Just as I cant believe that there was a Creator, I cant believe that this all happened by chance, which implies there was a Creator. So you see Im in a completely hopeless bind, and Ive stayed there.
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Cosmologist Squirms at Thought of Fine-Tuning 09/30/2004
Lawrence Krauss (Case Western Reserve U, Ohio) meant to talk about prospects for distinguishing between sources of so-called dark energy, the mysterious force that appears to be accelerating the expansion of the universe. But in the process, he opened his soul and revealed feelings, dreams, and nightmares. First, he states the problem:
Dark energy is perplexing. Physical theory currently has no explanation of why the energy of empty space should be precisely zero (quantum-mechanical effects combined with relativity in fact predict quite the opposite). But it also gives no explanation of why that energy should not instead be so huge that it would dwarf all of the energy in anything else (making galaxy formation impossible). (Emphasis added in all quotes.)The measured value for the cosmological constant hovers around exactly -1. That is far from huge, but not zero. Sounds like we a fine-tuning problem here. Krauss would rather find a theory that predicts why the universe has to be the way it is. If dark energy, whatever it is, appears to be due to a finely tuned value for the cosmological constant, we are stuck with explaining how we became so lucky to have another precisely fixed cosmic parameter that, if changed, would rule out life, because it would rule out galaxy formation. He takes some comfort in the work of Kunz et al. who are looking for other sources for the dark energy. If he fails, the thought of this big problem in cosmology lurking on the horizon gives Krauss nightmares:
Thus, some of us wake up in the middle of the night worrying that the discovery of dark energy may put cosmology on the same footing as particle physics, with all of the data that have come in over the years pointing consistently to exactly the same set of cosmic parameters, but without revealing any smoking-guns that could direct us to a fundamental theoretical rationale for why the data take these values. I have even made a bet with physicists Stephen Hawking and Frank Wilczek that this will happen (then, even if my worst nightmare turns out to be true, I will at least get a few bottles of wine out of the bargain). On the other hand, perhaps the cross-comparison of present and future cosmological observations, along the lines proposed by Kunz et al., will yield some new handle on this slippery problem. In that case, I might lose my bet, but the golden age of cosmology would persist.
1Lawrence M. Krauss, Cosmology: What is dark energy?, Nature 431, 519 - 520 (30 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431519b.
Atheists would rather get drunk than face the prospect that they live in a finely-tuned universe, created on purpose by an all-wise, caring, intelligent Creator. Fear not, Dr. Krauss; the sober life brings more ultimate satisfaction.PBS Airs Another Evolution Series: Origins 09/29/2004
PBS NOVA aired its latest installment on evolution, a 4-hour miniseries entitled Origins, on September 28 and 29. The website hype describes it as follows:
Has the universe always existed? How did it become a place that could harbor life? What was the birth of our planet like? Are we alone, or are there alien worlds waiting to be discovered? NOVA presents some startling new answers in Origins, a groundbreaking four-part NOVA miniseries hosted by dynamic astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. Tyson leads viewers on a cosmic journey to the beginning of time and into the distant reaches of the universe, searching for lifes first stirrings and its traces on other worlds. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)The series has four parts. Our reaction is added in green after each synopsis.
Maybe PBS learned its lesson from October 2001 that the E word is a lightning rod. Concepts are not mitigated by avoidance of loaded words and euphemisms. Maybe Origins is gentler word, but this was nothing less than PBS Evolution 2004 (See 09/28/2001 headline), and evolution was the last word Tyson uttered, with feeling.Date of Biblical Artifact Corroborated 09/29/2004
In 1979, a silver scroll was discovered near Jerusalem that contained the text of the priestly benediction known from the Pentateuch (Numbers 6:24-26). The scroll was dated at the 7th century BC at the time, but doubts remained, some thinking that instead it was from post-exilic times centuries later. Now, according to a New York Times report by John Noble Wilford echoed in the Oakland Tribune, researchers at the University of Southern California have now re-examined the inscriptions using space-age photographic and computer imaging techniques, and concluded that the artifacts indeed date from the pre-exilic period. The international team used some advanced digital imaging techniques at Jet Propulsion Laboratory to bring out hitherto undetectable fine details in the artifact.
This is a small but important piece in a large puzzle of archaeological evidence that supports the historicity of the Pentateuch (the books of Moses). Liberal scholars and skeptics have claimed that Moses could not have written such books; they assumed the books were compiled much later, after the Babylonian exile. Artifacts like this show that quotations from the Pentateuch were in common knowledge and circulation centuries earlier.Human Common Ancestor Lived 3500 Years Ago 09/29/2004
Nature Science Update reported on a surprising find by Joseph Change (Yale) and Douglas Rohde (MIT). They claim, based on computer modeling of human breeding and migration, that we are all related to the same common ancestor, not millions, but just thousands of years ago, possibly just 1500 BC in Asia, and that perhaps a couple of thousand years before that, everyone alive at that time was an ancestor of all of us living today. The results are published in Nature Sept. 30.1
The finding is not entirely new; it is more a refinement of simpler models taking better account of migration and geographical isolation. It does not mean people didnt exist before that, but only that the current population is genealogically related. Jotun Hein (Oxford) cautions in the same issue2 that genealogical questions are distinct from questions about the history of our genetic material, which are estimated by different methods: Universal common ancestry (in the pedigree sense) and genetic common ancestry thus occur on different timescales, he says.
If you think about it, its not all that surprising that in relatively few generations, a populations family trees will overlap. Think of inverted pyramids that overlap slightly; as they grow (going back in time), they will all eventually converge, unless the populations are completely isolated, which does not seem to be the case for any people group. Simple models that assumed random mating converged in just 33 generations, or 800 years ago, which is clearly unrealistic. By taking geography and history into account, Hein says, Rohde has tried to arrive at a more credible date for the MRCA (most recent common ancestor). Even more surprising, Hein says, the models predict that before the MRCA, anyone alive would have been an ancestor of everyone alive today. Rohde, Olsen and Chang explain:
Given the remaining uncertainties about migration rates and real-world mating patterns, the date of the MRCA [most recent common ancestor] for everyone living today cannot be identified with great precision. Nevertheless, our results suggest that the most recent common ancestor for the worlds current population lived in the relatively recent pastperhaps within the last few thousand years. And a few thousand years before that, although we have received genetic material in markedly different proportions from the people alive at the time, the ancestors of everyone on the Earth today were exactly the same. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)The implication is that the entire human race today, no matter the continent, culture, skin color, language or lifestyle, is a member of one big family:
Further work is needed to determine the effect of this common ancestry on patterns of genetic variation in structured populations. But to the extent that ancestry is considered in genealogical rather than genetic terms, our findings suggest a remarkable proposition: no matter the languages we speak or the colour of our skin, we share ancestors who planted rice on the banks of the Yangtze, who first domesticated horses on the steppes of the Ukraine, who hunted giant sloths in the forests of North and South America, and who laboured to build the Great Pyramid of Khufu.For another summary, see the report on EurekAlert, Most recent common ancestor of all humans surprisingly recent. Few other popular science news sources are reporting the story not New Scientist, Scientific American, National Geographic, the BBC News or MSNBC as eagerly as they typically do with discoveries of hominid fossils alleged to be human evolutionary ancestors.
1Douglas L. T. Rohde, Steve Olson, and Joseph T. Chang, Modelling the recent common ancestry of all living humans, Nature 431, 562 - 566 (30 September 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02842.
2Jotun Hein, Human evolution: Pedigrees for all humanity, Nature 431, 518 - 519 (30 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431518a.
Notice the model converges on a few thousand years ago, not millions. Such a date is closer to Noah than Lucy. Care should be exercised interpreting what this means, because it is somewhat of a counterintuitive artifact of a mathematical model that makes certain assumptions. Another counterintuitive result, Hein claims, is that not many generations ago (about six), members of our pedigree existed that did not contribute to us genetically. The authors are not claiming that humankind popped into existence a few thousand years ago, but only that everyone alive today had the same ancestors. Can the same models be applied to guppies, tigers and oak trees? Hein points to additional interesting questions that will require further refinement of models and the combining of pedigree and genetic ancestry information. One question he asks is, In the idealized models, how far back would one have to go to find a single couple who are the lone ancestors of everybody? to which we might add, and did their names start with A and E?Solar Wind Erodes Mars Atmosphere 09/28/2004
Physics Web has a summary of a report that appeared in Science Sept. 24.1 First results from an experiment on ESAs Mars Express called Analyzer of Space Plasma and Energetic Atoms (ASPERA-3) are in. They show that the solar wind penetrates deep into Mars atmosphere, as far as 270 km above the Martian surface. Since Mars has no global magnetic field, the energy of the solar wind strips away hydrogen and oxygen ions. This means Mars appears to be slowly dehydrating. Nature Science Update summarized a paper that indicates Mars once had acid rain and briny seas. Surprisingly it calls this climate ideally suited to life, presumably because liquid water narrows the temperature. A warm planet is good news for the prospect that life once existed there, it says.
Meanwhile, back on the surface, the Mars Exploration Rovers have been given another six months of work, reports New Scientist. Spirit and Opportunity are warming up again now that the peak of Martian winter has past. Mars Global Surveyor took a remarkable image from orbit, showing Spirit and its tracks on the surface.
1Lundin et al., Solar Wind-Induced Atmospheric Erosion at Mars: First Results from ASPERA-3 on Mars Express, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5692, 1933-1936, 24 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1101860].
Astrobiologists are filled with vibrant faith that life emerged from the bowels of hellish conditions, on Earth and on Mars both. It was a constant theme on the PBS Origins program (see 09/13/2004 headline). No evidence is required for this religion, just lots of maybes. Thats why we need these spacecraft and rovers to keep patiently, silently gathering data. Data have a way of putting dampers on wild speculations.Clean-Air Laws and Tree-Planting Cause Increased Air Pollution? 09/24/2004
A major source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), precursors of ozone pollution, is tree leaves, says a report in EurekAlert. Surprisingly, the increase in trees due to abandoned farms has worsened the pollution. Industry-caused nitrogen-oxygen (NOx) compounds also lead to ozone, and it is not clear how these sources interact. Nevertheless, it appears that reductions in man-made pollutants in the area from Alabama to Virginia, thanks to cleaner fuels and clean-air laws, may have been outweighed by VOC emissions from increasing density of forests reclaiming abandoned farms. It seems ironic that plantation foresting, a bio-friendly industry, could be contributing to air pollution. Researchers from Princeton investigating these cause-effect relationships could not help recalling President Ronald Reagans 1980 remark about hydrocarbons from trees accounting for about 80% of our air pollution, but they reasoned that the evidence does not prove that responsibility for pollution can be or should be shifted from humans to trees. The authors state that the distinction between what is natural and what is human-caused is disappearing. (See also 03/17/2003 headline.)
This story goes to show that even observable, measurable, present-day processes can be complex and can give rise to counterintuitive interpretations. How, then, can Darwinists write so glibly about prehistoric events and processes? Conventional wisdom would say the more trees the better. Maybe not; maybe it depends on the tree. The article states that certain species, like sweet gum and fast-growing pines, give off more VOCs than others, and suggest that old-growth forests are not as polluting. Many other factors could be involved: temperature, parasites, ground cover, sunlight, geography, fire history, or even the presence or absence of animals and fungi or other ecological relationships. Los Angeles was described as hazy long before the automobile arrived. No one can say for sure at this point how much humans are to blame for influencing the complex factors that contribute to VOCs, Nox, ozone production and air pollution. Beware the either-or fallacy: i.e., trees are all good, humans are all bad. Recall the proverb that complex problems can have easy-to-understand, common-sense, simple, wrong answers. We still have much to learn. Maybe VOCs are not all that bad for health. There must be a reason why the sweet smell of a forest makes us want to breathe in slow and deep, close our eyes, and say Aahhhhh.Big Science Portrays Embryonic Stem Cell Issue as Political Litmus Test 09/27/2004
The number of articles in scientific journals on embryonic stem cell research (also called therapeutic cloning) has been on the rise, particularly those referring to Britains or John Kerrys support of it (see 08/11/2004 editorial), and Germanys or Bushs opposition to it. Though science journals are expected to be above politics, on this issue their desire for political leaders with liberal policies on embryonic stem cell research is palpable. How do they justify it morally? (For the alternative, see 09/03/2004 headline.)
1Editorial: Time to look to the future, Nature 431, 385 (23 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431385b.
2Michael Gross, UK cloning moves prompt questions abroad, Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 18, 21 September 2004, Pages R732-R733, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.09.002.
3Gretchen Vogel, California Debates Whether to Become Stem Cell Heavyweight, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5690, 1544-1545, 10 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5690.1544].
4Gretchen Vogel, Stem Cell Claims Face Legal Hurdles, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5692, 1887, 24 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5692.1887a].
5Giuseppe Testa and John Harris, Ethical Aspects of ES Cell-Derived Gametes, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5691, 1719, 17 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1103083].
6David Baltimore, Science and the Bush Administration, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5692, 1873, 24 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5692.1873].
The advice of the politically-savvy voter holds true here: follow the money trail. The advocates of ES research are straining to find moral rationalizations for creating human beings for the purpose of destroying them, while the underlying drumbeat is always money, priority and prestige. Big Science is concerned about who will be first, not who will be right. Individual scientists who promote it have Nobel Prize dollars in their sights.Darwinian Just-So Story Criticized 09/27/2004
When Young and Brodie & son published their article How the Horned Lizard Got its Horns, (see 04/01/2004 headline), they apparently meant it as a bit of April-fool joke, not a real Kipling-style just-so story. Several respondents in the Sept 24 issue of Science,1 however, either didnt think it was funny or concluded the story was just-so after all:
1Letters to the editor, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5692, 1909-1910, 24 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5692.1909b].
Here was a rare, valiant attempt at providing just one clear, unambiguous association between a trait and a survival advantage, and even their fellow evolutionists were not convinced. So what are the rest of us supposed to think about the validity of adaptive stories in the Darwinian tradition?Big Pieces Missing in Darwins Theory, Says USC Scientist 09/27/2004
A USC professor of gerontology has explored a new way to look at aging that directly opposes principles set forth by Darwin in his theory of natural selection, reports EurekAlert (Emphasis added in all quotes). Valter Longos theory of aging employs group selection instead of individual selection (see 05/31/2004 headline). He thinks that in a population, individuals are programmed to die altruistically to conserve resources for the good of the group:
In research published in the Sept. 27 edition of the Journal of Cell Biology, Longo proposes that aging is programmed so that the majority of a population dies prematurely to provide nutrients for the sake of a few individuals who have acquired the genetic mutations that increase their chances of reproduction.In his view, aging is programmed and altruistic, not due to chance. Though his experiments were done with yeast, he thinks the principles could be applicable to humans, although we dont know whether its true yet or not, he admits.
Longo said he realizes that this theory goes against the fundamental theories of evolution, which is why he took 10 years to publish, combing through scientific papers dating back to the 1870s to learn about the genesis of the theory of natural selection and speaking with prominent evolutionary biologists about his ideas.Life is programmed, he says, but he does not yet know if death is programmed, too.
Sargent Williams, discipline Private Longo; he has stepped out of line (see 05/31/2004. No disrespect for General Charlie is permitted.Does Psychology Find Anything New Under the Skull? 09/25/2004
Two recent psychological reports seem to either state the obvious or underscore teachings of old-time religion.
The only value in the science of psychology seems to be the gathering of statistics, but even those can be biased. These researchers could have saved a lot of time by just reading the Bible. The good book teaches us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek, and warns against vindictiveness. It stresses the need for forgiveness and looking to the Lord for hope. Jesus said that our life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions. None of these things requires a scientific research program, but it is unlikely they would have received grant money for looking up Scripture passages. Anyone who thinks a psychologist will provide better therapy than time spent with the Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace should get his head examined.Update: Intelligent Design Paper 09/24/2004
The controversy over Stephen Meyers intelligent design paper (see 09/16/2004 headline) continues. Science printed a brief but dismissive news item claiming its publication was a mistake, but journal editor Rick Sternberg has answered the charges on his personal website. Meyer has responded to criticisms leveled by Richard Monastersky in the Chronicle of Education. The Discovery Institute has provided materials to reporters due to the unprecedented attention this publication has raised.
This is a good chance to study both sides of an issue and do some baloney detecting.Name-Calling at the Human Evolution Meeting 09/23/2004
As predicted earlier this month (see 09/03/2004 commentary), Lucys lovers were not going to take her demotion lying down. Proponents of Orrorin claim their 6 million year old rival walked upright millions of years before the 2-4 million year old australopithecines, and even had a gait more human-like than Lucy. To Ann Gibbons, reporting in Science1 on a meeting at the French Academy of Sciences last week, this is a serious charge: If so, australopithecines would be bumped off the direct line to humansa dramatic revision of our prehistory.
Tempers flared at the meeting of paleoanthropologists in Paris. The sweltering heat outside was matched inside as scientists hotly debated the attributes of anthropologys most famous thighbone, she reports.
More than 100 scholars packed the academys opulent, wood-paneled Grande Salle to witness the first face-to-face gathering of the discoverers of the three oldest putative hominids. In talks and a panel discussion, the researchers discussed whether Orrorin and other contenders for the title of earliest human ancestor walked upright and in what manner. Bipedalism is a traditional hallmark of membership in the human family rather than being an ancestor of chimpanzees, gorillas, or quadrupedal apes. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Critics denied the measurements of the thighbone ball-and-socket neck that Orrorin supporters used to support the claim it walked upright. The measurements were made incorrectly, they said, or were incapable of accurate measurement. Tim White, whose mysterious specimen Ardipethicus, is a 4.4-million year old contender, grilled Bri-Gitte Senut over Orrorin. The heated arguments came to a climax with White calling Senuts claim a French expletive that provoked an angry reaction:
White accepts that Orrorin walked upright and so is one of the first members of the hominid family. But he says Senut has offered little evidence as to Orrorins gait. Was it human, an Australopithecus pattern, or something different? he asked. Even standard x-rays would help answer that question. As the discussion grew more heated, White called Senuts displacement of australopithecines une position créationniste, because it suggests that Orrorins femur was quite modern 6 million years ago, rather than evolving in stages.White responded by showing photos of broken-up fragments of a bashed-in skull that looked like roadkill.
1Ann Gibbons, Paleoanthropology: Oldest Human Femur Wades Into Controversy, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5692, 1885 , 24 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5692.1885a]
Thank you, Ann, for this amusing account of the turf wars in Paris and the demise of evolutionary paleoanthropology. Do you realize how funny this is? It is hilarious partly because they take themselves so seriously. They are fighting over whose fragments of vanity win the prize for best tall tale, and to have it climax in one of them calling the other the C word, well, thats too much. For more whoppers, just follow the chain links on Early Man for the last four years.Cell Exhibits Robust Engineering Design 09/22/2004
An international team of biotechnologists writing in the journal Cell1 thinks biologists need to focus more on the concept of robust engineering design. The abstract sounds like something out of an Intelligent Design Movement paper:
Robustness, the ability to maintain performance in the face of perturbations and uncertainty, is a long-recognized key property of living systems. Owing to intimate links to cellular complexity, however, its molecular and cellular basis has only recently begun to be understood. Theoretical approaches to complex engineered systems can provide guidelines for investigating cellular robustness because biology and engineering employ a common set of basic mechanisms in different combinations. Robustness may be a key to understanding cellular complexity, elucidating design principles, and fostering closer interactions between experimentation and theory. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)In another sentence, they say: cellular complexity appears to arise mainly from robustness as a design goal. Any Darwinian worried about this story would quickly be assuaged, however, by the ubiquity of the E word: It has long been recognized that this robustness is an inherent property of all biological systems and is strongly favored by evolution, they claim. How this robustness actually came about, though, they have no idea:
Despite this central role in biology, there is still a limited understanding of what robustness precisely is and how it is accomplished at the cellular or molecular level (Hartman et al., 2001). A major reason is that robustness and the apparent complexity of cellular systems are intimately linked and, therefore, both are difficult to understand.The authors investigate mathematical models of robustness, and ways that biologists might get a grip on how robustness evolved in living systems. Surprisingly, they speak of engineering design and evolved design frequently in the same sentence:
In both biology and advanced technology, the primary function of a system is usually robust to a wide range of perturbations, yet these systems can show extreme fragility toward other (even seemingly much smaller) perturbations and/or other functions. This coexistence of extremes in robustness and fragility (robust yet fragile) perhaps constitutes the most salient feature of highly evolved or designed complexity. Human-designed technology has well-understood mechanisms, which are deliberately hidden from the user. In contrast, we have little systems level understanding of biological complexity. Here, we argue that by combining the fragmented yet complementary knowledge in both domains, robustness and its associated tradeoffs offer a powerful perspective on biological complexity.Another example: Hence, in design or evolution, robustness, which is adapted to the intended function of a system and the associated uncertainties, must be carefully distributed. They seem in awe at the levels of robustness in biology at times: Perhaps the most astounding property of microbial metabolism is its evolved robustness to sustain survival and proliferation upon extensive environmental or genetic perturbations. Living things employ several strategies to improve robustness: highly optimized tolerance, redundancy, feedback control circuitry, modularity, hierarchy and protocols, and other concepts from engineering. They think robustness as a research tool holds promise for evolutionary biology:
What is the tangible outcome of studying this issue for life sciences? Such an overarching concept as robustness will certainly play several roles in biological research. It can be viewed as an overall evolutionary design principle or a scientific approach. More optimistically, it may be the panacea to the ailments affecting large-scale dynamic modeling of biological systems. At the least, in the hands of pragmatic researchers it can function as a tool producing testable biological hypotheses....
1Stelling et al., Robustness of Cellular Functions, Cell, Volume 118, Issue 6, 17 September 2004, Pages 675-685, doi:10.1016/j.cell.2004.09.008.
Stand back: it wont be a pretty sight when their heads explode. Their whole tale hangs on the belief that natural selection can perform miracles of engineering design on demand, whenever and wherever needed. Wait till they find out it is blind, deaf, dumb, and has no track record (see 08/03/2004 editorial, and the 07/23/2004, 06/09/2004 and 04/15/2004 headlines, for instance). Stand back and turn around. The Engineer is in the opposite direction.Can Naturalism Design Anything? 09/22/2004
Philip Ball in the Sept. 23 issue of Nature1 gave a title to a news feature that might catch a reader off guard and think he is allowing the Intelligent Design Movement to have a voice in a scientific debate: Enzymes: By chance, or by design? Upon further reading, however, it is clear the debate is between materialists and materialists. He has no Intelligent Designer in mind but natural selection.
Most biologists would scoff at the idea that their subject is simply applied quantum mechanics. But for some enzymes the catalysts of biology quantum effects may be an important part of the way they work [see 09/16/2004 headline]. This revelation has left chemists and biologists arguing about whether enzymes have evolved to do this, or whether the effect would happen regardless of the enzymes activity. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)So a personal Designer or God is the last thing on Balls mind, despite the title. His debate is whether enzymes take advantage of quantum mechanical efficiencies by chance, or whether natural selection designed them to do so. The debate shows little sign of being resolved quickly. And until it is, we must remain uncertain about the limits of natures ingenuity, he concludes.
1Philip Ball, Enzymes: By chance, or by design?, Nature 431, 396 - 397 (23 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431396a.
Its a sign someone is so drunk on his worldview that he has lost touch with reality when he incorporates the lingo of his opponents and fails to see the contradiction. Ball cannot use the word design, nor the word ingenuity. He is a naturalist, a materialist, and the realm of ideas cannot be circumscribed by material substances and remain ideas.New Treatment for Hyperactivity: Nature Walks 09/21/2004
Hiking in the woods seems to alleviate ADHD, say two researchers from University of Illinois, in two studies mentioned briefly in Science News.1 The article begins, Does spending more playtime amid greenery improve behavior in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder? (emphasis added). Apparently, yes. The setting, not just the activity, is part of the equation, the studies indicate. One test took hyperactive children on walks, some in the city and some in the country. After the walk, children who took the nature trail performed better on a test of attention than did their counterparts who strolled in an urban setting.
1Ben Harder, Nature reduces kids signs of attention disorder, Science News, Week of Sept. 18, 2004; Vol. 166, No. 12 , p. 190.
Children are too complex for experiments like this to be completely trustworthy, with so many variables to consider, but any parent should instinctively know this makes sense. Stop depriving kids by confining them to zoos of smog, concrete, electronic gadgets and traffic noise, and then punishing them with drugs if they get rowdy. For their health, give them space in the environment they were made for: in touch with the wonders of nature, with time to see beautiful things and reflect on their Creators wisdom. A picture is worth a thousand words. Heres another thousand for a bonus, and some teacher/parent tips for places to go and things to do. What a healthy idea: Creation Safaris for kids.Introducing: The Spinach Cell Phone 09/21/2004
The next spinach sandwich you hear about may not be an item at the health food bar but an electronic device powered by the sun. According to an MIT press release, chloroplasts from spinach leaves have been successfully sandwiched into a solid-state electronic photocell that could be used before long to power cell phones and laptops. 100,000 of the protein-based light collectors could fit on the head of a pin. Deborah Halber of the MIT News Office remarked, Plants ability to generate energy has been optimized by evolution, so a spinach plant is extremely efficient, churning out a lot of energy relative to its size and weight.
And for that groaner, Deborah is a nominee for Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week. Evolution does not optimize anything. It only can eliminate things that are not already optimized. For an example of how optimized chloroplasts are for photosynthesis, read about how they make use of quantum mechanics to squeeze every bit of energy out of light in the 09/16/2004 entry. No wonder human engineers would like to borrow such intelligent design rather than try to produce it from scratch.Scientists Try to Read Neandertal Minds 09/21/2004
If dead men tell no tales, living ones certainly do. Most of us have trouble reading one anothers minds when staring face to face, but some paleoanthropologists, with nothing but skeletons and a few stone tools and burial sites to look at, have no hesitation in reading the Neandertal mind. Bruce Bower writes in Science News1 about a new controversial tale by Thomas Wynn and Frederick Coolidge from the University of Colorado. Their only critics are other paleoanthropologists, because the Neandertals are no longer present to say what really happened.
To begin with, they lay to rest any claims the Neandertals were dumb brutes. Forget the stereotype of these extinct human predecessors, Wynn and Coolidge assert; for tens of thousands of years, Neandertals were as smart as the ancient humans that lived alongside them.
The expert Neandertal mind fostered impressive toolmaking and social skills that made survival possible for at least 100,000 years in some of the harshest environments ever inhabited by members of the human evolutionary family, Wynn and Coolidge concluded in the April Journal of Human Evolution.The new twist on the story is that the true Homo sapiens got a lucky mutation that rearranged their gray matter and gave rise to the List of Things To Do Today:
Around 50,000 years ago, however, the evolutionary tide turned in a subtle, but ultimately crucial, direction. Members of H. sapiens experienced a slight boost in the amount of information that they could hold in mind at any one time, probably because of a genetic mutation that triggered a modest brain reorganization, Wynn and Coolidge propose. The capacity to remember and mentally manipulate a few more bits of related knowledge led to a series of breakthroughs: innovations in toolmaking, long-range planning for seasonal hunting expeditions, storytelling, and symbolic expression through artwork and personal ornaments.This even gave them the ability to tell jokes and express racism, according to the new theory. The poor Neandertals, stuck with real-life expert knowledge in survival, just couldnt keep up. Bowers does present some alternative views. One view says it was not genetics, but a change in social skills and information sharing that gave modern humans the edge. Others are less tolerant of Wynn and Coolidges hypothesis:
Researchers who regard Neandertals as having been no more different from Stone Age H. sapiens than todays Eskimos are from African herders take a skeptical view of Wynn and Coolidges paper.For support, Smith points to the recent reinterpretation of finds at Vogelherd Cave (see 07/08/2004 headline). A German anthropologist agrees that The identity of ancestral groups that achieved late-Stone Age cultural advances throughout Europe is currently up for grabs. Another researcher says that cultural advances throughout Europe were gradual among all the groups, rather than bursting onto the scene solely among late-Stone Age humans, as presumed by Wynn and Coolidge. Bowers gives them the last response: The two Colorado researchers remain unfazed by such skepticism. Amid the din of scientific debate, they continue to ponder ways to peer further into the minds of our ancestors.
1Bruce Bower, In the Neandertal Mind, Science News Week of Sept. 18, 2004; Vol. 166, No. 12, p. 183.
This is all going to sound so silly some day, if not evil, much the way we view the phrenological and racist views of Haeckel and the social Darwinists. Why does Bruce Bower give these guys two pages of good press in Science News? Thank goodness for a few halfway clear heads like Smith. Are we supposed to be impressed that Wynn and Coolidge remain unfazed by their critics? These mythmakers need a change of faze. Their speculative silly tale would make a reasonable person blush.Termites: If You Cant Lick Em, Mimic Em 09/21/2004
Termites, despite their bad rap, have something to teach human homebuilders. Their mounds are self-sufficient, air-conditioned, environmentally friendly and cheap to run, according to a story in EurekAlert. The mounds incorporate a complicated network of tunnels and air conduits designed to channel air flow for the control of internal air quality, temperature and moisture levels.
A multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers in the UK is studying termite smart mounds in 3D for ideas on how human habitats could meet all energy, waste management and other needs on site.
Maybe the termites in your walls are trying to tell you something: This is no way to build a house! Watch us. We humans tend to build rectangular things. The free-form design of termite mounds strikes us as sloppy or makeshift, when really there is a deeper design that provides more efficiency, if we would only shake off our miter-box chauvinism.Radioactive Dating: Science or Alchemy? 09/20/2004
Richard Kerr had some surprising things to say about uranium-lead dating in the Sept. 17 issue of Science1 surprising, because as a believer in the method and an evolutionist, he admitted there is a fair amount of unscientific methodology and controversy involved. For years, different laboratories using uranium-lead radiometric datingthe gold standard of geochronologyhave been getting entirely different ages for the P-T extinction, he says. His comments stemmed from a paper in the same issue by Mundil et al.2 that touted a new method for getting the bugs out of U-Pb zircon samples. But the way Kerr worded his subtitle, he sounds at best tentative about its benefits: A new, apparently improved, way to date the greatest mass extinction points to a volcanic cause but fails to resolve geochronologists long-running differences. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Mundils team, from the Berkeley Geochronology Center, admits right off that The age and timing of the Permian-Triassic mass extinction have been difficult to determine because zircon populations from the type sections are typically affected by pervasive lead loss and contamination by indistinguishable older xenocrysts. In order to date samples from China, they adopted a technique recently developed by James Mattinson of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Kerr says. They baked the southern China zircons at 850ºC for 36 hours and then leached them with hydrofluoric acid under pressure at 220ºC for 16 hours, with the intention of removing the parts most weakened by radiation damage.
This harsh treatment of the samples was intended to eliminate some of the picking and choosing that commonly goes on by researchers, who discard samples that dont give them the results they expect. Samuel Bowring (MIT), for instance, got a date for the P-T extinction that, while it seemed to match some dates for massive Siberian lava flows, disagreed with the age Mundil prefers:
Mundil, however, doesnt believe that either the eruption or the extinction happened that recently. He thinks Bowring engaged in arbitrary data culling by throwing out more than half his zircon ages before averaging the rest of them together. But Bowring says his choices were judicious, although necessarily somewhat subjective. In some of his zircons, the two different uranium-lead ratios gave different ages, suggesting that lead had leaked out of those zircons during the past quarter-billion years. And other zircon ages looked distinctly old, as if those zircons had crystallized earlier than the rest and had later gotten mixed in with them. By taking into account how volcanic ash beds are stacked around the rock layer that shows the extinction, Bowring believes he can confidently select the reliable zircon ages and discard the rest.Thus the heat, pressure and acid treatments. With this method, Mundil claims he only had to throw out three out of 79 of his zircon samples which were obviously too old. He arrived at a date for the extinction a million years older. It was also coincident with an argon-argon date for the Siberian lava flows made by others, after making a 2-million-year correction to it The goal of this tweaking is to fix the timing: The professional timekeepersthe geochronologistsare trying to place a volcanic catastrophe at the moment of the extinction, thus linking cause and effect to explain an event that wiped out 95% of animal species on Earth, Kerr explains. The challenge is that P-T daters must draw their conclusions from vanishingly small isotopic remains of radioactive decay. Though the antagonists try to keep a positive spin on the controversy, Kerr indicates that geochronology may not be the exact science we have been led to believe:
The new preprocessing technique is very promising, says Drew Coleman of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. It appears to be very fruitful. Bowring agrees. This is a step in the right direction, he says. Mattinsons annealing is the big breakthrough, though I have no idea why it works. But Bowring points to the later date that his group estimated for the P-T extinction in China and Kamos group independently got for zircon and other minerals from the lavas of the Siberian Traps. Mundil hasnt explained how subjective interpretation could have produced such a coincidence, he says.All can agree on one thing. Better cooperation might help. Speaking of the geochronologists, Randall Parrish of the British Geological Survey paints them like a secret society: Theyve been competitive and secretive for decades, he said. With a meeting of geochronologists in Boston coming up next month, Kerr hopes for a frank and open discussion of all those little details that dont make it into the literature.
1Richard Kerr, Geochemistry: In Mass Extinction, Timing Is All, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5691, 1705, 17 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5691.1705].
2Mundil et al., Age and Timing of the Permian Mass Extinctions: U/Pb Dating of Closed-System Zircons, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5691, 1760-1763, 17 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1101012].
Now Im worried. What are all those little details that dont make it into the literature? You can count on it: the picking and choosing that Kerr admitted is only the tip of the iceberg. To be fair, the U-Pb differences between the teams only amount to a small percent. But to arrive at the millions-of-years dates at all, dates that justify the modern consensus for the geologic column (see 05/21/2004 headline), they have to toss out many other dating methods that produce far younger dates by orders of magnitude. Those dates are not interesting because they do not support the Darwinian evolutionary timescale; therefore they are obviously wrong. Obviously. Thats why they must pick and choose.National Geographic Calls Noahs Ark Search a Stunt 09/20/2004
National Geographic News has taken the announcement that McGiverns team failed to get a permit to search Mt. Ararat (see 04/26/2004 headline) as an opportunity to question all searches and the historicity of Noahs flood. They questioned the character and motives of the search team and its guide, and quoted a historian who called the search for Noahs Ark fringe archaeology. The article recalled previous claims that turned out to be hoaxes, doubted the ability to detect an artificial structure from space, and discounted the story of a world-wide flood in the Bible (unless the Black Sea Flood fit the bill; see 08/22/2003 and 04/21/2001 headlines). Most geologists seem to agree that it would probably be impossible for a ship to make landfall at an altitude of 15,000 feet (4,570 meters), said Stefan Lovgren, author of the article.
This illustrates the damage that can be done by pre-announcing a discovery before any facts are gathered. The satellite photo McGivern had was much too vague. Whether his guide is a man of integrity or not could have been moot if he indeed was able to lead them to a ship on the mountain. Lacking proof, one has no science, just hypothesis and suggestive leads. When the promised evidence doesnt arrive after the media fanfare, the opponents can have a field day. This fiasco could hurt future attempts to explore the mountain.How Precise Is Precision Cosmology? 09/20/2004
When data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) came in, cosmologists heralded it as the era of precision cosmology and immediately began to make claims that resulting data map confirmed some cosmological theories and falsified others (see 02/14/2003 headline). Two papers in the Astrophysical Journal, however, are discounting the precision of the data and questioning its usefulness for confirming cosmological models.
Erickson et al.1 studied the method used by the WMAP science team to analyze the data and make cosmological conclusions. They concluded that it had the potential to inform models, but cautioned that great care must be taken both in implementation and in a detailed understanding of limitations caused by residual foregrounds, which can still affect cosmological results. They concluded that the sky map used by the science team was not clean enough to allow for cosmological conclusions. Alternative methods must be developed to study these issues further.
David L. Larson and Benjamin D. Wandelt also studied the WMAP data and concluded that the hot spots were too cool and the cold spots too warm to confirm an assumption made by the science team that the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) is an isotropic, Gaussian random field. A question of fundamental importance to our understanding of the origins of these primordial seed perturbations is whether the CMB radiation is really an isotropic and Gaussian random field, as generic inflationary theories predict, they note. Yet they compared the actual field to a Monte Carlo simulation of a Gaussian field and were able to rule out Gaussianity in the WMAP data to the 95% confidence level at both the north and south hemispheres. This casts doubt on the theoretical statements based on the data, they say:
We find the WMAP data to have maxima that are significantly colder and minima that are significantly warmer than predicted by Monte Carlo simulation. For almost all simulations, we have 95% confidence that the mean of the WMAP hot spots or cold spots is in a 5% tail of the Monte Carlo distribution. In one case, we are 99% confident that the maxima statistic is in a 1% tail. Since we find the same lack of extreme temperature when we use the directly measured WMAP power spectrum, we are not simply restating that the WMAP power spectrum has a lack of power at large angular scales. The effect is independent of the galactic mask or power spectrum used....
1Erickson, Gorski and Lilje, On Foreground Removal from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe Data by an Internal Linear Combination Method: Limitations and Implications, The Astrophysical Journal, 612:633-646, 2004 September 10.
2Larson and Wandelt, The Hot and Cold Spots in the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe Data Are Not Hot and Cold Enough, The Astrophysical Journal Letters 613:L85-L88, 2004 October 1.
Always read the fine print after theMars Methane May Be Geological, Not Biological 09/20/2004
Just when the ESA Mars Express spacecraft was collecting data on methane emissions on Mars, leading some to speculate it might be a biomarker, Science Now reported new findings that indicate methane can form naturally in Earths mantle by heating water, iron oxide and calcite under pressure (see also Physics Web).
This demonstrates that hydrocarbons could be produced without the byproducts of life, and that The methane recently detected on Mars ... may not indicate life, because it could have been produced from simple elements. It also indicates there could be vast yet currently inaccessible reservoirs of natural gas in Earths mantle.
This means also that future missions such as the Space Interferometry Mission and Terrestrial Planet Finder may not be able to assume that the detection of methane is an indicator of the presence of life on a distant planet. Nor could Cassini scientists assume that methane at Titan was a precursor to biology.Arrow Worms Miss the Mark in Darwins Tree 09/17/2004
Nature this week1 claims that The origins of the arrow worms have long been obscure, but molecular studies are finally bringing the true evolutionary position of these beautiful marine predators into sharper focus. (Emphasis added in all quotes.) Arrow worms, or Chaetognatha, are strikingly beautiful marine animals. writes Maximilian J. Telford. Their transparent, slender bodies appear under the microscope like darting shards of glass. Despite their visual transparency, their place in the evolutionary tree of life has been cloudy: In the 160 years since Darwin described them as remarkable for the obscurity of their affinities, arrow worms have been placed by different authors in a myriad of positions in the animal kingdom.
The confusion has centered on whether they are protostomes (first mouth) or the more advanced deuterostomes (second mouth), because while arrow worms seem to exhibit deuterostomy in their developmental stages, the genetics dont allow them to be fitted in with deuterostomes. New phylogenetic studies of mitochondrial DNA have led some molecular evolutionists to place them into an unexpected position in the tree: members of an ancestral group that preceded the protostome-deuterostome split. Could it be that protostomes descended from a deuterostome-like creature? Evolutionarily, that seems backwards:
Ignoring the possibility of convergent evolution, arrow worms and deuterostomes must have inherited their deuterostomy and other embryological similarities from a common ancestor (Fig. 2). The new positioning of the arrow worms means that this common ancestor also gave rise to the protostomes. This gives us an important insight into the early evolution of the protostomes, because it implies that they must have evolved from a creature that had deuterostome-like aspects of embryogenesis. This result also leaves us with a problem of nomenclature, given that some of the protostomes are, embryologically speaking, deuterostomes....
1Maximilian J. Telford, Evolution: Affinity for arrow worms, Nature 431, 254 - 256 (16 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431254b.
This article illustrates many of the persistent sins of the Darwin Party when faced with uncooperative data.Secrets of the Spliceosome Revealed 09/17/2004
A husband and wife team from Hebrew University has revealed the structure of the spliceosome, one of the most complex molecular machines in the cell (see 09/12/2002 headline), in more detail than ever before, says EurekAlert. The spliceosome is responsible for cutting out the introns in messenger RNA after it has transcribed DNA, and also for alternative splicing that rearranges the exons to produce a variety of proteins from the same DNA template: Alternative splicing, which underlies the huge diversity of proteins in the body by allowing segments of the genetic code to be strung together in different ways, takes place in the spliceosome as well.
The Sperlings found a tunnel between the two major subunits of the machine where they believe the cutting and splicing operations take place, and also a cavity that might provide a safe haven for the messenger RNA strand, like a waiting room, before its surgery. Also, they found that four spliceosomes are bound together into a supraspliceosome which is able to do simultaneous multiple interactions, rather than by a stepwise assembly as inferred from other experiments in vitro. Their investigation in vivo (within a functioning, living cell) revealed even more complexity in the composite machine than had been seen in the individual machines:
Such a large number of interactions that the cell has to deal with can be regulated within the supraspliceosome. Having the native spliceosomes as the building blocks of this large macromolecular assembly, this large number of interactions can be compartmentalized into each intron that is being processed. At the same time, the whole supraspliceosome enables the communication between the native spliceosomes, which is needed for regulated splicing. The organization of the supraspliceosome, like other macromolecular assemblies that exist as preformed entities, avoids the necessity to recruit the multitude of splicing components each time the spliceosome turns over. In that sense, the overall coordination of the cellular interactions is reduced from the hard work of repeatedly placing each piece in the correct position of the puzzle to the relatively simpler work of coordinating the preformed puzzle. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)In short, The supraspliceosome represents a stand-alone complete macromolecular machine capable of performing splicing of every pre-mRNA independent of its length or number of introns. They found that the individual spliceosomes are joined with a flexible joint like a hinge to provide flexible interactions and communication. Their work was published in Molecular Cell Sept. 10.1
1Sperling et al., Three-Dimensional Structure of the Native Spliceosome by Cryo-Electron Microscopy, Molecular Cell, Volume 15, Issue 5, 10 September 2004, Pages 833-839; doi:10.1016/j.molcel.2004.07.022.
Cant get enough of these molecular machines. And cant repeat often enough that the more detail a scientific paper reveals about the complex workings inside the cell, the less they have to say about evolution. Quiz: how many times was evolution mentioned in this paper? Answer: zilch, zero, nada. They didnt even say, watch this space. (see 09/08/2004 commentary).Plants Use Quantum Mechanics to Harvest Light 09/16/2004
In a News and Views item in Nature Sept. 16,1 Graham R. Fleming (UC Berkeley) and Gregory R. Scholes (U Toronto) explain how the light-harvesting centers of plant photosynthetic organs take advantage of quantum mechanics to focus energy on their reaction centers. Their illustration shows a chromophore diagram from a photosynthetic bacterium. Understanding energy transfer at the quantum level in plants has solved some long-standing mysteries of photosynthesis, they say:
Paradoxically, for instance, it has emerged that the same interactions that produce perfectly efficient energy transport also allow photosynthetic organisms to construct molecular safety valves that dissipate excess excitation energy that would otherwise cause irreversible damage. Furthermore, this work has shown how photosynthetic systems exploit energetic disorder to improve spectral coverage, and reduce energy mismatches to make the system exceedingly robust against thermal and structural variations. (Emphasis added.)
1Fleming and Scholes, Physical chemistry: Quantum mechanics for plants, Nature 431, 256 - 257 (16 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431256a.
I struggled with basic QM at the university. Dont tell me a bacterium figured out graduate-level quantum mechanical engineering on its own.Discovery of Transfer RNA Recounted 09/16/2004
In the Sept. 16 issue of Nature,1 Mahlon Hoagland recounts how he did the key experiment in 1957 that proved DNA used soluble RNA intermediates, later named transfer RNA (tRNA), on the way to protein synthesis in the ribosome, only to find that Francis Crick had predicted the existence of such intermediates.
By this time , scientists generally believed that RNA copies of single strands of DNA, acting as templates prescribing the sequences of amino acids in proteins, existed on ribosomes. Frances Crick turned his attention to how amino acids might be ordered on such presumed templates. As there is no chemical similarity or complementarity between amino acids and nucleotides, and thus no means by which they could directly interact, Crick suggested that amino acids might be first attached to short single strands of RNA nucleotides, thereby making the amino acids recognizable to complementary sequences of nucleotides on the templates. In its simplest form, 20 specific enzymes would catalyse the attachment of 20 different kinds of amino acids to 20 different RNA adaptor molecules. These would then be ordered by complementary nucleotide pairing on single-stranded RNA templates on ribosomes. Francis circulated this adaptor hypothesis among 20 fellow molecular biologists of the RNA Tie Club in 1955, but it was not formally published until 1958. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Prior to this, biochemists had considered the soluble RNA just junk in the mix of ribosomal RNA molecules. As the picture of transfer RNA emerged (including the discovery of the 20 additional enzymes, named aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases, that arm the tRNAs with their cognate amino acids), it looked like a wondrous design. Hoagland describes his delight at the time, miffed somewhat at having been scooped by Crick:
An image arose before me: we explorers, slashing and sweating our way through a dense jungle, rewarded at last by a vision of a beautiful temple looking up to see Francis, on gossamer wings of theory, gleefully pointing it out to us!
1Mahlon Hoagland, Turning Points: Enter transfer RNA, Nature 431, 249 (16 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431249a.
This story forms a good example of how the intelligent design approach is good for science. Notice, first of all, how the wrong approach was to consider the soluble RNA as junk. An ID scientist would think instead that these molecules are there for a purpose and have some role to play. It took a pursuit based on belief in design to find the truth. For Hoagland, the pursuit was empirical: observing what actually happened. For Crick, it was theoretical: investigating how things should happen inside the black box, given the DNA template in the nucleus and the protein chain in the ribosome. The adaptor hypothesis was a brilliant imaginative leap, Hoagland calls it, because it reasoned that an underlying design was required to produce an ordered result.Article 09/16/2004
Those who saw the film Unlocking the Mystery of Life might remember the discussion about whether or not the bacterial flagellum might have been co-opted with parts from another molecular machine, a needle-nosed pump called the Type-III Secretory System (TTSS). A paper on this subject was written by Stephen Meyer and Scott Minnich, who both appeared in the film. The paper, written for the Second International Conference on Design & Nature (Rhodes, Greece, 2004) is available from the Discovery Institute. Meyer and Minnich explain the differences between the machines and suggest that if anything was co-opted, it went from the more complex flagellum to the TTSS, not the other way around. More likely, both machines, though they use a few overlapping parts, are expressed under mutually exclusive conditions and have different functions essential to the organism.
Next headline on: Cell Biology Intelligent Design
Peering Into Paleys Black Box: The Gears of the Biological Clock
A physiological black box is to a biologist what an ornately decorated package is to a small child: a mysterious treasure that promises delightful toys within. With fitting elan, a small community of scientists has ripped open the packaging of the cyanobacterial circadian clock, compiled the parts list, examined the gears, and begun to piece together the mechanism. Over the past 2 years, the 3D molecular structures have been solved for the core components of the cyanobacterial circadian clock: KaiA, KaiB, and KaiC. In a surprisingly literal analogy to mechanical timepieces, the protein that seems to be at the heart of the clock mechanism, KaiC, forms a hexameric ring that even looks like a cog: the escape wheel, perhaps. Previous work has shown that KaiC has an autophosphorylation activity, and that the presence of KaiA and KaiB modulates the extent to which KaiC is phosphorylated. In this issue of PNAS, Nishiwaki et al. biochemically identify two amino acid residues on KaiC to which phosphoryl groups covalently attach, and show the necessity in vivo of a phosphorylation-competent residue at these positions. By searching the crystal structure for evidence of phosphorylated sites, Xu et al. pinpoint a third residue that may borrow the phosphoryl group dynamically. Together, their work contributes richly to our understanding of what makes the gears mesh and turn to crank out a 24-h timing circuit....The term periodosome means time-keeping body i.e., clock. Her diagram shows KaiC as a six-sided carousel to which phosphate groups and other subunits attach and detach during the diurnal cycle. The feedback between the units provides the periodicity of the clock, similar to the back-and-forth pendulum in a grandfather clock or the escape wheel in a wristwatch. How is the clock tuned to the day-night cycle? Where do the parts come together, and how do the clock gears mesh with other cellular machines? We dont know yet; the box has just been opened.
The clocks examined in these papers are the simple clocks of blue-green algae, compared to the much more complex biological clocks in eukaryotes. Even about these relatively simple systems in cyanobacteria much remains to be understood, but our initial glimpses into the inner workings of a biological clock at the molecular level remind her of the delight of opening a chest of toys for the first time:
Identification of other potential components of the periodosome, intracellular localization of the clock parts, and elucidation of other potential modifications all may yield gears that are required to smoothly tick away the time and ensure that daughter cells do not run fast or slow.
1Susan S. Golden, Meshing the gears of the cyanobacterial circadian clock, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0405623101.
Green makes no mention of evolution in this commentary, and has no need of that hypothesis. Even granting her some poetic license in her use of the clock metaphors of gears, cogs and escape wheels ticking away, who could deny that Paley, after so many years of ridicule, has been vindicated? Yes, Dick Dawkins, a watch indeed demands a Watchmaker, and if anyone is blind, it is the one ascribing blindness to the Artificer.Bless Your Heart: Exercise for Senior Vitality 09/14/2004
A study from UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas confirms what we all should know but need to be reminded of frequently: that prolonged, sustained exercise can build up the heart at any age, and provide insurance against heart failure. The summary on EurekAlert warns, a sedentary lifestyle, in addition to aging, puts older people at risk for heart failure, the leading cause of hospitalizations for patients over 65 and a condition that affects eight out of every 1,000 people older than 70. Dr. Benjamin Levines team found that the hearts of senior athletes (average age 68) were indistinguishable from those of healthy younger participants. But its never too late to start: sedentary seniors who began cardiovascular training showed dramatic improvement in heart strength and flexibility after just a year.
Its instructive that the promised land into which God led the Israelites, a country He called a good land, the holy land, is a land of hills and valleys. To get anywhere in Israel in Bible times you had to go up and down a lot. We can assume the Manufacturer knew that vigorous, aerobic activity is a necessary ingredient for health and happiness. Its still true today. The difference is that now, with all our cushy travel conveniences, we have to make an effort to get out and walk. Vigorous outdoor walking will do wonders not only for your heart, but for your spirit, attitude and sense of well-being. Let our photo gallery inspire you to start today. Click on the meditations set for a sample: put yourself in the picture and think of how it would bless your heart in more ways than one.Take Out the Garbage? No Feed the Worms 09/14/2004
Every kitchen needs one, says National Geographic News: a popular new device that turns garbage into fertilizer. What is it? A new high-tech electronic machine? No, something more ancient: a worm bin. Modern homes are finding old benefits in vermiculture, the art of composting garbage into plant food via worms and bacteria. A small bin with red worms can process five pounds of garbage a week. Here were have some of the planets most lowly creatures taking some of our most repulsive waste and turning it into fertilizer, said Mary Appelhoff, author of Worms Eat My Garbage. I realized that the more worms I raised or encouraged others to raise, the world would be a better place.
This would make a fun home project or science project for the kids. The young are not so easily grossed out, and they would learn an important lesson as they fertilize the garden with the processed watermelon rinds they tossed into the bin, that everything in creation has a purpose in natures ongoing recycling program. Another lesson is that we can all contribute to that recycling program in partnership with our other creatures, no matter how humble. (We all will someday, anyway, but thats another story.)Salamander Genes Give Darwinists a Wake-Up Call 09/13/2004
A press release from UC Berkeley says that the evolutionary family tree of salamanders, once thought secure, has been turned topsy-turvy by a study of the genes. The opening paragraph is reminiscent of an irritating alarm clock going off in a comfy bedroom:
Biologists take for granted that the limbs and branches of the tree of life painstakingly constructed since Linnaeus started classifying organisms 270 years ago are basically correct. New genetic studies, the thinking goes, will only prune the twigs, perhaps shuffling around a few species here and there.To be sure, the study did not put salamanders in with birds or sharks or something that radical. But the results were radical enough to make evolutionists seriously consider a radical interpretation: that some lineages lost a function and then re-evolved it:
Salamanders formerly classified together because of similar characteristics, such as a tail that breaks at only one spot as opposed to anywhere when stressed, now appear not to be close relatives at all. And salamanders that go through an aquatic larval stage are scattered about on different branches instead of grouped on one limb of the tree: Apparently some salamander lineages lost the larval stage and then reacquired it again.The results were stunningly different than what we anticipated, said David Wake, an expert on salamanders at the university. The study conducted by one of his graduate students found major upsets in the phylogenetic tree determined from mitochondrial DNA analysis. The student, Rachel Mueller, learned a lesson: this does tell us that, when reconstructing evolutionary relationships, you have to be careful which morphological features you assume are conservative and havent evolved much, and which you think are likely to have changed over time.
The new family tree shows, however, that some terrestrial salamanders regained their larval stage after moving back to the water. This may have happened in three separate lineages of Plethodontids [the largest family of salamanders], which is surprising for a seemingly complex feature biologists have assumed arose just once, very early in the history of salamanders.Wake also has found that the three very different types of salamander tongues, some which are short and stubby and some that can be flung out nearly the length of the salamanders body, have evolved several times in different lineages. The new genetic data, published in PNAS,1 tend to confirm that, he said.
Meanwhile, in Science Sept. 10,2 Elizabeth Pennisi says James Hanken of Harvard has proposed, based on genetic studies, that a certain line of miniature salamanders from Mexico acquired upper teeth independently four times. He defended this view against critics at the 7th International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology in Boca Raton, Florida last month:
Some of Hankens colleagues question his interpretation, noting that the common wisdom holds that once a trait disappears from a group of organisms, it rarely resurfaces. Hankens conclusion is something thats hard to defend, says Ann Huysseune of Ghent University in Belgium. But Hanken argues that these small vertebrates must have had a lot of evolutionary tricks up their sleeves in order to survive tough times. He points to the success that small animals in general have had after mass extinctions and attributes that to their ability to rapidly change and adapt.
1Mueller, Wake et al., Morphological homoplasy, life history evolution, and historical biogeography of plethodontid salamanders inferred from complete mitochondrial genomes, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0405785101, published online Sept. 13, 2004.
2Elizabeth Pennisi, Tiny Salamanders Show Their Teeth, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5689, 1396-1397, 3 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5689.1396b].
How long must we hold onto an outmoded hypothesis when it continually forces its adherents to believe absurd things? To get a larval stage or a ballistic tongue once is astronomically improbable. How can anyone believe it happened multiple times? And to believe that something as complex as the suite of developmental genes for a set of teeth can just wait inert in a genome for the right time far into the future, without being eliminated by natural selection, violates Darwins own principles. Salamanders dont have sleeves. How can they hide tricks up them? If any problem in evolution can be explained away by magic tricks, it is not science. The genetic data are not proving Darwin right, so Chuck his theory. Wake up; it was only a bad trip (see 09/12/2004 commentary).Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week 09/12/2004
This entry is by Richard Dawkins, in an extract from his new book The Ancestors Tale, as reproduced on The Guardian. After turning back the clock of evolution in his minds eye and discussing all the feats of physics and engineering that living things invented on their own, he reflects on his own astonishment about the power of evolution:
If, as returning host, I reflect on this whole pilgrimage, my overwhelming reaction is one of amazement. Amazement at the extravaganza of detail that we have seen; amazement, too, at the very fact that there are any such details to be had at all, on any planet. The universe could so easily have remained lifeless and simple just physics and chemistry, the scattered dust of the cosmic explosion that gave birth to time and space. The fact that life evolved out of nearly nothing, some 10 billion years after the universe evolved out of literally nothing, is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice. Even that is not the end of the matter. Not only did evolution happen: it eventually led to beings capable of comprehending the process, and even of comprehending the process by which they comprehend it.The Ancestors Tale: A pilgrimage to the dawn of life by Richard Dawkins is published this month by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
Wasnt that a good, juicy entry? This should make SEQ of the month, or year. We share one sentiment with Dawkins: we are amazed, and enjoy great satisfaction, at contemplating the complexity and wonder of life. We also agree that we should never let our senses be dulled by familiarity with the amazing world we live in and its living things. Wonder is a gift of God, intended to lead us toward Him, not toward foolish speculations (Romans 1:16-23).Recounting the Risks of Critiquing Darwinism 09/12/2004
Lynn Vincent has an article in World Magazine This Week recounting the tribulations suffered by Roger DeHart when he tried to include material critical of Darwinism in his high school biology classroom in Burlington, Washington. (His story is featured in the film Icons of Evolution.) It tells how the NCSE pressured two schools to forbid DeHart presenting any material critical of Darwinism, even from secular sources and clear of any religious beliefs or advocacy. The second school changed its position after it had hired DeHart with full knowledge of his teaching and the controversy it had aroused in Burlington, and after promising him freedom to present it.
DeHart now teaches at a private Christian school in Southern California. In May this year, a scheduled appearance by DeHart on an NPR radio debate about origins was canceled just hours before the program was aired (see 06/04/2004 headline). Vincent quotes DeHart, Certainly, this idea that science and education is this tolerant search for truth doesnt hold true from my experience. Youd better toe the party line. If you speak out against the orthodoxy, [the party] is going to deal with you.
Another attempt to debunk Darwinism was met with a violent reaction last week in Serbia. Straits Times (Asia) reports, Serbias Education Minister was ridiculed in cartoons and pelted with resignation demands on Thursday for ejecting Darwin from school classrooms in favour of Old Testament creationism. Ms. Ljiljana Colic had decided on removing evolution from 8th grade curriculum, and announcing that in other grades the teaching of evolution had to be balanced with the alternative view that God created. For more, see the analysis by Michael Matthews on Answers in Genesis. Based on the reaction, he says of this area (known as the powder keg of Europe), youd think another world war had started.
Orthodoxy, party line was this the liberalism that the original Darwinian X-club had in mind when they rallied against what they viewed as the Anglican orthodoxy of the 19th century? Would they be gratified to see their views turned into a dogma that cannot be questioned? Did not Father Charlie himself say, A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question? Is it not ironic to see the Darwinists as the inquisitors, and the intelligent design scientists and teachers the ones wanting to take Darwin at his word to allow students to hear a balanced and full statement of the arguments on both sides of this important question?Is the Evolution of Bacterial Resistance a Just-So Story? 09/12/2004
Evolutionists frequently point to the emergence of bacterial resistance to antibiotics as an example of Darwinian evolution occurring right under our noses. Bruce R. Levin of Emory University, writing in the Sept. 10 issue of Science,1 is not so sure about that. He points out that cells might just have a built-in mechanism to shut down growth and reproduction in times of stress (the SOS response), to minimize the damage from toxins in the environment. He points to two studies in the same issue that indicate how noninherited resistance to antibiotics can be generated without reference to Darwinian natural selection.
Whats more interesting in his report is his rebuke against fellow Darwinists who leap to unsubstantiated tales of evolution to explain how these mechanisms come about. His final paragraph states:
It is easy to concoct just-so stories to explain the evolution of a mechanism that, like the SOS response, produces quiescent cells that are refractory to lethal agents. Yet it seems unlikely that ampicillin was the original selective force responsible for the evolution of the induction mechanism observed by Miller and colleagues. A bigger challenge to those in the evolution business is to account for the generation of lower fitness cell types when they do not provide an advantage to the collective, like the persisters of Balaban et al. in the absence of antibiotics. Then again, just like people, bacteria do some seemingly perverse things that are not easy to account for by simple stories of adaptive evolution. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
1Bruce R. Levin, Microbiology: Noninherited Resistance to Antibiotics, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5690, 1578-1579, 10 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1103077].
Thank you, Dr. Levin, for your well-aimed rebuke to the Darwin Party. So you see, it is not only creationists who accuse the Darwinists of laziness in concocting just-so stories whenever a phenomenon presents itself. One might almost think Levin is a secret reader of Creation-Evolution Headlines. We agree; if you want just-so stories, read Kipling, not Science.Solar Particles Survive Genesis Crash 09/10/2004
Scientists are relieved that they have been able to recover enough pieces from the crashed Genesis spacecraft to pursue the science objectives. JPL Director Charles Elachi said they have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and are bouncing back from a hard landing. The highest-priority science goals may still be attainable, at least partially, despite Wednesdays 192-mph crash in Utah when the crafts parachute did not deploy.
The mission had been touted as a search for our origins: where we come from, where stars and planets come from, and how the earth got here.
Why the name Genesis? Mission designers must surely have been keenly aware of the Biblical connotation when they selected the name. Either to stave off speculations or to answer concerns, the mission FAQ page addressed the concern as follows:Submarine Engineers Admire Penguins 09/10/2004Since this mission is named Genesis and will tell us about the beginning of the solar system, will it try to prove or disprove the Bible?Yet to suggest that the formation of earth can be approached strictly through natural science without reference to a Creator is not a theologically neutral position. It is clearly an alternative philosophy to the famous declaration of Genesis 1:1, in the beginning God. To NASA, the religious text is, in the beginning were the particles.
An ocean engineer from MIT, Franz Hover, says we never miss marveling at them, speaking of penguins. In the cover story of Science News,1 the submarine designer elaborates:
Under the power and guidance of its versatile flippers, a penguin can move through the water faster than 10 miles per hour, turn almost instantaneously, and leap out of the water onto an iceberg. Youll never see a submarine do that, Hover points out. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Carrie Lock, author of the article entitled Marvels of Engineering, also marvels at the graceful flippers of dolphins, sea lions and whales compared to the crude propellers of man-made underwater craft. The shape, maneuverability, and flexibility of animal flippers overcomes turbulence and allows quick turns and near-instant stops:
Scientists have long sought to unlock the secrets of natures underwater-locomotion schemes, but theyve usually met with frustration. Since the mid-1930s, when Englands Sir James Gray declared that dolphins move through water so efficiently that engineering principles were inadequate to explain the mechanism, people have sought to understand marine-animal locomotion. Now, researchers in the field of biomimeticsthe science of mimicking living thingshave unlocked some of those secrets and are applying their knowledge to prototype watercraft.The movement of a swimming penguin is deceptively simple, because:
To accomplish its feats, the penguin must generate forces that are huge in proportion to its small body. Although scientists cant fully explain how the animal does it, its clear that for its size, a penguins stroke creates forces relatively larger than those of a propeller and does it more efficiently....Lock discusses several teams working on imitating the flippers of penguins, dolphins, and the scalloped-edge flippers of humpback whales, which reduce turbulent wakes (see 05/11/2004 headline) this is being investigated by a Pennsylvania biologist named Frank E. Fish. The Navy is looking at all these engineering projects with great interest.
1Carrie Lock, Ocean Envy: Scientists look toward marine creatures to improve watercraft designs, Science News, Week of Sept. 4, 2004; Vol. 166, No. 10, p. 154.
Penguins look funny waddling on the land in their tuxedos, but underwater they are more graceful than ballerinas. Next time a nature program shows underwater footage of Antarctic penguins, watch it for awhile in wonder. Then laugh as the camera shifts to land position and films them launching their fat but sleek bodies into the air, only to bellyflop on the ice. Penguins are cool. This article barely touches on just one of many wonders of these aquatic birds and their lifestyles in some of the harshest environments on earth.Darwins Tree of Life Uprooted; Ring of Life Planted in its Place 09/09/2004
Perhaps no icon of evolution has been more pervasive than Darwins tree of life (see 06/13/2003 headline). A drawing of a branching tree was the only illustration in Darwins Origin of Species. 145 years later, scientists are saying the metaphor of a tree is wrong; it should be a ring, at least in the family tree of eukaryotes. This surprising turnaround was published in Nature1 Sept. 9 by James A. Lake and Maria C. Rivera of UCLAs Astrobiology Institute. Lake said in a UCLA press release, Its not a tree; its actually a ring of life. A ring explains the data far better. EurekAlert reported, UCLA molecular biologists uproot the tree of life.
Whats this all about? Are they denying evolution? Certainly not: Lake said, If we go back a hundred billion generations, our ancestor was not a human, and wasnt even a primate. But we are distantly related to archaeal eocyte- and proteobacterial-ancestors, just as we are related to our parents and grandparents. So far that sounds like typical tree-of-life Darwinism. The ring metaphor comes from their proposal that eukaryotes (see 09/08/2004 headline) arose not by branching off of early prokaryotes or archaebacteria, but rather by the fusion of the genomes from those two groups: one that could do photosynthesis, and another that could survive extreme environments. The press release expresses Lakes confidence in his new proposal:
At least 2 billion years ago, ancestors of these two diverse prokaryotic groups fused their genomes to form the first eukaryote, and in the processes two different branches of the tree of life were fused to form the ring of life, Lake said. A major unsolved question in biology has been where eukaryotes came from, where we came from. The answer is that we have two parents, and we now know who those parents were. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Their conclusion was based on an analysis of 30 genomes of prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Martin and Embley, commenting on the paper in the same issue of Nature,2 said they call for a radical departure from conventional thinking.
Unknown to Darwin, microbes use two mechanisms of natural variation that disobey the rules of tree-like evolution: lateral gene transfer and endosymbiosis. Lateral gene transfer involves the passage of genes among distantly related groups, causing branches in the tree of life to exchange bits of their fabric. Endosymbiosis one cell living within another gave rise to the double-membrane-bounded organelles of eukaryotic cells: mitochondria (the powerhouses of the cell) and chloroplasts (of no further importance here). At the endosymbiotic origin of mitochondria, a free-living proteobacterium came to reside within an archaebacterially related host.... This event involved the genetic union of two highly divergent cell lineages, causing two deep branches in the tree of life to merge outright. To this day, biologists cannot agree on how often lateral gene transfer and endosymbiosis have occurred in lifes history; how significant either is for genome evolution; or how to deal with them mathematically in the process of reconstructing evolutionary trees. The report by Rivera and Lake bears on all three issues. And instead of a tree linking lifes three deepest branches (eubacteria, archaebacteria and eukaryotes), they uncover a ring.Martin and Embley say the proposal is at odds with the view of eukaryote origins by simple Darwinian divergence, but consistent with the endosymbiont theory, the idea that organelles like mitochondria and chloroplasts were once free-living cells that became incorporated into another organism in a cooperative merger. Since this event must have occurred over 1.4 billion years ago, such time-spans push current tree-building methods to, and perhaps well beyond, their limits. Because of the problems inferring ancient episodes from present data, and the confusing mix of functions between the three groups, Rivera and Lake admit their ring metaphor, based on a merger of two groups into eukaryotes, is only a working hypothesis. The ring of life does not explain why this happened, but it does provide a broad phylogenetic framework for testing theories for the origin and evolution of the eukaryotic genome, they conclude.
So a ring may replace a tree as the metaphor of evolution. Lake and Rivera must be Tolkien fans; they almost titled their paper, One ring to rule them all, but that might have associated their endeavors with those of the Dark Lord.
1Maria C. Rivera and James A. Lake, The ring of life provides evidence for a genome fusion origin of eukaryotes, Nature 431, 152 - 155 (09 September 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02848.
2William Martin and Martin Embley, Evolutionary biology: Early evolution comes full circle, Nature 431, 134 - 137 (09 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431134a.
Well, this ought to be testable. Put some photosynthetic prokaryotes together with archaebacteria in a hot spring, and see if they merge. Are we supposed to believe that this happened only in the unobservable past but is impossible today? It should be going on all the time, and should be common knowledge to microbiologists. It should not be a mystic story imagined by Darwinists alone.Inferring Dinosaur Family Life from Bones 09/08/2004
Observation: a jumble of dinosaur bones in China. Conclusion: some dinosaurs showed tender loving care to their young. This is the gist of a paper in Nature this week (Sept. 9),1 reported also on Nature Science Update.
Discerning behavior from bones is an art, but these bones of 34 psittacosaurs from Liaoning, China provided a few hints. The specimens were all buried suddenly; there was no dislocation of the bones or exposure to air for long after death. Many were in upright position. One adult was present with hatchlings of various ages, all within half a square meter. These clues seem to indicate they were living together as a harmonious family unit. The rest of the story, lacking instant replay, must be left to the imagination.
What is perhaps more interesting is the death scenario. What buried this family so suddenly? One can almost imagine them caught completely off guard, looking up with one last look of surprise, to be forever preserved like a snapshot in stone. Volcanic ash burial (as at Pompeii) does not seem likely due to the absence of glass. Perhaps they were under a ledge or in an underground burrow that collapsed, or maybe a wave of flood sediments overwhelmed them. The uniformity of the entombing sediments, perhaps a result of soil development, prevents identification of any definite event, say Meng et al. in Nature.
Allowing that the find indeed indicates parental care for the young, Darwinists are drawing another conclusion: The unique discovery... suggests that the parental instincts of present-day birds and reptiles such as crocodiles may have a common evolutionary precursor. The authors admit, on the other hand: But, given the disparity in ecology and physiology between crocodilians and birds, homology of their parental care is debatable. More finds like this might strengthen the case for homology, they say.
1Meng et al., Palaeontology: Parental care in an ornithischian dinosaur, Nature 431, 145 - 146 (09 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431145a.
These dinosaurs might have shown parental care for their hatchlings. This and other possible nesting sites at other locales tend to support the idea. It seems a reasonable one, given observation of nurturing behavior among many living species. But how did this family get buried so suddenly? A find as rare as this really is astonishing, unless many individuals over a wide area were trapped by the same event, and it was a big one. Whether it was a regional or global catastrophe, one can decide from the preponderance of evidence. One thing seems clear; it was not uniformitarianism. The hatchlings probably did not hold their poses while sediments built up slowly around them over many years.Classifying Eukaryotes Easier than Evolving Them 09/08/2004
If you like stories with surprise endings, check out an otherwise boring paper by two Canadian evolutionary biologists, Alistair G. B. Simpson and Andrew A. Roger, in the Sept. 7 issue of Current Biology.1 Their subject is the real kingdoms of eukaryotes (thats all creatures with nuclei, including plants, animals, and a host of single-celled organisms). Unhappy with previous artificial classifications, including the grab-bag grouping called Protista (common in most textbooks), they propose more biologically realistic groupings based on phylogeny and the findings of molecular genetics. The assumption is that a natural group should include an ancestor and all its descendants.
The paper lumbers along through their new proposed groupings: Opisthokonta (animals, true fungi, and all You Karyotes out there), Amoebozoa, Plantae (you guessed it), Chromalveolata (try that on Jeopardy), Rhizaria, and Excavata (not backhoe drivers, but a group of heterotrophic flagellates). Each of these are well-known groupings that could be called kingdoms; there might be a few others that cannot be fitted into these six. So far so good. This is a paper about ancestors and descendants, right? So where is the ancestor of all these eukaryotes? Surprise:
Identifying six natural groups of eukaryotes raises the question: what are the relationships amongst them? Molecular phylogenetics could provide the answer in principle, but there are tremendous practical difficulties. As we look further back in time, most historical signal is lost from present day molecular sequences, so that non-historical (artefactual) signals in the same data can easily obscure the true relationships. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Keep reading. Although they suggest that Amoebozoa and us might be related (sorry to hurt your self-esteem), the deep level structure and timing of the divergence of these groups remains contentious. There is huge disparity in timing of the split, from 1.2 to 2.8 billion years. Without new and better fossils, the precise age of eukaryotes and the tempo of their divergence are unlikely to be resolved in the near future. In fact, eukaryotes are so different, the authors leave it unsolved whether there is any reason to think there was a common ancestor at all:
Eukaryotic cells are drastically different from their presumably prokaryotic ancestors. With the limited fossil record, researchers have tried to understand the evolution of the eukaryotic cell by identifying living eukaryotes that are primitive in some aspects. The primitive status of a group is untenable, however, if phylogenetic studies indicate that it is closely related to complete eukaryotic cells. In fact, all the groups of eukaryotes seriously suggested to be primitive eukaryotes now seem to be related to complete forms (most fall within Excavata). The last common ancestor of living eukaryotes now appears to have been a complete eukaryotic cell. It had a nucleus, endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi apparatus, and underwent mitosis and meiosis. It had mitochondria capable of oxidative phosphorylation, amongst other functions, and was presumably aerotolerant. It had a complex eukaryotic cytoskeleton including eukaryotic flagella (most likely a pair of them), and was heterotrophic, consuming food particles by phagocytosis. The only major eukaryotic features that seem to be of later origin are plastids. We are now left with an intriguing and difficult question: did living eukaryotes diverge [shortly after the rapid and drastic evolution of the eukaryotic cell, or was this cell assembled gradually, but with modern eukaryotes then replacing all intermediate forms?To be or not to be an ancestor, that is the question, and that is where this evolutionary paper ends.
1Simpson and Roger, The real kingdoms of eukaryotes, Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 17, 7 September 2004, Pages R693-R696, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.08.038.
If you thought the missing link was somewhere between Java Man and us, behold The Missing Chain. Either way, the Darwin Party is stuck in Story Book Land. Either evolution was so rapid it happened without a trace, or it was slow and gradual, but the later organisms replaced the earlier ones, who disappeared without a trace. This is reminiscent of another paper last month that left us readers staring at nothing with the advice, watch this space (see 08/19/2004 commentary). Sometimes no comment is the best comment. Let the Darwinists admit to themselves they have no evidence for their belief system. We suggest that the phrase watch this space would be the perfect theme for the Darwin Party Curriculum. It could be the title of their next textbook on evidence for evolution. Every page could contain the caption, This page unintentionally left blank.Cooing Doves Set Muscle Speed Record 09/08/2004
The dove: a symbol of peace, innocence, love, and gentleness, right? Its cooing call is a soothing song to nature lovers. Yet hidden in the throat of the dove is one of the fastest-acting muscles in the animal kingdom, report Elemans et al. in the Sept. 9 issue of Nature.1 The cooing song contains a trill that vibrates at 30 Hz, achieved by specialized throat muscles that move the vibrating membrane in and out rapidly:
A doves trill cannot be achieved using typical vertebrate muscles, because they do not switch on and off fast enough to control the trills brief sound elements (9 ms). The syringeal muscles must also contract aerobically to power cooing sessions that can last for many minutes. These extreme requirements can be met only by aerobic superfast muscles. This muscle type is the fastest known in vertebrates: its twitch half-time is less than 10 ms, which is one to two orders of magnitude faster than that of typical locomotory muscles. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Imagine running a sprint with muscles like that. And now, the rest of the story: other songbirds probably outperform the dove:
Birds modulate their songs extremely rapidly, with frequencies exceeding 100 Hz (ref. 2). Although the intrinsic nonlinear properties of the syrinx add complexity to the level of motor control, only muscle control can explain the fast but gradual modulations that underlie the extraordinary intraspecific variability and flexibility of phonation. The stereotyped coos of doves are considered to be simple vocalizations among birds, but even doves use superfast muscles to control their song. Given their added vocal complexity, songbirds have probably evolved muscles that outperform the syringeal muscles of doves. Superfast muscle can no longer be considered a rare adaptation, found for example in the highly derived acoustic organs of the toadfish and rattlesnake. We suspect that superfast vocal muscles are widespread among birds.A meadowlark will never sound the same again. Incidentally, another recent paper in Current Biology2 found that parrots have tongues able to modulate sounds much like humans do. Thats one reason they can talk. See also Parrots speak in tongues on Nature Science Update. The lead researcher commented, parrot communication may be more complex than we thought.
1Elemans et al., Bird song: Superfast muscles control doves trill, Nature 431, 146 (09 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431146a.
2Beckers et al., Vocal-Tract Filtering by Lingual Articulation in a Parrot, Current Biology Volume 14, Issue 17, 7 September 2004, Pages 1592-1597, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.08.057.
The variety of sounds birds can make is remarkable.. Some calls, like the doves, are soothing and sweet; others, like those of the crow or scrub jay, are raucous and irritating. How their skill is passed from parent to chick over hundreds of generations is also amazing. Isnt it sweet to know that the birds are out there evolving better and faster muscles, figuring out all the developmental pathways and modulations, understanding nonlinear dynamics, devising and meeting extreme requirements and gearing all the molecular machines, genetic programs and control mechanisms to transform seeds and worms into music? Evolution is such an amazing goddess.Nature Says ID Paper Scored a Publishing Success 09/08/2004
A news story in the Sept. 9 issue of Nature1 says, A new front has opened up in the battle between scientists and advocates of intelligent design, a theory that rejects evolution and is regarded by its critics as another term for creationism. Reporter Jim Giles says the paper by Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute was published in a low-impact journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.2 In the article, senior fellow Stephen Meyer uses information theory and other techniques to argue that the complexity of living organisms cannot be explained by darwinian evolution. Giles says the arguments are nothing new, but portrays this publication as primarily an attempt by creationists to get their views published in scientific journals, to back up claims that the theory is scientifically valid. Ken Miller, who has debated Meyer, says that, despite criticism of the journal, versions of the theory will find their way into the scientific literature at some point.
The dispute deepened when the journal, bowing to pressure from Darwinists, declared it would no longer publish papers with an intelligent design perspective, reports Discovery Institute, even if an article passes peer review. The NCSE (National Center for Science Education, led by Eugenie Scott) has argued that Meyers paper should not have been printed. This led the Discovery Institute to accuse the NCSE of a flip-flop: they try to prevent intelligent design papers from getting published, then say that intelligent design isnt scientific because its advocates never publish. John West of the Institute claims this proves the NCSE is not interested in peer review, but censorship.
Richard Sternberg, editor of the Proceedings, admitted in an interview with The Scientist that Meyers paper went through the standard peer review process for the journal. The three reviewers all hold faculty positions in biological disciplines at prominent universities and research institutions, one at an Ivy League university, one at a major US public university, and another at a major overseas research institute, he said.
1Jim Giles, Peer-reviewed paper defends theory of intelligent design, Nature 431, 114 (09 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431114a.
2S. C. Meyer, The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 117, 213–239; 2004. Reprint available online at Discovery Institute.
Giles uses several tricks to downplay the paper. (1) It was published in a low-impact journal [but it is published at the Smithsonian]. (2) The editor of the journal has ties to a creationist organization. (3) It has been thoroughly refuted already on an evolutionist website. (4) Peer review isnt a guarantee of accuracy. Sounds like he doesnt want you to read it. Then he uses the scare tactic to portray evil creationists plotting to use this success to push their views in US school curricula.North Pole Enjoyed Balmy Climate 09/08/2004
In ages past, the North Pole region enjoyed a Mediterranean climate, according to Nature Science Update and the BBC News. EurekAlert reminds us that ice cores demonstrate that Greenland, too, had one or more periods of warm weather suitable for lush plant growth (see 08/16/2004 headline). Climate swings were abrupt enough to occur within a human lifetime.
Food for thought (salad, at least). Do ice cores show a history going back over a hundred thousand years? Learn about the slippery assumptions used for identifying annual layers in an article by Michael Oard.Archer Fish Learns the Laws of Optics 09/07/2004
Imagine youre a kid in a swimming pool, underwater with a squirt gun. Lurking under the surface, you detect the wavy, distorted image of your big brother standing on the deck. You sneak up, fire from below and miss, because you didnt know how to correct for refraction and distance through the air-water interface. Theres a fish that would put you to shame; it squirts jets of water precisely at its prey, bugs crawling above water on leaves and stems. Scientists have been intrigued for many years at the accuracy of the aptly named archer fish (see 09/30/2002 headline, an article by Taylor Reeves on Apologetics Press and footage of the fish in action in the film Wonders of Gods Creation).
A new paper about the aquatic sharpshooters has been published in the Sept. 7 issue of Current Biology.1 The title says it all: Archer fish learn to compensate for complex optical distortions to determine the absolute size of their aerial prey. Researchers gave the fish target practice with colored disks. A summary in EurekAlert explains the result: Although naïve fish often selected disks that would be too large to be swallowed, all could eventually learn to judge absolute size with great precision; in doing so, they perfectly accounted for the complex optical situation posed by their underwater viewpoint (emphasis added in all quotes). Whats even more amazing, EurekAlert continues, is that this was not just a conditioned response. The fish learned physics:
In a series of experiments, the researchers showed that the fish do not learn this by remembering which combinations of spatial configurations and the corresponding images were rewarding in the past. Rather, the fish extracted the underlying law that connects spatial configuration and apparent size. This remarkable cognitive ability allows the fish to readily judge a targets objective size from underwater views they have never encountered before.and all this in a world of distortion caused by refraction and a moving surface. The researchers, Schuster et al. in Germany, seemed pretty amazed, because the deviations between real and apparent horizontal size are substantial due to distortion. But the fish took this all in stride:
Moreover, the strong viewpoint dependency can even cause changes in the size relations among the disks. For instance, if the fish makes its selection while close to a large disk, the apparent size of a more-distant small disk can be larger than that of the close large disk. In principle, the fish could overcome these problems by scanning the targets and taking a view of each target from the same horizontal distance. However, this is clearly not what the fish did; as soon as the objects were shown, the fish swam straight to their shooting position and fired.The original paper describes some of the clever experiments the researchers devised to test whether the fish were actually learning optical principles. They wanted to know if the fish could learn to adjust for optical distortion, so they trained four fish to shoot at 6mm disks at various horizontal and vertical distances. Successful target shooting within 10 seconds was rewarded with a fly. After 4-8 weeks of training, the winners in the school of fish archery all passed: All four fish mastered the task and selected the correct size at any height. This was a hard task for any fish, but the archer fish achieved impressive precision, able to hit a 1mm bulls-eye from 800mm.
Additional experiments led the researchers to conclude that the fish did not just memorize the shots that worked. They actually had to learn how to correct for distortion. Think about all that is involved in this skill:
In learning the objective size of their targets, the archer fish thus had not simply learned combinations that were rewarded in the past but went beyond to acquire a concept of objective size that they later could readily apply to the novel views. This ability is remarkable in several respects. First, the optical effects require rather precise knowledge of spatial configuration.... The question of how the fishs visual system is able to provide this information is presently wide open. When fish aim their shots, for which precise distance information is also required, monocular cues suffice and binocular distance cues are not required. Whether stereo vision is also unnecessary for size constant vision cannot, however, be said at present. Second, the fish apparently is able to combine such spatial knowledge in a yet-unknown way with apparent size (or apparent locomotion-induced image transformations) to deduce a concept of objective size. Whatever sensory representation it uses, the fish evidently is able to form a concept of size that is tailored to the complex optics at the water-air interface. Because this situation poses particularly rigorous requirements on the relation the animal must make between target localization and the apparent image, the fish is an attractive model to explore how animals learn to form concepts to bring order into their sensory experiences.Kind of makes you hope the little champs dont get targeted by the optical targeting apparatus of a diving cormorant (see 05/24/2004 headline).
1Schuster et al., Archer Fish Learn to Compensate for Complex Optical Distortions to Determine the Absolute Size of Their Aerial Prey, Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 17, 7 September 2004, Pages 1565-1568, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.08.050.
Stories like this are such wonderful relief from the incessant storytelling of Darwinists. There was no mention of evolution in this article, and if there had been, it wouldnt be worth a spit. Here evolutionists cannot even find a clear beneficial mutation (see next headline), and they want us to believe this and thousands of other wonders of creation are the result of accidents? Shoot.Natural Selection Demonstrated in European Heart-Disease Gene? 09/07/2004
Stephen Wooding (U. of Utah) is elated. He sees an exciting trend in genetic research that might, finally, demonstrate positive natural selection acting on a gene with a clear phenotypic effect (measurable outward benefit). Writing in the Sept. 7 Current Biology,1 he mentions a few recent papers suggesting this connection, but focuses particularly on one study by Rockman et al. in the same issue.2 This UK/American team claims to have identified a gene that has been positively selected to shape heart disease risk among Europeans. The story was summarized by EurekAlert.
The gene under investigation is named MMP3, a regulator of a substance that builds coronary artery walls. The amount of up- or down-regulation of this gene affects their elasticity and thickness. The researchers compared this gene and its surrounding DNA between nine kinds of monkeys and apes, and between six human populations. They claim to have found a trend among Europeans to possess a certain mutation that up-regulates the products of MMP3 (because it inhibits repressive factors). This leads to less hardening of the arteries but more risk of blood clot induced heart attack or stroke (myocardial infarction). The mutation changes one T to a C at a certain position on the gene. Using molecular phylogenetic techniques, they estimated the mutation might have occurred in the European line anywhere from 36,600 to 2,200 years ago. Maybe it came about in the Ice Age, they surmise, and natural selection acting on this mutation may have given Europeans dining on animal fat some protection from atherosclerosis. Whatever, the selection probably did not act alone on that one gene, which only regulates other genes, but on a suite of genes due to pleiotropic effects (i.e., when one gene evolves, other unrelated phenotypic effects can result).
The authors seemed happy to be able to provide an example of natural selection acting positively on a gene for a beneficial physiological effect: The evolutionary forces of mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift shape the pattern of phenotypic variation in nature, but the roles of these forces in defining the distributions of particular traits have been hard to disentangle. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Natural selection is an important factor influencing variation in the human genome, but most genetic studies of natural selection have focused on variants with unknown phenotypic associations. This trend is changing. New studies are rapidly revealing the effects of natural selection on genetic variants of known or likely functional importance....Those assuming this was old news since Darwins day might be surprised at this admission that studies have rarely connected a mutation to an actual physical benefit. Analyses at the molecular level of the gene, to be fair, have only recently become possible. Stephen Wooding is greatly encouraged by this study. He thinks it represents not only an exciting trend, but a new means of paving an unusually direct path between ancient human history and modern human health. Rockmans team claims that British men would have 43% more heart attacks had this mutation not occurred among their distant ancestors. But then, since hardening of the arteries seems to be a recent malady among humans, he admitted that maybe the natural selection at the time was for something else and the heart disease effect was incidental.
One other benefit Rockman claims for this study is that it shows natural selection can act not only on the genes the make proteins, but on the genes that regulate other genes a factor he claims traditional evolutionary biology has all but ignored. Considering the evolution of regulatory factors extends natural selection theory to the level of the wiring diagram, he says. No longer should we just consider good genes and bad genes. Rather, there is a complex set of interactions such that certain combinations might be best in one environment, others better in another. So were advocating a more nuanced view of how we view the genetic bases of disease, he said in the press release from Duke University.
1Stephen Wooding, Natural Selection: Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign, Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 17, 7 September 2004, Pages R700-R701, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.08.041.
2Rockman et al., Positive Selection on MMP3 Regulation Has Shaped Heart Disease Risk, Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 17, 7 September 2004, Pages 1531-1539, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.08.051.
Remember the old moron jokes? How do you keep a moron busy for an hour? Put him in a round room and tell him theres a penny in the corner. It doesnt take much to amuse Darwinists. Tell them theres a hint of natural selection in the human genome, and it is incredible the amount of work they will do to find it. You can bet any claims will be ambiguous, hazy, uncertain, questionable and open to different interpretations, but if they can be offered in homage to buddha Charlie, its worth it to them to run in logical circles and keep up the candles of hope burning. (For another example, look at this story on EurekAlert, about Penn State scientists hunting illusive signs of natural selection between Europeans and Africans, and finding only ambiguous signs of differing susceptibility to disease or milk intolerance.)Step Aside, Lucy; Your Distant Ancestor Walked Upright, Researchers Claim 09/03/2004
Penn State researchers are trying to scoop the coveted title of discoverers of the first upright-walking hominid with a CT scan of their champion, Orrorin (see 02/23/2001 headline). They have the ball and socket joint of the specimen (thought to be like a chimpanzee) and a bit of the bony neck that connects the ball to the upper thighbone, and part of the upper thigh. They claim that CT scans show a slight thickening in the neck that is intermediate between those of apes and humans. This is enough to convince them that their specimen walked upright, according to the report in EurekAlert. If so, they win the prize, because they date their specimen at 6 million years old, whereas Donald Johanson had dated his iconic specimen Lucy at only 3 million.
Skeptics are not sure the CT scans were accurate enough to make such a determination, and whether Orrorin, if it walked upright at all, did it habitually (even pygmy chimps and some monkeys walk upright sometimes; see 07/22/2004 headlines). But already the imaginations are getting into gear: Bipedalism probably does represent a fundamental first step in human evolution, claims Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London, according to the report in National Geographic News. As Darwin recognized, walking on two legs frees up the arms and hands for tasks like carrying, tool making, and tool use. And much of what happened in human evolution later on stemmed from it.
What magnificent returns in storytelling emerge from such a trifling investment of fact. A tiny ratio difference in thickness on one bone from one specimen, based on CT scans of questionable accuracy, assuming no modifications by the fossilization process (see 03/28/2003 headline), dated with evolutionary assumptions, and they can convert a chimpanzee fossil into an upright walking human ancestor. Six million years later, its descendants are designing spacecraft and deciphering the human genome. How ever did the noble enterprise of science stoop to such pitiful grandstanding? Dont think Johansons group, or any of the other rival teams, is going to take this upset without a challenge.Darwins Finches: Researchers Tweak the Beak 09/03/2004
Every once in awhile, a new angle on Darwins finches (an icon of evolution) appears in print. Peter and Rosemary Grant, who have devoted their life to studying everything possible about these related species of birds that inhabit the Galápagos Islands only to find that evolutionary changes are reversible (see 04/26/2002 headline) have a new molecular story to tell. In an effort to tie the evolution of beak shape to embryonic development, they and three Harvard geneticists searched for the actual proteins that build beaks in the egg, and found one named Bmp4 (bone morphogenetic protein #4) that appears to singlehandedly influence beak width and stubbiness. Their results are printed in the Sept. 3 issue of Science.1
In the same issue,2 USC scientists Ping Wu et al. studied the same protein in chickens and ducks. They studied Bmp4 expression in the growth zones of developing beaks, and found that By tinkering with BMP4 in beak prominences, the shapes of the chicken beak can be modulated. It was not clear, however, whether BMP4, a signalling molecule, is solely responsible or affects other upstream factors in the developmental process.
Each article assumes these studies are important to evolutionary theory. The Grants say, Darwins finches are a classic example of species diversification by natural selection. Ping Wu et al. generalize, Beak shape is a classic example of evolutionary diversification. Elizabeth Pennisi, Science writer who usually makes evolutionary stories grist for her mill, writes in the same issue,3 Darwins finches are to evolutionary biology what Newtons apple is to physics. (Did she mean the obvious comparison, considering that the story of an apple hitting Newton led to his theory of gravitation is a myth?) Today, she continues, these songbirds are often cited as a perfect example of how new species arise by exploiting ecological niches. (Emphasis added). Yet the classification of these birds into separate species is controversial, since apparently most of them (at least) are interfertile.
Though the scientists Pennisi quotes are impressed with the studies, and find the evidence convincing that BMP4 shapes beaks, one cautions that Other genes and molecules will also be involved. Indeed, Pennisi admits, neither group knows what makes the BMP4 gene more active in birds with bigger bills. And neither study explains why some birds, such as the finches, rapidly form new specieswith the different lifestyles that are possible because of changes in their shapeswhile others living in the same place, for example, warblers, do not. Nevertheless, Pennisi is confident, Darwin would be pleased.
1Abzhanov, Protas, Tabin, Peter and Rosemary Grant, Bmp4 and Morphological Variation of Beaks in Darwins Finches, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5689, 1462-1465, 3 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1098095].
2Ping Wu et al., Molecular Shaping of the Beak, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5689, 1465-1466, 3 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1098109].
3Elizabeth Pennisi, Bonemaking Protein Shapes Beaks of Darwins Finches, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5689, 1383, 3 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5689.1383].
The findings are really no help to evolutionary theory. Neither of these studies account for the origin of BMP4 and the many other complex proteins that interact with it; they just show you can get freaks by tweaking the beaks. We already knew that with humans. Failures in the complex developmental pathways of any embryo can produce grotesque or useless deformities. These studies only tinkered with expression of existing genes, not with the origin of new genes or their improvement. The studies were not tied to adaptation, which is what Darwinism purports to explain.Pop Goes the Fatbubble Theory for the Origin of Life 09/03/2004
Jack Szostak and colleagues at Howard Hughes Medical Institute have a new entry for stories about how the first life got rolling: the bubble theory. Bubbles of fat molecules enclosing genetic material might have given rise to a primitive form of natural selection, they say; the more effective at replication the RNA inside a lucky bubble, the more osmotic pressure it would create, causing the bubble to grow. Bubbles battled for supremacy in this primordial soup till Darwinian selection took over, and thats where we came from. The scenario was published in Science1 Sept. 3 and summarized on EurekAlert.
They actually did test the idea in the lab. We tested whether fatty acid vesicles ... osmotically stressed by encapsulated contents would increase in membrane area at the expense of unstressed vesicles, they say. They had to set boundary conditions so that the bubbles did not rupture (i.e., pop). In scientific lingo, that translates into: We therefore determined the maximum sustainable membrane tension of oleate (C18:1) vesicles under osmotic stress. They experimented with sugar inside the bubbles, then RNA with nucleotides. Sure enough, the winning bubbles grew by stealing membrane material from those with lesser contents. Given any charged genetic polymer inside a fatbubble, they believe bigger would win the competition. The paper has the customary tables, graphs and incomprehensible jargon, then ends with a summary of their own materialistic, naturalistic origin of life scenario that requires nothing but simple physical principles properly applied. Once upon a time,
We suggest that the phenomenon of osmotically driven, competitive vesicle growth could have played an important role in the emergence of Darwinian evolution during the origin of cellular life (supporting online text). The present results suggest that simple physical principles may allow a direct connection between genome and membrane. RNA replicating within vesicles could confer a substantial growth advantage to the membrane by creating internal osmotic pressure. The faster replication of a superior replicase would therefore lead to faster vesicle growth, at the expense of cells lacking RNA or containing less efficient replicases. A faster replicase genotype would thus produce the higher-level phenotype of faster cellular growth, a prerequisite of cellular replication (supporting online text). Darwinian evolution at the organismal level might therefore have emerged earlier than previously thoughtat the level of a one-gene cell. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)EurekAlert, in its summary titled Battle between bubbles might have started evolution, says they proposed this scenario as an alternative to the reigning popular RNA World theory. They like it because it is not as complicated.
1Chen, Roberts and Szostak, The Emergence of Competition Between Model Protocells, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5689, 1474-1476, 3 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1100757].
One of the problems with peer review is that if a few reviewers let nonsense pass, it can get published in a prestigious journal, and snuggle into the corpus of scientific literature, without opportunity for immediate refutation. Then science reporters, like eager guppies at the base of a waterfall waiting for crud to wash over, swallow it whole and regurgitate for the peasants who respect science but dont know any better. This is soooooo stupid, it makes you wonder how Big Science can print such silliness without making the Darwin Party blush. The answer is: they have to. Their materialism pushes them to silly storytelling because they have already rejected the alternative, intelligent design. Choosing beforehand to ignore the obvious, silly storytelling is all they have available, so they dress it up in enough scientific glitter to distract attention from the pitiful plot. Computer programmers know this game. A bug is a bug, but if you dress it in a handsome suit, it is transformed into a feature.Letter: The Case Against Embryonic Stem Cell Research 09/03/2004
Sometimes the letters to the editor are the most interesting parts of a magazine. Read what John T. Durkin says about embryonic stem cell research in response to an April letter by another scientist:
In his Letter Human being redux (16 April, p. 388),2 M. S. Gazzaniga constructs his defense of human embryonic stem cell research around his difficulty in thinking of a miniscule ball of cells in a petri dish, so small that it could rest on the head of a pin as a human being. This rhetoric may mislead the lay public, but scientists should recognize that the size or the developmental stage does not separate the embryo from the human being. The embryo and the adult are different stages in the development of the human being.
1John T. Durkin, The Case Against Stem Cell Research (letter to the editor), Science, Vol 305, Issue 5689, 1402 ,3 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5689.1402a].
2Michael S. Gazzaniga, Stem Cell Redux, Science, Vol 304, Issue 5669, 388-389 , 16 April 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5669.388c].
Never underestimate the power of a well-written, cogently argued letter. Have you tried it? Be polite, but take a stand boldly and confidently.Creationist-Hating Evolutionist Chides Darwin Bulldogs 09/02/2004
Steve Jones (Galton Laboratory, University College, London) wrote a book review in Nature this week1, that, while witty, leaves the reader wondering what he really thinks. One thing is clear: he hates creationists with a vengeance
In a recent magazine poll, Richard Dawkins, with his trademark hobbit smile, was voted Britains top intellectual (a welcome kick in the teeth for the new generation of Creationists in our privately funded schools).He likens various historical Darwin defenders (bulldogs) to Tolkien characters, but its not clear which of the six Darwin bulldogs storied in Marek Kohns new book A Reason for Everything: Natural Selection and the British Imagination (Faber and Faber, 2004) are the good guys. For one thing, Jones seems ambivalent about the personality cult surrounding Chairman Charles [Darwin]:
Whats this cult of personality in evolutionary biology all about? Theres the Great Leader, Chairman Charles, of course, and various lesser but substantial figures who are also worthy of the occasional parade. But why do we need so many? Experts on chloroplasts or chlorine manage, as far as I know, with living facts, and are not forced to attach them to dead heroes. But theres something in evolution that calls for immortals to whom we plebs must defer.The book review that follows is sprinkled with faint praise and often derogatory references to Alfred Russell Wallace, R.A. Fisher, J.B.S. Haldane, John Maynard Smith, William Hamilton, Richard Dawkins. For example:
A Reason for Everything is a well-written and carefully researched account of some of the main British players in the world of evolution. Every evolutionist should read it as a warning against personality cults, if nothing else. Kohn makes it clear that giants walked the Earth in those days. Those days are gone, but after perusing his chapter on the Oxford school of evolutionary biology in the 1950s and 1960s some geniuses, no doubt, but also a fair sprinkling of prima donnas and right-wing zealots one can only mutter, through gently clenched teeth, Thank God!So Mr. Jones, what do you really think?
1Steve Jones, When giants walked the earth: a pedigree of Darwins well-bred English bulldogs, Nature 431, 21 - 22 (02 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431021a.
And, Mr. Jones, to which God are you giving thanks? If we wanted to be really judgmental, we could rant about Joness hate speech and advocacy of violence. Picture a man kicking another man in the teeth. Now look how Jones spoke with delight, figuratively, at this being done to Creationists by Dawkins being honored. Nothing in the American political conventions came this close to hate speech; words much milder have been excoriated as mean-spirited attacks. And who is he to chide Hamiltons eugenical Utopian dreams, when he himself chooses to work at Galton Laboratory, founded in 1901 as a eugenics institute by Chairman Charlies cousin Francis Galton, the father of eugenics?SETI Needs to Read, Not Listen 09/01/2004
What technology would an extra-terrestrial intelligence use to communicate with us? For fifty years, the search has presumed that an ET would use radio waves to announce were here. Not a good idea, says a professor of computer and electrical engineering at Rutgers. He thinks investors on distant planets would put their money not on radio commercials, but books.
Its not often that a topic as speculative as SETI gets coverage in elite science journals, but the ideas of Christopher Rose made the cover of Nature this week.1 Basically, he and Gregory Wright feel it is much more energy efficient to inscribe messages instead of broadcasting them. This has led to a flurry of clever headlines in the news media: such as, ET, dont phone home; drop a line instead on EurekAlert, and ET Phone Home? Try Writing, on MSNBC News. The BBC News, however, suggests that the new ideas may have been stimulated by the silence (see 08/13/2004 headline); A recent radio search of 800 stars showed no sign of a signal from ET, it says.
Woodruff T. Sullivan, summarizing the new view in the same issue of Nature2, explains the authors energy analysis of communication methods:
Unless the messages are short or the extraterrestrials are nearby, this write strategy requires less energy per bit of transmitted information than the radiate strategy does. Cone-shaped beams of radiation necessarily grow in size as they travel outwards, meaning that the great majority of the energy is wasted, even if some of it hits the intended target. A package, on the other hand, is not diluted as it travels across space..., presuming that its correctly aimed at its desired destination. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Radiation only has an advantage for short messages; otherwise, inscriptions are superior, Rose and Wright argue. EurekAlert elaborates:
In addition, Rose says, when waves pass a particular point, theyve passed it for good. Potential recipients at that point might be unable to snag a passing message for any one of many reasons. They might not be listening. They might be extinct. So someone sending such a message would have to send it over and over to increase the chance of its being received. The energy budget goes up accordingly. A physical message, however, stays where it lands.Sullivan has some reservations about their presentation. How can we presume to think like ET? How do we know economics would be a deciding factor in their deliberations? Furthermore, we do not know if such packages, even if efficiently sent, would ever in fact be recognized and opened. But then again, the same criticisms apply to radio messages.
An implication of this new energy-per-bit study is that there might be messages from extraterrestrial intelligence right under our feet.
So how should these results influence todays SETI strategy? Short we are here messages would still seem to be most efficiently sent by electromagnetic waves, and we should continue looking for the same. But perhaps some attention should be paid to the possibility of one day finding in our Solar System an information-drenched artefact, sent by an extremely advanced extraterrestrial civilization interested only in one-way communication. This intruder might be orbiting the Sun or a planet, or resting somewhere on a planet, moon or asteroid.... If astroarchaeologists were to find such an object, it would hardly be the first time that science fiction had become science fact.The news media have pointed out, with illustrations, that we humans have sent inscribed messages ourselves: most notably, the Pioneer plaque and the Voyager record. EurekAlert suggests some of the forms an incoming message might take:
Rose speculates that messages might be anything from actual text in a real language to (more likely) organic material embedded in an asteroid or in the crater made by such an asteroid upon striking Earth. Messages and Rose suggests there might be many of them, perhaps millions might literally be at our feet. They might be awaiting our discovery on the moon, or on one of Jupiters moons. They might be dramatic or mundane. A bottle floating in the ocean is just a bottle floating in the ocean unless, upon closer inspection, it turns out to have a message in it.Difficult as these ideas might be to accept, they stem from our concern about time, Rose explains. The sender(s), however, may not be time dependent. The choice of medium might be a function of how much the extraterrestrial intelligence had to say. He says, Since messages require protection from cosmic radiation, and small messages might be difficult to find amid the clutter near a recipient, inscribed matter is most effective for long, archival messages, as opposed to potentially short we exist announcements.
Incidentally, rumors of a possible alien signal announced in the media such as on New Scientist were quickly denounced as nothing unusual on BBC News
1Christopher Rose and Gregory Wright, Inscribed matter as an energy-efficient means of communication with an extraterrestrial civilization, Nature 431, 47 - 49 (02 September 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02884.
2Woodruff T. Sullivan III, Astrobiology: Message in a bottle, Nature 431, 27 - 28 (02 September 2004); doi:10.1038/431027a.
Hmmmm; information-drenched artifact. A possible real message in an actual language. A lot to say. Millions of copies at our grasp. Contents dramatic or mundane (or both). A medium not limited to a fortunate few living in a particular century or country. A sender outside of time, whose intelligence, identity, and intentions we cannot presume to fathom. Receivers who might not be listening. A package that might not be recognized or opened. Sounds a lot like Hebrews 1:1-3, II Timothy 3:15-17, II Peter 1:16-21, John 5:38-47, and John 1:10-12. Maybe a good place to search for an intelligent message is in the hotel room drawer.Are We Lost on a Speck of Cosmic Dust? 09/01/2004
A new Copernican revolution seems to be in the works, not another demotion of man from the center of the universe, but a promotion back to the ancient idea of plan or purpose for our existence. The demotions reached their nadir with Carl Sagans Cosmos and other books that declared we are nothing special, that we occupy no privileged position in the universe. Signs that such notions went too far, far beyond what Copernicus himself ever dreamed, began with the Anthropic Principle admissions by many cosmologists, including materialists, that we owe our existence to numerous lucky accidents of physics, astronomy, chemistry and geology. Then books like Rare Earth proposed that advanced civilizations like ours might be few and far between, even among billions of possible planets.
The latest revolutionary salvo comes from Illustra Media, producer of the highly successful film Unlocking the Mystery of Life, that showed evidence for intelligent design in the living cell. Now they have taken the concept of intelligent design to the ends of the cosmos in their latest film, The Privileged Planet, just released this month. Based on the new book of the same title by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, the film explores a revolutionary thesis that would make Copernicus himself nod in agreement: the universe not only appears designed for our existence, but shows an uncanny number of coincidences that make scientific discovery possible. If so, science has uncovered evidence of a purpose to the existence of mankind on this privileged planet.
On a related subject, JPL and news organizations like The Toronto Star have been reporting the discovery of Neptune-sized planets around other stars. These are much smaller than earlier exoplanets found so far, which all rivaled or exceeded Jupiter. But none of these new planets would be suitable for advanced life; the reports only indicate that progress is being made toward finding earth-sized worlds. As the film explains, however, there is a lot more to making a planet habitable than just size, to say nothing of making it a suitable platform for discovery. It takes the right kind of star, the right kind of moon, the right kind of position in the galaxy, and about 20 other improbable things. Luck, or design? And if it was the result of a plan or purpose, is there any way we could know?
This is a film worth watching on a big-screen home theater with surround sound, and one that after watching, will prompt you to rush out and buy copies for your friends. The DVD version contains a wealth of interesting and important bonus features, such as answers to 15 questions viewers might have from the main program. The films excellent videography and top-notch editing is surpassed by the content. Tastefully and non-dogmatically presented, the main thesis is supported with a wealth of uncontroversial facts. Numerous scientists on various sides of the origins issue appear in the film. The point is all the more convincing when made by scientists who have no religious bias, and admit to the superiority of the design argument in spite of themselves. Get this superb film; watch it, think about it, and share it.