Brachystola magna

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Photograph by Ralph Arvesen.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

Ralph.Arvesen - Plains Lubber (Brachystola magna Girard).jpg

Brachystola magna – plains lubber, or western lubber..

Science is not about certainty

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That is the title of an interesting article in The New Republic by the theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli. I read it mostly because it had been quote-mined by Elizabeth Mitchell here. Professor Rovelli’s article was perhaps a bit windy, and I could take issue with some of his discussion, but it was not all that hard to understand. One of his main points is that science has been extremely successful and any new theory will have to reduce to existing theory in the appropriate limit:

Happy Jason Lisle Day!

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Note: This is a guest-post by DiogenesLamp. He has cross-posted it at WordPress and Blogger versions of his blog. I have BLEEPed a few things as PT is supposed to be in part an educational resource. – Nick Matzke

Happy Jason Lisle Day! Today is the second anniversary of the day when Jason Lisle, director of what passes for research at ICR (Institute for Creation Research), promised he would explain why his alleged solution to the creationist “Starlight Problem” wasn’t really demolished by the math of Einstein’s General Relativity– in spite of much proof to the contrary that had been shoved right in his face. Lisle had whipped up a convoluted, technical explanation for why Young Earth creationists [YECs] are right about the universe being created only 6,000 years ago, even though we can see galaxies that are millions of light years away, and their starlight must have been traveling towards us for much longer than 6,000 years. Subsequently critics confronted Lisle with a handful of different mathematical and observational arguments that refuted his alleged solution to the Starlight Problem, which he calls “ASC” [Anisotropic Synchrony Convention]– one point being that his ASC would in fact require a gravitational field that ought to be observable, but isn’t observed. In his only response, two years ago today, Lisle promised to explain why we’re all stupid and maths are all wrong and his BLEEPy model actually rules.

A friend brought this 2012 news article about the evolution of the rhesus monkey Y chromosome to my attention. The primary work itself is about characterizing the gene content of the rhesus Y chromosome (a laborious, and necessary task). This particular write-up, however, is slightly frustrating for some of the (wrong) assumptions it makes, but most noticable is the image:

The picture of the “X and Y” chromosomes where the X chromosome, presumably, looks like an X, and the Y chromosome looks like a Y. If this were true, we might then assume that chromosome 1 looks like a “1” and chromsome 22 looks like a “22”. None of these are true. 

All human chromosomes, even the six acrocentric chromosomes (13, 14, 15, 21, 22, and Y), look kind of like “X’s” when they are duplicating, having sister chromatids (see this karyotype, a picture of chromosomes:[…]ryotype.html). And none of the chromosomes look like X’s when they are not in the duplication process (see this image from the J. Craig Venter Institute:[…]figure2a.jpg).

Alluvial fan

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Alluvial fan created by the torrential rainfall 1 year ago, as seen from the Visitor Center, Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, September, 2014. The meander at the bottom of the screen passes through the bed of Fan Lake, which was formed in 1982 when the Lawn Lake Dam burst and inundated the City of Estes Park.

Acting on a tip, I checked out Careers at Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum and investigated CAD Technician Designer, Ark Encounter. After clicking “Apply for This Position,” I came upon a pop-up that informed me,

Answers in Genesis, Inc. is an Equal Opportunity/ Affirmative Action employer. We provide equal employment opportunities to all qualified employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, religion, sex, age, marital status, national origin, sexual orientation, citizenship status, veteran status, disability or any other legally protected status. We prohibit discrimination in decisions concerning recruitment, hiring, compensation, benefits, training, termination, promotions, or any other condition of employment or career development.

That is good, because Ark Encounter is a for-profit corporation, but farther into the job application, I encountered

House Bill 597 enshrines ignorance

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The more I think about this the madder I get. In a Facebook comment on my previous post, Anne Jefferson made a trenchant point:

We’re not going to teach about process, but we’re going to expect students to critically evaluate? Right.

She’s exactly right. Here’s the relevant language from the Bill:

(iii) The standards in science shall … focus on academic and scientific knowledge rather than scientific processes; and encourage students to analyze, critique, and review, in an objective manner, the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the standards.

So students are blocked from learning about the processes of science, about how science evaluates and tests knowledge claims, about the interplay among theory, hypothesis, and data. Then, against this background of ignorance, they are to critique scientific knowledge claims. They are to evaluate scientific theories without having learned how to evaluate them!

I no longer believe that the authors of this Bill are merely ignorant. I now believe that they are consciously and deliberately subverting science education. They would produce students who are shackled to pre-existing ignorance, who don’t have the tools necessary to evaluate scientific knowledge claims, who are sheep ready for shearing by demagogues and charlatans. The authors of the Bill are profoundly anti-science. They prefer uninformed opinion and myths to real knowledge of how the world actually works.

The authors of House Bill 597, which is aimed at derailing the Common Core standards in Ohio, have revised it (PDF). (Columbus Dispatch story here). Their revisions now embody the ‘strength and weaknesses’ trope of creationists. The Bill now says

(iii) The standards in science shall be based in core existing disciplines of biology, chemistry, and physics; incorporate grade-level mathematics and be referenced to the mathematics standards; focus on academic and scientific knowledge rather than scientific processes; and encourage students to analyze, critique, and review, in an objective manner, the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the standards.

Creationism, here we come. Wikipedia has a review of the ‘strengths and weaknesses’ ploy when it is aimed directly at evolution. The revised Bill generalizes it to ‘existing scientific theories,’ but that’s merely camouflage.

The Bill goes on to claim that

Nothing in division (A)(1) of this section shall be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.

That’s a plain attempt to shield the Bill from Constitutional scrutiny. But the Bill sets up a Dover trap, and some poor school district in Ohio will walk right into that trap, to its legal and financial cost.

Further, the revised Bill retains without change the evisceration of science education I described a few days ago. The ‘no scientific processes’ language would gut science education in Ohio.

Canis lupus baileyi

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Photograph by Dan Stodola.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.


Canis lupus baileyi – Mexican wolf, Brookfield Zoo, Illinois.

Giant panda fakes pregnancy

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The Xinhua news agency reported the other day that a giant panda, Ai Hin, had faked pregnancy, possibly in order to receive better treatment in the form of a private room, air conditioning, and luscious bamboo. This observant and inventive panda is, of course, a distant relative of Professor Steve Steve.

Another case of … erm … Darwinist censorship

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[sarcasm] Jeff Shallit calls attention to an egregious case of Darwinian censorship. [/sarcasm].

I think the “atheistic leaning neo-Darwinist blog” is Panda’s Thumb. Recall Nick Matzke’s critique here.

Tradescantia occidentalis

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Photograph by Rob Dullien.

DullienTradescantia occidentalis_600.jpg

Tradescantia occidentalis – prairie or western spiderwort, near Coyote Buttes, Arizona, May, 2014.

Panda cub is 1 year old

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That cub is Bao Bao, the cub born at the National Zoo in Washington. See here for a short video or here for still photos. Bao Bao is the second panda to have been born at the zoo and survived to her first birthday. She is, of course, a distant cousin, once removed, of Professor Steve Steve.

Ohio: Here we go again

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Ohio is in the process of considering the Common Core standards to guide public education in a range of disciplines from English language arts to math and science. Ohio’s State Board of Education adopted the Common Core in June of 2010, and local districts have been creating curriculum materials under the Common Core for implementation this year. Now two state legislators, Republican Andy Thompson of Medina and Republican Matt Huffman of Lima have filed a bill, House Bill 597, that would abandon the Common Core and eviscerate those curricula, wasting the work of hundreds of Ohio educators. House Bill 597 also contains a deadly form of anti-science propaganda. It is a lovely example of right wing ignorance of science.

Lonicera X bella

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Honeysuckle, by Richard Meiss.

Photography contest, Finalist.


Lonicera X bella – Asian bush honeysuckle. Mr. Meiss writes, “This photo shows the coexisting ripe berries and new flowers of the Asian bush honeysuckle, an invasive species in the American midwest. This ‘second flowering’ in mid-September was induced by the very hot and dry summer of 2012. The phenomenon, an adaptation to environmental stress, was also widely noted in the British Isles; its prevalence is likely related to global warming. In this case, it may give a ‘leg up’ to an already-troublesome invasive species.”

The scare quotes are my gloss, but that is the headline of a credulous Dallas Morning News article on the “research” being conducted at the Institute for Creation “Research.” The article quotes Pat Robertson to the effect that it is silly – or, rather, looks silly – to deny the clear geologic record, but mostly the author appears to take the “research” seriously. Indeed, he makes the point that Charity Navigator gives ICR a 3-star rating, which, to my mind, means only that they waste contributions efficiently.

Buried at the tail end of the article, no doubt for “balance” (using a lot of scare quotes today; sorry), the author interviews Ron Wetherington, an anthropologist at Southern Methodist University. Professor Wetherington observes, correctly, that ICR puts the cart before the horse:

The problem is, they’re not scientists. They cherry-pick data in order to use it to justify the Genesis account of creation.

Sure enough, the ICR scientists claim that spiral galaxies, ocean salinity, and the (surprising) existence of soft tissue in dinosaur bones are clear evidence against what they call evolutionary naturalism. Real scientists, notes Prof. Wetherington, constantly test their hypotheses, rather than simply “line up facts to support a hypothesis.”

Professor Wetherington is careful not to disparage anyone else’s religion, which I suppose is a laudable position. But frankly when a scientist’s religion teaches something that is contrary to known fact and by his own admission prevents that scientist from getting a real job in a real research laboratory, then maybe it is time to admit that it is the religious view, not the science, that needs drastic modification.

Acknowledgment. Thanks are due again to Alert Reader for providing the link.

A dam at a toxic waste pond burst last week and spilled 10 Mm3 of water and about half as much presumably toxic sludge into a tributary of the Fraser River in British Columbia. If you want to see what 10 Mm3 of water looks like, watch the video posted by The Guardian.

The Fraser River empties into the newly named Salish Sea at Vancouver, B. C.

The Guardian article barely mentions salmon, but the Seattle Post-Intelligencer calls it British Columbia’s Exxon Valdez and suggests that over 2.5 million salmon could be affected. Although the water is apparently safe to drink now, no one knows what the long-term effects might be, after the toxic sludge enters the food chain. NBC news reports that the spill has already destroyed spawning beds for endangered Coho salmon, and there is fear that chinook and sockeye salmon, which are running upstream right now, may also be in danger.

The Provincial government is minimizing the danger.

The Cartwright Lab at Arizona State University is looking for a Software Application Associate to design, construct, test, document, and maintain software packages. We currently have software development projects involving phylogenomics, mutational genomics, and evolution.

Essential Duties

Work in a collaborative environment to design, construct, test, document, and maintain software packages. Typical projects involve implementing high-performance algorithms for the statistical analysis of large genomic datasets for studying questions related to evolution and population genetics. Ability to translate software prototypes from Perl, Python, Java, etc. into C/C++ is preferred.

Minimum Qualifications

Bachelor’s degree in Statistics, Mathematics, Computer Science or related field AND two years of experience in software application development, including writing computer code in one or more programming languages; OR, any equivalent combination of experience and/or education from which comparable knowledge, skills and abilities have been achieved.

To Apply

See the full ad:[…]/job/4746091


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Photograph by Keith Barkley.

Photography contest, Finalist.


Solar eclipse, May 20, 2012. Mr. Barkley writes, “I lucked out that the eclipse was still going on during local sunset. One of the few eclipse images you will see that was taken without a sun-viewing filter on the lens.”

A blogger in the Daily Kos reports that Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks people should “chill out” regarding genetically modified food. Tyson argues, as I have for years, that all our food is genetically modified, but it took on the order of 10,000 years to get where we are now.

The pseudonymous blogger, SkepticalRaptor, notes that GM foods are to many on the left as global warming is to many on the right: It is an article of faith that genetic modification is bad, and no amount of evidence can be adduced to change that opinion.

I would add, though, that there are valid reasons to oppose at least some genetic modifications, such as corn that is immune to glyphosate (Roundup) or plants laced with insecticide (Bt). Additionally, you could reasonably argue (as does SkepticalRaptor) that, whereas it may be legal to sell seeds that cannot reproduce themselves, it is certainly immoral to sell them to farmers in developing countries. Finally, I seem to recall that there have been occasional problems introducing, say, fish genes into tomatoes. None of these problems speaks against genetically modified food in general, though they surely militate in favor of considerable caution.

SkepticalRaptor concludes with the observation that Tyson is correct in following the evidence to its conclusion rather than denying the evidence in order to support a preordained conclusion. I could not agree more.

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