Recently in Slightly Off Topic Category

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.

You may get an idea how science really works from an article by Boston science writer Kate Becker in today’s Boulder Daily Camera. (I think the column is exclusive to the Daily Camera.)

Becker describes the Bicep2 experiment, which looked for evidence of cosmic inflation by examining the polarization of the cosmic background radiation. The authors of the paper announced its conclusion before the paper had been submitted for review; since then, others have criticized their method and thrown the conclusion of the paper into doubt. Specifically, some think that cosmic dust may polarize the radiation in such a way as to give a false positive, in this case a polarization that mimics that of the cosmic background. The researchers have considered cosmic dust and disagree. At any rate, their article has finally been published, and you may find the abstract here. I read the abstract, but as Casca said, it was Greek to me, and I have no opinion concerning the conclusion. We will, as Becker notes, wait until other telescopes weigh in or the Bicep2 data are further evaluated.

This novel by Lauren Grodstein is about Andy, a once promising biology professor now languishing in the tenure-track of a third-rank university in New Jersey. Andy teaches a course nicknamed There Is No God, whose principles are these:

1: Evolution is the explanation for everything

2: Darwin is right

3: And people who don’t believe Darwin are wrong

That is about right, at least to first order and as far as biology is concerned, but naturally such an explicit statement is bound to attract attention. Indeed, it attracts the attention of Lionel, a Campus Crusade type who has received permission to take Andy’s course for a second time in order to make a case against Andy. More importantly, as it turns out, Lionel sets Andy up by encouraging another student, Melissa, to ask Andy to mentor her in a reading course on intelligent-design creationism. Andy resists but finally gives in, with predictably dire consequences.

Quote without comment

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Ken Ham, who runs a tax-exempt nonprofit and has received various tax breaks and subsidies from the city and the state, writes,

“The Nation’s T. Rex” will be a centerpiece for the Smithsonian–a museum funded by our tax dollars. In reality, then, the government is imposing the religion of evolution and millions of years on children visiting the Smithsonian, while also claiming a supposed separation of church and state! Our tax dollars are funding the religion of naturalism (atheism) and its evolutionary story to be exhibited in the Smithsonian in the nation’s capital!

Since everyone is all het up about Noah, I thought I would resurrect (sorry) a narrative I wrote 15 years ago for my book on science and religion. The “Friedman” I cite is Richard Elliott Friedman, author of Who Wrote the Bible? I used the section primarily to explain why scholars are convinced that the Hebrew Bible is a composite of two different but related methodologies (the documentary hypothesis), but it also shows the utter incoherence of the Bible when read as a literal history. The excerpt may be found below the fold.

I occasionally receive a request to print or post a photograph that has appeared on Panda’s Thumb, but this one takes the cake: A magazine called Creation Illustrated, which bills itself as “The Christian answer to National Geographic,” requested permission to publish this photograph

IMG_0393_CastleRock_600.jpg

in its magazine. Fat chance!

Their e-mail was datelined, “URGENT - Matt Young’s photo of Table Mountain needed.” Needed, eh? I am afraid I was not very kind to them:

Thank you; I am glad you liked my photograph. Unfortunately, under no conditions will I allow this photograph (or any other to which I own the copyright) to be published in any creationist publication. So my answer is, “No.” Did you not notice that the website, Panda’s Thumb, where the photograph was published, is devoted to scientific reality, that is, evolutionary science? “Christian answer to National Geographic,” indeed!

Until now, I was blissfully unaware that National Geographic needed an answer of any kind.

By Dan Phelps ([Enable javascript to see this email address.])

This is a guest contribution by Dan Phelps, who participated in a sort of warm-up debate before the infamous Nye–Ham debate. Mr. Phelps’s contribution was inspired in part by a challenge for a formal debate by his interlocutor, Terry Mortenson, who, astonishingly, admitted that he has “no credibility in the scientific community and little even within Christian circles.” Mr. Phelps evidently looked further into Dr. Mortenson’s background and discovered at least some of the reasons that Dr. Mortenson lacks credibility, period.

By David MacMillan. The author has a B.S. in physics from the University of North Alabama and once wrote a very positive review of the Creation Museum.

It’s rare to see a prominent scientist or educator agree to a public debate with someone from the creation science movement. Giving equal time to both sides might be a foundational principle of American dialogue, but it paints the issue as more of a controversy than it actually is. That’s why it surprised a lot of people when Bill Nye, science educator and TV personality, agreed to debate the president of Cincinnati’s Creation Museum, Ken Ham.

Oooh, do I smell a book deal! NPR today ran an interview with a Christian pastor who supposedly made a New Year’s resolution to live for a year without God. Ryan Bell was the pastor of a Seventh-Day Adventist congregation but was asked to resign when he expressed doubts about God.

A reader asks weather anyone knows what book this page comes from or not:

MysteryWorkbook_600.jpg

I say, wind, shmind, the whether on the moon was stormy that day or not. Anyway, how do they know weather there is wind on the moon – were they there (or not)? Read and understand.…

Submitted by the Whether Underground.

Comet Ison: Perihelion is now

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Nice video here, along with a sky map telling you where to look in the early morning. Instructions for viewing it in daylight here – wear sunglasses and take their advice to use a stationary object, not your thumb, to block the sun. And latest images here. I am going out now with my trusty camera and looking for a lamp post, but it may be too close to the sun already.

Update: Here is a remarkable picture from the Nasa site above, taken on November 25.

CometIsonNasa_600.jpg

When President Kennedy was shot

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A number of people across the web have posted their memories of where they were the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Mine is short: I was at sea aboard the ship of the U.S. Navy that he visited less than a week before he was shot.

The Creation “Museum” in Kentucky recently acquired an Allosaurus fossil, according to an AP release by Dylan Lovan yesterday. The proprietor of the Creation “Museum,” Ken Ham, seems to think that the mere acquisition of a dinosaur fossil gives his “museum” credibility and makes it a real museum. The fossil was donated by the Elizabeth Streb Peroutka Foundation of Maryland, about which I have so far managed to learn virtually nothing.

The article quotes geologist Dan Phelps, a perpetual thorn in the side of the Creation “Museum”:

A recent Gallup poll concluded that Americans consistently rate math the most valuable subject they took in school, ahead of English, science, and history. Specifically, 34 % of those polled in both 2002 and 2013 rated math the most important subject. English, meaning English, reading, and literature, came in second, with 21 % in 2013 rating English the most important. Between 2002 and 2013, incidentally, science jumped from 4 % to 12 %. Figure 1 shows Gallup’s results for 2002 and 2013 in graphical form.

GallupPoll2013_1.jpg

Figure 1. Percentage of responses to Gallup polls taken in 2002 and 2013. Mathematics held firm at 34 %, whereas science increased from 4 to 12 % at the expense of English, reading, and literature.

by Carl Drews

What will happen to the Earth’s oceans as the level of dissolved CO 2 in the oceans increases? This post explores the likely consequences of this increase for plants and animals living in the oceans. We will not cover questions about the reality of climate change itself, nor the suggested causes of global warming (human-caused or natural).

The complexity of the earth system is such that nobody can be an expert on all aspects of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. Climate change involves many interrelated scientific disciplines. One of the great things about Panda’s Thumb is that it covers a wide range of scientific topics, and anyone can contribute their own expertise when their particular field comes up. I am sure that PT readers will correct me if I get something wrong here (and even if I don’t!).

By Dan Phelps

On September 12, 2013, I received a letter (see Appendix) signed by Ken Ham and a slick advertisement from the Ark Encounter touting funding the Ark Park via bonds. The bond issuer will be the City of Williamstown, Kentucky. According to the website mentioned in the letter, the co-borrowers will be Crosswater Canyon, Inc., a non-profit organization controlled by Answers in Genesis, and Ark Encounter, LLC (co-borrower, solely owned by Crosswater Canyon, Inc.).

Waco Mammoth Site needs help

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Someone who identified himself only as Profound Pharynx wrote the other day asking for our help in getting a paleontological resource, the Waco Mammoth Site, designated a National Monument. Specifically, he asks that we sign a petition asking the President to name the site as a National Monument by executive order. The petition must gather at least 100,000 signatures by October 11; as I write, it has 73 signatures, but in a few moments it will have 74.

Here is what Profound Pharynx asked us to publish:

Another giant is dead

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I became aware of science fiction sometime around 1950, when the “commercial club” in my tiny village–my dad, who managed the lumberyard, Butch Holdredge, who owned a grocery store, two saloon owners whose names I don’t recall, Mr. Hanenberger, who owned the hardware store, the Laudon brothers, who owned the grain elevator, and the village banker, Merle Comingore–arranged for free movies to be shown on a sheet hung on the side of the township building outdoors on summer Saturday nights. Typically, the itinerant projectionist, who drove up from Winona, showed a cartoon (Mighty Mouse was a favorite), a serial, always with a cliff-hanger, and a two-reel feature. One summer the serial was a Buck Rogers saga created 10 years earlier. I was entranced by it.

I remember seeing Destination Moon in a real theater in its first release in 1950 (admission 14 cents). I read the science fiction pulps–Amazing Stories, Astounding Science-Fiction–when I could find them. All that was part of the background that led me to work in aerospace years ago.

Now the last of the founding giants of modern science fiction, Frederick Pohl, has died. RIP.

Science on trial?

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Lou Dubose reported in the Washington Spectator the other day that Eastman Chemical prevailed in a lawsuit against two small companies, and Dubose thinks that decision could have far-ranging consequences. I am not certain whether science was on trial, but as it turned out in vitro assays may have been.

I cannot find much interesting material that postdates the decision, but you can find a slightly gloating press release by Eastman Chemical here.

Giant panda gives birth

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Professor Steve Steve reports that his distant relative Mei Xiang gave birth to a cub at the National Zoo yesterday. NPR reports that the zoo did not know that the panda was pregnant until recently, when, according to Professor Steve Steve, she told her keepers that she “might be just a little bit pregnant.” Reuters reports that scientists will shortly perform a paternity test. You may see a webcam shot of the giant panda here.

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