From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.
The article comes at the news as another nail in Creationism’s coffin, but personal experience suggests Creationism is an undead thing, immune even to shooting in the head. Creationists have evolved their denial techniques so that, no matter how strong the evidence or logical the argument, they always have a nonsensical reply waiting.
So, let’s not worry about shooting down the Creationists- though they must be shown this theory whenever possible- let’s just concentrate on the incredible coolness and massive potential of life, on Earth and as many other planets as possible.
Rather than targeting specific traits, as Lamarck’s theory would have predicted, the mutations struck random genes, with some good outcomes and some bad. However, the process wasn’t completely random. Rosenberg’s findings suggested that bacteria were capable of increasing their mutation rates, which might in turn produce strains capable of surviving new conditions.
“Cells are able to adapt to stress not by knowing exactly what they need to do, but by throwing the dice as a population and making random changes to the genome,” said James Broach, a biologist at Pennsylvania State University’s College of Medicine in Hershey who studies a similar phenomenon in yeast. “That will allow stressed progeny to find an escape route.”
Humans may be responsible for a jump in brain growth among mice and some other small mammals living around us in both urban and rural settings, a new study finds.
Small mammals that either produce a lot of babies or eat a lot of bugs exhibited the greatest cranial capacity (i.e. brain growth) due to human-caused environmental changes over the past century, suggests the study, which is published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
“Small mammals with high fecundity (such as deer mice and meadow voles) show the most pronounced differences in cranial capacity between urban and rural environments, having larger cranial capacity in urban environments,” lead author Emilie Snell-Rood told Discovery News.
Too many people still believe in the “science” put out for political reasons. People argue with me about Creation vs evolution science. Most concentrate on issues like why am I a Creationist rather than whether the actual science backs one or the other. I think, though, that people are waking up to the fact that we are being fed incredible lies to fool us into becoming even more controlled.
The only “science” put out for political reasons in the debate between creationism and reality (sorry, evolution) is that made up by the creationists. The word science always has implicit quote marks around it when used by creationists to describe what they think is evidence for their beliefs. Creationists are the ones who want people to remain uninformed and unquestioning- just keep believing the lines they’re fed so their would be leaders can keep taking advantage of them.
Also, there’s no need to “believe” in evolution. Believing is what the creationists have to fall back on because they don’t have any evidence or a coherent theory. You understand evolution rather than believe in it. It’s been coherently explained by a large number of people. Understanding evolution is harder for some than believing in Creationism, because they can’t accept the freedom of no longer being told what to do. Which is a shame, because they then go on to tie themselves in knots as they try to explain all the logical inconsistencies thrown up by saying “God made it!”
I’ve participated in online debates with creationists, and read through others, and it’s always the creationists who don’t want to talk about whether the science backs their beliefs. Faced with evidence that just keeps piling up, they’re the ones who will steer the conversation to why people “believe” in evolution, as they desperately try to run away from the realisation that they’re wrong.
There’s no science behind creationism, just a desire to manipulate people, anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
During a conversation a few weeks ago I suggested there would be merit in going through The Da Vinci Code and editing out all the bits where Dan Brown treats his readers like idiots. Stuff like the horrendous flashback used to explain phi and the redundant repetition of information because he assumes his readers have tiny attention spans. I reckoned I could cull nearly a third of the verbiage and make it a less painful book to read. It still wouldn’t be great, because it’s a dumb premise, but it could be easier to get through. We’d call it Dan Brown for Smartys.
Over the weekend I got thinking about other possible ….for Smatys books. The idea could lend itself to so many better uses than improving Dan Brown’s prose. The series title, obviously, is a play on the ….for Dummies books, and they would serve a similar purpose. Despite their name, the ….for Dummies books don’t assume you’re some sort of idiot. I’ve got Blender For Dummies and it’s a great resource. It presumes the reader is an intelligent person who simply hasn’t used the software before and can grasp the concepts providing they’re explained well. The …..for Smartys books would expect intelligent readers and cover areas where the main, or at least loudest, people talking about them assume their audience are morons and can be lied to with impunity.
Yes, …..for Smartys would mostly cover tabloid fodder and stuff which attracts loud and dissembling deniers. The books would look at claims made around a controversial subject and fact check them, much like blogs such as Five Chinese Crackers do. They would also present the data in cool infographics, just because I’m a fan of cool infographics. Weight would be given to data based upon how many times it had been corroborated, rather than by how much it appealed to the readers presumed prejudices.
Immigration for Smartys would trace the population of the country back through many censuses as well as using Freedom of Information requests to get councils to reveal who gets to live in council houses (just a hunch, but I doubt “newly arrived immigrants” will top the list, no matter what the Daily Mail may say).
Climate Change for Smartys would look at the scientific evidence for and against man-made climate change. It would examine the more outlandish claims made for global warming as well as the those that it’s not happening at all. It would also run a side by side projection for a do-nothing family and a make-a-change family to see who is better off, even if all the evidence is wrong and there is no climate change. The no-changers would keep their car, not bother insulating their house etc. The make-a-changes would trade in for a smaller, more efficient vehicle, which they used less, upgrade insulation, upgrade their heating, install solar panels etc. There would be a comparison of expenditure, which would be easy enough, and a less scientific look at quality of life.
Religion for Smartys would be a tricky one, because some people can’t help but get violent over their choice of deity. I imagine it as a timeline from the earliest known religions through to the present day with pullouts for similarity of themes and recurring motifs. There’d also be a “Who do you hate and who do you love?” section which would list the various things and peoples considered evil or divine across several holy books.
All I need now is a publisher willing to put up the money needed to fund me whilst I do the research and design the graphics.
Wannabe Scottish holy warrior Stewart Cowan has started what may be an ongoing series on “The Myths and Hoaxes of the 20th Century”. That he’s started with a weak swing at evolution should come as no surprise, neither should the fact that he fails to put forward a coherent argument.
Cowan bases his argument on a wilfull or genuine failure to understand an 18th century theory called uniformitarianism. (It’s doubly amusing that he links to the wikipedia page about it because whenever he or his cronies are presented with a wikipedia page which proves them wrong or shows up a weakness in their arguments they fall over themselves to claim the site is a liberal conspiracy.) He then ignores centuries of research, discoveries and advances and implies that this one theory is the only thing scientists have ever used to figure anything out. From this nonsensical conceit he wanders off into a bunch of Creationist talking points and fails to prove anything. He cites research with blind cavefish which he thinks proves his point, completely failing to see that it does the opposite.
Stewart Cowan’s never presented a coherent or convincing argument against evolution, but this one’s even weaker than normal. As the only people who can be bothered to continually comment on his blog are equally uninformed and blinkered he has no need to improve his arguments, so they seem to be devolving.
The New Scientist has a special report on the roots and methods of denialism. Should be useful reading for anyone who ever finds themselves talking to creationists/climate change deniers/9/11 Truthers/anti vaccination types/that bloke in teh pub who knows what really happened to Elvis.
How to be a denialist
Martin McKee, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who also studies denial, has identified six tactics that all denialist movements use. “I’m not suggesting there is a manual somewhere, but one can see these elements, to varying degrees, in many settings,” he says (The European Journal of Public Health, vol 19, p 2).
1. Allege that there’s a conspiracy. Claim that scientific consensus has arisen through collusion rather than the accumulation of evidence.
2. Use fake experts to support your story. “Denial always starts with a cadre of pseudo-experts with some credentials that create a facade of credibility,” says Seth Kalichman of the University of Connecticut.
3. Cherry-pick the evidence: trumpet whatever appears to support your case and ignore or rubbish the rest. Carry on trotting out supportive evidence even after it has been discredited.
4. Create impossible standards for your opponents. Claim that the existing evidence is not good enough and demand more. If your opponent comes up with evidence you have demanded, move the goalposts.
5. Use logical fallacies. Hitler opposed smoking, so anti-smoking measures are Nazi. Deliberately misrepresent the scientific consensus and then knock down your straw man.
6. Manufacture doubt. Falsely portray scientists as so divided that basing policy on their advice would be premature. Insist “both sides” must be heard and cry censorship when “dissenting” arguments or experts are rejected.
Scientists have created evolving RNA (ribonucleic acid) in the lab. This is the first step to showing the likely way life started. DNA’s beyond their abilities right now, but who knows what the future holds.
Conspiracy theories tend to say more about the theorists than the alleged conspirators. I’m going to approach the examples cited by asking two questions- If the theorists are correct, what do the conspiracists get out of it? and Why might the theorists want to believe in this particular conspiracy? So-
“1) The theory: mass immigration is being used to re-engineer society.”
What do the conspiracists get? Errrrm. What do they get? According to the theory the mostly white, mostly christian engineers of this massed social change get a country where they lose a lot of their privileges because their constituents are less like, and less likely to vote for, them. And we know how willing MPs are to give up their privileges.
Why might the theorists believe in this conspiracy? Because they’re racists? Because they don’t like immigration? Possibly, as a great many of them claim to be christians, they’re scared by falling church attendance and don’t want to have to fight for believers with a younger, louder religion.
“2) The theory: climate change is not primarily manmade, but is a ruse to impose a world government which will tax and control us.”
What might the conspiracists get? They’d get to pay more tax. Which I’m sure they really want to do. The scientists will get to keep the funding which pays for their research. Even though they could be better off working in the private sector. I have a problem with the repeated line about paying more tax. The people who’ll pay more tax are the ones who are too dumb to find ways to make their lives more efficient. Those who cut their carbon emmissions will find they’re paying less money to corporations, and the government, so they will have more money for themselves and be financially more secure.
Why might the theorists believe in this conspiracy? See the last bit above about people too dumb to make their lives better.
“3) The theory: the BBC is a propaganda machine for liberals and socialists.”
What might the conspiracists get? The licence fee cut by the next Conservative government. Though that will probably happen anyway.
Why might the theorists believe in this conspiracy? Because Fox News is Fair and Balanced.
“4) The theory: the 9/11 attacks were an inside job.”
What might the conspiracists get? The satisfaction of having turned real life into the opening sequence of the first X Files Movie.
Why might the theorists believe in this conspiracy? Racism? Brown people couldn’t possibly have organised something this big, it has to be the work of the Illuminati and/or the Jews. (An early 9/11 conspiracy theory had all Jewish workers in the World Trade Centre being called up and told not to go in to work that day.) An inability to grasp reality. Given all the genuinely horrible, stupid, illegal and dangerous stuff the Bush regime did, why on Earth do some people need to make stuff like this up?
“5) The theory: the Theory of Evolution is a 19th Century misunderstanding, which is now clear from modern scientific discoveries.”
What might the conspiracists get? Confused, given that modern discoveries strengthen and refine the Theory of Evolution.
Why might the theorists believe in this conspiracy? Fear that science, and increased understanding of it, will undermine their religion. Inability to visualise a simple and elegant theory. The writer of the post is a Creationist, so this is a favourite subject of his. He claims masses of evidence for his belief, but can never present any that stands up to scrutiny.
This is a bit of a rambling post, because I started it as a comment then brought it over here. Feel free to add your own comments and help me refine and better explain my reasoning that way.
Sensible people have visited the loony Creation Museum before and posted reports of just how wierd it is. But last Friday P Z Myers, one of the US’s highest profile atheists, and around 300 others attended. Here’s his report.
Because of my long held fascination with dioramas that depict surreal and often gruesome events I found myself hunting down pictures of the Ark diorama. In what must be the final section Noah and his chosen passengers (including, no doubt, dinosaurs) sail away from the unsaved, who fight for space on the wave washed rocks and have to fend off tigers and bears. It’s like something Jake and Dinos Chapman would come up with, only with less Nazi regalia.
We should be better than this, and we should expect more from organisations like the National Recognition Information Centre, which has announced that a creationist course taught in religious schools should be considered equivalent to an A Level. This is an insult to everyone teaching real A Levels and all the youngsters taking them. This isn’t the USA or some other backward country. We need to demand that children are taught science, not fantasy, and anyone dressing up indoctrination as education should be punished, not accredited.
It has been published as part of the Lost World Read 2009 mass-participation reading project, which is happening in the following locations:
* Bristol and the South West * Edinburgh * Glasgow * Portsmouth and Hampshire * Shropshire * Westminster
If you live in one of these locations have a look here for details of which shop, library, or museum near you is giving the book away. For example, here in Bristol the book can be found at all branches of Bristol Libraries; Blackwell, Park Street; St George’s, Brandon Hill; Tobacco Factory, Raleigh Road; Waterstones, Bristol Galleries; Bristol Zoo Gardens; Blaise Castle; City Museum and Art Gallery; ss Great Britain.
Telling [the Radio Times] that he was asked why he did not give “credit” to God, Attenborough added: “They always mean beautiful things like hummingbirds. I always reply by saying that I think of a little child in east Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator.”