Dr. Ayala, a former Dominican priest, said he told his audiences not just that evolution is a well-corroborated scientific theory, but also that belief in evolution does not rule out belief in God. In fact, he said, evolution "is more consistent with belief in a personal god than intelligent design. If God has designed organisms, he has a lot to account for."
Consider, he said, that at least 20 percent of pregnancies are known to end in spontaneous abortion. If that results from divinely inspired anatomy, Dr. Ayala said, "God is the greatest abortionist of them all."
Or consider, he said, the "sadism" in parasites that live by devouring their hosts, or the mating habits of insects like female midges, tiny flies that fertilize their eggs by consuming their mates' genitals, along with all their other parts.
For the midges, Dr. Ayala said, "it makes evolutionary sense. If you are a male and you have mated, the best thing you can do for your genes is to be eaten." But if God or some other intelligent agent made things this way on purpose, he said, "then he is a sadist, he certainly does odd things and he is a lousy engineer."
Cornelia Dean, "Roving Defender of Evolution, and of Room for God", New York Times, 2008-04-29
Ronald Bailey points to some new suggestions for easing the load on doctors and nurses . . . icons to replace medical charts:
Arthur Caplan refutes some common misconceptions:
What is particularly interesting is that many of those raising the question of the ethics of immortality do so with an answer already in mind — "No, it's not right!" Both conservative and liberal writers alike are expressing a lot of moral angst in recent books, articles and opinion pieces about the prospect of people hanging around long, long after the last broadcast of "The Price Is Right" has aired, which could be an eternity.
Why is the prospect of immortality viewed in such a negative light? A bunch of different reasons can be found in the writings of the growing ranks of anti-agers. An often-invoked argument is that using science to create a world of geezers would not only cost a ton of money, it would not be a lot of fun for anyone, especially the geezers. Living longer and longer only means more arthritis, more osteoporosis, more gum disease and more dementia — and who needs or wants that?
Another concern is that it is not right for humans to strive for immortality because it violates the natural order of things. We were meant to live roughly to a maximum of 100 years. Anything longer is way outside what God or evolution had in mind for us.
And those who fret about a world of immortals also worry that not only will it be stuffy and dull since the young will never get a chance to do anything, but it will also be a world full of the vain and self-centered who think themselves worthy of more and more life ad infinitum.
H/T to Ronald Bailey.
This is a repost from the backup blog:
From an article in the current Economist, a report on recent discoveries about the relationship between stem cells and tumour growth:
STEM cells have a controversial reputation, but in truth they are what makes human life possible. Each tissue in the body grows from a particular sort of stem cell. When it divides, one of its daughters remains a stem cell while the other eventually turns into whatever tissue its mother was designed to produce—be it blood, muscle, nerve or whatever. That is how healthy tissues are renewed, and it is now looking likely that it is how unhealthy tissues are renewed, too. Indeed, many researchers think that the underlying cause of cancer is the brakes coming off the regulatory system that stops normal stem cells from reproducing too much. For one of the most important medical discoveries made in recent years is that cancers, too, have stem cells and that these appear to be the source of the rest of the tumour.
This helps to explain why cancers are so hard to deal with. Treatments that kill the bulk of a tumour, but leave the stem cells alive, are only buying time. On the other hand, if all of a tumour's stem cells could be killed then it would torpedo the old wisdom that no patient is ever cured of cancer, but merely goes into remission. True cures for cancer would be possible.
The cancer-stem-cell theory, though plausible, was based on animal experiments and its relevance to humans was untested. But a series of studies reported this week at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, in San Diego, has changed that. They suggest both that cancer stem cells are very relevant indeed to survival, and that going after them is an excellent idea.
You know the current campaign against plastic bags, urging people to avoid using them because they contribute to the deaths of millions of birds and sea mammals? Not so fast:
Campaigners say that plastic bags pollute coastlines and waterways, killing or injuring birds and livestock on land and, in the oceans, destroying vast numbers of seabirds, seals, turtles and whales. However, The Times has established that there is no scientific evidence to show that the bags pose any direct threat to marine mammals.
They "don't figure" in the majority of cases where animals die from marine debris, said David Laist, the author of a seminal 1997 study on the subject. Most deaths were caused when creatures became caught up in waste produce. "Plastic bags don't figure in entanglement," he said. "The main culprits are fishing gear, ropes, lines and strapping bands. Most mammals are too big to get caught up in a plastic bag."
He added: "The impact of bags on whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals ranges from nil for most species to very minor for perhaps a few species. For birds, plastic bags are not a problem either."
The central claim of campaigners is that the bags kill more than 100,000 marine mammals and one million seabirds every year. However, this figure is based on a misinterpretation of a 1987 Canadian study in Newfoundland, which found that, between 1981 and 1984, more than 100,000 marine mammals, including birds, were killed by discarded nets. The Canadian study did not mention plastic bags.
Fifteen years later in 2002, when the Australian Government commissioned a report into the effects of plastic bags, its authors misquoted the Newfoundland study, mistakenly attributing the deaths to "plastic bags".
The figure was latched on to by conservationists as proof that the bags were killers. For four years the "typo" remained uncorrected. It was only in 2006 that the authors altered the report, replacing "plastic bags" with "plastic debris". But they admitted: "The actual numbers of animals killed annually by plastic bag litter is nearly impossible to determine."
But don't worry . . . I'm sure that there'll be another scare along really soon to replace the "plastic bags are evil" meme.
Roger Henry follows the links from the last posting to find that it could, indeed, get worse. I hope this is just really, really deep parody, because it's much more disturbing to think that it might be totally serious:
But I've been wrong before . . .
I now remember why the words "Science Fair" filled me with loathing, back in my high school days. They haven't changed much.
H/T to Craig Zeni.
That is, now that it's official that last year was the coldest in a long time. Ron Bailey has the details:
It's getting cold outside. How cold? As Daily Tech reports:
Over the past year, anecdotal evidence for a cooling planet has exploded. China has its coldest winter in 100 years. Baghdad sees its first snow in all recorded history. North America has the most snowcover in 50 years, with places like Wisconsin the highest since record-keeping began. Record levels of Antarctic sea ice, record cold in Minnesota, Texas, Florida, Mexico, Australia, Iran, Greece, South Africa, Greenland, Argentina, Chile — the list goes on and on.
No more than anecdotal evidence, to be sure. But now, that evidence has been supplanted by hard scientific fact. All four major global temperature tracking outlets (Hadley, NASA's GISS, UAH, RSS) have released updated data. All show that over the past year, global temperatures have dropped precipitously.
I've been a "denier" on the Global Warming/Climate Change issue for quite some time: it's not that man's contributions to climate change don't exist, but I believe they are still miniscule compared to the natural phenomena which have always played their role in climate change. As I've been in the habit of saying over the course of this (bloody cold) winter: "Global warming? Sounds like a good idea to me!"
I strongly suspect, but don't have the formal data to back up my suspicion, that we're actually overdue for an ice age, not a warm period, geologically speaking.
A synopsis of an article at Scientific American indicates there may have been a breakthrough in understanding how much more important the "white matter" of the brain may be:
* White matter, long thought to be passive tissue, actively affects how the brain learns and dysfunctions.
* Although gray matter (composed of neurons) does the brain's thinking and calculating, white matter (composed of myelin-coated axons) controls the signals that neurons share, coordinating how well brain regions work together.
* A new type of magnetic resonance technology, called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), has for the first time shown white matter in action, revealing its underappreciated role.
* Myelin is only partially formed at birth and gradually develops in different regions throughout our 20s. The timing of growth and degree of completion can affect learning, self-control (and why teenagers may lack it), and mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, autism and even pathological lying.
H/T to Sasha Wagner-Adamo for the link.
It's actually called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. There may be some doubt about the accuracy of the original observations, but empirically speaking, I think they were exactly right.
H/T to John Scalzi for using the term and linking to the Wikipedia entry.
. . . I'd have posted some of the great photographs I took last night during the lunar eclipse.
In this world, however, the reality of bitingly cold temperatures, un-gloved hands, and balky camera batteries took their toll on my plans. I froze my butt off standing there in the moonlight, trying to get some worthwhile photos, but it was not to be.
From a point-counterpoint article at The Guardian, Frank Furedi argues that boosting self-esteem has been a wasted effort:
In schools, decades of silly programmes designed to raise children's self-esteem have not improved wellbeing, and the new initiatives designed to make pupils happy will also fail. Worse still, emotional education encourages an inward-looking orientation that distracts children from engaging with the world.
Perversely, the ascendancy of psychobabble in the classroom has been paralleled by an apparent increase in mental health problems among children. The relationship between the two is not accidental. Children are highly suggestible, and the more they are required to participate in wellbeing classes, the more they will feel the need for professional support.
The teaching of emotional literacy and happiness should be viewed as a displacement activity by professionals who find it difficult to confront the many challenges they face. At a time when many schools find it difficult to engage children's interest in core subjects, and to inspire a culture of high aspiration, it is tempting to look for non-academic solutions. Many pedagogues find it easier to hold forth about making children feel good about themselves than to teach them how to read and count. This therapeutic orientation serves to distract pupils and teachers alike from getting on with the job of gaining a real education.
I recently spent three hyper-stimulated hours at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The Exploratorium is a hands-on museum, with devices and experiments that you usually only find in the proximity of "cool" high school science teachers with missing fingers. Various exhibits involving dry ice, piles of sand and other edu-thrilling materials allow you to observe all sorts of scientific principles. Have you ever spent an afternoon wondering why honeycombs are shaped the way they are? Then it's time you discovered something called television, and the Exploratorium can tell you how it works!
The latest Exploratorium exhibit is called The Mind, and it explores those precious 3 pounds of gray matter that keep our skulls from making a marimba sound when we hit our head on the car door. I learned something I've always suspected: The mind is a cruel, lying, unreliable bastard that can't be trusted with even an ounce of responsibility. If you were dating the mind, all your friends would take you aside, and tell you that you can really do better, and being alone isn't all that bad, anyway. If you hired the mind as a babysitter, you would come home to find all but one of your children in critical condition, and the remaining one crowned "King of the Pit."
Lore SjŲberg, "Don't Turn Your Back on Your Brain", Wired, 2008-02-13
Johnathan Pearce discusses the implicit biases against life extension:
Considering how many health-scare news items there are these days, it makes me want to smile in a wry way when I also read about the supposed problems caused by an ageing, greying, population. The first and obvious question is: if we are all at such risk from obesity, drugs, booze, stress, pollution or the angst of watching Jonathan Ross, why are we living so much longer than our parents or grandparents? If this is what happens when the sky is supposedly always about to fall in, then what must a healthy population be like? And yet there is something in the human psyche, or our culture, that rebels against the happy prospect of a longer life. We are told, or at least have until recently accepted, that three-score years and ten is Man's rightful due (perhaps a tad longer for women); it is almost a hangover from religion to believe that it is impious, even blasphemous, to want to live for much longer. Andrew O'Hagan, writing in the Daily Telegraph today in a moan about how the elderly are treated in Britain — a valid subject — makes this point:
Growing old is now considered more of an option than an inevitability, something to beat rather than be resigned to, something that is thought to take away from one's individuality rather than deepen it.
I don't really know how death, or its inevitability, adds to one's individuality. I think I know what O'Hagan is trying to say: We are unique, precisely because we are mortal. We cannot be replaced, or copied.
The trouble, though, is that I don't see how one's uniqueness is somehow reduced by living for 200 years rather than say, 100, or 50, or 30. Were the ancient Romans — average lifespan about 35 — more individualistic and unique than a 21st Century Brit? How on earth can one measure this? Also, the desire to keep the Grim Reaper at bay surely attests to a love of life, not a denial of its value; if one believed in a craven acceptance of the inevitable, then why do we have doctors and hospitals?
It's Charles Darwin's birthday (he'd be 199 today). The IHS is celebrating:
Hundreds of groups across the United States and the globe will celebrate the date as "Darwin Day" in honor of the discoveries and life of the man who famously described biological evolution via natural selection.
"Darwin Day promotes understanding of evolution and the scientific method," said Matt Cherry, executive director of the Institute for Humanist Studies. "This celebration expresses gratitude for the enormous benefit that scientific knowledge has contributed to the advancement of humanity."
The Darwin Day Celebration is a project of the Albany, N.Y.-based Institute for Humanist Studies, an international educational nonprofit that promotes reason and humanity.
As the folks at Fark say, strive not to be a Fark headline on February 13th.
According to this report, Folic Acid (which was required to be added to all US enriched grain-based products in 1999) has benefits beyond the original hopes:
Every once in a while, the government does something amazing.
Since 1999, all U.S. enriched cereal grain products, such as bread, pasta, flour, breakfast cereal and rice, have been required to be fortified with folic acid — the synthetic form of folate.
The purpose was to reduce birth defects, says Dr. Judith Reichman, gynecologist and "Today" show medical specialist.
But since the FDA mandated the fortification, researchers have found a decrease in the prevalence of high levels of homocysteine, which is linked to heart disease, and a 3 percent per year reduction in mortality from strokes, she says.
And there's more.
There is now some evidence fortified grains reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
This is really good news, although the opening sentence reminds me about that old saying about blind pigs and truffles.
Global warming can mean colder, it can mean drier, it can mean wetter, that's what we're dealing with.
- Steven Guilbeault, Greenpeace 2005, as quoted by Canada Free Press
Afterwards, another activist clarified the remark by stating that of course taller can also be evidence of shortness, richer can mean living in poverty, baboons can mean chairs, giraffes can mean pencils and hello Ms. Robinson, your lacy trousers are well buttered with smoked trout, can you hear what I'm writing with my toaster?
"Samizdata Illuminatus", "The Scientific Method is over-rated", Samizdata, 2008-02-05
Whether you're a Global Warming True Believer or an evil Climate Change Denier, you'll find lots of stuff to keep your blood pressure up at Climate Debate Daily, an aggregator of posts on both sides of the Climate Change holy war. It's run by New Zealand philosophy professor Denis Dutton (who also created the Arts & Letters Daily aggregator site).
For the record, I incline to the heretical side of that particular Jihad/Crusade/Inquisition.
An interesting article at the New York Times:
It's Monday morning, and youíre having trouble waking your teenagers. You're not alone. Indeed, each morning, few of the country's 17 million high school students are awake enough to get much out of their first class, particularly if it starts before 8 a.m. Sure, many of them stayed up too late the night before, but not because they wanted to.
Research shows that teenagers' body clocks are set to a schedule that is different from that of younger children or adults. This prevents adolescents from dropping off until around 11 p.m., when they produce the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and waking up much before 8 a.m. when their bodies stop producing melatonin. The result is that the first class of the morning is often a waste, with as many as 28 percent of students falling asleep, according to a National Sleep Foundation poll. Some are so sleepy they donít even show up, contributing to failure and dropout rates.
Men are naturally more comedic than women because of the male hormone testosterone, an expert claims.
Men make more gags than women and their jokes tend to be more aggressive, Professor Sam Shuster, of Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, says.
The unicycling doctor observed how the genders reacted to his "amusing" hobby.
Women tended to make encouraging, praising comments, while men jeered. The most aggressive were young men, he told the British Medical Journal.
Previous findings have suggested women and men differ in how they use and appreciate humour.
Women tend to tell fewer jokes than men and male comedians outnumber female ones.
Genetic research is uncovering all sorts of cool things. For instance, did you know that nobody in the entire human race had blue eyes as recently as ten thousand years ago?
The University of Wisconsin press release adds some interesting observations from UW anthropologist John Hawks. To wit:
The findings may lead to a very broad rethinking of human evolution, Hawks says, especially in the view that modern culture has essentially relaxed the need for physical genetic changes in humans to improve survival. Adds Hawks: "We are more different genetically from people living 5,000 years ago than they were different from Neanderthals."
Humans alive today are as different from people living 5,000 years ago as they were from Neanderthals?! Fascinating.
Jacob Sullum outlines the current situation in the war on obesity:
At five feet, nine inches tall and 175 pounds, I have a body mass index (BMI) of 25.9, which makes me "overweight." If I lost seven pounds, I'd have a BMI of 24.9, indicating what the government considers a "normal," "healthy" weight.
Yet that weight is not normal, since two-thirds of American adults exceed it. And judging from the latest research, it is not necessarily healthy either. According to a study recently published by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), people in the government-recommended BMI range of 18.5 to 24.9 are more likely to die from a variety of diseases than people with BMIs of 25 to 30.
The JAMA study updates research by Katherine Flegal of the National Center for Health Statistics and three other government-employed scientists, who two years ago scandalized the public health community by concluding that the annual death toll associated with excessive weight was far lower than the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had been claiming. The CDC later reduced its estimate from 365,000 deaths blamed on "poor diet and physical inactivity" to 112,000 "obesity-related deaths."
Jacob Sullum reports on the latest shots from the BMI war:
Standing alone, these data do not prove that plumpness is healthy or that thinness kills. But they do cast doubt on the conventional wisdom that everyone should strive for a government-approved weight. In response to Flegal et al.'s research, JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, tells The New York Times "health extends far beyond mortality rates," which is true enough. In particular, Manson notes that "excess weight makes it more difficult to move about and impairs the quality of life." But that sort of day-to-day impairment is much more obvious than the lurking, lethal risk of a few extra pounds that Manson has been warning people about for years. A 1995 New York Times headline inspired by one of Manson's studies warned that "Even Moderate Weight Gains Can Be Deadly." The story quoted Manson's prediction that "it won't be long before obesity surpasses cigarette smoking as a cause of death in this country." It looks like both of those claims were wrong, which is good news not only for "overweight" people but for anyone worried about the social engineers with plans for making us thinner.
Ronald Bailey has more on the topic of BMI.
Preventing global warming will become our new orthodoxy, anyone who questions its wisdom must be silenced. Better million starve than more greenhouse gasses be emitted. And as for trying to engage in upward social mobility, forget it!! everything will be rationed, and don't you dare complain we must save Mother Earth.
Which is hogwash. Mother Earth can save herself, thank you very much, that's if she needed saving. Earth has been warmer, we're just now reaching the temperatures the earth enjoyed just before the Little Ice Age.
Man made global warming may be happening, but it is within the range of temperature changes over geological history. With or without human activity the environmental will change creating new niches and destroying old ones and sooner or later species specialized for current conditions in the Arctic will die out anyhow, While we should show a decent concern for not trashing the World we live in, neither should we deny that we are part of that World and have a right to be in it and change it to suit our needs and as we harvest the things we need to survive.
Religious tyrants on the Right try to claim evolution and natural selection are not realities.
Tyrants on the left try to prevent natural selection and the environmental change that causes it from happening.
Perhaps this is simply a reflection of the fact that they are in so many ways living fossils, bearers of memes (cultural equivalent of genes) that are not appropriate for a world that has left them behind. Which is okay, if they'd leave the rest of us alone to evolve and enjoy our freedom.
A.X. Perez, "Ecotyranny", Libertarian Enterprise, 2007-11-04
What would our society look like if, as we aged, we didn't suffer the physical infirmities of aging? Given all the money that will be moving into gerontological research in the next ten years, we have some chance to find out for ourselves:
"If we want to hit the high points, number one is, there will not be any frail elderly people. Which means we won't be spending all this unbelievable amount of money keeping all those frail elderly people alive for like one extra year the way we do at the moment. That money will be available to spend on important things like, well, obviously, providing the health care to keep us that way, but that won't be anything like so expensive. Secondly, just doing the things we can't afford now, giving people proper education and not just when they're kids, but also proper adult education and retraining and so on.
"Another thing that's going to have to change completely is retirement. For the moment, when you retire, you retire forever. We're sorry for old people because they're going downhill. There will be no real moral or sociological requirement to do that. Sure, there is going to be a need for Social Security as a safety net just as there is now. But retirement will be a periodic thing. You'll be a journalist for 40 years or whatever and then you'll be sick of it and you'll retire on your savings or on a state pension, depending on what the system is. So after 20 years, golf will have lost its novelty value, and you'll want to do something else with your life. You'll get more retraining and education, and go and be a rock star for 40 years, and then retire again and so on."
As many people have pointed out, the "baby boomers" will have enough political and financial clout to direct a lot of efforts toward the things that concern them . . . and they're all starting to get close to drawing a pension cheque. Living longer isn't as important to most people as living healthier for as long as they live. That's more of a challenge, but with enough attention paid to it, any challenge can be tackled.
Juliet Samuel finds that the put-upon, verbally abused overweight people of America are not taking this lying down:
Listen to any public health official and you'd think obesity was a scientific slam dunk, but studies on the exact causes and effects of weight gain are highly ambiguous. One study of 25,000 men by The Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, for example, found that a fit fatso is actually healthier than a sedentary skinny: over an eight year period even those technically classified as "obese" (a BMI of over 30) were less likely to die from heart attacks, strokes and cancer than inactive people of normal weight. And many of the studies released as "proof" of America's impending death by gristle fail to take into account confounding variables, like yo-yo dieting, a sedentary lifestyle and fat distribution on the body.
But even if the science were sound, public officials and anti-fat crusaders still confuse bad health with moral depravity. Paul Campos, a law professor at Colorado University and author of The Obesity Myth, claims that this "moral panic" sticks because it finds an "ideological resonance." On the right it appeals to an ascetic attitude; on the left it taps into anxieties about capitalist over-consumption and manipulative force-feeding by corporations.
Unfortunately, the "obesity crisis" has real victims. At 500 pounds, Gary Sticklaufer was judged too fat to make a good adoptive father to his own cousin—despite having adopted and raised several other children without problems. His cousin was forcibly taken from his care. Meanwhile, fat women are regularly told by their doctors that to become pregnant would be irresponsible, despite a lack of medical evidence demonstrating a higher risk for overweight women. And in the UK it's now commonplace to raise concerns over fat children with a view to placing them in foster care. In short, cutting a slim figure is now a moral imperative for responsible parenting, and those who refuse the "cure" to this aesthetic "disease" are summarily punished.
Instead of the rest of the world poking fun at how fat Americans are, the rest of the world is hurrying to catch up:
Between half and two-thirds of men and women in 63 countries across five continents — not including the US — were overweight or obese in 2006.
The Circulation journal study included over 168,000 people evaluated by a primary care doctor.
Experts said the findings were deeply worrying.
Of course, this is all revolving around the increase in BMI numbers, which are not necessarily a good proxy for general health (I've dissed BMI a few times before).
Canada and South Africa are joint leaders in the world-wide waist-expansion sweepstakes:
Just 7% of people in eastern Asia were obese, compared to 36% of people seeing their doctors in Canada, 38% of women in Middle Eastern countries and 40% in South Africa.
Canada and South Africa led in the percentage of overweight people, with an average BMI of 29 among both men and women in Canada and 29 among South African women.
It's not clear that these numbers are totally valid: they encompass a large number of people, but these are the people who happened to visit their primary care provider on a particular day.
Don't expect all your genealogical conundrums to be solved with a simple DNA test:
As ads go, they're pretty alluring: "Find out how you are related to Marie Antoinette" and "Discover your relation to Genghis Khan." With a simple swipe of a swab inside the mouth, consumers are told, they can capture DNA for analysis to trace their ancestors and country of origin.
But researchers say genetic ancestry tests being offered by a growing number of companies have significant limitations in pinpointing a long-dead relative on the family tree or tracking down geographical roots.
"These tests all examine a very small fraction of the DNA in your body and the result is that they can only tell you something about a few of all of your ancestors," said Deborah Bolnick, lead author of a paper on the issue published Friday in the journal Science.
"I think it's just important for consumers to be informed about what the test can and cannot do," said Bolnick, an anthropologist and geneticist at the University of Texas in Austin.
. . . because according to most anti-smoking organizations, if you've ever even smelled tobacco smoke, you've probably already suffered all the health problems:
Action on Smoking and Health: "Even for people without such respiratory conditions, breathing drifting tobacco smoke for even brief periods can be deadly. For example, the Centers for Disease Controls [CDC] has warned that breathing drifting tobacco smoke for as little as 30 minutes (less than the time one might be exposed outdoors on a beach, sitting on a park bench, listening to a concert in a park, etc.) can raise a nonsmokerís risk of suffering a fatal heart attack to that of a smoker."
TobaccoScam: "30 minutes exposure = stiffened, clogged arteries"
Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights: "Even a half hour of secondhand smoke exposure causes heart damage similar to that of habitual smokers. Nonsmokersí heart arteries showed a reduced ability to dilate, diminishing the ability of the heart to get life-giving blood."
Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii: "Thirty minutes of secondhand smoke compromises a non-smokerís coronary arteries to the same extent as in smokers. ... All of these effects not only increase the long term risks of developing heart disease, but also increase the immediate risk of heart attack."
Go ahead, light one up — smoke a pack — if you can't possibly avoid the health risks anyway, you might as well take up the habit, right?
I nearly dropped this one in as a quote of the day, but I think it's even funnier in context. First, read the story, then read the comment below.
If they don't stop taking all the oil out of the earth as well as other countries setting off nuclear bombs under ground, the pace of Earth Quakes will carry on; the techtonic plates need that oil to make it easier to glide centimeter by centimeter year in and year out. Take that away and you leave no lubricant and nice big holes the earth decides to fill up.
I shudder to think that this comment comes from someone who graduated from high school . . . possibly even college.
Hat tip to Lois McMaster Bujold, who sent the original link to her mailing list.
[T]hink what has happened in technical and artistic trends in the 50 years since 1957. Scientific endeavors have made fantastic strides in quality, complexity and significance. Consumer product quality has increased dramatically — new cars are packed with features unknown in 1957 yet are far safer and more reliable, and the cell phone in your pocket and the computer you're reading this on, to say nothing of the Internet it's transmitted over, would have been viewed as supernatural by the engineers who built Explorer I. At the same time, the quality of art has plummeted. There hasn't been a musical of artistic merit to open on Broadway in many moons — right now, it's all vapid dreck. (In fact, I think the show "Vapid Dreck," based on a remake of a remake, opens at the Brooks Atkinson soon.) And although good books are still written, what truly great novel has been produced in the past decade or two? Fifty years ago, technical stuff was buckets of bolts and art was splendid; now, the technical stuff is splendid and the art is in poor repair. This tells us something — I just wish I knew what.
Gregg Easterbrook, "TMQ: Come Clean", ESPN Page 2, 2007-10-02
A round up of some of the more dubious claims made on behalf of organic farming, with much refutational goodness.
One critical point to note is that conventional farming using genetically modified crops has been reducing its effects on the natural world over time using the findings of science. Since organic is an ideology, its ability use of scientific findings to reduce its impact on the natural world is heavily constrained.
Look folks, eat all the organic food you want. Just don't be fooled into thinking that you're doing something good for your health or for the health of the planet. You're not.
I have always been somewhat dubious about the various claims, but this summary undermines some of the strongest claims. Next thing you know, someone will be busy debunking Biodynamics in wine-making . . . (just in case I'm being too subtle: I think biodynamic wine is a marketing rip-off).
The theory that autism is caused by an extreme version of the "male brain" has won strong support from new research showing that male hormones in the womb are linked to social and emotional skills in childhood.
Scientists at the University of Cambridge have found that both boys and girls who are exposed to high levels of testosterone before they are born are more likely that usual to develop traits typical of autism, such as a preference for solitary activities and strong numerical and pattern-recognition skills.
Though the study included only children who are not autistic, it provides some of the firmest biological evidence yet that the social impairments that characterise the condition may be affected by prenatal hormone exposure.
This in turn backs the theory that autistic people are best understood as having extreme versions of a brain type that is common in the population at large, particularly among men.
The idea advanced by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, who leads the Cambridge team, is that human brains are predominantly attuned either to empathising with others, or to understanding how systems work. Women are more likely to fall into the first group and men into the second, while autistic people are extreme systemisers whose social problems emerge from a fundamental difficulty with empathy.
The model fits with the way in which autism is four times more common among boys than girls and one possible explanation is that male hormones in the womb could promote systemising at the expense of empathy. Very high exposures may thus trigger autism.
I've posted the odd critique of the obsession on the part of public health officials with BMI (here, here, and here for example), but in case you're not persuaded, here's Paul Campos to set you straight:
A particularly clear example of this is provided by the Harvard School of Public Health, which for many years has been pushing a phony claim with great success. The story is simple: That it's well-established scientific fact that being "overweight" — that is, having a body mass index figure of between 25 and 30 — is, in the words of Harvard professors Walter Willett and Meir Stampfer, "a major contributor to morbidity and mortality." This claim has been put forward over and over again by various members of the School of Public Health's faculty, with little or no qualification. According to this line of argument, there's simply no real scientific dispute about the "fact" that average-height women who weigh between 146 and a 174 pounds, and average-height men who weigh between 175 and 209 pounds, are putting their lives and health at risk. Furthermore, according to Willett, such people should try to reduce their weights toward the low end of the government-approved "normal" BMI range of 18.5 to 24.9 (the low end of the range is 108 and 129 pounds for women and men respectively).
It's difficult to exaggerate the extent to which the actual scientific evidence fails to support any of this. In fact, the current evidence suggests that what the Harvard crew is saying is not merely false, but closer to the precise opposite of the truth. For the most part, the so-called "overweight" BMI range doesn't even correlate with overall increased health risk. Indeed "overweight," so-called, often correlates with the lowest mortality rates. (This has led to much chin-scratching over the "paradox" of why "overweight" people often have better average life expectancy and overall health than "normal weight" people. The solution suggested by Occam's Razor — that these definitions make no sense — rarely occurs to those who puzzle over this conundrum). Furthermore, it's simply not known if high weight increases overall health risk, or is merely a marker for factors, most notably low socio-economic status, which clearly do cause ill health.
John Tierney talks to Bjorn "The Skeptical Environmentalist" Lomborg on a walk around New York City:
The effect of the rising temperatures is more complicated to gauge. Hotter summer weather can indeed be fatal, as Al Gore likes us to remind audiences by citing the 35,000 deaths attributed to the 2003 heat wave in Europe. But there are a couple of confounding factors explained in Dr. Lomborg’s new book, Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming.
The first is that winter can be deadlier than summer. About seven times more deaths in Europe are attributed annually to cold weather (which aggravates circulatory and respiratory illness) than to hot weather, Dr. Lomborg notes, pointing to studies showing that a warmer planet would mean fewer temperature-related deaths in Europe and worldwide.
The second factor is that the weather matters a lot less than how people respond to it. Just because there are hotter summers in New York doesn’t mean that more people die — in fact, just the reverse has occurred. Researchers led by Robert Davis, a climatologist at the University of Virginia, concluded that the number of heat-related deaths in New York in the 1990s was only a third as high as in the 1960s. The main reason is simple, and evident as you as walk into the Bridge Cafe on a warm afternoon: air-conditioning.
The lesson from our expedition is not that global warming is a trivial problem. Although Dr. Lomborg believes its dangers have been hyped, he agrees that global warming is real and will do more harm than good. He advocates a carbon tax and a treaty forcing nations to budget hefty increases for research into low-carbon energy technologies.
But the best strategy, he says, is to make the rest of the world as rich as New York, so that people elsewhere can afford to do things like shore up their coastlines and buy air conditioners. He calls Kyoto-style treaties to cut greenhouse-gas emissions a mistake because they cost too much and do too little too late. Even if the United States were to join in the Kyoto treaty, he notes, the cuts in emissions would merely postpone the projected rise in sea level by four years: from 2100 to 2104.
Ronald Bailey quotes at length from a new article at Foreign Policy by Ethan Nadelman:
Global drug prohibition is clearly a costly disaster. The United Nations has estimated the value of the global market in illicit drugs at $400 billion, or 6 percent of global trade. The extraordinary profits available to those willing to assume the risks enrich criminals, terrorists, violent political insurgents, and corrupt politicians and governments. Many cities, states, and even countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia are reminiscent of Chicago under Al Capone — times 50. By bringing the market for drugs out into the open, legalization would radically change all that for the better.
More importantly, legalization would strip addiction down to what it really is: a health issue. Most people who use drugs are like the responsible alcohol consumer, causing no harm to themselves or anyone else. They would no longer be the state’s business. But legalization would also benefit those who struggle with drugs by reducing the risks of overdose and disease associated with unregulated products, eliminating the need to obtain drugs from dangerous criminal markets, and allowing addiction problems to be treated as medical rather than criminal problems.
No one knows how much governments spend collectively on failing drug war policies, but it’s probably at least $100 billion a year, with federal, state, and local governments in the United States accounting for almost half the total. Add to that the tens of billions of dollars to be gained annually in tax revenues from the sale of legalized drugs. Now imagine if just a third of that total were committed to reducing drug-related disease and addiction. Virtually everyone, except those who profit or gain politically from the current system, would benefit.
The amount of harm done in the pursuit of this nonsensical war is far in excess of the harm done (generally to themselves) by drug users. The restrictions on individual liberty required in this "war" are more far-reaching than anything governments inflicted on their people during actual shooting wars, and the benefits are hard to identify . . . but the costs are astronomical.
Update: Of course, the situation in some countries doesn't seem to change, even with western troops on the ground:
According to a recent report from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, 19,047 hectares of poppies were eradicated in Afghanistan this year, 24 percent more than in 2006. Meanwhile, the number of opium-free provinces more than doubled, from six to 13.
Those victories were somewhat overshadowed by the news that the total amount of land devoted to opium poppies in Afghanistan rose from 165,000 to 193,000 hectares, an increase of 17 percent. Due to "favorable weather conditions," estimated opium production rose even more, hitting an all-time high of 8,200 metric tons, 34 percent more than the previous record, set last year.
If even thousands of highly trained soldiers are unable to stem the tide in just one country, what chance do the other "drug warrior" forces have to restrict the supply of drugs to western markets?
Of 528 total papers on climate change, only 38 (7%) gave an explicit endorsement of the consensus. If one considers "implicit" endorsement (accepting the consensus without explicit statement), the figure rises to 45%. However, while only 32 papers (6%) reject the consensus outright, the largest category (48%) are neutral papers, refusing to either accept or reject the hypothesis. This is no "consensus."
The figures are even more shocking when one remembers the watered-down definition of consensus here. Not only does it not require supporting that man is the "primary" cause of warming, but it doesn't require any belief or support for "catastrophic" global warming. In fact of all papers published in this period (2004 to February 2007), only a single one makes any reference to climate change leading to catastrophic results.
These changing viewpoints represent the advances in climate science over the past decade. While today we are even more certain the earth is warming, we are less certain about the root causes. More importantly, research has shown us that — whatever the cause may be — the amount of warming is unlikely to cause any great calamity for mankind or the planet itself.
Michael Asher, "Survey: Less Than Half of all Published Scientists Endorse Global Warming Theory", Daily Tech, 2007-08-29
Ken Holder points us to this little gem of a discovery:
Years of bad data corrected; 1998 no longer the warmest year on record
An example of the Y2K discontinuity in action [. . .] this week detailed the work of a volunteer team to assess problems with US temperature data used for climate modeling. [. . .] While inspecting historical temperature graphs, he noticed a strange discontinuity, or "jump" in many locations, all occurring around the time of January, 2000.
These graphs were created by NASA's Reto Ruedy and James Hansen (who shot to fame when he accused the administration of trying to censor his views on climate change). Hansen refused to provide McKintyre with the algorithm used to generate graph data, so McKintyre reverse-engineered it. The result appeared to be a Y2K bug in the handling of the raw data.
McKintyre notified the pair of the bug; Ruedy replied and acknowledged the problem as an "oversight" that would be fixed in the next data refresh.
NASA has now silently released corrected figures, and the changes are truly astounding. The warmest year on record is now 1934. 1998 (long trumpeted by the media as record-breaking) moves to second place. 1921 takes third. In fact, 5 of the 10 warmest years on record now all occur before World War II.
Links in the original article. Emphasis mine.
Cross-posted from the backup site.
Jon sent me a link which would have been lifted directly from The Onion only a year or so ago, but it's actually from more current times:
First the Rightwing Parody, Then the Leftwing "Reality:" Yes, They're Now Claiming Global Warming *Causes Volcanos, Earthquakes*
The Earth Fights Back, crows this Guardian piece, claiming that the planet has taken all it can take and is now set to go Rambo on us with all the means at its disposal — which includes, somehow, deliberately, willfully inducing earthquakes and volcanoes.
We've parodied this tendency on the left for a while, suggesting — for laughs — that the left would blame any calamity on global warming, even those that obviously could not possibly have any connection to atmospheric warmth, such as earthquakes and volcanoes. Which are of course caused by plate tectonics and pressures beneath the earth's mantle, and couldn't tell if the earth's temperature had increased by 1000 degrees, nevermind 1.
But last year's parody becomes this year's Inconvenient Truth. And the Cult of Mother Gaia, in all its illogical theocratic glory, officially takes the inevitable step towards deistic teleological anthropomorphization.
Jon wrote: "I LOL'd at this comment":
Deism takes a sorta' set-it and forget-it approach to the universe and the "God" of deism isn't anthropomorphic.
Theism is the anthropomorphic (actually it's not that God is man-like, it's that man is God-like, but this just depends on your perspective) and interventionist God.
In both cases they can impose a teleology on their creation.
But anyway, the greens tend to be pantheistic fags. An earth goddess permeating and being one with all her creation and so on and so forth. Real hardcore horse-shit.
They also tend to smell like that too. That would be a "holistic" approach I believe.
BBC News has a brief entry about some research on the effects of aging on the sense of humour:
Grumpy old men may not be able to help it, as age could affect their sense of humour, scientists have found.
A study by Washington University in St Louis found older people find it harder to understand jokes than students.
The authors say the finding should be taken seriously as laughing has been linked to health benefits such as boosting circulation.
The findings were published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.
Of course, before you start blaming age for not getting the joke, you might want to consider that this wasn't exactly the definitive study: it only tested 80 people in total, and for that size of sample a 6% variance isn't statistically significant. (Not to mention that — I guess I'm showing my age here — the joke they used for the tests isn't particularly funny.)
H/T to Ian Guild.
"Da Wife" sent along this link to an article about a convergence of environmentalism and (potentially) genetic engineering:
Using modern plant-breeding methods to find new diets for cows that make them belch less is a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, scientists said on Monday.
The key is developing new varieties of food that are easier for cattle to digest and also provide a proper balance of fiber, protein and sugar, said Michael Abberton, a scientist at the UK-based Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research.
This could open up plant-based solutions as alternatives to reducing stock as farmers look for ways to cut methane emissions amid warming climates, he told a briefing on farming and climate change at London's Science Media Centre.
Of course, the article carefully avoids any hint that genetic engineering might be the solution, referring only to "approaches within plant breeding that can lead to reduced emissions".
In some ways, it might be quite entertaining watching this issue be fought out: many of the most devoted believers in man-made climate change are the same people who loudly protest genetic engineering. It would be educational for them to discover that the solution to one of their biggest concerns might well be another of their biggest concerns. (I can almost hear Jon's inevitable response that it would be a massively parallel "paradigm shift without a clutch".)
Steve Chapman channels his inner Gary Cooper and painfully puts forward a few words on the 16,000 words per day issue:
This research torpedoes the popular assumption that incessant yakking is correlated with X chromosomes. Or as Pennebaker told USA Today, with an admirable economy of words, "It's been a common belief, but it just didn't fit." The evidence is convincing enough that neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, whose book "The Female Brain" cited claims that women speak at triple the rate of men, says those now "can be relegated to the category of myth."
All I can say is that if the average male is putting out 16,000 words every day, then I'm living in a verbal desert. Some guys I haven't met must be gushing verbiage like Old Faithful to make up for the ones I know, many of whom might easily be mistaken for victims of lockjaw.
That is not a description I would apply to many women of my acquaintance. The editorial board on which I serve used to be nearly all-male, but now has a female majority. I can describe the difference in two words: Longer meetings.
I have to admit that I also found the research to be less than 100% convincing, but perhaps it's just my old-fashioned, patriarchal, etc., etc. views of the world causing me to hold such an odd opinion. Chapman finishes off the article with some pithy words of wisdom:
But now I learn that the guys I know are wholly unrepresentative. Apparently for every one of us, there is some long-winded politician, preacher, auctioneer or "Hardball" guest who talks more in his sleep than we do fully awake. I hope not to meet any of them in this life. But if I do, I'll know what to say: Shut up.
The problem, of course, is that I have no idea if any of this is true. My ability to assess the accuracy of his article, as opposed to the "Gee-whiz!" factor, is roughly the same as my ability to assess writing on the subject of 18th century Chinese porcelain. Unless they start claiming the Ming empire was in Peru, I'm pretty much gullible putty in their hands. And I have been taken in before; a physicist of my acquaintance confiscated my copies of The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu-li Masters and wouldn't let me have them back even when I threatened to sue.
Jane Galt, "The words, the lovely lovely words", Asymmetrical Information, 2007-06-04
This magazine [the Financial Times] recently presented a rather touching portrayal of Ashton Hayes, a village in Cheshire with the aim of becoming "carbon neutral" — that is, emitting no unnecessary carbon dioxide at all, and perhaps making up for all that troublesome breathing by planting a few trees. That will take some work because the villagers' current emissions of carbon dioxide are about 25 per cent higher than the national average. In an effort to cut this to something more respectable, the villagers are urging each other to switch off unnecessary electrical items, insulate their lofts and trade in big cars for small ones.
This is all laudable stuff, so it feels a little mean to point out that the villagers could dramatically reduce their carbon footprints by bulldozing Ashton Hayes and moving to London. Yes, London: the "big smoke", the richest region in the European Union, is a city whose environmental statistics make it look dangerously like some hippie commune.
Tim Harford, "Undercover Economist: Urban neutral", FT.com, 2007-05-18
If you think the Nobel Prize is too stuffy and formal, then you'll probably find this selection of IgNobel Prizewinners to be just what you're into.
Rizwana Z. sent this link to one of my mailing lists: Satellites solve mystery of low gravity over Canada:
If it seems Canadians weigh less than their American neighbours, they do — but not for the reasons you might think. A large swath of Canada actually boasts lower gravity than its surroundings.
Researchers have puzzled for years over whether this was due to the crust there rebounding slowly after the end of the last ice age or a deeper issue involving convection in the Earth's mantle — or some combination of the two.
Now, ultra-precise measurements taken over four years by a pair of satellites known as GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) reveal that each effect is equally responsible for Canada's low gravity. The work could shed light on how continents form and evolve over time.
In a couple of hundred years historians will be comparing the frenzies over our supposed human contribution to global warming to the tumults at the latter end of the tenth century as the Christian millennium approached. Then as now, the doomsters identified human sinfulness as the propulsive factor in the planet's rapid downward slide. Then as now, a buoyant market throve on fear. The Roman Catholic Church sold indulgences like checks. The sinners established a line of credit against bad behavior and could go on sinning. Today a world market in "carbon credits" is in formation. Those whose "carbon footprint" is small can sell their surplus carbon credits to others less virtuous than themselves.
The modern trade is as fantastical as the medieval one. There is still zero empirical evidence that anthropogenic production of carbon dioxide is making any measurable contribution to the world's present warming trend. The greenhouse fearmongers rely on unverified, crudely oversimplified models to finger mankind's sinful contribution — and carbon trafficking, just like the old indulgences, is powered by guilt, credulity, cynicism and greed.
Alexander Cockburn, "Is Global Warming a Sin?", The Nation, 2007-05-14
Being human means being evolution's bitch. And once you hit 25 or so, evolution thinks survival is a secondary concern to getting those genes back out into the pool.
Jane Galt, "Fitness Cost", Asymmetrical Information, 2007-05-01
Radley Balko reviews the latest findings from the front-lines of the obesity wars:
A comprehensive meta-study from UCLA of 31 other studies of dieters found that 83 percent of people who go on diets eventually put on more weight than before they started. What's more, the wear and tear associated with yo-yo weight loss and gain makes them much less healthy for trying. This would include the low-fat, high-fiber diet recommended by the U.S. government. [. . .]
All of which could mean that all of these calls from ant-fat activists and PR campaigns from the U.S. government encourage people to lose weight aren't just meddlesome. If 83 percent of people who try to lose weight fail, and are less healthy for trying, these sorts of messages could well be doing harm. As the dietitian in the Guardian article suggests, you're far better off just trying to get some cardiovascular exercise several times per week and not worrying so much about weight.
Among the many reasons for North Americans getting fatter is the huge change in our working lives over the past twenty years or so: more of us work in sedentary jobs, yet we still tend to eat as if we were going out to hew coal from the mine every morning. We're programmed by our upbringing to eat "three square meals" every day, and the meals we eat are almost certainly higher in calories than those our parents and grandparents prepared.
Dieting is a mug's game: we're fighting our own genes to avoid adding that extra layer of fat that our prehistoric ancestors needed to survive. To avoid the weight gain, we need to be more physically active. I say this as someone who knows that I'm carrying my own share of extra weight, so this isn't an exercise junkie preaching here . . .
Ronald Bailey quotes at length from Robert Zubrin's article providing the facts and figures debunking the idea that hydrogen is the solution to energy problems:
Neither type of hydrogen is even remotely economical as fuel. The wholesale cost of commercial grade liquid hydrogen (made the cheap way, from hydrocarbons) shipped to large customers in the United States is about $6 per kilogram. High purity hydrogen made from electrolysis for scientific applications costs considerably more. Dispensed in compressed gas cylinders to retail customers, the current price of commercial grade hydrogen is about $100 per kilogram. For comparison, a kilogram of hydrogen contains about the same amount of energy as a gallon of gasoline. This means that even if hydrogen cars were available and hydrogen stations existed to fuel them, no one with the power to choose otherwise would ever buy such vehicles. This fact alone makes the hydrogen economy a non-starter in a free society.
And even if you are among those willing to sacrifice freedom and economic rationality for the sake of the environment, and therefore prefer hydrogen for its advertised benefit of reduced carbon dioxide emissions, think again. Because hydrogen is actually made by reforming hydrocarbons, its use as fuel would not reduce greenhouse gas emissions at all. In fact, it would greatly increase them.
It must have been a dull day in the labs when they cooked up this experiment:
The UK's universities are fast forging a reputation for the kind of ground-breaking research which can only leave lesser seats of learning looking on in awe.
Indeed, hot on the heels of the Aberdeen better darts project, triumphant scientists at Leeds have cracked that most imponderable of posers: how to create the ultimate bacon sarnie.
And the answer? Simple: take two or three back bacon rashers, cook under a preheated grill for seven minutes at around 240įC and nestle between two slices of farmhouse bread around 1-2cm thick. Then eat.
In case you think this recipe is something any self-respecting undergraduate could cook up, you should know that it took four Leeds University Department of Food Science experts 1,000 hours to work their way through 700 bacon sarnie variations.
Any departure from environmental orthodoxy is marked by ad hominem attack, vigorous spread of false information, claims of criminality and mental derangement, and general nastiness. Apparently this is one area where reasonable people cannot disagree.
It's interesting that any entity as complex, changing and difficult to comprehend as the environment should be guarded by organizations that allow no deviation from a single point of view toward what needs to be done. One might have predicted a rather broad range of environmental viewpoints, promoted by an equally broad range of institutions and activist organizations. There is some variation among organizations, of course. But on the subject of global warming, no deviation. That is to say, I am aware of no environmental organization that does not claim global warming is a major threat that must be dealt with now.
Michael Crichton, interviewed by Scott Burgess in "Seven Answers From . . .", The Daily Ablution, 2007-03/28
Jonathan Rauch's latest column is now online at Reason:
Climate change, then, is a reason to do more of what makes sense anyway: reduce coastal vulnerability and strengthen homes to minimize hurricane damage, improve public health and develop drugs to fight malaria, and so on. There is nothing radical about any of this. No rethinking of capitalism is required.
Given how neatly adaptation dovetails with the sustainability agenda, and given its immense potential to relieve whatever human suffering that global warming causes, one might think environmentalists would tout it to the skies. Some do, but many seem to believe that reducing harm distracts from the real job, which is to reduce emissions. In a blog post last year (at gristmill.org), an environmentalist named David Roberts made the point with startling candor. "In an ideal, abstract policy debate, sure, I'd say we should boost our attention to adaptation," he wrote. "But in the current political situation, I don't want to provide any ammunition for the moral cretins who are squirming frantically to avoid policies that might impact their corporate donors."
This is like denigrating HIV treatment and blocking condom distribution in order to discourage promiscuity. And it is every bit as callous and irresponsible. Where climate change is concerned, the truth — and this truth really is inconvenient, or at least sad — is that too many activists and politicians mistake panic for virtue.
In what amounts to a shocking admission that the "science" supporting anthropogogenic global warming is anything but settled and supported by data, we find that post-modernist thinking has been drafted into the service of stopping climate change.
It turns out that AGW is what is called "post-normal science", meaning that old-fashioned ideas like data and testable hypotheses have to be left on the wayside as we march in lockstep toward the Greater Truth demanded by The Times We Live In.
In other words, its our old friend Fake but Accurate, hanging out with the usual crowd. Don't look at the man behind the curtain, and all that.
Robert Clayton Dean, "Truthy science", Samizdata, 2007-03-16
This Toronto Star article was sent to me with the heading "Al Gore was in town recently, wasn't he?":
February was coldest in 28 years
If you thought February was particularly cold, you were right.
Frigid conditions made the month the coldest February in 28 years, according to Environment Canada's senior climatologist David Phillips.
Not since 1979 has February dished up such bone-rattling conditions.
No wonder I kept hearing so many variations of the same joke last month: "Global Warming? It sounds good to me right now!"
H/T again to "Da Wife".
There are very few things which we know which are not capable of being reduc'd to a Mathematical Reasoning, and when they cannot, it is a sign that Knowledge of them is very small and confus'd.
Dr. John Arbuthnot, On the Laws of Chance, 1692
The environmental movement will never forgive Bjorn Lomborg for being right, but as the Christian Science Monitor reported this week, his argument that adaptation to climate change may be more sensible that radical reversals in emissions levels is finding more and more advocates. I believe it's inevitable that environmentalists will gradually become more enthusiastic about Lomborgian adaptationism as they clue in that there's just as much money in it for them and a great deal more political potential; moreover, as the latest IPCC report showed, the steady improvement of climate models has a tendency to shrink the error bars in various measures of calamity and rule out exotic worst-case scenarios, making it harder every year to sell the public on rewinding the economy to the Stone Age. The next stage of the debate will be over whether adaptation should, in general, be allowed to happen at its own pace and guided locally or whether it should be an expensive planned global-governance project.
Colby Cosh, "Recently visited: a roundup for Sunday reading", ColbyCosh.com, 2007-02-18
Experts can be and frequently are wrong. An expert working for the government is no less susceptible to bias or ill motivation as one working for a corporation. Which is why it's foolhardy to rely on their expertise when making top-down policies that affect everyone. In fact, the main difference between the two is that when a private corporation's experts are wrong, the consequences are generally limited to the corporation, its employees, and its investors (there are hard cases, of course. Pollution comes to mind. But hard cases make for bad policy.). When the government's experts are wrong, we all get to suffer the consequences. Which is a good reason to have government making as few one-size-fits-all policies as possible.
There was a time when government experts told us to eat lots of pasta. Not so much anymore. The "experts" at CSPI (who aren't the government, but are far too influential on it) once told us trans-fats were hunky-dory, and encourage restaurants to use them instead of butter and other animal fats. Now they say trans-fats are gelatinous death, and they're urging governments to ban them. Right now, government experts are generally lying to us about secondhand smoke, and using that "expertise" to call for public smoking bans. Same for medical marijuana. Government experts now tell us we're going to die if we don't lose a few pounds. But there's some evidence that dieting may be worse for you than carrying extra weight. There's now overwhelming scientific evidence that daily, moderate consumption of alcohol could add years to your life. Yet government experts continue to advocate top-down policies aimed at reducing alcohol consumption, because for whatever reason, they're more worried about the small percentage of people who abuse alcohol than the exponentially [higher] number of people who could benefit from it.
(It's also interesting how the government's preferred experts so often come to carefully-researched conclusions that call for giving more power to the government.)
Radley Balko, "Experts", TheAgitator.com, 2007-02-18
Climate Cassandras say the facts are clear and the case is closed. (Sen. Barbara Boxer: "We're not going to take a lot of time debating this anymore.") The consensus catechism about global warming has six tenets: 1. Global warming is happening. 2. It is our (humanity's, but especially America's) fault. 3. It will continue unless we mend our ways. 4. If it continues we are in grave danger. 5. We know how to slow or even reverse the warming. 6. The benefits from doing that will far exceed the costs.
Only the first tenet is clearly true, and only in the sense that the Earth warmed about 0.7 degrees Celsius in the 20th century. We do not know the extent to which human activity caused this. The activity is economic growth, the wealth-creation that makes possible improved well-being — better nutrition, medicine, education, etc. How much reduction of such social goods are we willing to accept by slowing economic activity in order to (try to) regulate the planet's climate?
George Will, "Inconvenient Kyoto Truths", Newsweek, 2007-02-12
Elizabeth pointed out these two duelling headlines today: "New genetic link to autism" Toronto Star and, as a counterpoint, "Children's TV 'is linked to cancer, autism, dementia'", The Scotsman. Take your pick . . .
A belated Valentine's Day entry: the brain science of love.
H/T to "Da Wife" for the URL, with apologies for not posting it in a more timely fashion.
Da Wife and Kids made a small batch of this stuff yesterday. I thought they had just made a big mess in the kitchen, but then I started playing with the stuff. It's pretty cool: a liquid most of the time, but compress it or shock it in any way, and it acts like a solid. Very cool.
And who would guess that something as simple as corn starch and water would have a cool name* like "Non-Newtonian fluid?"
Here the hosts of a Spanish science show demonstrate its properties:
Getting back to the title of this post, I can think of other ways to use a wading pool full of this stuff.
Hmmmm... n o n - N e w t o n i a n f l u i d . . .
* I do not consider the popular name to be cool. Not even a little bit.
STATS.org presents the 2006 Dubious Data Awards, including my personal fave:
Both Forbes and the New York Times bit on a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), which claimed that almost half of the alcohol industry’s revenue (almost 50 billion dollars per year) comes from underage drinkers, who consume over 20 billion drinks a year. For that to be true, the 36 million kids in the 12 to 20 age group must be consuming nearly as much booze as the entire adult population. If this seems unlikely on its face, do the math: If we accept CASA’s claim that nearly half the teenagers in America are drinkers, each of them must each be consuming over 1,000 drinks per year, or almost three drinks a day, for CASA’s numbers to add up.
But still, why let a mere data discrepancy deter you from running a really juicy story, right?
One of the things that "everyone knows" is that women talk more than men. Certainly the perception is very common, but apparently the numbers tell a different story:
Louann Brizendine's book The Female Brain, published last August, featured a number of striking quantitative assertions about sex differences in communication. The jacket blurb claimed "A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000", while the text (p. 14) gave the same numbers in the other order: "Men use about seven thousand words per day. Women use about twenty thousand." Dr. Brizendine gives a set of references in her end-notes, but none of them support those numbers. In fact, no study of any sort has ever measured any numbers at all like these, as far as I've been able to find.
What are the facts about sex and talkativeness? There's an enormous amount of individual variation, and each individual talks more or less depending on mood and context. Against this background of variation, many studies have measured how much women talk, on average, compared to how much men talk, on average. The differences that they find between men and women as groups have always been small compared to the differences among men as individuals or among women as individuals. And more often than not, these small group differences actually show men talking a bit more than women do.
Every dogma has its day, and we've lived long enough to see more than one "consensus" blown apart within a few years of "everyone knowing" it was true. In recent decades environmentalists have been wrong about almost every other apocalyptic claim they've made: global famine, overpopulation, natural resource exhaustion, the evils of pesticides, global cooling, and so on. Perhaps it's useful to have a few folks outside the "consensus" asking questions before we commit several trillion dollars to any problem.
Look, if Republicans had opposed embryonic stem cell research on the grounds that dim-witted government bureaucrats haven't a clue about how to choose between scientific boondoggles and scientific brilliance, then perhaps the stem cell issue wouldn't have cut against them. Instead, conservative Republican pandering to the Religious Right on this issue made them look like uncaring anti-progress know-nothings to most voters.
Ronald Bailey, "Americans Vote Pro-Life: Did stem cells give the Senate to the Democrats?", Reason Online, 2006-11-10
A display of the calm, dispassionate discourse appropriate to scientific inquiry:
Point: "Colorado State University's William Gray, one of the nation's preeminent hurricane forecasters, called noted Boulder climate researcher Kevin Trenberth an opportunist and a Svengali who 'sold his soul to the devil to get (global warming) research funding.'"
Counterpoint: "Trenberth countered that Gray is not a credible scientist. 'Not any more. He was at one time, but he's not any more,' Trenberth said of Gray, one of a handful of prominent U.S. scientists who question whether humans play a significant role in warming the planet by burning fossil fuels that release heat-trapping gases.
'He's one of the contrarians, some of whom get money to spread lies about global warming,' Trenberth said during a break following his presentation at the 31st annual Climate Diagnostics & Prediction Workshop.
Ah, the wonders of the analytical approach. More here.
A short piece in The Register talks about current ideas that the English channel was created in 24 hours
Dr Gupta's theory — outlined in his book Homo Britannicus: the Incredible Story of Human Life in Britain, published next week — challenges the traditional theory that the British and the French had plenty of time to work up to mutual enmity as Blighty and the continent slowly parted company.
Rather, it seems our earliest inhabitants woke up one morning to find their former neighbours taunting them about superior cuisine from the safety of the newly-formed English Channel's far bank, provoking the first Brits to storm off and invent the longbow.
A visualization (with music) of cellular life (Flash presentation).
Hat tip to Rowena, who found it "both perplexing and beautiful".
Alayne McGregor sent these two links to the Lois McMaster Bujold mailing list. I'm sure the findings will be unpopular, if only because they fly in the face of long-held beliefs in certain economic quarters. the BBC reported:
People in lower social classes are biologically older than those in higher classes, according to research.
A study of 1,552 volunteers revealed a low social status can accelerate the ageing process by about seven years.
The UK/US team analysed key pieces of DNA called telomeres which are thought to correlate to biological age.
The scientists, writing in the journal Aging Cell, believe the stress associated with belonging to a lower social class may be to blame.
And the Guardian said this:
Scientists have uncovered evidence of a new class divide: the lower our social standing, the faster we age.
The claim follows the surprise discovery of accelerated ageing among working class volunteers, leaving them biologically older than those higher up the social ladder.
Genetic tests showed that being working class could add the equivalent of seven years to a person's age.
And moving down in the world by marrying someone from a lower social class also added years to a woman's biological age, scientists report today in the journal Aging Cell.
Take the Caffeine Intake test and find out.
Hat tip to Roger Henry.
In shared DNA, a man is actually genetically closer to a male chimp than to a human female (as many women observed, before science). Our brains are configured differently (whether by evolution or intelligent design), and it would follow that our behaviour varies accordingly. We look backwards in time (the only objective way to test propositions about human nature), and find that this has been acknowledged in all human cultures.
David Warren, "Manliness", davidwarrenonline.com, 2006-03-26
[Tim Flannery] suggests that if humanity were facing the threat of cold, rather than heat, the talking would have been over long ago and a strong plan of action would be in place. His point is that Homo sapiens is a tropical species which, having only recently spread to temperate and frigid climes, still thinks like a tropical species. It really fears the cold, but rather likes the heat. The word "warming", therefore, has positive overtones. So perhaps the underlying problem is not so much, as in the case of staying slim, that you have to trade a real sacrifice now for a potential benefit in the future, but that a lot of people who are perfectly willing to believe that global warming is happening don't really see it is a problem at all.
"Cold comfort", The Economist, 2006-03-02
The Register reports that science will not be denied:
Scientists: masturbation not as good as sex
And you thought you just weren't doing it right
It must have been a slow day in the lab to come up with that experiment proposal . . .
Marginal Revolution has a post on one of those "everyone recognizes it" phenomena:
The finding backs the idea that distances elongate in our minds because, over time, we begin to notice more and more minutiae about a route, an idea called the feature-accumulation theory. "As detail accumulates, the distance seems to get bigger," Crompton says.
Here is the full story. Remember the earlier result that if you are going and returning only once, the ride back seems shorter. Furthermore life speeds up as you get older.
Cool. I'd often wondered why the return journey seemed shorter, yet logically couldn't be.
I was taking a intro to genetics class in college, the instructor was using canines as an example of differing morphology in a species. At one point he said "For example, the chihuahua was bred to fight rats", at which point I said "Yeah, and they took home war brides".
Patrick McKinnion, posted to the Bujold mailing list, 2006-02-03
The health care market can cope with change just fine. That is, if the regulatory system lets it. The problem with vaccines isn't that you can't charge enough money for them; it's that vaccines are very useful things, which tempts governments to break the patent. It is thus perhaps wiser for pharmas to invest in a good baldness cure than something that people actually need. But this is not a market failure; it is a government failure.
Jane Galt, Asymmetrical Information, 2006-01-05
We live in a scientific age, and still most people out there do not know how to think objectively or scientifically. Thinking in terms of probability or parsimony does not come naturally to any of us. And even when we do think scientifically, we're still capable of believing in things like alien abductions.
I think we're scientifically more sophisticated today than we have ever been, but there is no evidence that our belief in ghosts, or aliens, or macrobiotic diets, or the power of echinacea to kill colds has decreased. We are as interested in mysticism today as we were five decades go. Or forever as far as I can tell.
Susan Clancy, interviewed by Kerry Howley in "The Truth Is in There", Reason, 2005-12-08
Resupplying the barricade-holders with arguments against introducing soi-disant Intelligent Design in school curricula:
This seems like a good time to go over some of the basic arguments and misconceptions in the evolution debate.
Evolution is just a theory; it's not verifiable or provable, and shouldn't be taught as fact.
Evolution is, in fact, the foundation of the entire science of modern biology and much of modern medicine. No, there is no absolute ''proof" of evolution, but that's not how science works. The evolutionary theory of origin of species is supported by abundant evidence from the fossil record and genetics research — indicating, for instance, that both humans and modern apes are related to primates who lived millions of years ago or that modern birds are related to dinosaurs. And how much scientific evidence is there disproving evolutionary theory? Zero. Yes, there are many unanswered questions about evolution. But the answer to these questions is more scientific research, not filling the gaps with ''God did it."
Opponents of intelligent design are intolerant, closed-minded ''Darwinian fundamentalists" who don't want to allow alternative viewpoints in the classroom. If their position is so strong, what are they afraid of?
Opponents of intelligent design don't want science classrooms to become a platform for pseudoscience. Would it be intolerant for high school health classes to exclude material about the healing power of pyramids or about demonic possession as a cause of mental illness? Is it intolerant not to teach Holocaust denial in history classes?
Visitors since 17 August, 2004