Friday, August 31, 2007

New NASA computer model predicts more severe storms

Via ScienceDaily I became aware of this NASA press release:

NASA Study Predicts More Severe Storms With Global Warming

NASA scientists have developed a new climate model that indicates that the most violent severe storms and tornadoes may become more common as Earth’s climate warms.

This is quite on par with what we already presume. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure that it's the premise of Chris Mooney's newest book.

Previous climate model studies have shown that heavy rainstorms will be more common in a warmer climate, but few global models have attempted to simulate the strength of updrafts in these storms. The model developed at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies by researchers Tony Del Genio, Mao-Sung Yao, and Jeff Jonas is the first to successfully simulate the observed difference in strength between land and ocean storms and is the first to estimate how the strength will change in a warming climate, including “severe thunderstorms” that also occur with significant wind shear and produce damaging winds at the ground. This information can be derived from the temperatures and humidities predicted by a climate computer model, according to the new study published on August 17 in the American Geophysical Union’s Geophysical Research Letters. It predicts that in a warmer climate, stronger and more severe storms can be expected, but with fewer storms overall.

Interesting. I knew that it was presumed that there would be more strong storms, and that the strength of the strongest ones would be worse, but I didn't know that tehre would be an overall decline in the number of storms.

As the NASA story tells, the models has been applied to know conditions, and was correct, so it would seem that we should take its predictions seriously. Given that those predicitions are quite uncomfortable, it again shows us the bad consequences of global warming.

Go read the rest of the story

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Someone just doesn't get it

I came across
this ignorant post a couple of days ago at a blog called Otherwise Known As Kevin Miller (XI), which just made me have to comment on it. Unfortunately I've been busy, so I haven't had time to do so before now.

Well, on to the post, and my comments to it.

While I'm excitied to see so many people discussing Expelled, what disappoints me is how utterly predictable it all is so far. The Darwinists are tearing their clothes and sprinkling ashes on their heads on their blogs, while the Intelligent Design advocates are crowing about finally being able to stick it to the Darwinian establishment on their blogs. Two solitudes that have been going on ad nauseum.

Right from the onset it's clear that we are dealing with a Creationist or a neo-Creationist, since he refers to people as "Darwinists". Here I suppose that he is refering to the reality based community which understand that there is overwhelming evidence for the Theory of Evolution.

I don't know which blogs he is reading, but the blogs I've read have had a few posts about the movie, most on course on Pharyngula, but that's hardly surprising, given the fact that PZ was tricked into appearing in the movie on false premises.

Frankly, I haven't paid much attention to the movie, and the talk about it, but except from people commenting on it's flawed premise, the distasteful actions of the producer, and generally making fun of Ben Stein, I haven't seen any great attention from the pro-science people. Randy Olson (or someone using his handle) did make a comment over at Pharyngula where he made clear that there were clearly some movie behind the movie, and thus it couldn't be dismissed lightly. Hardly "tearing their clothes and sprinkling ashes on their heads".

I wouldn't know what the neo-Creationist crowd has been up to, since I've been too busy lately to pay any attention to them and their sillyness.

My hope for this film has always been that it will help us to overcome our entrenchment regarding the topic of evoution and finally engage in some rational discussion about it. Unfortunately, instead of helping us bridge the gap, so far the film seems to merely have driven the entrenchment even further.

Well, if that was your hope, then you would have been better of not basing those hopes on a film that's entirely based on a false premise.
Expelled is entirely based upon some kind of conspiracy keeping neo-Creationist scientists out, to protect their Darwinistic doctrine. Never mind that there is no such thing and that science is a surprisingly democratic venture - everyone can get heard, as long as they conduct proper science/research and present it in a scientific matter.

The neo-Creationis movement is supported by the Discovery Institute, while the Creationists are supported by organizations like Answers in Genisis, yet none of them seem to be conducting any science. As a matter of fact, when it comes to neo-Creationists, we can't get them to present us with even their hypothesis of Intelligent Design. Instead they keep talking about flaws in the theory of evolution, while demonstrating a profound lack of understanding of the subject.

On a more positive note, the comments area on Ben Stein's Blog has served as that rare forum where Darwinists, ID advocates, and Creationists actually meet face to face. But even there, it's usually just so they can trash the opposing point of view or vehemently defend their own position. I see very few people asking questions. Everyone seems to have the answers already. Once again, no surprise there.

Pro-science people and neo-Creationists/Creationsists can meet face to face in a number of forums, including the ScienceBlogs, Panda's Thumb and TalkOrigins. Unlike neo-Creationist sites like Uncommon Descent people don't get banned there just for disagreeing.

Of course, people who are somewhat based in reality, get tired of hearing the same lies, half-truths, misunderstandings, mined quotes, and other regular neo-Creationist/Creationist debate points, and tend to get a little dismissive of people who can't be bothered to do even a bit of basic research on the subject they are debating (and even trying to prove wrong). On the other hand, if neo-Creationists or Creationists comes and show a genuine interest in learning something (or even just show the willingness to read up on the subject of evolution), people at science blogs are quite patient. Unfortunately, we don't see many such people.

Pro-science people argue against Creationists/neo-Creationists by showing how their arguments are wrong (as was seen in the many negative book reviews of Behe's latest piece of junk), by providing evidence for evolution, or even by trying to educate the people they argue with about the basic facts they are talking about.

Making the two sides equivalent shows that you either have a very little understanding of the subject being debated (almost a given, considering we are talking about a neo-Creationist/Creationist) or that you are trying to appeal to a false equivalence ("see both sides are equal, since they both argue each other - teach the controversy").

Something that has surprised me, however, is the ratio of comments between the two camps. If you check out PZ Myers' blog, you'll see hundreds of negative comments on virtually every post about the film. But in the ID camp, readers usually limit themselves to a few dozen, if that. I would have thought that seeing as the majority of Americans believe in some sort of Intelligent Design they would have come out in droves in support of the film. But I guess that's just human nature. If we haven't got anything good to say, that's about the time we muster up the energy to post something. Sort of like what I'm doing right now.

We are talking about a film that lies, distorts, and almost certainly quote-mine. Obviously people are going to react to that. People who agree with the premises of the film, are not going to outright attack it, but perhaps some of them have the decency to feel bad about such things? [Who am I kidding?]

That said, if Darwinists and IDers really want to move this debate forward--if they're truly interested in the truth as opposed to posturing and silly name calling--how about trying to listen to each other once in a while rather than simply dismissing the opposition's argument out of hand? After all, although our human tendency is to focus on the things that divide, from my perspective, the two sides have a lot more in common than they think.

If Kevin Miller really want to move this debate forward, maybe he should try to actually look at the evidence, and see the truth instead of trying to imply a false equality between the two sides? One side is supported by 150 years of science, all of which supports the theory of evolution, while the other side is supported by nothing at all. Thousands of years of dogma, and nothing to show for it. One side make bold predictions, and apply them to fields like medicine, the other side claims to have found holes in the other side's theory, but is both unable to understand the science involved, or to explain how those "problems" would validate their own pseudo-theory.

There is not two sides to this debate. Not when you look at the science. Then there is only one. The theory of evolution is the fundament upon which we base our understanding of biology, and it's only in the light of evolution that our observations in nature and in the labs make sense.

As I said, this was the sort of blogpost I just had to comment on, but reading the comments to it made me speechless. Salvador Cordova shows that if irony is not dead, he will do whatever is in his power to kill it.

I'd say what's happening at Stein's blog is that ID proponents just don't feel like wasting time there. We feel confident in our case, and we are in the majority. The opposition are clamoring for attention. That's at least how I see it. I'm not eager to argue with those who refuse to be swayed (except maybe for the benefit of the audience).

"Clamoring for attention"? "[R]efuse to be swayed"? Oh, and notice the appeal to popularity ("we are in the majority").

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A few short notes

Few of my readers are probably unaware of this, but PZ Myers has been sued over some unfavorable book reviews of Stuart Pivar's LifeCode: The Theory of Biological Self Organization. Blake Stacey has more, with plenty of links. The Panda's Thumb also has a good post on it. PZ is keeping quiet about the case for now.

My take on this is that Pivar has absolutely no case, since he cant demonstrate neither financial loss, nor even that it's libel. As people probably know, truth is the best defense against libel lawsuits. One of Pivar's points is related to a prominent scientist (Neil deGrasse Tyson) withdrawing his endorsement of the book, but it's clear from the scientist's own statements that he has never endorsed the book, even though Pivar claims this.
For other good arguments against the lawsuit, see the comments at The Panda's Thumb

Tara Smith, of Aetiology has written an article about HIV Denial in the Internet Era together with Steven Novella. It has been published by PLoS Medicine.

I some times participate in the HIV-AIDS debates over at Aetiology, but I have burned out on hearing the same denialist arguments again and again, so it's very little I venture into those threads these days.

Last of all, an article that some might find interesting - I know that some will agree with it's basic message.

Science and mysticism: a tainted embrace

Scientists who indulge mystical and religious fantasies in the interest of popularisation are betraying their professional calling, says Yves Gingras

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

A couple of interesting PLoS articles

Translating Pharmacogenomics: Challenges on the Road to the Clinic by Jesse J. Swen et al in PLoS Medicine

Pharmacogenomics is one of the first clinical applications of the postgenomic era. It promises personalized medicine rather than the established “one size fits all” approach to drugs and dosages. The expected reduction in trial and error should ultimately lead to more efficient and safer drug therapy. In recent years, commercially available pharmacogenomic tests have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but their application in patient care remains very limited. More generally, the implementation of pharmacogenomics in routine clinical practice presents significant challenges. This article presents specific clinical examples of such challenges and discusses how obstacles to implementation of pharmacogenomic testing can be addressed.

Explains why the mapping of the human genome has yet to result in the expected tailoring of medicine, that take into account genetic differences.

Protistan Diversity in the Arctic: A Case of Paleoclimate Shaping Modern Biodiversity? by Thorsten Stoeck et al in PLoS One

The impact of climate on biodiversity is indisputable. Climate changes over geological time must have significantly influenced the evolution of biodiversity, ultimately leading to its present pattern. Here we consider the paleoclimate data record, inferring that present-day hot and cold environments should contain, respectively, the largest and the smallest diversity of ancestral lineages of microbial eukaryotes.

The findings are quite interesting


This pattern is consistent with natural selection sweeps on aerobic non-psychrophilic microbial eukaryotes repeatedly caused by low temperatures and global anoxia of snowball Earth conditions. It implies that cold refuges persisted through the periods of greenhouse conditions, which agrees with some, although not all, current views on the extent of the past global cooling and warming events. We therefore identify cold environments as promising targets for microbial discovery.

In other words, it seems like cold climates have the greates bio-diversity, probably due to the fact that these environments have stayed fairly unchanged through time.

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Potential malaria vaccination fail

PLoS One brings the results of a follow-up on a trial of a potential malaria vaccination, and unfortuntately it appears that it doesn't work, at least not for children. If I read the article right, the vaccination provides some protection for adults, which is probably why it was tried on children.

Extended Follow-Up Following a Phase 2b Randomized Trial of the Candidate Malaria Vaccines FP9 ME-TRAP and MVA ME-TRAP among Children in Kenya by Philip Bejon et al.


“FFM ME-TRAP” is sequential immunisation with two attenuated poxvirus vectors (FP9 and modified vaccinia virus Ankara) delivering the pre-erythrocytic malaria antigen ME-TRAP. Over nine months follow-up in our original study, there was no evidence that FFM ME-TRAP provided protection against malaria. The incidence of malaria was slightly higher in children who received FFM ME-TRAP, but this was not statistically significant (hazard ratio 1.5, 95% CI 1.0-2.3). Although the study was unblinded, another nine months follow-up was planned to monitor the incidence of malaria and other serious adverse events.

Methods and Findings

405 children aged 1–6 yrs were initially randomized to vaccination with either FFM ME-TRAP or control (rabies vaccine). 380 children were still available for follow-up after the first nine months. Children were seen weekly and whenever they were unwell for nine months monitoring. The axillary temperature was measured, and blood films taken when febrile. The primary analysis was time to parasitaemia >2,500/µl. During the second nine months monitoring, 49 events met the primary endpoint (febrile malaria with parasites >2,500/µl) in the Intention To Treat (ITT) group. 23 events occurred among the 189 children in the FFM ME-TRAP group, and 26 among the 194 children in the control group. In the full 18 months of monitoring, there were 63 events in the FFM ME-TRAP group and 60 in the control group (HR = 1.2, CI 0.84-1.73, p = 0.35). There was no evidence that the HR changed over the 18 months (test for interaction between time and vaccination p = 0.11).


Vaccination with FFM ME-TRAP was not protective against malaria in this study. Malaria incidence during 18 months of surveillance was similar in both vaccine groups.

The original nine month trial, to which this was a follow-up, didn't show any evidence of any protection against malaria, and this study verifies those findings. A pity, because we could certainly use more vectors against malaria. The results however, makes it possible for scientists and medical professionals to focus on other more promising ideas.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

'Infinite series' in math wrongly attributted to Newton?

ScienceDaily has the story about some new claims that infinite series in math, one of the building stone of the foudnation of modern math, has been wrongly attributted to Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibnitz.
The real discoveres were members of the Kerala School of math in India, back around 1350, several hundred years before the discovery was attributed to Newton and Leibnitz.

Indians Predated Newton 'Discovery' By 250 Years, Scholars Say

A little known school of scholars in southwest India discovered one of the founding principles of modern mathematics hundreds of years before Newton -- according to new research.

The claims are the findings of Dr George Gheverghese Joseph, who discovered it "while trawling through obscure Indian papers for a yet to be published third edition of his best selling book 'The Crest of the Peacock: the Non-European Roots of Mathematics'".

While I find this interesting, I am skeptical, and would like to see the findings verified by others. And even if it's true, it seems somewhat unlikely that the knowledge travelled from India to Newton through Jesuits monks, as Dr Joseph think might have happened. If that had happened, there would likely be some kind of records of this knowledge - Jesuits were known to write a lot of stuff down.

Anyway, quite interesting.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Lazy linking

Via Forms Most Beautiful I came to this Edge photo essay on lions.

PLoS Genetics has a paper on a newly developed gene, the hydra gene in a subgroup of Drosophila.

Author Summary

Similar groups of animals have similar numbers of genes, but not all of these genes are the same. While some genes are highly conserved and can be easily and uniquely identified in species ranging from yeast to plants to humans, other genes are sometimes found in only a small number or even in a single species. Such newly evolved genes may help produce traits that make species unique. We describe here a newly evolved gene called hydra that occurs only in a small subgroup of Drosophila species. hydra is expressed in the testes, suggesting that it may have a function in male fertility. hydra has evolved significantly in its structure and protein-coding sequence among species. The authors named the gene hydra after the nine-headed monster slain by Hercules because in one species, Drosophila melanogaster, hydra has nine potential alternative first exons. Perhaps because of this or other structural changes, the level of RNA made by hydra differs significantly between one pair of species. This analysis reveals that newly created genes may evolve rapidly in sequence, structure, and expression level.

I would be lying if I claimed that I understand everything in the article, but it's quite interesting nevertheless.

Ampersand of the excellent Alas, A Blog, has announced that he is retiring from blogging. The blog will still be there (with great content from Ampersand's co-bloggers), and he will be posting his comics, but he won't blog, and he won't participate in the comment section.
Alas,, A Blog was one of the earliest blogs I read, so I am going to miss his posts, but I can understand why he has decided to focus on other stuff.

Via Readerville - The Mystery of Mirages.

At Wikipedia, the article on anti-vaccination conspiracy theorist David Ayoub was deleted, since it was considered a cover for pushing anti-vaccination views, and because David Ayoub isn't considered to live up to the criteria for notability. I take some credit for this development, since it was my clean-up tag that drew attention to the article.

Piny, over at Feministe, writes about a Washington Post article about an Albanian phenomenom "sworn virgins".

Dones, who lives in Rockville, had just met an adherent of an ancient northern Albanian tradition in which women take an oath of lifelong virginity in exchange for the right to live as men. The process is not surgical — in these mountains there is little knowledge that sex-change surgery is even possible. Rather, sworn virgins cut their hair and wear baggy men’s clothes and take up manly livelihoods as shepherds or truck drivers or even political leaders. And those around them — despite knowing the sworn virgins are women — treat them as men

They cannot marry men, and the oath they take is irreversible; at least one of the virgins mentioned in the article said she regretted living without a male partner. The article didn’t bother to mention their options vis-a-vis other women, or bring up the subject of affairs with other women, either accepted or covert. It also didn’t mention an orientation towards women as a reason for rejecting marriage and becoming a sworn virgin. I assume that sworn-virgin status is not a means of attaining social acceptance as a dyke.

Science Tattoos (via Lauren, but only because I read her blog before The Loom today).

Via a comment to this blogpost over at Reappropriate, I came across this useful tool.
A Readability Test for websites.
My blog is a bit on the complex side (Gunning Fog Index 12.15, Flesch Reading Ease 56.54, Flesch-Kincaid Grade 8.71), but that's probably somewhat due to me quoting from studies.


Just a couple of quick notes

Currently my mail accounts are receiving mails very slowly, so if anyone has sent me anything, and I haven't reacted to it, that's probably why.

I've added a few more blogs to the blogroll - a couple of feminist blogs, a few science blogs, and a couple of outright atheist or progressive blogs. The blogroll is becoming a bit long, so maybe I should consider putting them on a seperate webpage someone. That might affect their influence on other blogs' rating though, so I probably won't do that any time soon.

The weather here in Denmark is somewhat on the wet and mucky side, so I don't really feel up to write anything meaningful. The drinking yesterday obviously hasn't got anything to do with that.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

While I am in the snarky mood

Let me answer Bruce Chapman's question "Who Picks Reviewers at the New York Times?"

He is of course complaining about Dawkins' review of Behe's latest work, in which Dawkins (like all other reviewers with a minimum background in science) demolishes the book.

While I don't know exactly who picked Dawkins, it was someone with better sense than whomever at Seattle Times who thought Bruce Chapman would be qualified to write a column about Iraq, or whatever idiot at Time Magazine, who thought that Michael Behe would be the right person to write Dawkins' profile in the Time 100 list [Funny that Chapman didn't complain about that, given he has so many problems with Dawkins reviewing Behe].

As a note to Chapman I think we should point out that getting a renowned expert, with quite a few science books under his name, to review a book claiming to be about the field of science the reviewer is an expert in, is generally considered objective and balanced. Much like a review by a medical expert on a book about medicine would be, or a review by a law professor (or other legal expert) of a book about law would be. If Behe had rightfully declared his book to be fiction or some other relevant genre, then a review by Dawkins would have been uncalled for.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

The stupidity! It burns! (UK edition)

I'm sure it will please my American readers that it's not just in the US that stupidity get its say in the newspapers. The British newspaper Daily Mail has a column by Melanie Phillips that contains so much stupidity that it's worth of the AiG or Discovery Institute

Arrogance, dogma and why science - not faith - is the new enemy of reason

You know that you're off to a bad start when the headline contains an oxymoron. Science is based upon reason, which makes it a little hard for it to be the enemy of reason, unless you presume that the field of science in some weird way is trying to commit suicide - something which takes anthropomorphizing to a new level.

Our most celebrated atheist, the biologist Professor Richard Dawkins, has briefly turned his attention away from bashing people who believe in God.

Someone has obviously not read Dawkins. Dawkins doesn't bash "people who believe in God". He tries to convince them that they are wrong, that all scientific evidence points to the non-existence of God, and that their lives would presumably be better without a delusional belief in God.

He does perhaps bash specific people because of what they do in the name of their gods, but that's not because of their belief, but because of their actions.

Instead, he is about to bash people who subscribe to 'new age' therapies which he says are based on 'irrational superstition'.

Notice that Dawkins doesn't attack the people who subscribe to these superstitions, but instead attack the superstitions. Much like someone would attack the ideas of people they disagree with politically, rather than the people themselves, but with the added benifit of being able to back up his views with evidence (based upon science and reason, those apparently opposed forces).

In a TV programme to be shown later this month, Dawkins looks at a range of ludicrous therapies and gurus, including faith healers, psychic mediums, 'angel therapists', 'aura photographers', astrologers and others.

Not surprisingly, he is horrified by such widespread irrationality, not to mention an exploitative industry that fleeces people while encouraging them to run away from reality. He is right to be alarmed.

What previously belonged to the province of the quack and the charlatan has become mainstream. The NHS provides funding for shamans, while the NHS Directory For Alternative And Complementary Medicine promotes 'dowsers', 'flower therapists' and 'crystal healers'.

Glad to hear that we can agree that it's bad that people believe in irrationality and that people who "fleeces people while encouraging them to run away from reality" should be stopped. Funny enough, I can think of another phenomenom that fits that description - a phenomenom that Dawkins previously has taken on.

Indeed, such therapies aren't the half of it. Millions of us are now eager to believe that the world is controlled by conspiracies of covert forces, for which there is not one shred of evidence because such theories are simply bonkers.

Thus Press articles and TV documentaries seriously advance the belief that the 9/11 attacks on America were orchestrated by the U.S. government itself. Similarly, thousands believe that Princess Diana was murdered at the hands of a conspiracy composed of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and MI5.

Bestselling books by the former TV sports presenter David Icke, who has announced he is 'the son of God', argue that Britain will be devastated by tidal waves and earthquakes, and that the world is ruled by a secret group called the 'Global Elite' or 'Illuminati' which was responsible for the Holocaust, the Oklahoma city bombing and 9/11.

Yes, it's true, people tend to believe in vast conspiracies. It's unfortunate, but it seems to be a common trend through history - think of the Jewish conspiracies described in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. They were obviously fake, but too many people were willing to believe them. The Illuminati was thought to be behind the French Revolution by some. Or what about how the godless atheist communists were trying to infiltrate the US, which led to "In God We Trust" being put on the US money?

These trends are not just nutty but sinister. Thousands of cults now combine similar crazy beliefs with programmes to control people's minds and behaviour.

Their techniques include food and sleep deprivation; trance induction through hypnosis or prolonged rhythmical chanting; and 'love bombing', where cult members are bombarded with conditional love which is removed whenever there is a deviation from the dictates of the leader.

I believe the correct word for food deprivation in this context is "fasting".

Disturbing indeed. But where Dawkins goes wrong is to assume this is all as irrational as believing in God. The truth is that it is the collapse of religious faith that has prompted the rise of such irrationality.

Really? Man, this gotta be good. Many of the things she describes sounds quite similar to things that goes on in many Christian sects. [An aside - since religious faith is irrational per definition, I suppose that such irrationality is not included in the irrationality caused by the "collapse of religious faith", or are we dealing with another oxymoron?]

We are living in a scientific, largely post-religious age in which faith is presented as unscientific superstition. Yet paradoxically, we have replaced such faith by belief in demonstrable nonsense.

I think that you'd find that it's only part of the world that lives in a largely post-religious age. Large parts of the world, including (but not limited to) the US, the Middel East, Nothern Africa, Pakistan, India, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Nigeria, and Malaysia, are very much still in the thrall of religion, though to varrying degrees.

And every claim based on Christianity which has been tested against science through the ages have turned out to be wrong, which makes it "demonstrable nonsense" in my book. So in other words, belief in demonstrable nonsense has been replace by belief in demonstrable nonsense. Not good, but we're not any worse off than we were before.

It was GK Chesterton who famously quipped that "when people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing - they believe in anything." So it has proved. But how did it happen?

Well, it's a nice quote, but has it really been proven? Skepticism and rationalism is usually not limited to just one area - most people who believe in "everything" are also willing to lend at least some credence to the existence of a divine being - or at least, that's my experience, and it seems to be backed up by data. This 2003 Harris poll, shows that 90% of all Americans believe in a God. So, if irrational belief in "everything" (excluding God I presume) takes a lack of belief in God, at most 10% of all Americans should believe in other stuff. However, the poll shows that 51% of the public believes in ghosts (excluding the Holy Ghost I presume), 31% believes in astrology, and 27% believes in reincarnation.

Apparently it does not take a lack of belief in God to believe in "everything".

The big mistake is to see religion and reason as polar opposites. They are not. In fact, reason is intrinsic to the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Really? Could have fooled me. Virgin birth? Resurrection? Global flood? Divine being? Seven day creation? Any of those things seem reasonable to you?

You might also have heard this quote: "Reason is the enemy of faith". It's by some guy called Martin Luther, who apparently had some importance in the past.

The Bible provides a picture of a rational Creator and an orderly universe - which, accordingly, provided the template for the exercise of reason and the development of science.

Rational creator? In the Bible? Where? I must have missed it somehow. What I read was something about someone creating the universe in seven days, by among things creating light before the stars and the sun (which is a star as we all know).
And let me address the "provided the template for the exercise of reason and the development of science" part. Organized Christianity has historically be opposed to the advancement of science, since it improached on the churches' turf, telling people "the Truth", and replaced it with the evidence so far. Our science owes more to the ancient Greeks, and the Babylonians before that, or to early Islam, than to Christianity. Every advancement science has done, has not happened because of religion, but in spite of religion, as the current state in the US so clearly demonstrates.

Yes, some Christians have been great scientists, but they were scientists while doing science, not Christians. They went were evidence led them, rather than ignore it because it went against something written in an old book. An old book, which among other things, claims that bats are birds.

Dawkins pours particular scorn on the Biblical miracles which don't correspond to scientific reality. But religious believers have different ways of regarding those events, with many seeing them as either metaphors or as natural occurrences which were invested with a greater significance.

It might be that some religious people see it that way, but it's certainly not how the Catholic Church sees them.

The heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition is the belief in the concept of truth, which gives rise to reason. But our postreligious age has proclaimed that there is no such thing as objective truth, only what is "true for me".

No, the Judeo-Christian tradition is the belief in the concept of the Truth, something entirely different from truth. Anything that went against that Truth was tried suppressed, as the oft-refered episode with Galilei demonstrated. Or maybe, we should include something closer to home? How about how William Tyndale was burned on the stake, for the mere act of translating the Bible? Doesn't sound like something that's based upon reason or the search for truth.

Post-modernism has remarkable little to do with science, or how science is conducted. As a matter of fact, when looking at world views, post-modernism and the scientific world view is often considered contrasts.

That is because our society won't put up with anything which gets in the way of 'what I want'. How we feel about things has become all-important. So reason has been knocked off its perch by emotion, and thinking has been replaced by feelings.

Damn those people who only think of what they want instead of thinking of what I want!

If you think that such behavious is unique to these times, I would suggest reading T.H. White's The Age of Scandal, which shows how British people back in the 17th/18th century focused on what they wanted, and seemed rather heavy on feelings rather than thinking.

This has meant our society can no longer distinguish between truth and lies by using evidence and logic. And this collapse of objective truth has, in turn, come to undermine science itself which is playing a role for which it is not fitted.

You mean, truth like saying that there is no evidence for neither a divine being, nor any other supernatural beings? Dawkins did a rather good job of explaining at least the first part of that in his book The God Delusion, but some people seem to be unable to understand it, and instead attack it by spreading a lot of lies about what Dawkins said.

When science first developed in the West, it thought of itself merely as a tool to explore the natural world. It did not pour scorn upon religion; indeed, scientists were overwhelmingly religious believers (as many still are).

The first sentence can be understod two ways, but let me make clear that science did not develop first in the West. The scientific method, as we know it, was formalized in the West, but that happened much later.

In the past, declaring yourself an atheist was pretty much equivalent to getting executed, so it cannot be said for sure how many scientists in the past were religious in nature [this is something that Hitchens explains quite well in his book God Is Not Great], but even if that's true, it doesn't really change anything. The evidence (or rather lack of it) points to there being no divine beings.

In modern times, however, science has given rise to 'scientism', the belief that science can answer all the questions of human existence. This is not so.

Science cannot explain the origin of the universe. Yet it now presumes to do so and as a result it has descended into irrationality.

It's true that science cannot explain the origin of the universe, yet, but it provides us with the tools for doing so eventually. Unlike, say, religion, which just presumes an origin, and ignores all evidence to the contrary.

The most conspicuous example of this is provided by Dawkins himself, who breaks the rules of scientific evidence by seeking to claim that Darwin's theory of evolution - which sought to explain how complex organisms evolved through random natural selection - also accounts for the origin of life itself.

There is no evidence for this whatever and no logic to it. After all, if people say God could not have created the universe because this gives rise to the question "Who created God?", it follows that if scientists say the universe started with a big bang, this prompts the further question "What created the bang?"

The "Who created God" question is raised when people claim that something as complex as the universe could not exist without a creator, since such a creator would be even more complex, and thus, by the same reasoning demand a creator. So, people are not saying that a god could not have created the universe (though we say that there is no evidence that a god has done so), but they are saying that that particular argument for a "god-did-it" solution would create the need for an infinite chain of creators.

Regarding the big bang, the cause and what preceded it, are things that science is actually trying to address. Unlike religion, science is not affraid of following the chain of reasoning, and go where it leads (yes, a bang would quite reasonably be expected to have a cause). These questions might never be answered in a satisfying way, but unless we try to find out, we'll never know.

Indeed, if the origin of life were truly spontaneous, this would constitute what religious people would call a miracle. Accordingly, this claim in itself resembles not so much science as the superstition that Dawkins derides.

What does "truly spontaneous" mean?

Life started on Earth some 3 to 4 billion years ago, and has developed since then. Experiments have shown that life can start through a chemical process under the conditions Earth provided back then. During the creation of life, there were a number of stages. TalkOrigins has a good article on it, which also addresses the common creationist claim that life is too statistically inprobable.

Moreover, since science essentially takes us wherever the evidence leads, the findings of more than 50 years of DNA research - which have revealed the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life - have thrown into doubt the theory that life emerged spontaneously in a random universe.

Maybe it has "thrown into doubt the theory that life emerged spontaneously in a random universe", but the scientists working in the field generally don't seem to have reached the same conclusion. Also, what "arrangements which are needed to produce life" have beem revealed through DNA research?

These findings have given rise to a school of scientists promoting the theory of Intelligent Design, which suggests that some force embodying purpose and foresight lay behind the origin of the universe.

No. What gave rise to the school of "scientists" was the court rulings against teaching Creationism in schools in the US.

The reason why the word "scientists" is in scare quotes, is that the Intelligent Design movement is nearly entirely non-scientific, which is why people like Behe, Dembski, and Wells keep getting used - they are the only ones who can give ID any kind of scientific veneer, even though they haven't done any research for decades.

While this theory is, of course, open to vigorous counter-argument, people such as Prof Dawkins and others have gone to great lengths to stop it being advanced at all, on the grounds that it denies scientific evidence such as the fossil record and is therefore worthless.

What theory? Intelligent design is entirely contentless, and cannot be considered a theory, even in the mundane sense of the word. We have asked again and again to see the actual hypothesis of Intelligent Design, but so far we have only seen flawed (often reused) arguments against evolution.

Dawkins, and the rest of us, don't have any problem with Intelligent Design being advanced, when they provide any science. As a matter of fact, many of us have repeatedly asked for the Intelligent Design advocates to send in their scientific findings to scientific journals for peer-review. So far, the few things we have seen, have been substandard, and unsuited for publication.

What Dawkins, and the rest of us, oppose, is teaching Intelligent Design as science. It's not. It's not even pseudo-science, which tries to use science to its ends. Rather it's anti-science, which has the goal of undermining science, and science education, in the (hidden) name of religion.

Yet distinguished scientists have been hounded and their careers jeopardised for arguing that the fossil record has got a giant hole in it. Some 570 million years ago, in a period known as the Cambrian Explosion, most forms of complex animal life emerged seemingly without any evolutionary trail.

We have several good fossils from the end of the 70-80 million long period, which shows us something about how they developed. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, Philips doesn't quite understand what "complex" means in this context. The type of organisms that developed during the Cambrian Explosion are not the ones that leaves very big fossils. Oh, and of course, there are plenty of evolutionary trails. Repeating creationist and neo-creationist claims don't make them right.

These scientists argue that only 'rational agents' could have possessed the ability to design and organise such complex systems.

Unfortunately they haven't actually bothered to provide us with any evidence for rational agents. Nor that someone designed and organized those systems. The rest of us go with evolution, where there is an explanaition, backed up with plenty of evidence (including those fossils from the Cambrian Explosion) to back it up.

Whether or not they are right (and I don't know), their scientific argument about the absence of evidence to support the claim that life spontaneously created itself is being stifled - on the totally perverse grounds that this argument does not conform to the rules of science which require evidence to support a theory.

Sorry? Is this some kind of parody? Are you seriously saying that requiring evidence to support a theory is "perverse"?
What the hell have you been smoking?

Given the fact that you've heard about their ideas, even though you live on a different continent, it would seem to me that their claims are not being stifled. Their "scientific arguments" are perhaps, given none of the rest of us have seen them, but this must be their own doing, since it doesn't reach the rest of us. What they publish is certainly not scientific, nor can it barely be called arguments.

If you are unsure about whether they are right or not, then educate yourself. Find out what they say, and look up the evidence against they arguments. TalkOrigins has an entire list of Creationist claims that they debunk, exactly so people like you can educate yourself. So far, you haven't presented anything that hasn't been said, and debunked, a thousand times before.

As a result of such arrogance, the West - the crucible of reason - is turning the clock back to a pre-modern age of obscurantism, dogma and secular witch-hunts.

Far from upholding reason, science itself has become unreasonable. So when Prof Dawkins fulminates against 'new age' irrationality, it is the image of pots and kettles that comes irresistibly to mind.

Yes, because demanding that people have evidence for their claims, and that only science is taught in the classrooms, is the same as witchhunts.

Intelligent Design have had their chance to provide the evidence for the science behind the claims they made, but as one of their leading scientists said, it is only science if you expand the defintion so broadly that it would include astrology.

Update: Anthony Cox also has a good take-down of Phillips.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Why sugar is so damn addictive

It's a badly kept secret that I am quite a coke addict - the liquid stuff, not the powdered stuff. Now I see that PLoS One has publihsed a study that explains why stuff like that is so damn addictive.

Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward by Magalie Lenoir, Fuschia Serre, Lauriane Cantin, and Serge H. Ahmed.


Refined sugars (e.g., sucrose, fructose) were absent in the diet of most people until very recently in human history. Today overconsumption of diets rich in sugars contributes together with other factors to drive the current obesity epidemic. Overconsumption of sugar-dense foods or beverages is initially motivated by the pleasure of sweet taste and is often compared to drug addiction. Though there are many biological commonalities between sweetened diets and drugs of abuse, the addictive potential of the former relative to the latter is currently unknown.

Methodology/Principal findings

Here we report that when rats were allowed to choose mutually-exclusively between water sweetened with saccharin–an intense calorie-free sweetener–and intravenous cocaine–a highly addictive and harmful substance–the large majority of animals (94%) preferred the sweet taste of saccharin. The preference for saccharin was not attributable to its unnatural ability to induce sweetness without calories because the same preference was also observed with sucrose, a natural sugar. Finally, the preference for saccharin was not surmountable by increasing doses of cocaine and was observed despite either cocaine intoxication, sensitization or intake escalation–the latter being a hallmark of drug addiction.


Our findings clearly demonstrate that intense sweetness can surpass cocaine reward, even in drug-sensitized and -addicted individuals. We speculate that the addictive potential of intense sweetness results from an inborn hypersensitivity to sweet tastants. In most mammals, including rats and humans, sweet receptors evolved in ancestral environments poor in sugars and are thus not adapted to high concentrations of sweet tastants. The supranormal stimulation of these receptors by sugar-rich diets, such as those now widely available in modern societies, would generate a supranormal reward signal in the brain, with the potential to override self-control mechanisms and thus to lead to addiction.

Of course, the sweetness in the experiment probably is probably higher than the sweetness in anything that you can buy (except perhaps candyfloss), and as the article makes clear, there might be some inter-specific differences.

At first glance, the discovery that intense sweetness surpasses intravenous cocaine is difficult to conciliate with previous empirical and theoretical research on cocaine addiction. First, our findings seem to run counter to seminal research in monkeys showing that the large majority of individuals prefer high doses of intravenous cocaine over dry food, regardless of the amount of food available [40], [41] and even despite severe weight loss [42]. However, in most previous studies, except one [43], the food option contained no or only modest concentrations of sweet tastants, which probably explains why it was neglected in favor of high doses of cocaine. In addition, in those studies that employed lightly sweetened food pellets [41], the amount of effort required to obtain the food option was ten times higher than to obtain cocaine, thereby favoring drug choices. However, in one choice study, all monkeys clearly preferred, ceteris paribus, the highest dose of cocaine over a 1-g sucrose pellet [43]. The discrepancy between this latter study and the present study may suggest either that sweetened beverages are more rewarding than sweetened dry-foods (which may induce thirst in addition to reward) and/or that one 1-g sucrose pellet is not enough to surmount the rewarding effects of the highest doses of cocaine. Finally, one cannot rule out the possibility that this discrepancy could also reflect an inter-specific gap between rodents and primates, the latter being hypothetically more susceptible to cocaine reward than the former. Future research is needed to tease apart these different hypotheses. Nevertheless, the present study clearly demonstrates in rats–an animal species that readily self-administer cocaine and that develops most of the signs of addiction following extended drug access [34]–[36]–that the reward value of cocaine is bounded and does not surpass taste sweetness–a sensory-driven reward.

In other words, it might be that primates get more out of cocaine than sweeteners.

No matter what, this is an interesting article, describing some interesting findings. Hopefully others will follow up on this, and try to confirm the results of this study. If nothing else, then such findings might create some news approaches to stopping drug addictions.

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ERV takes on Behe

Abbie, who writes the great blog Endogenousretrovirus, and comments under the handle ERV or SA Smith, has written a great post in which she explains how woefully wrong Michael Behe is in his newest book.

Michael Behe, please allow me to introduce myself...

In short, Abbie's post demolishes the whole premise for Behe's book.

The post will go up on The Panda's Thumb as well, so it will reach the wide audience it deserves.

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Lazy linking - mostly science related

First of all, the new Skeptic's Circle is up at Denialism. Enjoy the latest greates stuff from the skeptic blogs.

PZ points to his latest column in SEED magazine: Prime

Orac has post on the dangers that scientists can face: When antivaccination pseudoscience turns threatening...

Mark from Denialism takes on bad science about cannabis in two posts: Does Smoking Cannabis Cause Schizophrenia? and Again with the Marijuana

Staying in the field of taking on bad science (or bad science reporting), Kaethe demolishes the reported link between grapefruit and breast cancer.

Coturnix points out that PLoS One turned one year. I frequently read the PLoS journals, and there is some really good research published in it (or at least, it appears so to this layman), so let's hope for many returns.

Lauren reports on how the house of representatives are trying to undo the damage caused by the SCOTUS in the Ledbetter vs. Goodyear decision. Of course, George W. Bush plans to veto it, if the bill makes it through.

I could have added many more links, so if people feel that there are any great links worth pointing out to others, feel free to share them in the comments.