Sun dog


Photograph by Nicky Turner.

Sun dog
Sun dog. The photographer writes, "The picture was taken on the terrace here at our house, Villa Santa Lucia, about 15 km south of Livorno on the Etruscan coast of Italy," October, 2021.

The sun dog is formed from refraction by hexagonal ice crystals held with their axes vertical by hydrodynamic forces (drop a small scrap of paper, and you will see how it remains mostly horizontal). If the air is not still and the crystals are not oriented, you may see the full 22° halo.

Your brain as a walnut

Josh Axe in action
Josh Axe in action. Here he seems to think that a reduction of 1/4 is 40 %. Credit: Addicted Tolgnerance, "Dr. Josh Axe is a Moron," fair use.

The other day, I (MY) received note from the Kentucky paleontologist Dan Phelps. The note was an anguished letter that he had sent to the PBS affiliate Kentucky Educational Television and was headed

If someone dies, what will KET say?

What anguished Mr. Phelps was the station’s airing of a program called “Ancient Remedies” by a quack nutritionist (or something) called Josh Axe. It seems that KET is not the only affiliate that runs his “advice”: so do Rhode Island PBS, New Hampshire PBS, Arizona Public Media, Duluth-Superior Area Educational Television, Kansas Public Television, Blue Ridge PBS, Delta College Public Media, PBS Western Reserve, and I suppose more, but I gave up looking. In my own area, it looks like PBS12, Colorado Public Television, carries the program, but Rocky Mountain PBS does not. May we suggest that after you read this post you check your own PBS affiliate and if appropriate complain about their airing this nonsense.

I had never heard of Josh Axe, so I looked him up and watched – no, endured an hour-long program here. I did not take notes, but what I came away with was

  • Cancer is a psychosomatic disease (my interpretation of what he said)
  • Certain personality types and get breast cancer on the left side, others on the right, depending on some mumbo jumbo about qi (chi)
  • The plural of anecdote is data; Chinese medicine is 5000 (?) years old and has accumulated plenty of data (he does not seem to have heard of confirmation bias)
  • Western medicine believes in evidence (again, my interpretation; I do not remember his precise wording)
  • And, finally, like cures like, so walnuts are good for your brain, or something like that, reminiscent of homeopathy, only worse

I now yield the floor to my colleague Dan Phelps, who started this discussion with the following letter to KET:

Fired for endangering others

Man holding sign

An observant reader sent us this picture, which was the subject of a tweet by Ken Ham of AIG, and noted that the caption should have been

"Fired because my beliefs endangered the health and safety of others."

He further commented,

Seriously, it doesn't bother AiG to fire or not to hire people because they don't believe what the organization requires (this behavior is legal under the Civil Rights Act, BTW, if carefully structured). SO why do they take such umbrage when someone else does the same thing?

And, there certainly is a clear and present danger to acting on these [anti-vaccination] beliefs, whereas I would be hard pressed to find such a danger among, say, other Christian denominations that do not follow the bizarre twists that AiG insists on.

You may read about First Liberty Institute (mentioned in the figure) here.

White rainbow


Photograph by Paul Strode.

White rainbow
White rainbow, or fog bow, overlooking the Flatirons, Boulder Colorado, October, 2021.

This splendid picture by Paul Strode shows a white rainbow, or a fog bow. The white rainbow is seen when the droplets are very small, as in a fog. In that case the angle of diffraction is at least much as the angle of refraction, so the colors overlap, and the rainbow appears white. M. Minnaert, in The nature of light and color in the open air (§128), notes that the width of the white rainbow may be as much as twice the width of the ordinary rainbow. Additionally, the colors may be reversed, because red light is diffracted more than blue, whereas it is refracted less. In Dr. Strode's picture, we see a "conventional" rainbow at the left merging into a white arc where, presumably, the droplets are smaller. The arc is about the same width as the colored section, which hints that the droplets are sized so that diffraction barely covers refraction. In consequence, we do not see any color, reversed or otherwise.

Incidentally, contrary to popular descriptions here and (especially) there, the light is always refracted by the droplets, but sometimes diffraction plays a role as well.

Is common descent untestable?

[Paying the bill]
Illustration EN&ST uses for "paying the bill", from Wikimedia Commons

The ever-astonishing site Evolution News and Science Today has astonished once again. Finding a paper in the scientific literature which provides evidence for a horizontal gene transfer event, they declare that this shows that common descent is an untestable concept

The paper is in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution: Citrullination was introduced into animals by horizontal gene transfer from cyanobacteria (Disclosure: I have published in that journal, and served as President of its parent society).

The paper straightforwardly provides evidence from molecular phylogenies and functional studies that the enzyme peptidylarginine deaminase has a distribution discordant with the overall phylogeny of life, in that

The animal and cyanobacterial PADI proteins share functionally relevant primary and tertiary synapomorphic sequences that are distinct from a second PADI type present in fungi and actinobacteria …. The consilience of evidence indicates that PADIs were introduced from cyanobacteria into animals by horizontal gene transfer (HGT).

Aha! exclaims EN&ST. About Universal Common Descent, they note that

UCD is often held to be testable via the counterfactual of “genes and proteins might have been discovered in groups where they should not exist”. In other words, if we observed genes and proteins occurring in the TOL, with unequivocal homology to the same sequences found elsewhere in phylogenetically distant or divergent groups, UCD would be in trouble.

And indeed they think that horizontal gene transfer is an added assumption that needs to be verified, and that if we invoke it in this way, UCD is in trouble:

UCD’s big entourage only becomes a problem when its members always pay the fines for UCD’s failed predictions, pick up UCD’s tab at restaurants and hotels, and generally cover the empirical shortfalls of UCD.

and they end with the declaration that

If ever anyone needed evidence of the untestability of UCD, papers like this provide it.

The even-more-astonishing Denyse O’Leary (“News” at Uncommon Descent) also made the same point, attributing it to “a friend”; one of the two of them also seems to be a friend of EN&ST.