported the ban, forcing my departure. Despite science concluding no known health risks – and ample benefits – from chlorine in drinking water, Greenpeace and other environmental groups have opposed its use for more than 20 years.

Opposition to the use of chemicals such as chlorine is part of a broader hostility to the use of industrial chemicals. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, “Silent Spring,” had a significant impact on many pioneers of the green movement. The book raised concerns, many rooted in science, about the risks and negative environmental impact associated with the overuse of chemicals. But the initial healthy skepticism hardened into a mindset that treats virtually all industrial use of chemicals with suspicion.

Sadly, Greenpeace has evolved into an organization of extremism and politically motivated agendas.

And – if you think I am pointing fingers at others, I am – but at myself, too.  Just like most people, my mind frequently wishes to stay slammed shut – and I must work to insure that it does not happen.

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Abiogenic Oil

Hoystory poses a thought-provoking question with potentially dramatic consequences for the concept of “peak oil”:

What if “fossil fuels” weren’t made of fossils at all? What if the earth naturally made petroleum? What if gasoline was a renewable resource?

Imagine the howls from the environmentalist left if there was no such thing as “peak oil.”

In answer of the questions, Hoystory points to the following:

Lost in the big news last week — the race for the Democratic nomination, the reeling U.S. economy, the ongoing life/death saga that is “Dancing with the Stars” — came word that a new deep-water exploration area off the coast of Brazil could contain as much as 33 billion barrels of oil. How much is that? If estimates are accurate, the Brazilian find would amount to the world’s third-largest oil reserve. In comparison, the U.S. has proven oil reserves of 21.8 billion barrels.

What makes the Brazil find interesting is really the gold; not as in “black gold,” but as in Thomas Gold:

The Austrian-born astrophysicist, who died in 2004, was a renowned maverick in the science community, a brilliant rogue whose anti-establishment proclamations were often proven right. For instance, in the 1960s, as NASA began its assault on the moon, many scientists debated whether the moon’s surface was comprised of hard rock or might in fact be a layer of dust so thick that, upon touchdown, the Apollo lunar modules would sink out of sight. Gold, studying evidence from microimpacts, moon cratering, electrostatic fields, and more, boldly predicted that the astronauts’ boots would sink into the lunar regolith no more than three centimeters. And, give or take a centimeter or so, he was proven right.

What does Gold have to do with the recent Brazil oil find? In 1999, Gold published “The Deep Hot Biosphere,” a paper that postulated that coal and oil are produced not by the decomposition of organic materials, but in fact are “abiogenic” — the product of tectonic forces; i.e., deeply embedded hydrocarbons being brought up and through the earth’s mantle and transformed into their present states by bacteria living in the earth’s crust.

The majority of the world’s scientists scoff at Gold’s theory, and “fossil fuel” remains the accepted descriptor of oil. Yet in recent years Russia has quietly become the world’s top producer of oil, in part by drilling wells as deep as 40,000 feet — far below the graveyards of T-Rex and his Mesozoic buddies.

Is it possible that Thomas Gold was right again, and that the earth is actually still producing oil? It’s tantalizing to think so.

(emphasis added; more on Thomas Gold here.) If Gold was right and oil is abiogenically produced, then the fears of “peak oil” are premature at best. Of course, that assumes that the world does not consume the oil faster than the earth can produce it or that, alternatively, we don’t learn how to create artificially. But according to Gold’s theory, there is a staggering amount of oil to be discovered beneath the Earth’s crust, much more than we could rapidly consume. The following is from an interview Gold did with Wired Magazine (edited for clarity):

WIRED: How much more oil is there in your view of the world than in the view of traditional petroleum geology?

GOLD: Oh, a few hundred times more.

WIRED: But not all of it is accessible at the moment?

GOLD: It becomes accessible by recharging, and the recharging process I think I completely understand. There’s a stepwise approximation of the pore pressure to the rock pressure – that will always be the case if the stuff is coming up from below. You will not just fill up one reservoir at the top in the shallow levels. It will always be underlaid by another reservoir, and that in turn by another, and so on for a long way down.

WIRED: And by pumping out oil from the highest reservoir you release the pressure on the lower ones, allowing more oil to seep up.

GOLD: Yes, the partial seal between the surface reservoir and the one below in some cases appears to break open violently.

The most obvious evidence that Gold’s theory may be correct is that Russia seems to have reaped huge rewards by adhering to it. Hoystory specifically noted this part of the Brazil story:

Yet in recent years Russia has quietly become the world’s top producer of oil, in part by drilling wells as deep as 40,000 feet — far below the graveyards of T-Rex and his Mesozoic buddies.

In his interview, Gold explained why Russia would have set its compass to the abiogenic star of oil production:

WIRED: Were there precedents for your idea that deep hydrocarbons are a normal fact of planetary geology?

GOLD: In the ’60s, Sir Robert Robinson [a Nobel Prize-winning chemist and president of Britain's Royal Society] said that petroleum looks like a primordial hydrocarbon to which biological products have been added.

WIRED: And what was the response?

GOLD: The response was that I quoted his remark in many of my papers. But the profession of petroleum geology did not pick it up. Mendeleyev [the Russian chemist who developed the periodic table] in the 1870s had said much the same thing, but Robinson had done a more modern analysis of oil and had come to the same conclusion. And, in fact, the Russians have in the last 20 years done an even more precise analysis that completely proves the point. The fact that Mendeleyev was in favor of a primordial origin of petroleum had a great effect – you see, to most Russians, Mendeleyev was the greatest scientist that Russia ever had.

So I guess, in reality, it isn’t Gold’s theory at all, but one posited by a Russian scientist from the late 1800’s, and one that was echoed by the founder of Britain’s national academy of science. Yet somehow the term “fossil fuels” has become fixed, and the concept that oil comes from the decay of death rather than the regeneration of life is treated as gospel. The consensus must have been against them …

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