Category ►►► Science - Bogus

January 19, 2012

Tribal Tribulations

Science - Bogus
Hatched by Dafydd

Under a 2010 rule from President Barack H. Obama's Interior Department, all "culturally unidentifiable remains" of persons who died in the Americas thousands of years ago now belong, by executive fiat, to -- wait for it -- "tribes whose current or ancestral lands harbored the remains." In short, every museum, university, or research center engaged in the evidently disrespectful crime of the study of Man must now collect all the bones they've been testing and ship them to whichever modern-day tribe lives closest to where the bones were found:

New federal protections could mean that most of the remains of an estimated 160,000 Native Americans held by universities, museums, and federal government agencies may soon be transferred to tribes.

Under the new regulations, museums and agencies are required to notify tribes whose current or ancestral lands harbored the remains that the tribe is entitled to have them back.

Back? When did they ever have them in the first place?

Yeah, well, kiss the field of anthropology goodbye: Regardless of where any particular tribe lives now, tribes collectively claim that tribal "Native American" ancestral lands cover all of North and South America; hence any non-European remains must be "returned" to tribes that didn't even exist five or six thousand years ago, when the bones were inside a living person.

This is exactly the sort of anti-science outrage that belies the claim that Obama or the Democratic Party has anything to do with "progress."

This ruling (that "unidentified" actually means "identified as belonging to some Indian tribe") is of a piece with the absurdity that all museums and universities should "return" Pharaohic artifacts to modern-day Egyptians -- who are not in any way related to the Egyptians who created those artifacts. Modern Egyptians are Arabs who speak, read, and write Arabic; they are much more closely related to Saudi Arabian Bedouins than to Ramses or Tutankhamen. They simply wandered into Egypt millennia after the Pharaohs' civilization collapsed -- squatters in an empty building who demand the return of all the paintings that used to hang in the lobbies.

And notice Obama's Interior Department offers no such solicitude for the remains of people of European descent; museums needn't return the remains of Conquistadors to Spain.

Let's state it bluntly: People who lived millennia ago have no living next of kin and do not belong to any modern country, state, or tribe. It's utter lunacy. Too, allowing scientists to study prehistorical remains does not in any conceivable way disrespect people living in modern-day "tribes"... even if we assume for sake of argument that tribalism itself isn't a barbaric anachronism anyway, generally meaning only a collection of people with the privilege to operate a casino in despite of local laws.

A big wet-fish handshake to President B.O. for this wonderful parting gift to the American scientific community. (I wonder if the latter, as other minorities have, will begin to rethink its abuse-ridden love affair with the Left?)

[Hat tip to Friend Lee.]

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 19, 2012, at the time of 1:14 PM | Comments (3)

August 19, 2011

Beware the Algore Aliens!

Science - Bogus
Hatched by Dafydd

It's hard to imagine that globaloneyism could get any more absurd than it already has; but -- never say never!

I can't even make fun of this self parody. The mind boggles. Imagination fails me:

It may not rank as the most compelling reason to curb greenhouse gases, but reducing our emissions might just save humanity from a pre-emptive alien attack, scientists claim.

Watching from afar, extraterrestrial beings might view changes in Earth's atmosphere as symptomatic of a civilisation growing out of control – and take drastic action to keep us from becoming a more serious threat, the researchers explain.

Oh for heaven's sake, gentle readers, close your gaping mouths! We are not a codfish. Let us continue:

In their report, Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis, the researchers divide alien contacts into three broad categories: beneficial, neutral or harmful....

The most unappealing outcomes would arise if extraterrestrials caused harm to humanity, even if by accident. While aliens may arrive to eat, enslave or attack us, the report adds that people might also suffer from being physically crushed or by contracting diseases carried by the visitors. In especially unfortunate incidents, humanity could be wiped out when a more advanced civilisation accidentally unleashes an unfriendly artificial intelligence, or performs a catastrophic physics experiment that renders a portion of the galaxy uninhabitable....

The authors warn that extraterrestrials may be wary of civilisations that expand very rapidly, as these may be prone to destroy other life as they grow, just as humans have pushed species to extinction on Earth. In the most extreme scenario, aliens might choose to destroy humanity to protect other civilisations.

They could be spacewhales who sing us into oblivion! Or... or... the aliens could be gigantic balls of sentient phlegm that slime the Earth to death! Or intelligent carrots and absorb us for fertilizer! ¡Rabanos radiactivos!

But the most chilling scenario was undoubtedly suggested by the world renowned globaloney philosopher king, Nobel-Prize winner, and former presidential loser, Algore:

"A preemptive strike would be particularly likely in the early phases of our expansion because a civilisation may become increasingly difficult to destroy as it continues to expand. Humanity may just now be entering the period in which its rapid civilisational expansion could be detected by an ETI [extraterrestrial intelligence(s)] because our expansion is changing the composition of the Earth's atmosphere, via greenhouse gas emissions," the report states.

"Green" aliens might object to the environmental damage humans have caused on Earth and wipe us out to save the planet. "These scenarios give us reason to limit our growth and reduce our impact on global ecosystems. It would be particularly important for us to limit our emissions of greenhouse gases, since atmospheric composition can be observed from other planets," the authors write.

Great leaping horny toads, Mankind may be on the verge of invasion by extraterrestrial eco-nuts!

Not that the authors of the paper have any inherent political bias, you understand; as can easily be seen from this excerpt from the study itself, they have a completely open mind about what would constitute good aliens and bad aliens:

As a starting point, it is helpful to think of ETI as trying to maximize some sort of value function.2 Specifically, they are trying to maximize intrinsic value, which is something that is valuable for its own sake. Intrinsic value contrasts with extrinsic value, in particular instrumental value, which is valuable because it causes additional value. One can place intrinsic value on many different things, such as life, ecosystems, happiness, knowledge, or beauty. Human ethics is often anthropocentric in the sense that it places intrinsic value only on human phenomena, such as human life, human happiness, or other human factors. Such anthropocentrism is selfish on a civilizational scale because it involves humans only placing intrinsic value on the interests of their own civilization. In contrast, a universalist ethical framework would place equal intrinsic value on certain phenomena regardless of which civilizations possessed these phenomena. For example, a universalist civilization that places intrinsic value on life will place equal intrinsic value on all life, regardless of which civilization (or non-civilization) the life is part of. In this case, the civilization will try to maximize the total amount of life, regardless of whose life it is maximizing. If instead it places intrinsic value on some phenomenon other than life, then it will try to maximize that phenomenon wherever it occurs.

So you see, the authors give us a bipartisan compromise: Good aliens are socialist collectivists, while bad aliens are -- ugh -- selfish capitalists. But what about us humans? Where do we rate on the consciousness scale, from lowly selfishness to lofty universality?

Conflicts between humans are often, though not necessarily always, rooted in selfishness. These conflicts include struggles for power, land, resources, prestige, and many other instruments of self-interest. Even when human conflicts have overtones of being for some higher purpose, such as for liberty or against oppression, the basic desire for the survival and flourishing of the self often remains a core motivation. Likewise other conflicts we see throughout the sentient animal kingdom appear to be motivated by the desire for instruments of self-interest such as survival, food, or territory [35]. While non-sentient species (animal or otherwise) may also appear to act in their own self-interest, it is inappropriate to attribute intent to them because intent is presumably a property of sentience.

And lest you imagine that the author of the Guardian article was just reading more into the report than the scientists actually wrote, let me hasten to reassure you. From the report itself:

The possibility of harmful contact with ETI suggests that we may use some caution for METI [messages to ETI]. Given that we have already altered our environment in ways that may viewed as unethical by universalist ETI, it may be prudent to avoid sending any message that shows evidence of our negative environmental impact. The chemical composition of Earth’s atmosphere over recent time may be a poor choice for a message because it would show a rapid accumulation of carbon dioxide from human activity. Likewise, any message that indicates of widespread loss of biodiversity or rapid rates of expansion may be dangerous if received by such universalist ETI. On the other hand, advanced ETI may already know about our rapid environmental impact by listening to leaked electromagnetic signals or observing changes in Earth’s spectral signature. In this case, it might be prudent for any message we send to avoid denying our environmental impact so as to avoid the ETI catching us in a lie....

Another recommendation is that humanity should avoid giving off the appearance of being a rapidly expansive civilization. If an ETI perceives humanity as such, then it may be inclined to attempt a preemptive strike against us so as to prevent us from growing into a threat to the ETI or others in the galaxy. Similarly, ecosystem-valuing universalist ETI may observe humanity’s ecological destructive tendencies and wipe humanity out in order to preserve the Earth system as a whole. These scenarios give us reason to limit our growth and reduce our impact on global ecosystems. It would be particularly important for us to limit our emissions of greenhouse gases, since atmospheric composition can be observed from other planets. We acknowledge that the pursuit of emissions reductions and other ecological projects may have much stronger justifications than those that derive from ETI encounter, but that does not render ETI encounter scenarios insignificant or irrelevant.

Somehow, no matter what the danger, the solution is always the same: limit ourselves, cut back, be more eco-friendly, stop exploiting resources, and for God's sake, smash the looms!

I'll conclude by extracting a comment of mine upon an earlier post, which through a bizarre coincidence is exactly on topic for this post:

Brad Linaweaver and I once collaborated on a tetralogy of SF novels "based" on the Doom video games. I put based in quotation marks because, while the plot of the first book (in which we were just getting our feet wet, never having novelized a game before) was taken fairly directly from the game, for books 2-4, we simply wrote pure space opera with only a miniscule connection to the supposed source. (That's why readers like the last three books best -- and gamers can only stand to read the first.)

But the logic of the game itself compelled us to have an interstellar war, and Brad and I made the conscious decision to come up with an actually logical rationale for such a thing to come about.

I daresay I'm much more qualified to speak on the topic than is Stephen Hawking, for all his degrees and awards: He knows far less about science fiction than I know about physics.

I cannot tell you how Brad and I struggled to come up with any plausible reason why one technological civilization would ever attack another one on another planet. Try it sometime!

The main source of international conflict on Earth has always been a fight over resources and room; but if one has routine and ready access to space, resources are so abundant as to be nearly valueless, save for the utilitarian needs; and there is such a staggering amount of room that even Daniel Boone would feel lonely.

For every planet that has sentient life, there are thousands that do not; some will have some combination of flora, fauna, and microorganisma (I know that's not a real classification but should be clear in context); other planets will be barren but still possess a wealth of minerals, crystals, and other useful chemicals.

In addition, there are likely many times more asteroids than full-sized planets, some condensed from minerals, others various varieties of frozen gases or liquids -- including more water than anyone could possibly need, for you V fans.

Isn't it far easier for an alien civilization to exploit resources not protected or guarded by sentient beings, who might, after all, find a way to fight back effectively? If one has interstellar travel -- a must for interstellar conflict! -- then one has an almost limitless larder at one's backdoor, without the necessity of subduing or ousting any residents.

So what's left? Some kooky religion that requires conquest? But religions too arise from scarcity; and in the post-economic environment of the entire galaxy, it's hard to imagine such a dangerous and destructive religion lasting very long without bringing about its own destruction. After all, nobody can rely upon always being the biggest baddie on a playground of three hundred billion stars sprinkled across eight trillion cubit lightyears. (And even that's restricting ourselves to just one of 170 billion galaxies! If aliens have intergalactic travel, I doubt they would even notice our existence.)

Heck, with natural and artifactual resources everywhere, on uninhabited planets and regions of space, it's even hard to come up with items worth trading for! The only valuable items that spring to mind are:

  • Technology
  • Art, music, literature
  • New philosophies
  • Food recipes readily adaptable to one's own nutritional needs
  • Personal servants, who likely would charge an arm and a tentacle for the status that such a servant would confer upon his employer: "I'm so rich, I can afford to hire a valet! I just wish he wouldn't be so demanding..."

Such intellectual creations would be the only media of exchange, since they are the only new things under the suns.

Far more likely than interstellar conflict is interstellar snubbing: Aliens, who have probably met many different alien civilizations already, would likely see ours as nothing more than "mostly harmless." They would no more want to go slumming on Earth than you or I would enjoy hanging out with remote African pigmy tribes who had never heard of the wheel.

All right, maybe we'd be visited by alien anthropologists (though probably just grad students); but they would likely try to stay out of sight, so as not to spook the primitives.

We would be astonishly lucky to encounter an alien race that cared enough even to tell us that alien races existed!

If globaloney is a radical solution in search of a problem, then justifying it by the chance that passing extraterrestrial intelligences will be so offended by carbon dioxide that they wipe humanity from the planet ("and let that be a lesson to you!")... then I submit that the globaloney-meisters are clutching the bottom of the galactic straws.

The rebirth of sanity can't come soon enough.

Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 19, 2011, at the time of 6:37 AM | Comments (4)

August 17, 2011


Science - Bogus
Hatched by Dafydd

I am irked to report that I just finished watching what I believe to be the premier episode of a Discovery Channel series rather inaptly titled Curiosity.

As per the title of this post, truth in advertising should compel them to change the name to Incuriosity -- because that's what was on parade in episode one, "Did God Create the Universe?" In the enticing blurb sent by the show creators themselves to the Discovery Channel, thence to the various cable and satellite television carriers, two more questions were added: "How was the world created, and can the laws of nature co-exist with a belief in God?"

Full disclosure: I have been a true agnostic my entire life. By "true agnostic," I mean that I neither believe nor disbelieve in God; but I believe it to be a vital question, and I'm willing to draw either conclusion based upon evidence... evidence which has so far failed to persuade me to either side. But I am not a believer; neither am I an atheist.

The host was the completely unbiased Stephen Hawking (yes, that is a joke), a devout atheist who just published a book last year, the Grand Design, in which Hawking and his co-author, physicist Leonard Mlodinow, conclude that our universe -- mass-energy, space, and time itself -- could have arisen out of nothingness according to "the laws of nature," which the television show takes not only to be immutable but to predate the existence of our universe.

It's a neat trick. Perhaps mathematical verities can be said to exist in a larger "meta-universe," inside of which (and according to its mathematical meta-laws) universes spring into existence. But does Hawking, et al, argue that physical constants likewise pre-exist in a meta-universe that contains no mass, no energy, no physical space, and no linear time? By "physical constants," I mean constants like the speed of light in a vacuum, Planck's constant for the ratio of an electron's energy and the frequency of its electromagnetic wave, the elementary charge carried by a proton, the mass of an electron, or the magnetic constant of magnetic permeability in a vacuum. Change any of those measured values (which certainly ought to qualify as "laws of nature"), and I suspect the universe would be dramatically different from ours.

Which leaves a lot of room for an omniscient, omnipotent deity to manipulate a desired universe by setting the physical constants to specific values and perhaps even tweaking other "laws of nature," such as the inverse-square law. Lots of room for deistic choice there!

The episode of Curiosity never gets around to answering the third question they asked, likely because it's so easy to answer: Of course the laws of nature can co-exist with a belief in God; billions of people believe in God, yet that does not prevent the laws of nature from functioning.

I believe what they meant to ask was, "can belief in God co-exist with the ability to make important scientific discoveries?" But they never answered that question, either. (Psst... the answer is likewise Yes; there is a sizeable minority of important, productive, widely respected, and frequently sourced scientists who also happen to be religious.)

Perhaps the question is, "Can a person generate good science using magical thinking?" That question is completely circular, alas, as the definition of "magical thinking" is undefined. You see the problem? (However, it is reasonable to state that anyone who rejects the well-established theory of evolution by natural selection is either woefully ignorant or else rejects scientific thinking altogether -- and that includes two people I quite admire.)

This episode is riddled with overt and covert examples of "epistemic closure;" my brazenly simplistic definition of the term in popular usage (vice its meaning in formal logic) is, going to an intellectual smorgasborg and eating nothing but the Swedish meatballs. In this case, not a single scientist or scientific argument opposing the motion was ever presented; it wasn't an exploration, it was a stern lecture by a very self-satisfied and fully enclosed partisan. The narrator, who is portraying Hawking himself, does nothing but flog his theme, that God is not only unnecessary but impossible, announcing (but never arguing) that this claim is proved by "the laws of nature." He argues that once those laws are set up, then a universe can spring into existence ex nihilio without direct intervention by a sentient deity. But that's a pretty big "once"!

Several questions occurred to me while watching the entertainment:

  • Does Hawking presuppose that we already know all the "laws of nature?"
  • Do proponents of Hawkism believe that the statement "incessant Godly intervention is not required for science to function" necessarily implies that "God does not exist?"
  • Do Hawklings believe that the only reason people believe in God is to explain the alleged "gaps" in science? That if those gaps are satisfactorally explained in the context of what we currently believe to be the "laws of nature," then there is no other reason, moral or spiritual, to care whether or not God exists?

The episode presents one (1) argument that attempts to show that there cannot have been any Creator of the Universe:

  1. By the current, very well founded theories of cosmology, during the Big Bang that created our universe, all three "ingredients" -- mass-energy, space, and time -- sprang into existence ex nihilio.
  2. Thus, outside the expanding sphere of the Big Bang, time in particular does not exist.
  3. By definition, any Creator must have existed outside the Big Bang in order to have caused the Big Bang.
  4. Therefore, the Creator must have existed outside time itself.
  5. But that means the Creator would have had no time in which to pull off such a creation, because time was not moving where the Creator would have to have been "standing."
  6. Therefore, the universe could not have had any Creator, and there is no God.

So my fourth question is:

  • Does any Hawkling honestly believe this argument is anything but sheer sophistry?

I agree, it's logically impossible that a putative Creator of the Universe could have existed at a point of spacetime that is contained within the expanding sphere of the Big Bang; He would be creating himself, a.k.a., pulling Himself up by his own jockstrap. Therefore, if He exists at all, He must exist outside that sphere in order to be the One who created it.

(Although, a pseudo-Creator could exist, one who is neither omnipotent or omniscient but fully finite and completely contained within the Big-Bang sphere; but a being who is so powerful, intelligent, and knowledgeable that mere human beings cannot distinguish betwee this being -- call him "Gid" -- and an actual theistic God by any scientific measurement. See below.)

Duh. We all get it. It's hardly a revelation.

And this point was patently obvious even to those benighted teleologists who, because they lived a long time ago, must necessarily be stupider than contemporary atheists. Shockingly enough, even those ancient arguments for the existence of God envisioned Him as outside spacetime.

So to argue that a God who exists outside of spacetime cannot possibly exist because he would have to be outside of spacetime is not just circular, it's positively weird. It's as if some bozo with a book argues that "There can't be life on other planets, because it would have to be living on other planets!" Heavy, man.

The inability to logically disprove the existence of God is the obverse of the coin of reason; let's take the reverse side of the coin, the equally firm inability to prove that God exists: You cannot use knowledge gaps to argue that God hides in every hole not yet filled in by physics or biology.

This is called the "God in the Gaps" argument. The episode of Curiosity did a good job of shooting down the God in the Gaps; kudos. But that's hardly surprising, since doing so perfectly accords with their atheist viewpoint. (Of course, even atheists can be right once in a while.)

Obviously we have had many knowledge gaps throughout human history; the vast majority have been filled in, to greater or lesser extent, as science marches forward. But even for those gaps that still gape, nobody has ever proven that the gaps are unresolvable. The most reasonable assumption is that, given time, they too will be resolved. (Francis S. Collins, staunch Christian and also the head of the Human Genome Project, makes a wonderful argument for this point in his seminal book the Language of God.)

This is the strongest logical argument for theism, yet it is flawed, I think it fair to say that nobody has logically proven the existence of God. But by the reverse side of the coin, neither has anybody logically proven the non-existence of God. It's just one of those questions that cannot be answered mathematically.

But let's get back to my questions:

  • All of the proponents of atheism rely upon the unproven, unprovable claim that the "laws of nature" are immutable and cannot be superceded under any circumstance; even God would be incapable of parting a small body of water or stopping the Earth's rotation for a while, then restarting it. Do they really believe this? What makes them believe it -- that they haven't personally witnessed any miraculous exceptions?

Well heck; maybe God is better at hiding than atheists are at finding. Ever consider that?

I personally have never witnessed such a miraculous manifestation, and I would never claim that it ever happened. But neither would I claim it hasn't happened, for a very scientific reason: The "laws of nature" are almost certainly more complex than we imagine today; and for all we know, they may contain built-in exceptions to what we believe to be "immutable" rules... just as quantum mechanics introduced built-in exceptions to what nineteenth-century scientists would have insisted were immutable rules about the conservation of mass or the nature of time.

Perhaps a completely finite superbeing -- Gid, from a few paragraphs up -- has a deeper understanding of the "laws of nature" and can manipulate them to produce effects that, to us, are indistinguishable from magic and miracle. The proper scientific response would be to admit that as near as makes no scientific difference, Gid is God; if measurement cannot tell them apart, if Gid can do everything human beings can imagine as a test of "Godness," then by what scientific argument could a scientist reject the existence of God? If nobody can tell the difference between Gid and God, and if Gid exists, then the correct scientific answer to the question, "Does God exist?", would have to be, "Available evidence indicates that He does." Science does not recognize spooky distinctions between two things that are identical via all known measurements.

And if some scientist were to state that such Gid-manifestations cannot possibly be due to magic or miracle, but must instead be due to as-yet undiscovered physical laws, he would not be speaking from science but rather from a religious faith, as a true believer in the First Church of Fundamentalist Materialism. (I myself would say just what he said; but I would be honest about it being faith-based, not scientific.)

What is the point of Gid? Gid's existence is not prohibited by any known "law of nature." He cannot violate physical laws; he just knows them much more thoroughly than do mere mortals. He is not infinite in any way but completely finite; just so much more powerful and smart than we that human beings cannot trip him up. He does not stand outside the universe but is full contained within the spacetime sphere created by the Big Bang. He is presumably mortal himself; at least, being a creature of this universe, when (if) it collapses back to a mathematical point again (called the "Big Crunch"), Gid would die then, if he hasn't already kicked the celestial bucket.

Therefore, we have this amusing conundrum -- which emphatically was not discussed (or even hinted at!) in the episode.

The Gid-God Syllogism

  1. We define a superbeing as a finite, living creature who is sufficiently more power powerful and intelligent than human beings that he can fool us into believing he can do and know anything God can do or know.
  2. Assuming we are not alone in the universe, thus that other civilizations exist that may be millions of years more advanced than we, it is not only possible but very plausible that at least one superbeing exists, whom we shall call Gid.
  3. Since we humans cannot (be definition) distinguish between a superbeing and the theistic God by any scientific test or measurement known to Man, we must conclude that scientifically, Gid is God.
  4. Therefore, as far as scientific inquiry can tell, God not only can exist but likely does exist in this universe.

Sadly, this sort of truly intriguing speculation was entirely absent from this episode of Curiosity; throughout, it was insultingly childish, devoid of intellectual meat or honest debate, more likely to make eyes roll than to make converts. But it could have been so much more, had they just consulted a few science-fiction writers, instead of just one fearful atheist.

The next episode (which I have already recorded on DVR but not yet watched) is about what an alien invasion would be like, could we survive, and what should be our response.

I don't know whether Stephen Hawking is involved in every episode or just the first; but I'm afraid if it's the former, then we're in for another clunker: For Stephen Hawking does believe in life on other planets... but he is terrified of what might happen were we to be visited by aliens; so frightened that he argues strenuously against any attempt to contact alien species:

"If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans," he said.

Prof Hawking thinks that, rather than actively trying to communicate with extra-terrestrials, humans should do everything possible to avoid contact.

He explained: "We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet."

Worst of all, the alien could be as squirmy a liberal as Stephen Hawking! Wouldn't that be a pseudopod to the head?

I suspect I'm in for a bumpy flight when I watch episode two, if I ever do. If it's as bad as one, I sincerely doubt I'll ever see three.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 17, 2011, at the time of 1:14 PM | Comments (16)

January 17, 2010

Slicing the Globaloney: a Case Study!

Globaloney Sandwich , Liberal Lunacy , Science - Bogus
Hatched by Dafydd

It's always exhilarating, not to mention educational, to see how real science is made... especially when the conclusion just happens to fit the prevailing global-warming story-board so perfectly! Here's how the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the main "scientific" body pushing anthropogenic global warming (AGW), developed one of their most politically influential, not to mention incendiary conclusions:

1999 -- Fred Pearce, writing for New Scientist, notices a comment by Syed Hasnain, "a little-known Indian scientist then based at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi." Hasnain warned that "climate change will melt most of the Himalayan glaciers by 2035."

1999 -- Pearce interviews Hasnain by phone:

Pearce said: "Hasnain told me then that he was bringing a report containing those numbers to Britain. The report had not been peer reviewed or formally published in a scientific journal and it had no formal status so I reported his work on that basis."

2005 -- Six years after the little squib in New Scientist, the WWF (I think that would be the World Wildlife Fund, not the defunct World Wrestling Federation) picks it up and incorporates it into a political white paper, "an Overview of Glaciers, Glacier Retreat, and Subsequent Impacts in Nepal, India and China." The purpose of this paper is to push AGW theory, and not incidentally, to advertise for contributions to and membership in the WWF:

The report credited Hasnain's 1999 interview with the New Scientist. But it was a campaigning report rather than an academic paper so it was not subjected to any formal scientific review.

2007 -- Another two years pass... and the IPCC finally stumbles across the WWF publication just as the U.N. body is preparing its "benchmark report" on global warming. Impressed by the rigorous science in the recruiting advert for the World Wildlife Fund, the IPCC incorporates the claim directly into the report without troubling to backtrack it or check its provenance.

However, the IPCC does realize that the mere handwaving in the WWF advert might not be quite strong enough as is; so the IPCC punches up the claim just a skosh, to make it sound more, you know, science-y:

When finally published, the IPCC report did give its source as the WWF study but went further, suggesting the likelihood of the glaciers melting was "very high". The IPCC defines this as having a probability of greater than 90%.

The report read: "Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate."

Thus are great scientific discoveries discovered.

2007-2010 -- There is only one fly in the soup; glaciologists almost immediately note that such a rate of melting is impossible:

Professor Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University, said: "Even a small glacier such as the Dokriani glacier is up to 120 metres [394ft] thick. A big one would be several hundred metres thick and tens of kilometres long. The average is 300 metres thick so to melt one even at 5 metres a year would take 60 years. That is a lot faster than anything we are seeing now so the idea of losing it all by 2035 is unrealistically high.”

The risible claim begins to unravel. Under withering criticism by glaciologists, some still proponents of AGCC, the main author of the "glaciers" section of the 2007 IPCC report, Professor Murari Lal, discourses on his qualifications for that critical task:

Lal himself admits he knows little about glaciers. "I am not an expert on glaciers, and I have not visited the region so I have to rely on credible published research. The comments in the WWF report were made by a respected Indian scientist and it was reasonable to assume he knew what he was talking about," he said.

Around this same time, IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri heatedly denounces those scientists who dispute the evaporating-glacier claim as practicing "voodoo science."

But by then, Pearce of New Scientist has already looked into Hasnain's original claims:

"Since [1999] I have obtained a copy [of Hasnain's actual report] and it does not say what Hasnain said. In other words it does not mention 2035 as a date by which any Himalayan glaciers will melt. However, he did make clear that his comments related only to part of the Himalayan glaciers, not the whole massif."

Just a week ago, the IPCC was still refusing to comment on its "massif" blunder. However, Professor Lal says that if the original Indian scientist Hasnain says that he did not base his claim on actual peer-reviewed (or even published) research, Lal will recommend that the claim be "removed from future IPCC assessments."

And thus are great scientific non-discoveries un-discovered! Don't be surprised to see this one simply slip-slide down the memory-hole.

Alas, this scenario appears to be "the norm that proves the rule" at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And welcome to the monkey house.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 17, 2010, at the time of 12:28 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 1, 2010

In Theory, It Ought to Be a Theory, But...

Globaloney Sandwich , Logical Lacunae , Science - Bogus
Hatched by Dafydd

Frequent commenter Snochasr: has responded to a previous Big Lizards post titled Gas Masquerade, which notes that even some mainstream scientific publications for lay readers have begun to think a second time about the pronunciamentos of globaloney. Snochasr japed:

This looks like my list of the "top four flaws" in the theory of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW). Those are that it's not catastrophic, it's not anthropogenic, it's not global and it's not warming. But it IS a theory.

Well actually, it's not even a theory -- at least not a scientific one.

In science terms, a "theory" is "an analytic structure designed to explain a set of empirical observations."

To continue quoting from that unimpeachable font of all wisdom, Wikipedia...

A scientific theory does two things:

  1. it identifies this set of distinct observations as a class of phenomena, and
  2. makes assertions about the underlying reality that brings about or affects this class.

In the scientific or empirical tradition, the term "theory" is reserved for ideas which meet baseline requirements about the kinds of empirical observations made, the methods of classification used, and the consistency of the theory in its application among members of the class to which it pertains. These requirements vary across different scientific fields of knowledge, but in general theories are expected to be functional and parsimonious: i.e. a theory should be the simplest possible tool that can be used to effectively address the given class of phenomena.

Here are the theoretical problems with the "theory-ness" of AGCC:

  • AGCC is not primarily based upon empirical observation but rather computer modeling; as the models are designed by global-warming activists, they naturally show global warming... but that is purely an artifact of the modeling: A spurious characteristic introduced by human manipulation, whether deliberate or unconscious.
  • It is inconsistent with about half the available data -- which is therefore suppressed, e.g. Michael Mann's infamous "hockey stick" graph, which wished the Mediaeval Climate Optimum out of existence. When observation is subservient to the model, when data is cherry-picked, when results are misreported or manipulated, when contrary results are censored, that is not science; it's politics.
  • It is not functional; it cannot even "predict" the warming from 1900 to 2000; nor can it explain the lack of warming since 1998, other than by denying it.
  • It is not parsimonious, in that there are simpler explanations than AGCC that account for what observational evidence does exist -- variations in solar output, for example.
  • It is not testable, since even its proponents proclaim that there are too many confounding factors to make firm predictions.
  • It is not falsifiable, as "climate change" can mean a climate that is warming, a climate that is cooling, or a climate showing unusual stability, each of which thus becomes "evidence" for AGCC.

Ergo, AGCC is not a scientific theory. At best, it could be an interesting hypothesis for future scientific study.

More accurately, as currently used, AGCC modeling is a political formulation whose true function is to rationalize and facilitate the gargantuan transfer of wealth from developed to underdeveloped nations and the accumulation of totalitarian power within an international quasi-government.

This global regime is cobbled together from environmental regulations, economic utopianism, and radical misanthropy... "hatred of humanity" so extreme it calls for the destruction of most of the human race (or all of it, in some cases) and the degredation of whatever fraction remains.

So... AGCC Theory is not anthropogenic, not global, not climate change -- and it's not even a theory. Strike four, and globaloney is really, really, really out!

Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 1, 2010, at the time of 2:22 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 9, 2009

Obama Kills Stem-Cell Research - Unless It Kills Embryos, Of Course

Abortion Distortion , Science - Bogus
Hatched by Dafydd

(This entire post is hat-tipped to Patterico's Pontifications guest-blogger Karl.)

As has been power-blasted across the newsosphere today, President Barack H. Obama today issued an executive order (EO) revoking President George W. Bush's EO that banned federal funding of destructive embryonic stem-cell research (ESC).

But what few realize -- I had no idea until I saw the second update to Karl's post -- is that the same Obama EO that allowed for a return of federal funding of ESC, which I personally support, by the way, also covertly ended Bush's federal-funding program for other forms of stem-cell research... stem-cell research that does not kill a human embryo.

I emphatically oppose ending funding for alternative sources of stem cells; I want to see all stem-cell research funded, especially in areas that have already yielded medical treatments (that is, the non-ESC research). I believe ESC has great potential, but other kinds of stem cells also have potential -- along with actual results.

Naturally, the Obama administration does not have the courage to announce this part of their scheme; here is all they say at the very end of the EO (it didn't come up in the press coverage at all):

Sec. 5. Revocations. (a) The Presidential statement of August 9, 2001, limiting Federal funding for research involving human embryonic stem cells, shall have no further effect as a statement of governmental policy.

(b) Executive Order 13435 of June 20, 2007, which supplements [!] the August 9, 2001, statement on human embryonic stem cell research, is revoked.

Googling "Executive Order 13435" reveals that EO 13435 provides, as the National Institutes of Health quotes it, that:

The Secretary of Health and Human Services shall conduct and support research on the isolation, derivation, production, and testing of stem cells that are capable of producing all or almost all of the cell types of the developing body and may result in improved understanding of or treatments for diseases and other adverse health conditions, but are derived without creating a human embryo for research purposes or destroying, discarding, or subjecting to harm a human embryo or fetus.

Note that this EO is not the one that prevents federal funding of destructive ESC; it only says that this particular EO directs funding only to non-destructive ESC and other stem-cell sources. In fact, the last non-boilerplate bullet point makes clear that EO 13435 does not forbid funding of ESC:

(c) Nothing in this order shall be construed to affect any policy, guideline, or regulation regarding embryonic stem cell research, human cloning by somatic cell nuclear transfer, or any other research not specifically authorized by this order, or to forbid the use of existing stem cell lines deemed eligible for other federally funded research in accordance with the presidential policy decision of August 9, 2001, for research specifically authorized by this order.

That is as clear as clear can be: There's no point to revoking EO 13435 other than terminating funding of alternative stem-cell research. (The complete text of Bush's EO 13435 can be found here.)

President Bush's last Secretary of Health and Human Services, Michael Okerlund Leavitt, tasked the National Institutes of Health with funding this research into alternative sources of stem cells; NIH created a paper that implemented the order, relying primarily on a previous (2005) "white paper," Alternative Sources of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells from the President’s Council on Bioethics. This white paper identified several promising sources of stem cells that did not require the destruction of a human embryo (including one that we discussed on this very blog).

The NIH program is now dead as a clam. Obama's executive order kills it, without fanfare -- heck, without even notice beyond the bare sentence quoted above, which tells one absolutely nothing and even implies the falsehood that the second order revoked also prevented federal funding of ESC.

It's possible that the Obama administration intends to re-fund such alternative stem-cell research later; but if so, the easiest way for Obama to do so would be to leave Bush's EO in place, but simply direct the incoming Secretary of Health and Human Services (possibly Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, unless she turns out not to have any tax problems) to monkey with the funding to suit Obama's own preferences. There is no reason to kill the entire funding EO; well, no legitimate reason, anyway; there are several possible motivations beyond this defunding, but none of them is charitable (I end with the one I find most convincing):

  1. Political, philosophical, or emotional opposition to any program initiated by George W. Bush.
  2. Visceral opposition to any program "catering" to the religious Right or pro-life crowd.
  3. Vindictive retribution against those who pushed the former president into issuing an EO banning federal funding of destructive ESC. ("Fine! Then I'll erase some of your equations, Filstrup!")
  4. A bizarre pleasure in killing human embryos for no particular reason.
  5. And my personal conclusion, that Barack Obama -- and the liberal and socialist interests he fronts -- fear that medical breakthroughs resulting from research in stem-cells that come from sources other than human embryos might reduce public support for ESC research; so they only want to fund stem-cell research that requires the killing of human embryos.

To me, that fits well with the radical pro-abortion views of, e.g., NOW and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL); those organizations appear to want every woman to have at least one abortion, believing (probably wrongly) that that would produce a permanent constituency for "abortion on demand." I suspect that liberals want ESC precisely because it creates a public good arising from abortion (medical miracles), thus leading to more support for abortion.

Now as I've said many times, I have no objection even to destructive embryonic stem-cell research; I don't consider embryos to be human persons. But I certainly don't demand that we kill embryos even when unnecessary! It seems a waste of a resource for creating more people in civilized, Western democracies -- and we're not exactly overstocked with people in the West. Even this country is barely meeting replacement fertility rate.

Besides destructive ESC, about which decent people may honestly differ, we shoudl fully fund at the federal level all other promising stem-cell research, including:

  • Adult stem cells.
  • Stem cells derived from "somatic cell de-differentiation." These are cells (not embryos) that have already differentiated and ceased being pluripotent (able to become any other type of cell); they can be reprogrammed to restore their "pluipotent" status.
  • Placental stem cells.
  • Uterine-fluid stem cells.
  • Embryonic stem cells obtained non-destructively (see the Big Lizards post linked above).
  • Stem cells from "organismically dead embryos." That is, cells taken (with parental consent) from human embryos that are already deceased for other reasons, typically the "irreversible cessation of cell division in the embryo observed in vitro." This would not include death by abortion, only the natural "organismic death" of the developing embryo (usually at the 4-cell or 8-cell stage), which often simply stops dividing by itself, without external intervention.
  • Stem cells derived from "biological artifacts." These are cells produced by "altered nuclear transfer" (ANT) so that they will function as stem cells, but could never develop into a complete human being, even if allowed to grow. It's similar in technique to cloning, but no human being is or could be produced.

    An example given in the white paper is a non-embryonic nucleus that is first modified to lack the genes for "cell to cell signalling" (which is vital to all living organisms), then transported into a non-embryonic cell whose own nucleus has been removed. Neither cell came from an embryo; and neither cell, nor the hybrid produced by ANT, could possibly grow into a human being.

Each of these techniques is as promising as, or more promising than destructive embryonic stem-cell research; but none involves killing a human embryo. Horrifyingly, I can think of no reason to believe that Obama is terminating funding to such research despite the fact that no embryos die; all roads seem to lead to him terminating such funding because of the fact that no embryos die.

One of many reasons I hope Barack H. Obama fails... to enact his various socialist schemes.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 9, 2009, at the time of 7:39 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 18, 2008

I appear to have become a Nazi...

Confusticated Conservatives , Evolutionary Elucidations , Science - Bad , Science - Bogus , Science - Good
Hatched by Dafydd

...Along with everyone else who accepts the modern theory of evolution by variation and natural selection.

I was just listening to Ben Stein on the Michael Medved show. Stein has a new documentary out, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which argues that "Big Science" has systematically suppressed all the evidence showing that God exists, that He specially created all live on the planet, and that Darwinism is the great hoax of the 19th century.

One paragraph in, and already I'm getting sidetracked! This reminds me of a story Fred Pohl tells. When he was hosting the Long John Neville show, during one of his frequent episodes debunking UFOlogy, an angry believer in alien abductions demanded of Pohl, "How much evidence do we have to present before you admit They're here?"

Pohl's response was brilliant, though I must paraphrase: "A million pieces wouldn't be enough, because you and I have completely different ideas of what constitutes 'evidence.'"

Alas, just a few minutes into Stein's stint on Medved, I discover something unsavory about myself: Stein and Medved, both of whom reject evolutionary theo-- excuse me, "Darwinism" -- spent some time reassuring each other that the entire Nazi movement was founded on Darwinism, and that Hitler saw Darwinism as an integral part of Naziism. Ergo, I appear to have become a "Nazi" as well as an "atheist" "Darwinist".

Now a purist might note that Hitler was far more interested in "social Darwinism" -- by which he meant his prepenultimate bête noire Capitalism, rather than biological "Darwinism" -- and that Hitler railed against Capitalism for its social Darwinism, among other reasons... what fascists call inefficient and unjust competition. Even today, the term "social Darwinism" generally means Capitalism to everyone but Ben Stein. (Hitler's three biggest bugbears were, in reverse order, Capitalism, Communism, and Jews.)

Think I'm exaggerating about Stein's argumentum? From Ben Stein's own blog, here is his conflation of "Darwinism" (he never calls evolution by its actual name) with imperialism (if the first link doesn't resolve, try this one):

Let’s make this short and sweet. It would be taken for granted by any serious historian that any ideology or worldview would partake of the culture in which it grew up and would also be largely influenced by the personality of the writer of the theory....

In other words, major theories do not arise out of thin air. They come from the era in which they arose and are influenced greatly by the personality and background of the writer.

The Stein thesis is already misleading and boorish. Evolutionary theory is not an "ideology or worldview;" it is a scientific theory. And science uses the word "theory" differently than do other disciplines.

As Stein understands the word, it means any supposition, no matter how airy: the theory of Progressivist economics, the theory of deconstructionism. But in science, a theory is a hypothesis that has been thoroughly vetted, for which a tremendous amount of favorable evidence has been produced, and against which there is no significant contradictory evidence... a hypothesis or model doesn't become a theory until there is a consensus of well-respected scientists in relevant fields -- including previous dissenters -- who now support it.

Of course scientific ideas are affected by the cultures in which they arise, but primarily because different cultures generate different problems to solve and produce different technologies by which to measure the real world. Science itself, however derived, works equally well in every culture, every country, every continent, and (we presume) on every planet in the universe.

It is thus truly universal in a way that faith, morals, and philosophy can only dream about. But the price paid is that science is strictly limited to explaining how the natural world works; it cannot, even in theory (there's that pesky word again), be used to prove or disprove the existence of a being outside the natural world, such as God -- Richard Dawkins notwithstanding.

Stein is already off on the wrong track, through a combination of half-grasped science and misappropriation of terms. We continue:

Darwinism, the notion that the history of organisms was the story of the survival of the fittest and most hardy, and that organisms evolve because they are stronger and more dominant than others, is a perfect example of the age from which it came: the age of Imperialism. [This is a bizarre misapprehension of the theory even when the Origin of Species was published in 1859, let alone today. How "dominant" is a shrew or a sponge? "Fittest" means best able to survive and reproduce in that environment.] When Darwin wrote, it was received wisdom that the white, northern European man was destined to rule the world. This could have been rationalized as greed -- i.e., Europeans simply taking the resources of nations and tribes less well organized than they were. It could have been worked out as a form of amusement of the upper classes and a place for them to realize their martial fantasies. (Was it Shaw who called Imperialism “…outdoor relief for the upper classes?”) [I don't know. Was it? What makes Mr. Stein believe Shaw said or wrote that? I certainly can't find it in any standard book of quotations or on the internet.]

But it fell to a true Imperialist, from a wealthy British family on both sides, married to a wealthy British woman, writing at the height of Imperialism in the UK, when a huge hunk of Africa and Asia was “owned” (literally, owned, by Great Britain) to create a scientific theory that rationalized Imperialism. [And this is nonsense on stilts; evolutionary theory has nothing whatever to do with "imperialism" or racism or Naziism; this is cotton-candy reasoning that dissolves upon contact into nothing but a bad aftertaste.] By explaining that Imperialism worked from the level of the most modest organic life up to man, and that in every organic situation, the strong dominated the weak and eventually wiped them out, Darwin offered the most compelling argument yet for Imperialism. [Wrong again; the better-reproducing weak will wipe out the less-reproducing strong.] It was neither good nor bad, neither Liberal nor Conservative, but simply a fact of nature. In dominating Africa and Asia, Britain was simply acting in accordance with the dictates of life itself. He was the ultimate pitchman for Imperialism.

This is so wrong, it's maddening. Charles Darwin never used his evolutionary theory to pitch or even justify imperialism; nor did he ever agitate for eugenics programs. His cousin, Francis Galton, invented the idea of eugenics by applying Darwinian ideas to societies... but even he never proposed the government eugenics programs that riddled fascist, Marxist, Nazi, and Progressivist societies. And Darwin himself was skeptical of the expansion.

The philosophy (not science!) of "social Darwinism" was created after Darwin's death by Progressivists, as our hypothetical purist noted; liberals appropriated the term during FDR's administration to attack Capitalism, conflating it with racism and imperialism. Darwin himself was not an imperialist, certainly not in the mold of, say, Rudyard Kipling or Winston Churchill.

But to Ben Stein and Michael Medved, evolutionary theory equals "Darwinism" (similarly, one must presume that quantum mechanics and special relativity are aspects of Newtonism, and I got my graduate degree in Euclidism); Darwinism equals social Darwinism; and social Darwinism is Naziism; ergo... Seig heil!

Evolution by natural selection is the most maligned theory in history; every political hack or philosophy monger twists the science to suit his own prejudices: The lefties twist it to indict Capitalism and individualism; Stein twists it to indict scientific "imperialism" that stands in the way of teaching Judeo-Christian religious precepts as science in the public schools. This saddens me, because I love so many other aspects of Ben Stein's conservatism.

An even purer purist than our previous purists might note -- as Jonah Goldberg did -- that socialists in general, including Progressivists and liberals but not Capitalists, were the real "social Darwinists;" they believed in abortion or sterilization of "defectives" and euthanasia for the handicapped, and suchlike examples of eugenics programs. You can hardly get more "socially Darwinist" than that.

Said purer purists would also argue that the Third Reich in general and Adolf Hitler in particular were not noted for their comprehensive understanding of basic science... you know, that whole "the earth is a hollow sphere and we live on the inside of it" thingie, and the moon being made of ice, and all that "race-science" stuff with its heirarchy of superior to inferior races, and their weird idea that any scientific theory that had a Jew anywhere among its developers was "Jew science" and must be banned. Therefore they could not possibly be exemplars of biological evolutionary theory. Nazis had no more idea of what evolutionary biology actually held than does my dog Scrimshaw... and he's been dead for twenty years.

Fascists, Communists, Progressivists, socialists, and liberals (and conservatives like Ben Stein) have utterly misunderstood Darwin's original, long supplemented if not supplanted thesis; and they are not even aware of the decades of refinement (even by the 1920s) that reshaped it. When you point it out to them, they see this constant refinement of the model as inconstancy; they contrast it negatively to the constancy of Biblical values and use that as another club to bash evolution: If the theory keeps changing, it's an admission that it was wrong; and there's no reason to believe that the current version is any better! But the Bible never changes (heh); it's very permanence proves its value and truth.

The absolute purest of the pure would point out that the entire Steinian argument on this point boils down to:

  1. Nazis were social Darwinists;
  2. Social Darwinism sounds superficially similar to Darwinism, our misleading pet name for modern evolutionary theory;
  3. Therefore, evolutionary theory has a disturbing link to Naziism, and those who believe in it are akin to Nazis.

Here, try this one:

  1. Supporters of Intelligent Design eat carbohydrates;
  2. Carbohydrates sound superficially similar to hydrocarbons, the principal constituents of petroleum (oil) and natural gas;
  3. Oil sometimes leaks, producing oil slicks;
  4. Oil slicks kill baby seals;
  5. Vicious fur hunters also kill baby seals;
  6. Therefore, supporters of Intelligent Design have a disturbing link to evil baby-seal clubbers.

I suppose I'll have to see the movie, but I'll tell you in advance what I predict it will show: endless sequences of "atheists" and "secular humanists" being asked rude and scientifically ignorant questions in a querulous, argumentative, and incoherent manner. And when those atheists (meaning anyone who believes in modern evolutionary theory, since Stein appears to believe that faith and mainstream science are fundamentally at odds) and secular humanists (meaning "generic badthing") can't answer the paralogical question, the IDer will proclaim victory and do a triumphant dance.

But just in case I'm wrong, I'll go see the movie. Just in case all the ID books and articles and pamphlets I've read just didn't have the proper killer argument, I'll go. I'll go just so that no one can say I didn't give ID a fair shake -- which, by the way, ID has never given evolutionary theory; I've yet to encounter an IDer who actually understands the (fairly low-level) science behind the basic concepts of modern evolutionary theory and statistical mathematics... and without that background, it's no wonder "Darwinism" sounds weird and implausible. It's like trying to explain viral infection to someone who believes disease is caused by the evil spells of witches. Here, again, is the man himself (Stein, not Darwin):

Darwinism is still very much alive, utterly dominating biology. Despite the fact that no one has ever been able to prove [to the satisfaction of those who reject evolution for religious reasons] the creation of a single distinct species by Darwinist means, Darwinism dominates the academy and the media. Darwinism also has not one meaningful word to say on the origins of organic life, a striking lacuna in a theory supposedly explaining life. [But not so striking in a theory explaining how contemporary species of life evolved from earlier species of life. Evolutionary theory makes no claim to explain the ultimate origin of life; that is left for other theories and hypotheses -- as it should be.]

Alas, Darwinism has had a far bloodier life span than Imperialism. [Imperialism killed tens of thousands during the crusades and the Inquisition, hundreds of thousands in the British, Spanish, and Belgian empires, and millions under Communist imperialism. How many people have been killed by rampaging biologists?] Darwinism, perhaps mixed with Imperialism, gave us Social Darwinism, a form of racism so vicious that it countenanced the Holocaust against the Jews and mass murder of many other groups in the name of speeding along the evolutionary process. [Either Stein argues that Darwin approved of such a use -- which would be a complete fabrication -- or Stein must admit that he is deliberately trying to make fools of us all.]

Now, a few scientists are questioning Darwinism on many fronts. I wonder how long Darwinism’s life span will be.

Considering that "Darwinism" (evolutionary biology) has already withstood 149 years of hostile questioning by real scientists, I doubt that a few months of interrogation by religiously motivated ID zealots is going to shake the theory's foundations.

The central confusion, as always, is the one so thoroughly refuted by geneticist and staunch Christian believer Francis Collins in his seminal work, the Language of God: Stein and Medved both clearly believe that faith in God is incompatible with belief in evolution... as if God could not have created human beings by the mechanism of evolution. Collins shows the nonsensical theology behind this "argument by personal incredulity," as well as debunking the numerous examples of "well, Darwinism can't explain the evolution of this specific organ or organelle," upon which ID depends for its smattering of vaguely scientific arguments.

Until both conservatives and socialist atheists drop that absurd, self-created dichotomy, which does not exist in reality, we will continue to be subjected to such offensive claptrap as both Intelligent Design -- and books like Richard Dawkins' the God Delusion.

More's the pity.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 18, 2008, at the time of 5:23 PM | Comments (49) | TrackBack

December 19, 2006

Solvang Blogging (Solvalogging?): Brain Food

Science - Bogus
Hatched by Dafydd

This falls into the category of drawing a mountain of conclusion from a molehole of fact: an article in the well-respected British medical journal called the British Medical Journal (as filtered through the tabloidesque This Is London) reports a finding to which they attach great significance:

  1. Test the IQs of a bunch of ten year olds;
  2. Shake well and wait 20 years;
  3. When they're all thirty, evaluate their diets and try to correlate them to their IQs;
  4. In particular, check to see how many of the little buggers became vegetarians and try to draw deep significance from the fact that the average IQ of kids who grew up to be vegetarians (as measured two decades ago) is 105, whereas the average IQ of humanity as a whole is (by definition) 100...
  5. Thus proving that the smart people become vegetarians, eh?

As Tom Lehrer used to sing, "it's so simple, so very simple, that only a child can do it!"

Frequently dismissed as cranks, their fussy eating habits tend to make them unpopular with dinner party hosts and guests alike.

But now it seems they may have the last laugh, with research showing vegetarians are more intelligent than their meat-eating friends.

A study of thousands of men and women revealed that those who stick to a vegetarian diet have IQs that are around five points higher than those who regularly eat meat.

Now, I don't know about you lot, but to me, that reads exactly as if the writer is trying to conclude that vegetarianism raises intelligence. But in fact, the strongest conclusion you can draw is that having a (slightly) higher IQ may cause someone to become a vegetarian... which is hardly surprising, because most people in the West who become vegetarians do so because they have read a book about vegetarianism.

And of course, we already know there is a positive correlation between having a higher IQ and being a reader. Thus, higher IQ kids have more opportunity to run across a book or article about vegetarianism than are those who don't read... hence more of a chance that they'll decide to give it whirl.

For exactly the same reason, I would expect to find that a group of higher-IQ kids yielded more Marxists, more committed capitalists, more science-fiction fans, more Scientologists, and more bloggers (on both left and right). But the correlation between high IQ and being a science-fiction fan is more or less meaningless... you'd also expect to find more romance-novel fans, more western fans, and more technothriller fans: if you're more likely to read a book, then you're more likely to read any particular kind of book -- including a book on vegetarianism.

Curiously, one of the researchers appears to think the arrow of causality may point the other direction:

Researcher Dr Catharine Gale said there could be several explanations for the findings, including intelligent people being more likely to consider both animal welfare issues and the possible health benefits of a vegetarian diet....

Alternatively, a diet which is rich in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains may somehow boost brain power.

Dr Gale said: 'Although our results suggest that children who are more intelligent may be more likely to become vegetarian as adolescents or young adults, it does not rule out the possibility that such a diet might have some beneficial effect on subsequent cognitive performance.

'Might the nature of the vegetarians' diet have enhanced their apparently superior brain power? Was this the mechanism that helped them achieve the disproportionate nature of degrees?'

Evidently Dr. Gale is not a vegetarian.

Say, here's a thought: might a higher IQ perhaps be the "mechanism" that leads to more college diplomas? Or is that too quotidian an explanation?

But let's not let her skate so easily: is a professor (or a medical doctor) seriously suggesting that becoming a vegetarian later in life retroactively increases your IQ back when you were ten, the only time they measured it?

But here is the Emily Litella moment:

There was no difference in IQ between strict vegetarians and those who classed themselves as veggie but still ate fish or chicken.

However, vegans - vegetarians who also avoid dairy products - scored significantly lower, averaging an IQ score of 95 at the age of 10.

"Never mind!"

Perhaps one of those fish- and cheese-eating vegetarians can explain this to me: if high intelligence leads to moderate vegetarianism, how come only the doofuses become strict vegetarians?

I confess, it's more than my little, carnivorous grey cells can handle. I think I'll stick to my explanation: wiseguys read more books; hence they run across more crackpot ideas, and they're more open to trying them; hence more of them become vegetarians -- but they're also too smart to go whole hog (sorry) about it.

And there, I think, we'll have to leave it. My pork chop is calling.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 19, 2006, at the time of 9:53 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

October 30, 2006

Time Flies When Killing Nothing But Innocent Bystanders

Blogomania , Elections , Iraq Matters , Polling Keeps a-Rolling , Science - Bogus
Hatched by Dafydd

By now, everybody and his unkie's monkle knows about the Lancet survey that purports to show that the Iraq invasion has killed about 655,000 extra Iraqis -- nearly all of them innocent.

Actually, since the Lancet's survey only went through July 2006, and assuming the rate is unabated, a total of more than 704,000 "extra deaths" should have occurred by now, the end of October 2006. I shall accordingly use this figure hence.

They arrived at this figure by interviewing a small number of grieving survivors (2,000 households) and asking them, offhand, how many members of their family have been killed by the wicked infidels (actually, they asked how many had died since the invasion; I doubt the significance escaped the respondents' notice).

Then they projected this figure throughout the entire population of Iraq to get a figure that is about 14 times the (likely inflated) "maximum" figure on Iraq Body Count, 49,760, and more than 20 times the more commonly accepted figure of 35,000.

Oddly enough, however, they must not be burying their dead, because mortuary records don't show anywhere near that many burials over the last 43 months, a fact at which even the Lancet hints.

Amazingly enough, it appears that half of all extended families in Iraq have lost someone -- assuming no overlap at all: I assumed that an extended family in Iraq would consist of a mother and father, an average of three kids, an average of three living grandparents (recall that grandparents in such a society could easily be in their late thirties or early forties), an average of five living aunts and uncles, who between them would have produced about eight cousins.

I'm probably underestimating much of this -- which would mean even more families would have to have lost members to evil, wicked Coalition soldiers, in order to arrive at Lancet's (reprojected) 704,000 figure. If there is overlap, that would increase the number of families that would have had deaths: each death would kill a father, an uncle, and a cousin, of three different households, perhaps.

To put it another way, if this guess were true, the war would have considerably more than doubled the national annual death rate of Iraq (5.37 per 1,000 per year), according to the latest figures from the CIA's World Factbook (or even 5.5, as Lancet calculates it).

What would it have taken to produce such a staggeringly huge death rate? The Belmont Club can help with that; they note that the Israelis bombed the heck out of Lebanon for 34 days, and only managed to kill 1,300 Lebanese (all of them innocent, once again; it's remarkable how luckless the innocent are in these Moslem countries, while the guilty seem to lead charmed lives... perhaps somebody down there likes them).

Whenever I see numbers, I have to whip out my calculator and play. It's a nasty habit, I know; but I'm too old a dog to change Spot now.

The Lebanese death rate works out to about 38 per day -- and that's with heavy, continuous bombing, shelling, and massive, daily assaults. Let's assume that same rate of death in Iraq; how long would it take to kill 704,000 people? A simple division: it would take 18,526 days, or approximately 50 years and 9 months.

Hm. Well, that doesn't quite work out, does it!

On the other hand, we have a lot more soldiers in Iraq than the Israelis had in Lebanon... so let's look at it the other direction: assume that we have killed 704,000 people in Iraq since the invasion, which began on March 19th, 2003; what is the daily rate of killing we would have to be seeing? (Lancet concluded that 601,000 of the 655,000 deaths were violent; projected forward, that would mean 646,000 of the 704,000.)

Again, it's a simple calculation, complicated only because we must first figure out how many days it's been: from invasion to March 19th, 2006 is 1,096 days (because 2004 was a leap year), plus 225 days since then, for a grand total of 1,321 days.

704,000 divided by 1,321 equals 533 innocent civilians dying each and every day, Sundays and holidays included. (Actually, since this is an Islamic country, we would expect to see more deaths during the Sabbath -- which is actually Friday, not Sunday -- and during holiday periods, like Ramadan.) If we restrict it to violent deaths, that's 487 violent deaths per day.

There was a lull from the end of major combat operations, May 1st, 2003, until the insurgency and terrorist activity really started to uptick, say about April 4th, 2004 with First Fallujah. But on the other hand, we would assume a very much increased daily rate during the month of MCO; even if they don't quite balance, it probably doesn't change much... we can assume the daily rate after the insurgency and terrorism started to be somewhere between 550 and 650 extra deaths per day.

I doubt even the wildest-eyed anti-war fanatic sincerely believes that all the reporters, non-governmental organizations, government departments, and the other medical researchers in Iraq (who actually check physical evidence, rather than relying upon surveys) could possibly have missed an additional 500 civilians dying per day, 460 of them killed violently -- and nearly all by Coalition forces, if you can believe the Iraqi respondents. But of course, figures don't lie!

The researchers assure us that asking Iraqi respondents how many have died is perfectly sound methodology. They don't need to look at death certificates, hospital records, or mortuary records; first, those hard data may be unavailable... and second, they don't yield a high enough number of extra deaths:

When death certificates were not available, there were good reasons, say the authors. "We think it is unlikely that deaths were falsely recorded. Interviewers also believed that in the Iraqi culture it was unlikely for respondents to fabricate deaths," they write.

Fabricating deaths simply isn't done in Iraqi culture... quick, somebody, alert the Green Helmet Guy!

But I still want to know where the weekly quota of 3,731 bodies is being stashed; I should think that by now, every graveyard in the country would have been filled up, and the bodies would have to be packed into warehouses (refrigerated, one hopes) until the country can decide where to put them. Sort of like nuclear waste, I reckon.

If somebody can show me a photograph of a warehouse with bodies stacked like cordwood, or else dozens of mass graves dug post-Saddam, then I will believe it. Until then, I'm afraid I'm going to have to maintain a bit of skepticism about the Lancet's figure. It's conceivable that their methods are unsound.

So how does this relate to the election, as the category list indicates? Well, just an example of the goofy results that you can get from a poll when you deliberately disconnect it from any external, reality-based cross-checking.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, October 30, 2006, at the time of 6:06 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

October 27, 2006

Morton's Monstrous Dilemma

Science - Bogus
Hatched by Dafydd

UPDATE October 28th: Corrected the spelling of Mort Kondracke's name; hat tip to commenter Keys!

Today, Republican Michael Steele slapped back at his opponent in the Maryland Senate race, Ben Cardin... with a sledge hammer.

Michael J. Fox has been running a tear-jerker ad in numerous venues, in which we discover that the Republican in the race, [Jim Talent | Michael Steele | Tom Kean, jr. | Mark Green | Peter Roscam], is a heartless bastard who doesn't care about sick people, and who actually wants to see Michael J. Fox suffer and die; whereas the Democrat in the race, [Claire McCaskill | Ben Cardin | Bob Menendez | Jim Doyle | Tammy Duckworth], is a bold visionary who supports scientific research and actually cares about suffering people... and if we elect the Democrat, then Michael J. Fox will be cured of Parkinson's Disease.

Today, Steele fired a response-ad right back at Ben Cardin. Here is the text; you can watch the ad at the Power Line link above:

STEELE: I’m Michael Steele, and I approve this message.

TURNER: I’m Dr. Monica Turner.

Congressman Ben Cardin is attacking Michael Steele with deceptive, tasteless ads. He is using the victim of a terrible disease to frighten people all for his own political gain.

Mr. Cardin should be ashamed.

There’s something you should know about Michael Steele. He does support stem cell research, and he cares deeply for those who suffer from disease.

How do I know? I’m Michael Steele’s little sister.

I have MS, and I know he cares about me.

In fact, it's even worse: Ben Cardin, Steele's Democratic opponent, actually opposes research using embryonic stem-cells -- but only when it's non-destructively taken from the embryo without killing it. If you kill the embryo to get the stem cells, then Cardin is all for it; but if medical researchers manage to find a way to extract the stem cell from the embryo without killing the thing, then kindly Congressman Cardin loses all interest.

From a smack-back press release from the Steele campaign:

Michael Steele said, “There is only one candidate in this race who voted against stem cell research and it’s Congressman Ben Cardin. Ben Cardin had a chance to support stem cell research that would not destroy human embryos, and he voted against it – not because of his beliefs on the issue, but as a transparent political stunt. Both Senators Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes voted for this legislation. Ben Cardin wanted to politicize the issue instead of getting something done, so he voted against it. Marylanders deserve better than Congressman Cardin’s continued Washington double-talk, mistruths and sheer political gamesmanship on an issue as important as stem cell research.”

On September 6, 2006, the Frederick News Post reported: “[Cardin] opposes suggestions that stem cell research is acceptable if the embryo isn't destroyed. (Liam Farrell, “Pursuing Change,” Frederick News Post, September 2, 2006)

Michael Steele added, “I am an enthusiastic supporter of cord blood, adult stem cell and embryonic stem cell research that does not destroy the embryo, and I fully support expanding innovations in technology that make it possible to treat and prevent disease without the willful destruction of human embryos.”

In other words, the Michael J. Fox ad is even running in a race where the Democrat (but not the Republican) supports embryonic stem-cell research that does kill the embryo... and the Republican (but not the Democrat) supports embryonic stem-cell research that doesn't kill the embryo!

Nice, principled stand there, Mr. Fox.

So who's Morton? What am I talking about? As usual, I've lost my -- oh yes, here they are.

Consider all of the above prelude. Today, Hugh Hewitt, as is his wont, had on Fred Barnes and Mort Kondracke, the "Boyz In Da Beltway." They discussed the Fox ad, Ben Turpin, Michael Steele, and young Doc Turner... and when Morton heard the Turner ad, he practically exploded.

I think that should have been "Ben Cardin" up there, not Ben Turpin; but I'm too lazy to go back and correct it. Oh, how perversely anti-work-ethic am I, am I! I don't know why I made such a mistake; they look absolutely nothing like each other: Cardin wears glasses and Turpin just desperately needs them:

Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD)    Non-Lookalike Ben Turpin

The Big Bens: Cardin looks almost nothing like Turpin

Back to the point. Mort began shouting and screaming, attacking Michael Steele (in absentia, of course), and culminated with this particularly gruesome attack on Steele:

I think it’s a very effective ad. If Michael Steele were really so interested in having his sister cured, he would be in favor of all kinds of stem cell research.

I must admit, that brought me up cold; I don't think I've ever heard such a harsh, bitter, and unfair verbal assault from Mort, who is normally quite the gentleman. Granted, his wife Millie died of Parkenson's, the same disease that Fox has; but even so, considering that Steele is in favor of every, single form of stem-cell research that does not kill an embryo, Mort's intemperate attack is awfully misleading.

But he followed it up with another; and this attack revealed a soft spot in his argument so vast, I can poke it with my eyes closed. Consider this:

I mean, look. If…when my wife was ill with Parkinson’s disease, do you think that I would reject a potential therapy that could be good for her?

All right, Mort, consider this hypothetical: there is a therapy that could potentially cure your wife's Parkenson's, allowing her to live out a normal life free of the disease. There is one catch, however: the therapy requires the sacrifice of a five year old child. The kid must die in order that your wife should live.

So tell us, Mort... would you accept that trade? More to the point, would MIllie? I think we all know the answer to both questions is No: neither Mort nor his late wife would have accepted such a horrible trade, a child's life for hers.

But I didn't just pull this thought experiment out of left air. For those people who actually believe that human life and personhood begins at conception, that is exactly the trade embryonic stem-cell research demands of them. Instead of a five year old child, it's a child who hasn't been born yet; but it's still the sacrifice of a child so that Michael J. Fox, Millie Kondracke, or Dr. Monica Turner might -- might -- live.

I personally do not believe that personhood begins at conception; so I don't have that ethical dilemma. But Michael Steele does; and to tell him that he doesn't really care about his sister -- which is what Mort said -- because he isn't willing to sacrifice the lives of hundreds of babies to try to cure her disease is just this side of despicable.

I think Mort spoke without thinking; and I hope he realizes later what a horrible thing he said. Perhaps he'll say something about it tomorrow on his show. But even if he doesn't dredge it up again, he cannot possibly really mean what he says, because Morton Kondracke is not a monster.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, October 27, 2006, at the time of 9:51 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

September 27, 2006

Hey Hey Ho Ho, This Dissent Has Got to Go!

Globaloney Sandwich , Science - Bogus
Hatched by Dafydd

Acting on a hot tip we personally received from Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK, 100%) -- he sent emanations through the penumbra that we should read the Drudge Report and follow the links -- we discovered this astonishing letter written by Bob Ward, "Senior Manager, Policy Coordination" of the British Royal Society -- the top scientific body in the U.K. -- in which he pretty much orders Exxon/Esso to stop funding scientists who disagree with the Kyoto-Protocol party line on global warming.

The leftist Guardian is on the case -- on the side of suppressing dissent, as customary:

Britain's leading scientists have challenged the US oil company ExxonMobil to stop funding groups that attempt to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change.

In an unprecedented step, the Royal Society, Britain's premier scientific academy, has written to the oil giant to demand that the company withdraws support for dozens of groups that have "misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence"....

In the letter, Bob Ward of the Royal Society writes: "At our meeting in July ... you indicated that ExxonMobil would not be providing any further funding to these organisations. I would be grateful if you could let me know when ExxonMobil plans to carry out this pledge."

Why now? Why so urgent? Actually, there is a very important policy reason:

The latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), due to be published in February, is expected to say that climate change could drive the Earth's temperatures higher than previously predicted.

Mr Ward said: "It is now more crucial than ever that we have a debate which is properly informed by the science. For people to be still producing information that misleads people about climate change is unhelpful. The next IPCC report should give people the final push that they need to take action and we can't have people trying to undermine it."

Those of you who have always thought of the British Royal Society as a "scientific body" can perhaps be excused for being gobsmacked at its conversion to a leftist activist group; but in fact, this is just a stage in the Left's gradual and insidious takeover of all manner of previously nonpartisan, apolitical, but patriotic American and British organizations (a non-exhaustive list in vaguely chronological order):

  • It started with civil-rights organizations during the 30s, 40s, and 50s, such as the Civil Rights Congress;
  • Then it was civic organizations;
  • Many Protestant and Lutheran churches and Reform and "Conservative" synogogues;
  • Charities;
  • The Red Cross;
  • The USO;
  • The entire court system;
  • The news networks;
  • Trade unions;
  • The music industry;
  • The television industry;
  • Science-fiction publishing;
  • The great universities, especially the Ivy League (the rot spread from Berkeley and Harvard outward);
  • The national newspapers;
  • The Democratic Party, which used to be chock-a-block with patriotic war hawks like Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan, Scoop Jackson and Al Gore sr., is now run by Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and soon-to-be minority leader John P. Murtha;
  • The literary establishments and awards organizations (from the Pulitzer to the Nobel to the MacArthur Awards);
  • The primary and secondary government schools;
  • Libraries;
  • The JAG corps;
  • Walt Disney (especially during Michael Eisner's "de-Disneyfication" of Disney);
  • The Girl Sprouts (they're still working on the Boy Sprouts... but what they can't take over, they must destroy);
  • The Catholic Church (see above about what they can't take over);

So it should be no surprise that leftism and political correctness has taken over first the medical establishment, and now the great science bodies: remember the FDA banning silicone breast implants, primarily because feminists objected to the very concept of breast augmentation? Well, now the AAAS, the NSF, Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, Science Magazine, Scientific American, and many other scientific organs have toed the PC line on such issues as the Strategic Defense Initiative, nuclear power, artificial sweeters and artificial fat, second-hand smoke, AIDS, pesticides (DDT), preservatives, and yes, global warming (especially global warming).

Of course, any body that is even remotely international -- including the Royal Society and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the foremost body flogging the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, which grew out of the first big IPCC conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 -- is even more in thrall to the PC police than the American versions.

The first rule of leftism is "No enemies to the Left;" but the second rule is "No dissent; shut up do your duty to the Party."

The totalitarian tendencies of the current Royal Society are simply breathtaking:

The letter, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, adds: "I would be grateful if you could let me know which organisations in the UK and other European countries have been receiving funding so that I can work out which of these have been similarly providing inaccurate and misleading information to the public."

Translation: Tell me now everyone you fund, so we can investigate, harass, make life miserable, put career under microscope, and make sure nobody even to think of contradicting Comrade Lysenko, who has full faith of Comrade General Secretary of Central Committee.

If there really is a "scientific consensus," as the Royal Society insists, then why would they worry about a few gadflies saying the Earth was flat and disease was caused by demonic possession? Perhaps what they're really worried about is something like this:

In April 2006, sixty respected climatologists, atmospheric physicists, meteorologists, and other climate-related scientists (who didn't get the memo about the "scientific consensus") sent their own letter to new Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, begging him to reconsider the Canadian government's Kyoto-Protocol-driven energy policy. The current policy was rammed through the Canadian parliament by the former prime minister, the Liberal Party's scandal-ridden Paul Martin, who was ignominiously chucked out on a vote of no confidence last year:

As accredited experts in climate and related scientific disciplines, we are writing to propose that balanced, comprehensive public-consultation sessions be held so as to examine the scientific foundation of the federal government's climate-change plans....

Observational evidence does not support today's computer climate models, so there is little reason to trust model predictions of the future. Yet this is precisely what the United Nations did in creating and promoting Kyoto and still does in the alarmist forecasts on which Canada's climate policies are based. Even if the climate models were realistic, the environmental impact of Canada delaying implementation of Kyoto or other greenhouse-gas reduction schemes, pending completion of consultations, would be insignificant. Directing your government to convene balanced, open hearings as soon as possible would be a most prudent and responsible course of action.

This group of -- of charlatans strike at the very heart of the international scientific community's diktat that global warming -- whoops, my mistake... global climate change -- is real, damn it; is anthropogenic; and is so bloody urgent that it must be addressed immediately, immediately, no matter what economic ruin it causes. If such groups as this are allowed to communicate directly to heads of state like Stephen Harper (especially ones who might listen... like Stephen Harper), without having to use the IPCC as intermediary, why who knows what mischief they might manufacture!


While the confident pronouncements of scientifically unqualified environmental groups may provide for sensational headlines, they are no basis for mature policy formulation. The study of global climate change is, as you have said, an "emerging science," one that is perhaps the most complex ever tackled. It may be many years yet before we properly understand the Earth's climate system. Nevertheless, significant advances have been made since the protocol was created, many of which are taking us away from a concern about increasing greenhouse gases. If, back in the mid-1990s, we knew what we know today about climate, Kyoto would almost certainly not exist, because we would have concluded it was not necessary.

Naturally, such freethinking must be suppressed; we cannot have such people with "scientific credentials" -- such as...

  • Dr. Tad Murty, former senior research scientist, Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans, former director of Australia's National Tidal Facility and professor of earth sciences, Flinders University, Adelaide; currently adjunct professor, Departments of Civil Engineering and Earth Sciences, University of Ottawa;
  • Mr. David Nowell, M.Sc. (Meteorology), fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society, Canadian member and past chairman of the NATO Meteorological Group, Ottawa;
  • Dr./Cdr. M. R. Morgan, FRMS, climate consultant, former meteorology advisor to the World Meteorological Organization, previously research scientist in climatology at University of Exeter, U.K.;
  • Dr. Freeman J. Dyson, emeritus professor of physics, Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton, N.J.;
  • Mr. William Kininmonth, Australasian Climate Research, former Head National Climate Centre, Australian Bureau of Meteorology; former Australian delegate to World Meteorological Organization Commission for Climatology, Scientific and Technical Review;
  • Dr. Richard S. Courtney, climate and atmospheric science consultant, IPCC expert reviewer, U.K.;

...and about 54 similar individuals of no account -- gumming up the smooth dismantling of the world's energy supply.

Oddly, however, neither the British Society, the AAAS nor NSF, nor even the IPCC itself, who all insist on a consensus that we must stop putting so much greenhouse gas in the atmosphere... none of these groups advocates a shift to generating electricity by nuclear fission, using modern, safe, clean, and non-breeder pebble-bed reactors or integral fast reactors.

No no; whether the problem is global cooling, global warming, or an unusal sameness in the climate, the solution is always the same: smash the looms.

And absolute conformity, of course; that is always part of any solution advanced by the Left... Comrade.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 27, 2006, at the time of 11:57 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

September 13, 2006

Gulf What Syndrome?

Matrimonial Madness , Science - Bogus
Hatched by Dafydd

A "panel of experts" went looking for Gulf War Syndrome and couldn't find it anywhere!

See if this sounds familiar:

Exposed to combat stress in an environment with abundant sources of potentially harmful chemicals, nearly 30 percent of Gulf War veterans have suffered some kind of illness with multiple symptoms, compared with 16 percent of service members who did not go there. But there is no coherent set of symptoms that points to an overall syndrome, the [Institute of Medicine] panel reported.

"Gulf War veterans consistently report experiencing a wide range of symptoms, and this the case for both American veterans and military personnel from Canada, Australia, and other countries who served in the Persian Gulf," said Lynn Goldman, a professor of occupational and environmental health at Johns Hopkins University Baltimore.

"But because the symptoms vary greatly among individuals, they do not point to a syndrome unique to these veterans," added Goldman, who chaired the panel of medical and occupational experts.

Here is what we have:

  • "Gulf War Syndrome" (GWS) has been widely discussed for fifteen years in newspapers and magazines, on TV talk shows like Oprah and Jerry Springer, on the radio, and has even been referred to in the movies; probably every Gulf-War vet in America has heard of it.
  • A number of soldiers who fought in the Gulf War (and many others who were simply in some branch of service during that period) have reported various symptoms; they have asked for government-paid medical care.
  • The symptoms do not line up with each other; there is no consistent overlap. Some complain of running a fever, others complain their body temperatures are too cold. Some have pains in one part of their bodies, others have pains in completely different parts. Some have complained of flu-like symptoms, others have arthritis-like symptoms. And some sound almost childishly bizarre: burning semen and glow-in-the-dark vomit, for example.
  • In addition, vets have blamed any other disease they contract -- everything from pelvic cancer to cirrhosis to Lou Gherig's disease -- on a weakened immune system caused by GWS.
  • In the face of numerous studies finding no correlation, no special "syndrome," no statistically significant deviation from the norm of others in the service during this period, the vets who claim to be suffering from GWS say that they are the evidence, and this refutes any scientific studies.

MIchael Fumento has investigated GWS more than any other science writer, and he has argued for many years that there is no such "syndrome". If science exists and is at all believable, then GWS does not:

The latest Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illness, stacked with GWS activists by Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi, said in so many words: "Damn the science and full speed ahead!" So doing, its September report – recently released – not only contradicted a previous advisory committee's findings but that of three different Institute of Medicine (IOM) panels; all appointed by the VA.

In doing so, it ignored that rates of both illness and death are lower among Gulf vets are no higher than those of comparable vets who didn't deploy; they're also far lower than those of comparable civilians. It also ignored the utter lack of commonality in symptoms, except that many studies have found GW vets have higher levels of stress-related illness. [Which could well be from the stress of being terrified about having GWS.]

Activists have attributed at least 123 symptoms to this "will-'o-the-wisp" syndrome, as former New England Journal of Medicine editor Marcia Angell described it to the New York Times." They include aching muscles, aching joints, abdominal pain, bruising, shaking, vomiting, fevers, irritability, fatigue, weight loss, weight gain, heartburn, bad breath, hair loss, graying hair, rashes, sore throat, itching, sore gums, constipation, sneezing, nasal congestion, leg cramps, hemorrhoids, hypertension, insomnia, and headaches.

Anybody who hasn't had most of the above symptoms is probably an android. But when a non-vet gets a cough, it's called "a cough." If a Gulf vet gets one, it's called GWS.

One claim is that GWS is caused by exposure to many chemicals during that brief war -- oil-fire smoke, possible chemical weapons stockpiled by Saddam and destroyed by U.S. troops, and of course, the ever-popular "evil vaccinations" that reportedly cause every illness known to Man, including AIDS and halitosis. But there is no correlation between individual soldiers' level of exposure and symptoms, except in those studies that rely entirely upon self-report of symptoms.

Other explanations (nerve gas, some unknow but ubiquitous Middle-Eastern virus) run into the same wall of non-correlation:

The reason the fad/theories come and go is because none ever pan out. Consider the nerve gas theory. It was given a bit of credence when it emerged that a battalion had blown up an Iraqi weapons bunker containing sarin gas. But sarin begins to dissipate in seconds, and the closest of these soldiers was three miles away. Others allegedly "gassed" from this explosion were hundreds of miles away.

Further, as General H. Norman Schwartzkopf pointed out in recent congressional testimony, during the war not a single soldier came down with symptoms of nerve gas poisoning. There is no evidence that an exposure to sarin so low as to cause no symptoms at the time could years later begin to wreak havoc on the body.

Finally, blaming nerve gas hardly accounts for all these stories we've been hearing about vets infecting their wives and children. Nerve gas is not contagious.

But science doesn't matter in the face of "we are the evidence" argumentation, just as evidence is irrelevant to creationists: when actual science gets in the way of hysteria, it is science that must give way to charges of "coverup" and "conspiracy."

The current study by the Institute of Medicine confirms what Fumento has said in many, many articles: you cannot have a single "syndrome" with symptoms unique to each individual and which doesn't even correlate with exposure to any conceivable agents or vectors. Modern medicine requires doctors, not voodoo priests.

I asked above whether GWS sounds at all familiar; it was actually a trick question, because the pattern is not merely similar, not merely identical, but literally the same game played with "silicone disease," "power-line disease," "post-partum disease," and today with "World Trade Center syndrome": it's really all one thing: it's I Feel Bad Complex in full cry.

The symptoms of IFBC include whatever any "sufferer" reports. It's caused by whatever unusual (or normal) life experiences the "sufferer" has lived through. The treatment is whatever the "sufferer" demands. And IFBC only goes away temporarily, returning with different symptoms, causes, and treatments the next time the "sufferer" feels bad.

We do no benefit to veterans by encouraging them to believe they have mystery illnesses with migrating symptoms and unlocatable causes, because they can never have any confidence that such phantom diseases ever go away. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld might say, luring vets into believing such nightmarish fantasies is "unhelpful."

It's time to put a stake through what Fumento calls "Gulf Lore sundrome," wreath it with garlic, and bury it at the nearest crossroads.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 13, 2006, at the time of 4:20 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 26, 2006

Ya Fallow?

Globaloney Sandwich , Science - Bogus
Hatched by Dafydd

Extree, extree, read all about it! Now "global warming" makes glaciers grow bigger...!

Global warming could be causing some glaciers to grow, a new study claims.

Researchers at Newcastle University looked at temperature trends in the western Himalaya over the past century.

They found warmer winters and cooler summers, combined with more snow and rainfall, could be causing some mountain glaciers to increase in size.

So let's review the bidding:

  • Global warming is real, man-made, and catastrophic; every scientist who doesn't actually drool not only admits this, he wants to know why Bush hasn't issued an executive order smashing the looms already.
  • We know this because, for one reason, glaciers began retreating and shrinking the very instant the Industrial Revolution really kicked off in the 1940s.
  • Well actually, they began retreating in Africa about 120 years ago, before there was hardly any industrial-created CO2 in the atmosphere; but that's beside the point.
  • And as a matter of fact, glaciers have actually been expanding in New Zealand, North America, and Norway.
  • But coincidentally enough, it turns out that expanding glaciers are also signs of global warming! Mirabile dictu!
  • And while we're on the subject, Greenland has actually been cooling since about 1940 -- having earlier experienced a brief, ten-year spurt of warming in which the annual surface air temperature jumped up between 2°C and 4°C.
  • But that's all right, because cooling is also a sign of global warming; that's why we renamed it "global climate change," dummy!

All right; I think I've got it now.

I think...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 26, 2006, at the time of 9:54 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

August 24, 2006

Pluto Demoted? What About Mickey and Goofy?

Science - Bogus
Hatched by Dafydd

From Associated Press:

Pluto, beloved by some as a cosmic underdog but scorned by astronomers who considered it too dinky and distant, was unceremoniously stripped of its status as a planet Thursday.

The International Astronomical Union, dramatically reversing course just a week after floating the idea of reaffirming Pluto's planethood and adding three new planets to Earth's neighborhood, downgraded the ninth rock from the sun in historic new galactic guidelines.

Dear International Astronomical Union:

You can take your demotion of Pluto and stick it up Uranus.


Mr. Lizard

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 24, 2006, at the time of 5:51 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

August 21, 2006

The Glozone Layer

Enviro-Mental Cases , Globaloney Sandwich , Science - Bogus
Hatched by Dafydd

Beginning 28 years ago (starting with Sweden in 1978), the hysterical fear-mongering du jour were a pair of rapidly expanding "holes" in the ozone layer high above the Earth, one above each pole in the stratosphere (10 km to 50 km altitude, or 33,000 feet to 164,000 feet). The ozone holes -- actually, areas of somewhat decreased ozone concentrations, not the absence of ozone -- would let in too much ultraviolate radiation (UVR), which would lead to skin cancer, genetic damage, and the destruction of life on this planet.

The primary culprit for ozone depletion (this is actually correct) was found to be manmade refrigerants, propellants, cleaners, and fire extinguishers, nearly all based upon chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and bromofluorocarbons (BFCs). In an orgy of enviro-mental disorder, virtually every civilized and semi-civilized nation on the planet rushed to eliminate CFCs, substituting hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) for the dreaded CFCs.

But now it turns out, with an irony thick enough to spread on a muffin, that the wonderful chemicals we've shifted to using, in order to allow the "ozone holes" to "heal," are themselves very powerful greenhouse gases... and they're significantly contributing to supposedly human-induced global warming:

The chemicals that replaced CFCs are better for the ozone layer, but do little to help global warming. These chemicals, too, act as a reflective layer in the atmosphere that traps heat like a greenhouse.

That effect is at odds with the intent of a second treaty, drawn up in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 by the same countries behind the Montreal pact. In fact, the volume of greenhouse gases created as a result of the Montreal agreement's phaseout of CFCs is two times to three times the amount of global-warming carbon dioxide the Kyoto agreement is supposed to eliminate.

The international association of the perpetually aggrieved now laments the fact that nobody appears to own the earth's atmosphere... hence, there is nobody to be sued:

"But now the question is, who's going to ensure that the replacements are not going to cause global warming?" said Alexander von Bismarck, campaigns director for the Environmental Investigation Agency, a nonprofit watchdog group in London and Washington. "It's shocking that so far nobody's taking responsibility."

"A massive opportunity to help stave off climate change is currently being cast aside," he said.

Environmentalists now demand that those countries that spent themselves into recessions replacing CFCs with HCFCs and HFCs do it all over again, this time substituting for the substitutes:

The U.N. report says the atmosphere could be spared the equivalent of 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions if countries used ammonia, hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide or other ozone-friendly chemicals, rather than HCFCs and HFCs, in foams and refrigerants. Such alternatives are more common in Europe.

And of course, most of the international enviromentalist organizations are -- European! What a lucky break for countries of that continent.

Of course, the only other problem (besides prohibitive cost) is that the alternatives don't work very well, if at all. But that's a small price to pay for the priviliege of being on the cutting edge of chemical conscientiousness.

What has always struck me as hilarious is that the folks who are most exercised about global warming nevertheless recoil from the single most effective method of redusing carbon and carbonoid emissions: a massive program to replace all oil- and coal-based powerplants with clean, modern, and safe nuclear fission reactors, using new technologies. As Big Lizards discussed back in December:

But there are many methods of producing energy that do not require burning anything... the most effective of which, in the short-to-medium term (0 to 50 years), are hydroelectric generators and nuclear power plants. Since the former are limited by the number of rivers you're willing to dam (which causes rather significant environmental change, to say the least!), we should probably concentrate on the latter. Recent radically improved technologies for nuclear fission, including Pebble Bed Modular Reactors (gas-cooled) and Integral Fast Reactors (liquid-metal cooled), already exist in prototype but lack either funding or a favorable political climate for wide-scale development.

That last void is courtesy the environmentalist movement, which demands we solve a problem while nixing all possible solutions.

But hey, what do I know? I gloriously wasted my youth studying real mathematics and logic.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 21, 2006, at the time of 4:49 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

June 13, 2006

We Didn't Start the Fryer

Econ. 101 , Science - Bogus , Unuseful Idiots
Hatched by Dafydd

And while we're on the subject:

A U.S. consumer group sued the operator of the KFC fried chicken restaurant chain on Tuesday to try and force it to stop frying foods in an artery- clogging fat.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, in a suit filed against Yum Brands Inc., said some KFC meals were "startlingly" high in harmful trans fat from the partially hydrogenated oils used for frying.

(We gloss lightly over the collapse of grammatical standards among news providers, such as Reuters. "Try and force it?" Do they also write "prolly," as in "I'm prolly going to die from all this fried chicken?")

In a related story, the CSPI announced that any day now, they will file another suit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia against McDonalds, accusing them of deliberately making hamburgers that don't taste as good as those made by Carl's Jr.

"I'm sure we can find some cause of action here, if we look hard enough," a spokesman for the CSPI was expected to say shortly. "These fast food corporations act as if they own the joint!"

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, June 13, 2006, at the time of 3:28 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 21, 2005

Unintelligent Redesign of Creationism

God in the Dry Dock , Science - Bogus
Hatched by Dafydd

I have the queasy feeling I'm about to be pilloried... but I just can't keep my big, fat mouth shut. Fat fingers, whatever. The fact of the matter is that, needlessly insulting as it was, the ruling by Federal Judge E. Jones III that "intelligent design" (ID) is not science was exactly correct: it is not.

A point to note: I am not saying ID is false; in fact, I find it very persuasive. Not in its strong sense, that an amoeba or a flatworm or an angry clam could not evolve entirely naturally; I find variation plus natural selection a very satisfying and compelling theory to explain the evolution of life from its very beginnings in the primordial ooze right up through the evolution of primates.

Where I think it falls flat is only in the development of the massive cerebral cortex found only in genus Homo, and especially in the fairly sudden appearance of self-awareness, time-binding, and foreknowledge:

I know that I am me, a separate entity from you, and I am aware of myself, my thoughts, my thoughts about being aware of my thoughts.

I understand that I used to be a child, but now I'm a man, and that the events of my life happened in a particular order in time. And I know that I will age, and unless there are some tremendous breakthroughs in medicine and gerontology, I will eventually die. Despite many desperate attempts by PETA-people to convince me otherwise, I know that no other animal has these elements of intelligence or even a rudimentary version of them. So I am very open to the ideas of ID.

Nevertheless, E pur si muove: I cannot hold my tongue and pretend that ID is science by any rational definition of that word.

It makes no difference that some people with scientific degrees claim it's science; nor does it matter that some of them even hold positions that ordinarily would only be held by scientists. Any one who says that ID is science is either ignorant of science or is telling you a tale.

Twenty-three years ago, Judge William R. Overton decided the case McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, the first federal case to examine the curious hippogriff of "creation science" -- an attempt to resurrect pure creationism as some sort of "science," so it could be taught in the public schools. Note that this was not the case that was appealed up to the Supreme Court in 1987; that was Edwards v. Aguillard (482 U.S. 578; 107 S. Ct. 2573; 1987 U.S. LEXIS 2729; 96 L. Ed. 2d 510; 55 U.S.L.W. 4860), decided in 1987. Though McLean went against the creationists, they decided not to appeal, waiting an additional five years for a case they thought was stronger.

McLean never made it past the district court phase; but unlike Edwards, McLean was a knock-down, drag-out fight between various religious and scientific expert witnesses... and Judge Overton's decision was probably the best informed of any of the creationism cases. He did something no other judge had ever done: he constructed a legal definition of science against which competing doctrines could be measured.

William Buckingham, one of the Dover school-board members in the current case, said:

I'm still waiting for a judge or anyone to show me anywhere in the Constitution where there's a separation of church and state.

I completely agree, as does anybody who can read. But that isn't the point, is it? Judge Jones didn't rule that we had to rub "In God We Trust" off the money and erase "under God" from the Pledge; he only ruled that ID was no more a science than was creation science, which itself was no more scientific than pure creationism, for all that its inventors tarted it up to look techno-cool.

In the McLean decision, Judge Overton addressed the real issue head on:

In addition to the fallacious pedagogy of the two model approach, Section 4(a) lacks legitimate educational value because "creation-science" as defined in that section is simply not science. Several witnesses suggested definitions of science. A descriptive definition was said to be that science is what is "accepted by the scientific community" and is "what scientists do." The obvious implication of this description is that, in a free society, knowledge does not require the imprimatur of legislation in order to become science.

More precisely, the essential characteristics of science are:

(1) It is guided by natural law;
(2) It has to be explanatory by reference to nature law;
(3) It is testable against the empirical world;
(4) Its conclusions are tentative, i.e. are not necessarily the final word; and
(5) Its is falsifiable. (Ruse and other science witnesses).

I would collapse these into just four tests; but a candidate for consideration as science must pass all four tests. ID, like its forebear creation science, in fact fails all four:

  1. The theory must arise from and refer only to natural, ongoing processes.
  2. It must arise in a logical, compelling way from previous scientific theory and take into account (explain) all previous measurements.
  3. It must be tentative: that is, it must be able to change as the observed evidence changes, rather than being immutable and invulnerable to future evidence.
  4. It must be falsifiable, which means it must be possible to devise an experiment one of whose possible results, at least theoretically, contradicts the theory, resulting in the theory's rejection.

Intelligent design flunks all four tests: rather than arising from natural, ongoing processes, it assumes "creatio ex nihilio," creation out of the void by a supernatural entity. Even if you call this entity Gid or Gad, everyone knows (wink, nudge) it's really God.

The central tenet of ID, direct supernatural intervention in species development, makes no reference whatsoever to previous scientific findings supporting this proposition... because of course there aren't any.

It is not tentative: it is fixed and inviolate, and it is never taught (that I've seen) as a possible explanation for the origin of the various species but rather as the only possible explanation -- regardless of the disingenuous claims of its boosters, such as Michael Medved.

And it is surely not falsifiable, as it is impossible even in theory to devise an experiment that could possibly disprove ID... because any unpredicted result can be explained as being willed by the very same supernatural entity that caused all the evolution. The perfect alibi!

All the school board's horses and all of its men cannot put the "science" into ID. The only difference between ID and the earlier, discredited creation science is that the latter rejected all forms of evolution of one "kind" (species) into another, while the former accepts the idea of evolution in theory -- but argues that it can only occur with God's personal intervention. Whether this is true or false is a fascinating discussion... but it's a debate, not about science, but about religion and sociology.

Which, oddly enough, is exactly where the new Dover school board has decided to offer a class in intelligent design: as a sociology elective. That would be the school board members elected in place of the previous, ID-requiring board members in an startling election result for a conservative city:

The new school board president, Bernadette Reinking, said the board intends to remove intelligent design from the science curriculum and place it in an elective social studies class. "As far as I can tell you, there is no intent to appeal," she said.

The bashing of this judge and this decision by some cultural conservatives is unfair, uninformed, and unbecoming: while some of the dicta in the decision is intemperate, I have argued with creationists all my adult life -- and I find it very plausible indeed that they lied about the God factor... which completely justifies the judge's ire. Indeed, I have never had a debate or discussion with a proponent of ID (or creation science) who would ever admit that Genesis was the true origin of his thesis... even though he introduced both creation out of nothingness and also the Noahide flood to explain marine fossils in arid deserts!

Intelligent design is not science, and it should not be taught in the public schools as such. Put it where it belongs: the home, the house of worship, or even a public-school class on comparative religions.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 21, 2005, at the time of 5:11 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

December 9, 2005

More December Hot Air

Enviro-Mental Cases , Science - Bogus
Hatched by Dafydd

In an otherwise tedious and uninteresting Reuters story -- hey, we read these things so you don't have to! -- I stumbled across this perfect example of the lie by omission:

President George W. Bush pulled out of Kyoto in 2001, arguing that mandatory cuts on emissions from fossil fuels would hamper growth and job creation. Washington prefers its own approach to stem global warming, mostly by investing heavily in technology.

Why is this a lie? Because in reality, Bush did not pull out of the Kyoto Protocol -- because we were never in it to begin with.

True, Bill Clinton signed the agreement (rather, Al Gore -- but he was signing on behalf of the president); but he never submitted it to the Senate for ratification, as required by Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution before a treaty can go into effect. Why didn't he? That's an easy one:

On July 25, 1997, before the Kyoto Protocol was to be negotiated, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed by a 95–0 vote the Byrd-Hagel Resolution (S. Res. 98), which stated the sense of the Senate was that the United States should not be a signatory to any protocol that did not include binding targets and timetables for developing as well as industrialized nations or "would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States". On November 12, 1998, Vice President Al Gore symbolically signed the protocol. Aware of the Senate's view of the protocol, the Clinton Administration never submitted the protocol for ratification.

When George W. Bush became president, he took a look at the signed but never ratified treaty, concluded that the Senate would never ratify it, and simply formalized what was already the de facto situation: that the United States had never officially agreed to the Kyoto Protocol.

Not wanting the onus to fall upon Mr. C., however, Reuters simply omits this part of the story. The closest they come is here:

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who supported Kyoto but failed to convince U.S. lawmakers, will enter the fray on Friday with an appearance on the sidelines of the conference.

I think readers could be forgiven for failing to deduce from this comma-delimited parenthetical remark the actual sequence of events I detailed above. Oh, and here is one more lie by omission; Reuters just seems full of it today -- full of such failures to relate the whole truth, I mean:

Many here had hoped that the United States' resistance would be broken by this year's extreme weather events, particularly Hurricane Katrina's destruction of New Orleans. Scientific evidence suggests global warming might be behind recent devastating weather patterns.

It's possible that some papers submitted to refereed journals here and there might have made such an argument; I can't say for certain that none has. But the reality is that the overwhelming consensus of meteorologists, atmospheric physicists and chemists, and other scientists from relevant disciplines is that global warming has nothing to do with the frequency or intensity of hurricanes -- and that in fact, there was nothing particularly unusual about this year's hurricane season, except that one big one happened to hit a heavily populated area of the United States and kill 1,000 people.

But of course, Reuters simply didn't have room to fit in all of these inconveniently non-fitting facts; besides, that wasn't the story they wanted to tell.

Thus are great nonsense-discoveries made.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 9, 2005, at the time of 1:38 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 25, 2005

What's Flu With You?

Doctor, Doctor , Natural Disasters , Science - Bogus
Hatched by Sachi

Recently we have been hearing about this mysterious Bird Flu from Southeast Asia. Some prophets of doom say it has already spread to epidemic proportions in China, and that it will soon spread across the globe. Dire predictions warn of a worse pandemic than the Spanish Flu of 1918, which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

But science reporter Michael Fumento challenges the conventional wisdom. “As of November 9, 125 cases and 64 deaths have been reported from avian flu since late 2003," Fumento writes; "all in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia." So far, at least, the Avian Flu is a bust in the pandemic sweepstakes.

Scientists have determined that, like the 1918 flu, the virus in the current Bird Flu does jump from birds to humans. But what has not yet been seen is a single case where the new H5N1 influenza virus was transmitted from human to human... which was what made the World War I Spanish Flu so deadly. H5N1 (H5, for short) is very different from the Spanish Flu.

Sir John Skehel, a lead researcher of the National Institute for Medical Research team, which studied the 1918 strain in great detail, told BBC News Online:

"[O]ur research will not have an immediate impact on the situation currently unfolding in the Far East with the chicken flu known as H5, since, from our previous work, we know that the 1918 and the H5 Hemagglutinins are quite different."

I believe that the reason all reported cases of H5 in humans come from rural Asian communities is that in those places, birds ranchers practically live with the birds. Bloody, dripping birds are routinely sold in the street without any kind of refrigeration or sanitation. I remember a number of years ago, many Japanese restaurants had dead ducks, feathers and all, dangling from hooks on the outside walls. But in developed countries like the United States, we raise, slaughter, and store poultry quite differently (freezers are a wonderful invention); these sanitary procedures help prevent bird-to-human infection. So from what I've read, I believe that unless the virus mutates to transmit human-to-human, H5 will not cause a pandemic in the developed world.

That is not to say that H5 won't suddenly mutate, as the Spanish Flu did. So, what is wrong with warning the population? Shouldn't we err on the side of caution? There is plenty wrong, Fumento says.

What we can say with confidence is that there is never such a thing as helpful hysteria. And the line between informing the public and starting a panic is being crossed every day now by politicians, public health officials, and journalists.

Headlines like "Flu Pandemic Could Kill 150 Million, U.N. Warns" (Reuters) certainly haven't helped. Never mind that the figure was tossed off by a single official who provided a range of "5 million to 150 million." (Translation: "We haven't the foggiest.") Similarly, the media have generally morphed the federal government's estimate of 200,000 to 1.9 million deaths to simply "1.9 million deaths." Also not helping is the media propensity to seek out the most alarmist "experts." [Emphasis added here and below]

But, how likely is it that a mutated virus will start to infect the human population? Fumento again:

There are no pat formulas, such as the chances of shooting snake eyes or drawing a royal flush. Nor is it just a matter of time. Indeed, one of the arguments against a human outbreak of H5N1 is that sick birds have been mixing with humans for years now without producing a pandemic.

It's practically a state secret that the discovery of H5N1 in poultry dates back not to 1997 but rather to 1959, when it was identified in Scottish chickens. Perhaps haggis had a protective effect on the farmers, but there was a terrible outbreak of the related H5N2 among both chickens and turkeys in Pennsylvania in 1983-85 (17 million birds were destroyed) that appears to have originated as H5N1 in seagulls. So H5N1 has been flying around the globe for over four decades and hasn't done a number on us yet. That doesn't mean it won't ever; but there's absolutely no reason to think it will pick this year or next.

However, just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn't mean it never will. This is hardly reassuring. Can’t we do something to help prevent a repeat of 1918?

The simplest prophylactic action would be to vaccinate all domestic birds. But considering the vast numbers of the bird population and the difficulty catching them to give them shots, it's highly doubtful this could be done. A more practical program is to minimize the contacts between birds and humans.

  • Developing countries should adopt the procedures used by developed countries to raise domesticated poultry.

But what about mutations? If the flu mutates into a human-to-human infection, that will spread much faster than Bird Flu spreads today; most people have no contact with potentially infected birds... but everybody has contact with other humans.

In fact there is something we can do to minimize the possibility of mutation. There are two ways that the virus can mutate. The first is simply by random chance; but this is unlikely to produce a particular mutation -- human-to-human contagion, in this case.

But the other route to mutation is by contact with another strain of the virus. If a human who is already infected with any other human flu that spreads by human-to-human contact also contracts the H5N1, the two viruses can merge and form a completely different, so-called hybrid flu. The hybrid can combine the symptoms of H5 with the human-to-human contagion of the other flu.

  • So to avoid hybrid flu, vaccinate as many humans as possible. We can do this without getting into a panic mode.

We can also minimize the spread of flu, even if a mutation occurs and H5 actually starts to transmit between humans. It makes perfect sense to take the same precautions we already take for any other flu.

  • If you contract the flu, take medication that “reduces the duration and severity of acute human influenza” and stay in bed, away from other people.

As Michael Fumento notes,

Both Tamiflu and Relenza should be taken as soon as flu symptoms become evident, preferably within two days, although at least one animal study showed Tamiflu was still helpful long after what's normally considered the "window of opportunity." It's also okay to take them if it's known that avian flu is truly on the wing.

Of course if the flu is as lethal as they say it is (some claim a 50% mortality rate), none of these measures would be enough. But is it? Fumento argues that the lethality of this flu is exaggerated:

We do know, however, that there are millions of Asian farmers in constant contact with the saliva and feces of countless birds where the virus has been prevalent. Indeed, blood samples collected from rural Chinese in 1992 indicate that millions had already been infected with H5N1, yet there was no reported outbreak of human disease. An analysis was also conducted after an H7N7 avian flu outbreak in the Netherlands two years ago. It found infections among half of persons who either had contact with the birds or were family members. Were something like that rate to hold true for Southeast Asia, H5N1's mortality rate among infected humans would turn out to be no higher than for human flu.

The 50% lethality rate assumes that the 125 known cases are the only ones that have actually occurred; 64 deaths divided by 125 cases equals 51.2% mortality. But what if there have been hundreds or even thousands of other infections -- and the victims simply got over it? How would we know that they had H5, rather than a normal flu? Typically, doctors only know a person has Avian Flu if he is admitted to a hospital or other health-care center; but that would only happen if the infection became very dire indeed (rural farmers in the Third World don't go to hospital unless they're very, very sick for a very long time). So the H5 infections we hear about are exactly those that are so severe that death is not surprising. We would never hear about the milder cases.

But we always come back to the Spanish Flu. It did kill about 50 million people. How can Fumento be so confident that will not happen again? We have more people in the world. We have better and faster transportation (which spreads the disease quicker). If H5 spreads anything like the Spanish Flu did, the result would be much worse today. Or would it?

Odds are that the Spanish Flu would not have become a pandemic if it happened today. In 1918, the world was in the midst of WWI. Millions of young people from all over the world, many from rural areas with very little immunity to urban disease, gathered into congested military bases, then were shipped to faraway countries. You can almost track the epidemic in lockstep with the movements of American and English troops. Soldiers were stuck in trenches without adequate access to medical treatment and in daily intimate contact with all the other soldiers... a laboratory-perfect prescription for spreading disease. But none of these conditions exists now.

Avian Flu or any other kind of flu should not be treated lightly. But we have means to deal with this disease. Running around like “infected” chickens with their heads cut off is not one of them.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, November 25, 2005, at the time of 2:34 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 16, 2005

Enervated Energy

Politics - National , Science - Bogus
Hatched by Dafydd

Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the would-be Speaker of the House, has come out of her corner swinging. Alas, she seems as likely to hit the referee, the judges, and spectators in the first eleven rows as to hit her opponent, George W. Bush. (Via Daniel Weintraub's Bee-blog, California Insider.)

She gave a speech today designed to "develop an agenda that will help the Democratic Party retake power in the House" and "silence critics, even within her own party, who say she and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada haven't done enough to give disgruntled voters a reason to turn away from Republicans." In a hard-hitting, name-taking, prisoner-rejecting, high-ground-staking, high stakes, low-comedy departure from the Democratic norm -- we don't need no steekin' platform! -- she has drawn a line in the sand, laid down the law, put up or shut up, put her foot down, and grabbed the bull by the tail to look the facts in the face.

She has come out in favor of (wait for it) -- technology!

(Whatever happened to the good old days, when everybody opposed technology?)

But this is technology with a difference, the difference being Ludditism. Nancy Pelosi demands more energy, but only from sources proven ineffective at producing any:

"We should be spending America's energy dollars in the Midwest, not the Middle East," Pelosi is scheduled to say, proposing a crash federal research program into "high-risk, high-reward, revolutionary energy technologies."

"Our goal is energy independence, and we intend to achieve it within 10 years," she adds.

Those technologies include plant-based fuels such as ethanol and new engines for hybrids and biodiesel vehicles. [Emphasis added]

Not a word about drilling in ANWR, in the Gulf of Mexico, off the West Coast; shale oil; building more refineries; high-temp ceramic engines; or even nuclear power. Those are bad technologies; you can tell them from the good variety because the bad actually stand a chance of producing real energy.

Pelosi says the United States, the Internet's birthplace, has fallen behind other countries in broadband penetration, which she says threatens the country's economy. She wants to double federal funding to bring broadband into more American homes, businesses and schools, give businesses a tax credit for bringing such access to rural or other underserved areas and promote wireless Internet access.

Yes, we certainly can't trust the market to protect the constitutional right to high-speed broadband internet connectivity for all Americans; just think, there are some people still muddling along with dial-up! It's an emergency; the federal government must intervene quickly, before we lose another entire generation to slow surfing.

Pelosi also wants to boost the number of scientists, engineers and mathematicians in America by 100,000 over the next four years by providing more scholarships and other financial aid to students. In 2004, America graduated 70,000 engineers, while China turned out 10 times as many.

Ah -- and if this doesn't work to bridge that technological gap, she can simply use the same techniques as China: decide in advance how many engineers you want to graduate this year and simply order that many students to switch majors to engineering.

Folks, I rib you not, this is the upcoming Democratic party platform: Vote Democrat -- we're the Age of Aquarius, while they're the stodgy, old Picean plesiosaurs! Nancy Pelosi's response to the Global War on Terrorism? Ethanol! Imminent collapse of Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security? Broadband! The battle to protect traditional marriage? More state-subsidized engineers!

Sometimes you look at her and wonder. Other times, you just look.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, November 16, 2005, at the time of 2:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

© 2005-2013 by Dafydd ab Hugh - All Rights Reserved