Archive for the 'Science' Category

20
Feb
12

Phony ‘-ologies’

Rick Santorum, the William Jennings Bryan Memorial Presidential Candidate, says of his opposition to Obama,

It’s about…some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible… .

I say that Santorum has some phony biology, geology, climatology, ecology, and (probably) darn near any other ‘-ology’ that exists – because he bases (or imagines he bases) EVERYTHING on the Bible. Well, the Catholic Bible maybe. There are other Bibles, which I expect that he regards as ‘impure’ at best.

But then, what I have to say about Santorum is irrelevant, isn’t it? He wasn’t talking about THOSE ‘ologies’, as he made perfectly clear:

The Catholic church has a Theology that says this is wrong…the President of the United States is exercising his values and trumping the values of the church.

There, now it’s settled. Move along now. There’s nothing to see here. There *is* something to see below the typographical flourish.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Santorum’s prompt revisionist explanation for his recent judgemental comments is that “I was talking about the radical environmentalists.” His objection is to

…things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, for example, the politicization of the whole global warming debate… .

Ohhhhh ! So Santorum IS talking about my ‘-ologies’. Pardon me, his superior level of intellectual disposition has left me a wee bit confused.

Well, of course he is referring to the scientific ‘-ologies’ as well as to theology. William Jennings Bryan was not the first, and Rick Santorum will not be the last, to couple scientific viewpoints to morality, theology, etc. It is that coupling which promotes “politicization” of specific scientific topics, narrowly discussed only in superficial and emotional terms that the lay public willingly assimilates. The bulk of science proceeds irrespective of this phony coupling, producing a continual stream of advances in human knowledge to the betterment of all – even of those who would eviscerate science.

It has been done before. It can happen in America. The Soviet Communist fascist state decreed which scientific principles were acceptable to its ideology – or theology: “Whatever you want to call it, it’s a [sic] different moral values.” The resulting stagnation of science left the USSR with viable scientific work only in those fields which were relevant to such words as ‘bomb’, ‘gun’, and ‘rocket’.

It is beyond dispute that the Santorums of the world feel morally threatened by science. It is disputed only among the fearful and the ignorant that science is the one area of human endeavor where we may, if we permit ourselves, reach truths with minimal blemish from our preconceptions.

This is why the best leaders heed the guidance of those who are especially knowledgeable in biology, geology, climatology, ecology, physics, chemistry, and many more fields of science. Hindu, Moslem, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, and atheist scientists will have different theologies. Their scientific work is objectively unrelated to, and unbiased by, personal ‘-ologies’.

We must have the best leaders, else it may happen as in the Scopes ‘Monkey’ trial. That judge expunged William Jennings Bryan’s Santorum-like testimony. The harsh Judge of History could expunge all of President Santorum’s theology, and the shreds of America’s great scientific culture, from prominence in the world.

24
Oct
11

Kinetic and Potential Life

One of the early lessons in Physics is the Conservation of Energy. Energy comes in two broad categories (forms), kinetic and potential. Energy can be in either form, and the form can even be changed. Electric utility companies like to produce energy when there is little demand, store it, and release it when demand is high and generators can’t handle the load. One way of doing this, pumped-storage hydroelectricity is to pump water to an elevated reservoir. The water at height stores gravitational potential (weight) energy. That potential is very stable, only subject to little practical things (like leakage) that change the potential energy back to kinetic energy. The big practical thing is releasing water to flow through electric generator turbines.

It is kinetic energy that gets ‘er done. Potential energy deserves a comparable respect.

The precise language of Physics sometimes uses the same words which are used rather loosely in other contexts. One such context applies the phrase ‘potential life‘ to human reproduction. We have heard this phrase repeatedly, so we know what is meant by it – or, at least, we know what we are meant to think it means. We are meant to think that it means (and here, I will attempt a precise statement of that meaning) ‘mated human gametes are capable of becoming a developmentally-complete human organism and should be regarded as equivalent to that human’.

That’s fine and dandy. Mated human gametes, with a bunch of help from the host mom, can often do that. You know the rationale attached to this: the mated gametes are to be considered morally and legally identical to an adult human. That is a logical high-jump, about which I shall defer comment to another time. What I do not see is any comparable logical gymnastics to any other ‘potential life’ or other ‘potential outcome’.

And boy, lemme tell you that there is a LOT of ‘potential life’. The armadillo inserts a multiplier into the situation. One set of mated armadillo gametes is (for some species) potentially four (4, quatre, vier, arba’a) individual, genetically-identical ‘dillo babies – not just one!

That doesn’t count the potential descendants of the armadillo.

The potential for life, for descendant individual organisms, doesn’t even depend upon sex. Yeah, maybe you thought that everything depended upon sex – but not this time. Lots of organisms reproduce asexually. ‘Budding’ can propagate yeast such as saccharomyces cerevisiae. It begins with a bump, which progresses to a distinct appendage, which separates and goes its merry way. So the bump is ‘potential life’, right? Well, I dunno.

When is it a bump, anyway? When the cell wall deviates from round by a statistically-significant amount? How “statistically significant” is significant enough? How different from other cell-wall bumps must it be?

Cavendish bananas are my favorite example of asexual reproduction. Every Cavendish banana in the world is genetically identical. They are vegetatively propagated by cuttings. That makes me wonder – if a cutting can yield an entire planet-load of organisms, does destruction of a cutting mean that the potential for millions of organisms has been destroyed?

The potential of mated gametes may be different than a potential for developing into an individual. The potential may be to spontaneously abort. Yes – this is a natural, even normal, process that happens to a statistically significant number of mated human gametes. There is also a statistically significant potential for mated gametes to kill the host mom. How “statistically significant” is significant enough? We have dead moms as the answer.

If the continued protection and nourishment of mated gametes leads to the potential to kill the host mom, do we consider only their potential for developing into an individual – an individual who will also die with the mom?

If a pumped-storage hydroelectricity reservoir has a crack, and it might collapse and destroy lives and property, do we consider only its potential for generating electricity?

We are not meant to think that ‘potential life’ means something like: ‘a bud from asexual reproduction is equivalent to a developmentally-complete organism’ or ‘a reproductively-viable organism is equivalent to generations of distinct individual organisms of the same specie’ or ‘sustenance of some mated gametes is equivalent to killing the host mom’.

We are meant to accept the aforementioned logical high-jump without questioning that its premise is actually based on the misogynistic misapplication – beginning in recent history – of a particular religion’s scriptures. No other consideration, whether religious or extra-religious, is meant to apply.

09
Oct
11

This Is Your Brain On Rationality

The excellent blog ‘Still Skeptical After All These Years‘ (SSAATY) has produced a lively discussion about human intelligence. ‘This Is Your Brain On Spirituality‘ links to ‘The Premise‘, from the book ‘The “God” Part of the Brain‘ (Matthew Alper). Jim One awakened me from my blogging slumber, and my comments are too long to impose upon his commenting space. This post is the result.

Rational
adj., Devoid of all delusions save those of observation, experience and reflection.
- ‘The Devil’s Dictionary‘, Ambrose Bierce

‘The Premise’ is an interesting expression of the evolution of intelligence. It carries the burden of stimulating those misguided folks who take the ‘god’ part of the brain to be something that must have been created by god, or God. That article, and comments on SSAATY – especially by Anson and HLG – have a touch of specificity about the subject. Since I am required by the terms of my Birth Contract to engage in conversations on science topics, here’s my succinct explanation:

That “survival trait” of intelligence has a major component in correlation. Other components, such as memory, are also involved. Other species have intelligence. They use tools and manipulate their environment. They employ memory. The human advantage over other species is most pronounced in the inherent capacity to correlate.

Correlation is not reflex – a sensor-neuron-to-motor-neuron linkage. It is a constant activity of the brain. Watch someone wave a wand over a deck of cards, then pull a flower out of the deck: your brain will, absolutely automatically and irrevocably, establish the thought that a wand-wave makes flowers appear in unexpected places. Even a tendency to form preposterous correlations could have significant evolutionary advantages. The cost of missing a good correlation (red plant = poisonous) is disproportionate to the cost of a false correlation (animal sacrifice = good crops).

Almost all human history has involved this automatic intelligence – an ‘unthinking’ intelligence that becomes blatant as superstition. The modern (perhaps thousands of years – a short time in biology) rise of rationalism is the result of achieving a critical level of intelligence. The human (and, to a lesser extent, other species’) brain is self-aware. The progress of correlative ability has extended to something like ‘correlations of the correlations’. We now recognize that thinking in primitive ways can involve such errancies as ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc‘ – we are aware of our own fallacies.

Rationalism’s biggest success has been science – modern science, that is. The Scientific Method is to reasoning what the U.S. Constitution is to organization and governance. The Constitution is designed to work with our inherent nature, minimizing its worst propensities and maximizing its usefulness. It has checks and balances. Science is a method for limiting the brain’s tendency to form correlations willy-nilly. It also has checks and balances for the same sort of issues that the Constitution controls. It is a meta-intelligence that makes our inherent capability vastly more useful than it has previously been in human history.

Rationalism, by confining our biological intelligence, expands its social and cultural value. This is why science, medicine, and technology seem to have accelerated geometrically – it is not our intelligence which has increased dramatically, but our command of intelligence which is improved. There is a stark difference between the science of 1880 and the science of 1920 – a difference more in how intelligence was utilized than in the mere progress of results.

There is a stark similarity in the non-scientific thought of 2011 and that of 1911, or of 1011! Non-scientists can learn to do more than to merely respect the Scientific Method. Rationalism, and its companion Skepticism are vital elements of critical thinking which everyone can learn.

19
Feb
11

The Republican-Lysenko Party

The modern GOP is irresponsible and dangerous.

The operative phrase {link above} is that legislators seek “… to reverse the agency’s scientific finding …” regarding the EPA & AGW. Imagine seeing reports from Washington that legislators seek : “… to reverse the FDA’s scientific finding that aspirin is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug” ; or “… to reverse the TSA’s scientific finding that driving slower saves gas.” Legislators’ jobs are to determine policy & implementation, not decree the facts of nature.

Only totalitarian regimes seek to dictate the content of science. Remember Lysenko? Stalin (who knew about as much science as a kindergardner) dictated that Lysenko’s bogus ideas were to be Soviet policy, and that scientific theories were illegal. “Scientific dissent from Lysenko’s theories of environmentally acquired inheritance was formally outlawed in 1948 …”

Science is, despite some weaknesses and occasional error, the most impartial and egalitarian of human endeavors. Don’t proceed in reading without noting my qualifier : “most”. Nothing is utterly impartial of conscious and unconscious influence. Nothing can compare to science for its relative integrity.

Folks who advocate removal of government regulatory controls will often argue that, without those pesky regulations, businessmen would be free to simply make the best decision. These folks assert that, with important matters to consider, these decision makers will consider making reasonable profits, accomodating some degree of environmental protection, and assuring safety of their employees. They would not be inclined to seek excessive profits, which could be counter-productive – if not simply unfair. NO ONE would want to destroy the planet, so we can trust them to do the right thing. And they have families, just like you and me, so they care enough about people to not remove workplace safeguards.

Yeah, as if.

Such attitudes evidence a blindness to reality. Regulations have been developed because the Pollyanna attitudes (of those who kowtow to power) are utterly fallacious – voided by repetitive examples from history.

It is not a scientific approach to determine the status of regulations by a politician’s subservience to affected businesses. Their emotional dependence on powerful figures is the basic construction material for dictatorships.

Science provides an excellent alternative to political influence. Politics’ inherent lack of morality has yielded a mixed record of policy-making. Politicians and businessmen staring at financial reports are utterly malleable when it comes to duplicity. In contrast, science and the U.S. Constitution are comparable for their checks & balances. There are mechanisms in science for error avoidance and for self-correction. The examples of scientific error (or even fraud) are almost always exposed by science itself. Scientists, beyond even their considerable interests in sometimes making a buck or (for those with the biggest egos) having a cool press release, are incredibly loathe to publish anything which might be tainted. Bias, error, and fraud in science can, if sufficiently severe, result in destruction of a career. It has happened.

Politicians do not have such a near-certainty. Their mis-deeds often qualify as safe bets. Scientists’ only safe bets are on the integrity of their research results.

Science should, based upon the best available scientific information, inform and guide legislators. Legislators have a responsibility to incorporate scientific findings in accordance with principles of good stewardship of the public trust.

Meanwhile, other countries listen to their scientists. They are not as inclined toward self-immolation as we are. Their laughter will not be as painful as our becoming a second-rate country.

18
Feb
11

The Myth of Special Data

Pick your favorite topic of anti-scientific gobbledy-gook. There is, invariably, a component that is little discussed. The anti-science crowd (even if a small minority, it’s still a pile of addled folks) often argues that the scientific data for a certain theory* (evolution, anthropogenic global warming – AGW, etc.) is flawed or mis-interpreted. That seems to laymen to be a reasonable approach to criticism of scientific findings – they think that each theory has its own special data which supports that theory.

That is false.

*Theorynoun ; a firmly-established scientific principle, having acknowledgement of validity by the consensus ultra-majority of scientists in that field of speciality ; the term used formerly, prior to Relativity Theory and Quantum Theory, was ‘Law‘ ; Example: the Law of Newtonian Gravity was superceded (improved and supplanted) by the General Theory of Relativity.

Scientific theories are like reverse-engineered recipes. And how do scientists reverse-engineer the recipes of nature? Laymen (Sorry to pick on you folks again! But, technically, my B.S. in Physics makes me closer to your status than to scientific standing) might think that scientists grab chunks of nature’s lemon meringue pies and start taste-testing. They (scientists, not laymen) would keep tasting (measuring) and trying things with their samples of lemon meringue pie until its secrets were revealed.

That practice, known as analysis, is a useful and important part of science. It is utterly insufficient to advance scientific knowledge as we do or to explain the progress we have so far achieved. Scientists have a broader perspective. They know that a sharp focus upon the particular is inherently limited. Their research is generalized – the study of ALL desserts could, and definitely does, facilitate scientific progress in researching a specific dessert (lemon meringue pie?). Furthermore, the study of baked goods, which includes a significant portion of the dessert category, ultimately has applicability to a specific dessert (lemon meringue pie?). The study of foamed recipes, which includes a significant portion of the dessert category, ultimately has applicability to a specific dessert (lemon meringue pie!).

The result of scientific research that is generalized is that our knowledge is highly interdependent. The principles (including the acme of principles – the Theory) discovered are not specific to only a narrow range of examples. There are no scientists who have discovered only the recipe for lemon meringue pie. A strong general scientific foundation provides explanatory power for a wide range of subjects – such as for all baked, egg-based foods.

There are scientists who research foods, but the food analogy was utilized as an introduction to specific issues from anti-science.

Anti-science folks discuss their issues (and boy, do they have issues!) with the implicit** assumption that there are special data regarding a particular disliked scientific theory. That is, they assume that there is specific data that is relevant mostly only to evolutionary theory, or to AGW, or to vaccine safety, etc. They attack what they suppose to be the ‘special data’ with the belief that its refutation will dispose of a disliked theory while not affecting other science significantly.

**Implicit for some (I think most), but there are those  who make it explicit. They are utterly fixated upon their single unassailable Authority, and they don’t even want friendly visitors ruffling their superstitious feathers. They are so perverse that, to quote Johnny Kaje, “… attacking all of science, for most of these folks, is a feature, not a bug.” Yeah, ALL.

They (the folks who don’t quite dis-respect 100% of science) utterly fail to comprehend the web of knowledge that ties every scientific theory to vast numbers of strands of knowledge. Those ice cores, reviled for the data they offer regarding AGW, also support our scientific understanding of geology, biological evolution, and astrophysics. If anti-science folks were correct in their criticisms of ice core data, giant swaths of science would crumble – not just the one theory of AGW.

That interdependence of scientific research could, if anti-science folks were correct, have extremely personal consequences for most of us. Do you have an inkling of an idea about how many of the important medicines are developed? It escapes most laymen that the ‘special data’ which supports biological evolution also guides medical researchers in developing medicines. Yes, they sometimes find medicines by ‘screening’ – simply trying stuff. Much, even more, medical research is derived from such ‘special data’ that also supports biological evolution.

If an omnipotent being were to decree (Ken Ham’s dream) the anti-science position about evolution’s ‘special data’ to be correct, then an immense array of modern medicines would stop working.

Since most of the anti-science folks have strong influences from their religious beliefs, I recommend to them that they avail themselves of the possibility that I just described. If their Supreme Being is all-powerful, there is no need of haggling with school textbook committees. They should beseech their Supreme Being to make – what they ‘know’ to be true about certain disliked scientific theories – true for all of nature.

They had just best not expect their Viagra to work the next day.

25
Dec
10

I Am Thankful This Christmas

I am thankful this Christmas that science and humanitarians have allied to improve the lives of countless people.

I hadn’t recently read of the Carter Center‘s progress in combatting guinea worm, and this article was a welcome reminder of the important accomplishments of President Jimmy Carter. There is precedent for the eradication of a human pathogen – smallpox was eradicated under the direction of the United NationsWorld Health Organization.

Smallpox was a perennial scourge throughout the world. Every American of my age carries the vaccination scar received in childhood to control the disease in the U.S.. Millions elsewhere died from this terrible disease – a disease so vicious that it had also been implemented by militaries as a germ warfare agent. Today, no Kindergartener or First Grader is subjected to a treatment which remains in my memory, 54 years hence.

Eradication of the guinea worm may be the next thriumph of mankind over nature. It is the more remarkable for being largely the responsibility of a non-governmental organization (NGO).

The list of diseases which have been alleviated, controlled, or cured by science (often with the active support of governments) is too long for a mere blog to list. Most readers of this blog know someone who has been aided, during the course of a serious illness, by modern medicine.

We must be vigilant against the forces of ignorance and fear which obstruct progress against disease. In Africa, AIDS denial has even led to government officials’ active obstruction of anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs. Even in America, superstitious and ignorant people have employed propaganda to obstruct vaccinations important to public health.

I have faith that, next Christmas, we will have witnessed additional progress against suffering. That progress depends upon our sincere support and active opposition to dangerous voices in our midst.

Peace be upon you and your families.

03
Dec
10

Science Gave Us Josef Mengele

And science also gave us Josef Mengele‘s experiments and vivisections on pregnant women during WWII. Science cannot even tell us what energy is. They don’t know what it is.
God created the universe.

This was the last comment that I responded to in a discussion which was supposed to be about an interesting and important bit of scientific research. Some folks cannot bear to see science discussed openly and critically. My response is that certain polemic tactics are unsuitable for discussion. I will not participate in a discussion with this pathetic person again. This person is not a singular blemish on rationality and decency: there is filth such as “Cuomo’s Anti-Christian Worship Of Science Once Led To Medical Atrocities Committed By The Nazis“.

I offer, here, in contrast to the blatantly false assertion above, some of the things that Religion – Christianity in particular – and Science have actually given us. These things are not a comprehensive, or even a balanced, list. This is a blog serving only to rid the world of at least a fragment of the vicious lie quoted above.

Christianity has given us justifications & rationalizations for many cultural and social errancies. This list begins with slavery and the suppression & subjugation of women. Those alone are almost enough.

Old and New Testament scriptures have been misinterpreted by Christians, causing the Christian religion to become an imperialistic war-mongering religion, whose adherents have believed that they were instructed by God to invade the homelands of non-Christian peoples, take possession of their lands and resources, annihilate many of the indigenous inhabitants as well as subjugate and exploit the remaining innocent indigenous peoples. – Thomas Ivan Dahlheimer

As for atrocities comparable to Mengele’s, Christianity has given us a portion of those: assaults upon peoples with other religions ; assaults upon other Christians, such as The Troubles in Northern Ireland ; associations of Televangelists such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson with thugs Charles Taylor and Efraín Ríos Montt ; and a substantial list, “What About Atrocities That Have Been Done in the Name of Religion?“. The “What About …” list is a Christian source which classifies religions such as Islam as “Atheist”.

Yes, Nazis have contributed. We know of The Holocaust which killed millions:

German Christian Movement Badge

By defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord- Adolf Hitler, ‘ Mein Kampf ‘

Many historical figures, who are familiar to my readers, have offered their candid observations about Christianity:

I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good… Our goal is a Christian Nation. We have a Biblical duty; we are called by God, to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism. – Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue

‘O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; . . . help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land. . . . We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love.’ – Mark Twain, published posthumously in 1923

During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.” James Madison, April 1, 1774

Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause. – George Washington, letter to Sir Edward Newenham, June 22, 1792

Hitler Youth Day Badge 1933

Mengele’s semi-divine Fuhrer’s contributions may be perused at “Hitler’s Christianity“.

What of Science? There isn’t a single religion that can offer reliable predictions about anything in Nature. Even if “Science cannot even tell us what energy is”, it does a great job of faking it. Science has created mankind’s supreme mastery of energy. In forms from the dense to the diffuse, common folks use energy in ways for which no religion has offered the slightest whiff of a contribution.

Science has created cures for an immense array of diseases and maladies. Science (and, interestingly, Big Government and World Government) has succeeded in a historic public-health project – the eradication of smallpox, which was a major source of misery and death.

Do not be mislead. I continue my Christian life for its substantial value. The example of Christ is essential to my life. Science is also a central element of my life. May we all appreciate our religions, or lack of religion, and our understanding of the natural world objectively and without propagandistic accusations.




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Basic Understanding

A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.
- Edward R. Murrow

Intellectual Property Notice

All original material Copyright James R. Stone 2010, except where specifically noted. Some images licensed under Creative Commons, or GNU Free Documentation License, or unlicensed and public domain.

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