Monday, November 13, 2006

What we have here... is a failure to comunicate.

To celebrate my return to communication, I'll post about a loss of the same; namely, the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS). It recently celebrated its tenth year in space... from a mission designed for three.

It's kind of like the Enterprise, a five year mission that just keeps friggin' going. It also stands as a testament to what can happen when stuff goes right. The public eye has grown so jaded and selective as on to what it focuses that great successes that should be heralded barely manage a peep. Yet total failures earn as much coverage as Britney's most recent antics.

The fact that MGS lasted SEVEN years longer than expected, and if they fix the problem longer still, shows the grand dividends paid out from a prudent investment into science and discovery. There is no cost-benefit analysis that can effectively determine what can come from such investment.

I'm sure there were a number of insipid bureaucrats who whined about the cost of a mission set only to last three years, and yet here we are, ten years later. The dedication of those who love knowledge continually push projects beyond any expectations in this age of disinterest. I know that, in the future, it is they who will be honored, not those who complain about budgets, pinch pennies, and talk of no return on such massive investment.

An investment into the advancement of the human race returns not money, but instead something of such immense worth that it stands wholly beyond measure. I would rather know a single thing than have a million dollars in my pocket.

NASA struggles to contact lost Mars probe (Via

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Ohhh! And He's Hit by the Old Bean Ball!

It's Sunday. That means football. Well, at least for the US that means football. For the rest of the world... uhhhh, I don't know what that means. Probably means they worship Marx and Lennin. Damned communists.

Ok, politics aside, my friend loves, and I mean loves the New York Giants. I don't know why, since he's only ever been to New York to watch their games. Still, he owns their swag, he watches their games, he's one of those guys who even watches people watching the game. I can't even begin to describe how much I hate John Madden.

I know all about the psychology of sports, namely that males in competition experience massive fluctuations in their hormone levels. The winner feels a massive boost of testosterone while the loser experiences a massive drop. After watching him flip out over a touchdown pass, I realized how this was all possible. It's actual as simple as reinforced behavior.

Why do people watch games religiously? They're hoping for the high that comes from their team winning. The connection is so great, that people just watching the game experience similar fluctuations in hormones. When the home team wins, the fans get a big high. It's like a drug.

My friend is actually positively reinforced to watch the games! This may explain why he loves a team he'd never been anywhere near. His first experience with the positive high from a sports win may have been with some Giants fan. Lord knows who. I know none of his family like the team. He then actively watched another game and experienced the same high.

Only adding to the iron grip of sports fan-ism is the schedule of reinforcement. The fan gets small hits during the game, after great plays or big scores, then gets a huge hit if his team wins. As all you psychologists know, intermitant reinforcement is the absolute strongest kind, since the subject never knows when the next hit may come, they just keep on trying.

This is a great perspective from which to look at sports. The sports with the biggest hormone hits both during and after the game are the ones that are most popular. Both football and soccer are big on action and plays, and low on points. That means that for every point comes a huge hormone hit. Not a perfect theory, I admit. It fails to explain why hockey is so unpopular. I bet I can explain it away by the need for ice and lots of expensive equipment.

This is quite a revelation for me. Perhaps if I had opted to take that class on sports psychology I would have simply read this in a book, but then my sense of mental achievement would be deadened. Gimme' a break. I don't like sports. I need to get my highs from somewhere.

They Paved Paradise and Put up a Parking Lot.

I recently purchased a book. Actually, that's a rather rare event for me. What with the infinite resource of the internet and a total disinterest in fiction, I spend almost no time in book stores anymore. Barnes & Noble has cheesecake to die for, though.

I picked up a book that I can safely say is worth the $20 it cost me. It's called A Field Guide to Sprawl. It is not directly anti-development, but it places images in front of you that can only lead to one conclusion; we're screwing up our planet in spectacular fashion.

The general point of the book is to define urban and rural developmental phenomena. They define well-known terms, like "Big Box Retailer" and a few less-known words, like "Boomburg" and "Starter Castle." You can guess what they mean, for the definitions make little difference to my point.

What the photos drive home is how devastating the current, unchecked, low-density expansion is to the planet and to the overall "nice" factor of our home. We go into an area, overpopulate it, destroy it, then the rich people leave, the poor people are left behind, we have a ghetto, and then we get the eventual sprawl of rich people ever outward, looking to get away from the horrid mess they left behind.

None of this is new. Conservationists and their ilk have been talking about this for the past 50 years. Pretty much since the dawn of Levittown, this has been seen. What I think is changing is that now, as opposed to even as little as twenty years ago, the effects of this sprawl are now very visible. The damage is real, as opposed to way off in the future.

I ranted and raved about yuppies and an earlier post. I hate them. Their unchecked expansion and total stupidity is, as I see it, the most destructive force in America. Materialism, the American Dream, and a population that's becoming ever more deliniated economically all fuel the expansion of America outwardly.

We aren't there yet. The world is not coming to and end, but sometime this month, the 300 millionth American will be born, and yet household sizes are at record lows. The growth is logarithmic, the worse it gets, the worse the getting worse gets. Within just one lifetime, we'll more than double our population. The US can NOT survive with current demographic distribution and a population of 600 million, or perhaps 1 billion. Eventually, we'll have giant megalopoli covering the entire landmass of the US like some sickened pestilence. Then there will be nowhere left to which the yuppies can escape. No new, virgin land they can bulldoze. It will all be done, and then what?

As I said, the world is not ending. Things are, in reality, pretty good. But we must begin taking action now, or the damage in the future may be too great to repair. Especially now, taking action can be pretty cheap. The government can heavily restrict development on virgin land. In my opinion, there are many areas of the country where development on virgin land should be halted entirely. Then, give developers subsidies and tax breaks for building up instead of out.

Population growth is not bad. In fact, I think it's great. If we are to achieve the wondrous, interplanetary civilization that sci-fi has foretold we actually need more people. It's the unchecked outward, low-density growth that's bad. We spread like a bacteria when we should be building towards the heavens.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

False Fallacies.

I have a few pet peeves. I keep them in a kennel. I tried letting them stay in the house, but they tore up the couch and shat everywhere.

I have a whole family of peeves associated with grammar and the general usage of words. Maybe it comes from a scientific perspective, but I believe that language should be rigid. While spoken language can be more fluid, I use slang all the time, written language, unless trying to imitate said spoken language, should be rigid and within form.

If I am the slightest bit foggy on the exact definition of a word, I look it up. I even look up other defitions from other dictionaries. It drives me up a wall when someone uses a word when they shouldn't. My mother drilled it into my head, as she had it drilled into hers by a professor years ago, that if you use a ten-letter word when a five-letter word will do, you're pompous.

And since the pompous word is usually not the same as the five-letter, being either more finely defined or more broadly, using it sounds pompous and stupid because the word doesn't mean what you're trying to say.

I also hate how words evolve through incorrect usage. Yes, I understand that language must evolve, but the only reason language works is because it follows rules. We cannot abandon the rules in favor or evolution. A prime example of this is 'contact.'

'Contact' is now a verb. Just look at the usage note here, at While I agree with their argument, that using it as a verb is rather useful, I still refuse to use it. I MAKE contact. I do not contact. I don't care what you say. I'm going to pull a fundamentalist Christian on this one and say it's what I believe and fuck you if you believe otherwise.

One that I utterly refuse to budge on is 'impact.' It's not a verb, people! It's either a noun or a dental term. I don't care what says. If I see it in formal writing I will make fun of the author.

What has triggered this tirade? An article on Wired News. It's an old term and it exemplifies the other part of modern language that annoys me. I think old terms that don't make sense, anymore, should be eliminated.

The focus of my pissed-offedness is 'false pretenses.' It's been around, apparently, since the mid 1700's and it doesn't make any sense, now. Just look up 'pretense,' alone. False pretenses and pretenses are exactly the same thing! 'pretense' is older, so it wins.

When you say 'false pretenses,' it's the equivalent of saying false fallacies. Does that mean it's true? I don't know! Is this incredibly stupid? Very much!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Back From the Breach.

After a long break, I'm back. Ahh, how fate conspires to keep this blogger from his appointed rounds.

The European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter has been puking up photos of Mars' surface for a couple of weeks, now, and of course a good deal of attention is being directed at the Martian "face."

For those of you who don't know what the face is, Google it. Where have you been for the past thirty years? Under a rock? Perhaps the infamous "C" rock?

Yeah, you'll have to Google that one, too.

Well the Martian face is the one conspiracy that I can truly understand. While yes, I can psychologically trace the reasons for any given conspiracy, and explain probable reasons for its existence, I can not, on a personal level, understand. Kennedy, Area 51, men in black, I don't get any of them. But the Martian face, oh yes, do I understand.

We have always been interested in Mars. From the very moment that that Giovanni Schiaparelli discovered canals and Percival Lowell popularized them, the idea that a civilization far more ancient and wise than our own had lived, or was currently living, on mars has captured the imagination. It certainly captured mine. It's an idea that is both wild and otherworldly, yet accessible.

They're different from us, but so close that they couldn't possibly be too different. They are very much like us, but different enough to be exciting. It's a breathless idea. Lord knows, it's certainly an idea that has paid dividends in science fiction. As recently as just last year, a War of the Worlds remake directed by Steven Spielberg and headlined by Tom Cruise charged its way to over $200 million in the US box office.

It all boils down to the fact that at our core is a drive to explore. If we look at it from an evolutionary standpoint, those of our ancestors that were more curious were more likely to find new resources, new lands, maybe new friends. Curiosity didn't kill the cat, it helped its species survive. We are the most curious animals to ever walk to Earth. We love it. We wandered about the entire globe before we could brew beer. There is no rational reason to go out into space, at least not yet, and still, millions of people read newspapers, magazines, and look to the stars every night.

The idea that something so cool could be so close is an idea so intense that it's hard to even deal with. I can totally understand why people believed the myth and, against all logic, continue to do so. It's just like the idea of Atlantis, just grander and all the more enticing for it.

Monday, September 18, 2006

In Regards...

In regards to my previous post where I ranted about those two goofballs who were writing about science's intolerance of religion, I found this on PZ Myers' Pharyngula blog.

It is something that brings me pleasure to no end. You can always spot real science by looking at papers written on the subject a number of years ago. In this case, a quarter century.

In real science, the works done decades ago are almost quaint in the simplicity of their knowledge. What they are writing about and what they discuss has changed drastically compared to now. Conclusions are different, directions of research have changed, and what people know and what they think they know are in a different dimension.

Pseudo-science, religion, and just general bullshit never changes. It's the exact same arguments laid out by the exact same people. Oh sure, the names change, and sometimes the gender, but it's the still same person. I knew the war in Iraq was bullshit the day I read quotes from politicians on some liberal-wonk website.

All the quotes were blatantly pro-war. They all discussed the impending doom faced by our country. They all sounded ex-ACT-ly like the stewards of our governmental branches that grace our televisions today.

They were all from different eras, ranging from the Spanish-American War, up to the Vietnam war. Not one had to do with the current war, and yet they you couldn't tell the difference. The arguments haven't changed. The people haven't changed. Nothing has changed.

This article is exactly the same. Same words, different author, just as wrong. Science must advance by its very nature. Words written twenty years ago can't possibly be the same as they are today. It is this inherent advancement that separates science from all other disciplines.

We sometimes walk and we sometimes run, but we can never sit still.

Of Scientists And Popes.

What works, what doesn't: the futility of appeasing creationists (Via Pharyngula)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

I Want One!

Haha. Ahh the wonders of interbreeding. I so want a Horkey or a Zeedonk. I would love it and hug it and call it George.

Freaky Lab Animals: Let the Pics Do the Oinking (Via Science.QJ.Net)

Set Pasers to Stun.

We're so close! If we add just one letter we'll get a phaser! While paser sounds cool, too, phaser is far cooler. Because, let's face it, the phaser is way nicer than the Star Wars blasters. You never saw a blaster actually incinerate anyone, did you? No. No you didn't.

Particle Acceleration by Stimulated Emission of Radiation -- PASER for Short (Via

Mmmm, Vital Amines.

I love vitamins. I take a cocktail of them every morning with my ultra-healthy, quasi-vegan breakfast. I am not a vegan, myself, but my breakfasts seem to have evolved into the specification. I take a multi-vitamin, cod liver oil, fish oil, and an aspirin. Yes, I'm not even 30, but I don't drink, so I need to get my blood-thinning goodness from somewhere.

I know that dietary supplements are not the wonder-pills that I thought years ago, but I haven't really looked up any further information. I think some of its intentional ignorance, since I don't want to find out how useless they actually are.

Still, I think current research is inadequate to truly declare one way or another if vitamins are truly useless. The whole point is not to get rid of wrinkles by next week, or something. It's for the purpose of long-term, overall health. I look forward to a study that goes for years, even decades. I think that will give us some insight. Unfortunately, even then, I can see some pretty big problems. People who are taking vitamins are much more likely to be generally healthy, thus we will be unable to tell whether it was their lifestyle or the vitamins who had any effect.

God, what a pain in the ass. I'm definitely not taking doses high enough to be ridiculous, so I'm going to continue as I have been. If nothing else, it makes provides me with my daily hit of placebo. Mmmmm. Placebo.

Dietary Supplements: Too Much of a Good Thing? (Via

I Can Feel It! It's Pulling Me Down!

I've been phutzing around with physics, recently. The thing consuming all my time is problem of "knowing" where a particle is and the resulting decay of interference. Still, because of the all the press coverage it gets, I work on gravity, and the resulting references to dark energy and matter.

This adds an interesting perspective on the problem. What if all of gravitational theory was wrong? If that's the case, I'm giving it up. I don't have the time nor the knowledge to actually go back and re-work GRAVITY. Regardless, whether it proves correct or not, it's very Einsteinian in its approach. Einstein didn't take aything for granted, well, at least early on, and these guys aren't, either. Bravo, I say.

Dark Energy and Dark Matter – The Results of Flawed Physics? (Via


One of my favorite areas of historical study is Middle American and South American civilizations. The fact that they were a virgin civilization, free from any contact with Asia, Europe, and Africa until the Conquistadors arrived is in-SANE-ly cool. They had different art, religion, culture, practices, and an environment not seen anywhere else on Earth.

The Inca were an incredible civilization. They perfected agricultural methods and social systems that only now, NOW, are we rediscovering them. The Aztec, Maya, Toltec, and Olmec civilizations in Middle American produced some of the most stunning pieces of architecture to ever stand. Teotihuacan and Tenochtitlan stand with the Great Pyramids and Angkor Wat.

If this article is true, if they have actually found an entirely new civilization in Middle America, this is some of the most momentous archaeological news in decades!

I'm pasting from Reuters because they only keep articles up for a short period of time before removing them.

From Reuters:
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (Reuters) - Experts are examining the ruins of a pre-Colombian culture in an area of Honduras where there had been no previous evidence of major indigenous civilization.

The site, discovered earlier this year, consists of 14 mounds that form part of what are believed to be ceremonial grounds, the Honduran Institute of Anthropology said.

"They are part of a very important site, a governing center of a pre-Colombian civilization," Oscar Neils, the institute's head of research, told Reuters. "We had no idea that there was a pre-Colombian culture in this area."

The findings so far include an impressive carved stone monument, called a stela, as well as necklaces and grinding stones.

"The stela is a sculpture of various human and animal forms and is truly amazing in how well conserved it is," Neils said.

Three feet (1 meter) high and more than 4-1/2 feet (1-1/2 meters) wide, the stela is being displayed in the park of the nearby town of Moroceli, about 30 miles east of the capital of Tegucigalpa.

Neils said the site has been damaged by tractors involved in sugar cane growing, prompting Honduras' Culture Ministry to move to protect it.

Honduras is home to some 14,000 archeological [sic] sites, including world-famous Copan, which flourished between the fifth and ninth centuries and was one of the first Mayan sites to be excavated.

This site is completely distinct, Neils said.

"Its culture is an enigma," added the Mexican archeologist.

New Ruins in Honduras Hint at New Civilization (Via Science.QJ.Net)

Protecting Our Children.

I have ranted about overly righteous boobs who's sole purpose in life is to "protect our children." One way you can tell they're bunk is in the ways they choose to protect our children. You'll notice that they all involve some moral judgement about something. Since the validity of their actions and claims is usually dubious at best, the only other consistent variable is this underlying morality.

When we have situations where we can actually protect our children, these same defenders of childhood are strangely silent. One of these areas that gets my goat to the absolute max is the over-medication of our children. I say over-medication because it is.

Every person I have ever met who has been "diagnosed" as ADD or ADHD is neither. And what's worse, behavior for which they should be taking responsibility, they are able to explain away with the crutch of their diagnosis. I'm working on a full article for this site and will go into further detail.

A recent study drives the point home, for me. It talks about the emergence of suicidal ideation in children who are taking antidepressants. The drugs can actually make them more depressed, albeit with different outward symptoms. No it should be noted that this is coming from a "Use Natural" group of tree-hugging hippies. They are, in many ways, just as bunk-filled as the drug companies against whom they speak. Still, I believe the point they make is valid.

There are many, non-drug methods to controlling and eliminating depressive symptoms in children. I say symptoms specifically because I don't think many of them are actually depressed. Real, honest-to-god clinical depression can not be stopped through behavior modification or psychoanalytic treatment. I don't think most of these kids have that, though. I think they have the symptoms, but not the root cause.

I liken it to a bad headache. You take Advil, or your doctor prescribes you migrain medication. In reality, you're not drinking enough water. This is an incredibly common problem. Your problem isn't the headache, it's the dehydration.

We have the science. We have the research. We know how raise kids correctly, yet large amounts of us don't. A kid with depressive symptoms might mean any number of things. We have to analyze every aspect of that child's life. We have to dig into the family and rip apart his social group. We have to track his activities and his diet.

We have to turn him upside down before medication is even considered. Because the parents think they're doing a great job, and even if they don't, most won't say so, the kid can barely hold his own piss, his friends are equally clueless, and our school systems are notoriously bad. The job of every medical professional with the power to give kids these drugs is charged with responsiblity to find the truth at the center and diagnose based on that, not just on outward symptoms and the testimony of people who are most likely either idiots, clueless, or lying.

Can Kids Cope With Depression Without Medication? (Via Science.QJ.Net)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I Wonder If It Extends to Donkeys.

In a stunning display of utter stupidity, the House of Representatives has actually passed a bill making it illegal to slaughter horses. This is exactly the sort of mamby pamby nonsense we don't need. It not only fuels extremist groups such as Peta, it shows us for the hypocritical idiots that we are.

We may think consuming certain animals in this country is disgusting, or even wrong, but not everyone feels that way. Perceptions of animals that can and can't be eaten came from the evolution of a particular culture. Horses were at one time important for transport, agriculture, and overall health of the country. It is no surprise that there were laws in place to protect them.

This was a practical reason, not an ideological one. America's modern treatment of horses is ideological, now. This bill only cements that. We should not, and can not busy our already disorganized legal system with laws that only serve to cause problems and make self-important, overly-moralistic buffoons feel better about themselves and their own moral righteousness.

They are animals, we are animals. We eat other animals. That's just the way it is. As soon as we head towards law and regulation based on ideology, we step upon a slippery slope.

New US Bill Makes Killing Horses for Meat Illegal in US (Via Science.QJ.Net)

Of Scientists And Popes.

There's an interesting dual article available at The Post Chronicle online about the separation between religion and science. The two articles discuss the Catholic Church's history of repressing scientific advance that didn't jive with dogma. The first, by Stephen M. Barr, has one main point, that most of the great scientific advanced of the past 1,000 years believed in God and were, to a great extent, members of the Church.

This can't be denied, but that's like saying that scientists back then also rode horses. Of course they did. Everyone did. In the Middle Ages absolutely everyone was part of, or a member of, the Church. And since the unwashed masses were usually illiterate, any achievements in any discipline were most likely made by those of the cloth.

The second article, by Thomas E. Brewton, is an almost incomprehensible attack on what he sees as "atheistic materialists." I'm not sure who these people are. Perhaps Madonna counts. He restates what Barr said by saying that the only real example of the Church repressing science was Galileo, and even that was primarily political. I have no way to counter this and have no time to look it up, especially since I write this between classes. I can say this pretty confidently. The Church on the whole was never the big problem, it was the Church in its smaller parts.

For an easy example, look at Witch hunts throughout the later Middle Ages and right into the Renaissance. It was never the "Church" per se, that did anything. It was smaller groups that caused the real damage. Religion is only as good as those who follow it, and the Church proper is responsible for the actions of its constituents, which were very nasty indeed.

Brewton eventually goes on to try and classify science and religion in relation to each other.

"Religion looks at the big picture, science at particular natural instances. Mathematics is a bridge between the two: applicable to particulars, but drawing its theorems from extrapolations into the immateriality of mental constructs, as did Plato with his paradigm of Ideal ForMs [sic]."

I don't know if Brewton thinks these are new ideas. I hope he doesn't. They're older than me, plus him, and his entire family. It's the age old argument of the primacy of philosophy over science. This "bridge" could be seen as modern logic. I have no idea what he means by the drawing of theorems. Is he espousing numbers as pukka abstract entities? Does he mean that the numbers of math "exist" and we simply access them from the Platonic Plane when we perform calculations?

Furthermore, I completely disagree with his assessment that science ignores the big picture. Scientists always have their eye on the big picture, the brass ring. For physicists, it's the ever-elusive "theory of everything." But instead of making sweeping declarations at the very beginning of discovery, they build the puzzle one piece at a time. There's a big difference to saying a jig-saw puzzle is a tiger before putting it together, and actually putting it together to discover it's an elephant. Most importantly, even if it turns out to be a tiger, the original declaration is no more correct. Even philosophers classify knowledge as a justified, true belief. Where's the justification? God? Sorry, pulling Deus from the machina doesn't work in these waters.

In a not quite as dramatic note, he asks "why do humans uniquely among God's creatures construct political societies?" Uniquely? I don't think so. What about the species of tree-dwelling monkeys that seem to hold "elections" to determine the leader. The actual species escapes me. And, again, I have no time to look it up.

He continues his attack against these apparently evil liberals.

"From the standpoint of atheistic and materialistic liberals, however, it is necessary first to destroy Western civilization's paradigm of religious morality if they are to replace it with atheistic materialism. Hence the unending assaults by the ACLU and other socialist organizations."

He treats these materialistic monsters as though it was some grand conspiracy to destroy religion and morality. He's certainly not alone. There are boat-loads of science-as-conspiracy people wandering around. He actually blames Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union on those evil liberals. Somehow, I doubt that most liberals in this country liked either the USSR or Hitler.

Both articles take a distinctly historical viewpoint on the conflict. This is their major downfall. I, instead, look at the concomitant evolution of religion and science. In the beginning, we didn't understand from where the river came, so it was the Gods. Then, we didn't understand lightning and thunder, so it was the Gods. Then we didn't understand the cosmos, so it was the Gods. Religion has always been there with answers to whatever science doesn't yet understand. Effectively, it has been forever picking up the crumbs of scientific discovery.

Brewton doesn't say this directly, but it can be inferred.

"The Big Bang requires that all of the laws of physics, mathematics, and chemistry be in existence prior to the Big Bang. This means, inescapably, that God existed outside of time and outside of the universe, and that the Mind of God is the source of all the natural laws and mathematics that form the subject matter of the physical sciences. God is what Aristotle called the Unmoved Mover where the buck stops, the source of all energy, of all potential and actual movement in the cosmos. Matter being just another form of energy, God is also the source of everything that scientists study to understand the laws of nature."

He is taking it to the final evolution, saying that God created the Big Bang. This is an entirely new perspective. He, and the Church which now accepts the Big Bang, are saying that ALL who came before were wrong. God exists, but not in the way previously thought. What?!

God created Eden. No, wait, God created Earth. No, wait, God created the cosmos and Earth formed. No, wait, God created the energy for the Bing Bang. Man, God just gets farther and farther away. How can we be so sure he even cares about us at all?

It is this obvious evolution of religion, which is supposedly the "final" word in everything, that is the real problem with it and science. Science continually picks away at religion and religion has spent the whole of the past millennium retreating back ever more to questions with no answers. We are now finally at the point of studying the very fabric of space-time, so it is no surprise that it is now there where God calls home. Science is evolving progressively, religion, regressively.

Brewton closes with two paragraphs with which I take exception. The aforementioned article where he credits liberal socialists with both WWII and the USSR, and another statement about science and religion's relationship.

"If, however, liberals were actually to adopt the methods of science to which they give lip service, they would analyze the real-world experiential data of 200 years and draw the scientific conclusion that liberal-socialism is both a pipe dream and a savagely destructive religion. Without it, the totalitarianism of Soviet Russia and National Socialist Germany would have been impossible."

In this paragraph, aside from being ridiculous to blame liberals for WWII and the Soviet Union, is the use of the word "experiential." Ooooooh. Not a good word. Even the most devout person must admit that experience is very frequently incorrect. Experiential data can never result in a scientific conclusion. Perhaps he refers to historical data. In that sense, both Nazism and the USSR are grand examples. But grand examples of what?

He calls them liberal socialists and seems to categorize all scientists in with this group. It's here that the lack of a definition for liberal socialists becomes very problematic. Are they different from the atheistic materialists? Do both groups go hand-in-hand? Is liberal socialism a form of political structure? If that's the case, and it is a "savagely destructive religion," as he says, then other forms of politics must be semantically equal. All forms of government must be religion. I think our founding fathers would disagree.

I guess I should return to the real point of this. It's not that some forms of government are bad, but that science is incompatible with religion. His final paragraph makes an equally uncogent argument as the rest of the article.

"If liberals were to become truly scientific, we could then return to the cumulative wisdom of Western civilization. Religion and philosophy would study humans' relations to the Divine and to each other, and science would stick to discoveries relating to the God-created material world."

Once again, his choice of words, and the only words he could choose, sink him. His "cumulative wisdom of Western civilization" comment makes no sense. How are we not using it now? And what about Eastern civilization? Does Confucius not count? Moreover, why are we "returning" to the wisdom? When did we leave? Where did we go? Is he referring to religious wisdom, which science and the world is leaving behind? It seems to me that it's nothing more than the ancient argument that the morals and fibers of modern civilization are crumbling under the weight of heathenism.

And finally, his use of the word "study" to describe religion and philosophy's role with the divine set my teeth on edge. It is impossible, in any sense, to study the divine. Philosophy is the antithesis of study. If you could study anything in either of them, they would automatically become science. No, science is the art of study, philosophy and religion are pure conjecture and contemplation. There is an ocean between the two.

Science Vs. Religion (Via The Post Chronicle)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Are They Serious?!

Apparently, Ya Ya the panda had one of her cubs suffer SIDS. Namely, she rolled over on the cub and crushed it. While I genuinely feel bad about this, especially after reading that when she awoke to find that her cub had been taken during her rest she lay around listlessly, that's not what I found interesting in the article.

The mention almost in passing that the mother and father, Ling Ling, were shown a "mating video" before breeding. A mating video? So, that's like, pandas having sex.

We showed the pandas porn? We showed... *snicker*... the pandas... PORN?!

They say it so matter-of-factly in the article. The utter absurdity of having PANDAS watch a training video seemed to escape them, or they just didn't mention it.

Panda Accidentally Crushes Cub in China

"When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death."

Does anyone else remember the episode of The Simpsons where they accidentally wipe out the town's pidgeon population with lizards, then they control the new lizard over-population with snakes, which are in turn controlled by massive groups of snake-eating gorillas.

For some reason, I just don't see this ending well.

Scientists Ponder Releasing Virus to Kill Carp (Via

Hmmm. I Bet It Means There Are Cookies Inside!

In an interesting bit of intellecutal illumination, New Scientist magazine discusses what might happen with visual cues we have today, 10,000 years in the future.

It really got me thinking. It's not an easy thing about which to prognosticate, but imagine 10,000 years in the past. We still don't know what most cave paintings really mean. For all we know, the painting of someone's hand means there's fresh-dried dates for sale.

Effectively, the only real point of discussion is how malleable our languages are becoming. Is the incredible speed at which information spreads and people interact accelerating language evolution, or instead freezing it. We now have rigid rules of syntax and language structure.

Yes, as exemplified by the recent entry of "bling" into the Oxford English Dictionary, the vocabulary is changing at an accelerated rate, but the actual structure seems to be pretty stable. And non-verbal symbols seem to be pretty unchanging, as well. Combined with the frequent association of non-verbal symbols with language, I think the people of the future can rest easy in knowing that they will always be able to spot those pesky nuclear waste containers.

Will Our Far Descendants Understand Nuclear Warnings? (Via Science.QJ.Net)

Links On Monday Give Me a Reason To Live.

Alert! Children Watch Movie Trailers.

Despite a ban on tobacco advertising on television, nearly all U.S. children age 12 to 17 years may have been exposed to tobacco use through movie advertisements televised in 2001 to 2002, according to an article in the September issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.


I am getting very tired of these grandstanding buffoons who rant and rave about "protecting our children." They're no better than the idiotic religious groups who claim to do the same. They wrap any and all inane goals, frequently ideological goals, up in the masquerade of protecting children.

My god! Children see people smoking on TV. Children see people smoking in real life, too. Actually, children see people being violent and shit blowing up in movie trailers. Maybe we should mandate that trailers of all kinds should be removed from TV. Bad influence, and all.

You'll notice that they don't make any declarations about this research. They just spout this data and then let the reader make inferences about its relevance. In fact, they barely elaborate on the data, itself. Most importantly, they call upon "studies" that "indicate" that children who see smoking have different attitudes to it.

NONE of these studies have ever indicated a solid link. None. Zero. Zilch. If you think otherwise, pull up a journal database and try to find them. Most importantly, none of them have ever controlled for the manifold variables outside of advertisements. Some control for parents, but not the parents of friends, or extended family, or that cool older kid.

This is not science. It's misguided caring at best, and grandstanding camera hogging at worst. Cigarettes are bad. Smoking makes you go bye-bye in nasty ways. It will eventually die out. Still, we all make choices, and if someone decides to smoke or not to smoke, there is no advertising that can change that.

Televised movie trailers expose youth to images of tobacco use (Via


I'm Strong to Finish!

Nanoscientists have transformed a molecule of chlorophyll-a from spinach into a complex biological switch that has possible future applications for green energy, technology and medicine.

Nanoscientists Create Biological Switch from Spinach Molecule (Via Ohio University)


What's That, Sonny? Speak Up!

The largest study ever to analyze the hearing of women on hormone-replacement therapy has found that women who take the most common form of HRT have a hearing loss of 10 to 30 percent more compared to similar women who have not had the therapy. It's as if the usual age-related hearing loss in women whose HRT included progestin, a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone, was accelerated by five to 10 years.

Hormone-replacement therapy hurts hearing, study finds (Via


Evolution Evolves.

Biologists at the University of Rochester have discovered that an old and relatively unpopular theory about how a single species can split in two turns out to be accurate after all, and acting in nature.

Genetic Surprise Confirms Neglected 70-Year-Old Evolutionary Theory (Via University of Rochester)


Great! I Was Running Out Of Space For My American Idol Episodes.

In a research first that could lead to a new generation of hard drives capable of storing thousands of movies per square inch, physicists at Rice University have decoded the three-dimensional structure of a tornado-like magnetic vortex no larger than a red blood cell. The findings, published online by Physics Review Letters, were made with a one-of-a-kind scanning ion microscope that trapped and imaged cone-like magnetic vortices on tiny cobalt disks.

Physicists trap, map tiny magnetic vortex (Via


Well This Proves it, Me Are Smarter Than Women.

A study of 100,000 17- to 18-year-olds on the Scholastic Assessment Test published in the September 2006 issue of the journal Intelligence, has confirmed a surprising new finding-that men have a 4- to 5-point IQ advantage over women by adulthood. Because girls mature faster than boys, the sex difference is masked during the school years, which explains why the sex difference was missed for 100 years.


It's annoying that this is even getting covered. I don't think this says anything about the intelligence of men and women, but more about how useless IQ tests are. I have an IQ of 210 or 190, depending on which one you trust. You know what that means? It means I'm very good at taking IQ tests. As far as real-world intelligence goes, it means jack squat.

They also rely heavily on the "G Factor" in the article. While the G Factor is more accurate than the SAT's in predicting scholastic performance, they're not interested in scholastic performance in this article. They're interested in intelligence. I'm sure schools are very interested in this, but I'm not. The G Factor is just as useless as IQ tests and the SAT's in determining intelligence.

I know a person who scored 800 verbal and 780 Math. His first try, too. He's practically pre-verbal. He couldn't complete a sentence if his life depended on it. I know someone else who tanked the SAT's and would probably score near-100 on an IQ test, yet he's become an award-winning local artist. These aren't just rare anecdotes, these are commonplace circumstances.

I was 90th+ percentile on every MAT I ever took. I failed almost every class from 8th grade till 12th (I honestly don't know how I graduated). Obviously, schools must test and try to determine, as best they can, which students belong where. But using mildy accurate tests for academic purposes is very different from declaring that you've "discovered" something about cross-gender intelligence.

I also feel that sex differences require further research. There is a difference and perhaps we can some day quantify it, but it is not today. Women consistently do better on real-world tests and our colleges and universities are being overrun with women. This discovery of the point difference does nothing more than further prove the inaccuracy of the tests.

Males have greater G: sex differences in general mental ability (Via


Ah good. When We're Done Mucking Up This Planet, We'll Have Somewhere to go.

More than one-third of the giant planet systems recently detected outside Earth's solar system may harbor Earth-like planets, many covered in deep oceans with potential for life, according to a new study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder and Pennsylvania State University.


I've spent some time writing about SETI, and a week or so ago I wrote a response to an article posted on CSICOP's website about the need for a bit of skepticism with SETI. One of the major arguments behind his skepticism was the declaration that the universe may not be as filled with Extraterrestrial Edens like we first thought. While I'm not in any position to argue the validity of this study, it's another point for my team.

I would wager that the universe is chock full of planets like ours. The only question I think that's of any importance is whether we should spend money on this, and I think the answer is an unavoidable "no." Even if all these nearby planets are FULL of life, getting there would constitute an unconquerable hurdle.

SETI In The Crosshairs
Extension to Both Extensions
Extension To The Extension
Extension To The Drake Equation

Earth-like planets may be more common than once thought, says new U. of Colorado-Penn State study (Via


Who Knew?

But why? After years of growing up with the notion that mice and cheese go together, here's another mythbuster heading our way: those furry little fellows don't like cheese. At all.

Breaking Up the Mice-Cheese Loveteam (Via Science.QJ.Net)

It's Just Like Driving Miss Daisy... With a Robot.

A chinese car company has just recently built a car it claims can effectively drive itself. It currently is limited to 37mph but can get up to 93mph before becoming "confused." Maybe it's me, but the fact that we're using the word 'confused' to describe a car just tickles me pink.

While Chinese companies have a pretty bad history of blatant lies about their technical achievements, I hope this is real. I hope because I'm immensely interested and am DYING to see how they did it.

DARPA recently had it's grand challenge where the Volkswagen Touareg from Stanford University, approriately named Stanley, won the day. Technologies such as radar and laser scanning were used by almost every team, which I found silly. There was one team that attempted binolcular vision, but their Toyota pickup truck had a tendency to flip out and start killing people.

The thing that puzzled me was the pervasive use of laser and radar. I considering binocular vision to be the obvious choice, but not in the way these guys were doing it. This is where a psychologist would come very much in handy, namely, we can't imitate animals until we understand them.

As best as we can tell right now, the primary visual function of differentiating between stimulus objects is based on contour. Our brains seek out lines of contour to figure out where's what. That's why camouflage works best when it's a seemingly random micture of varying colors and dots. It disrupts the flow of contour lines, and blends whatever is trying to hide in with the background.

The only team to try the binocular vision created a difference map on the captures images, analyzing for areas of no difference and where there were sudden changes in color or intensity. They then told the vehicle to follow

For example, open up Photoshop, or any good graphics program, for that matter, and go into filters. You can select 'Highlight Contours' or something like that. It's instantaneous. All a computer has to do is find lines of contour, and whatever is an enclosed line is a single object. That image is than compared to the second camera's image to determine distance. That object is then assigned a temporary id and tracked on the screen.

It's much easier to tell the computer how to interact with objects instead of just arbitrary numbers in a massive difference map or a gigantic array of coordinates from radar and laser. You can supply a shape for a person, dogs, trees, or other cars. You can supply information on what to do if the shape is changing position or shape. You can turn the information coming in into a giant, 3D video game in which the car interacts. It's processor-heavy, but throw a few good computers at it and it's nothing too big.

I would assume there was something drastically wrong with my logic if some, ANY of the teams had mentioned trying this approach. Even in passing. Not one did.

Look Out: Chinese Send Unmanned Vehicle Onto Streets (Via

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Honestly, This Just Can't End Well.

Steve Irwin is dead. Lots of people, including myself, or very sad because of this. So there's nothing wrong with the geeky masses expressing their sadness in the best way they know how... online.

A memorial is planned for Steve Irwin in World of Warcraft. For those of you who don't know, World of Warcraft (WoW, to those in the know) is a massive online game in the vein of Dungeons & Dragons. You create a character, then roam around a virtual world killing magical beasts and increasing your characters abilities.

WoW is also known as a Massively Multiplayer Online Game, MMOG. This means that it's not just you wandering around a computer-controlled world. You wander around the same world as thousands of other people and you can interact with them, chat, talk, form guilds, and do lots of other cool, social things that people used to do in real life until it became so last century. Well... I guess people didn't usually form guilds.

On most servers (PvP) servers, though, players can attack each other. This means that the Steve Irwin memorial could very likely turn into a brawl. This can't end well.

WoW Memorial For Steve Irwin to be Held on Frostwolf. (Via Science.QJ.Net)

Breed! BREED! Breed to the Moon!

My father and I have frequent discussions about how to make the world a better place. We are half serious and half joking when we say the first step must invariably be killing half the population. A great many of our problems arise from a choking over-population, so, step one is just off a good, round three billion.

Like I said, we're not actually advocating genocide, it's just that it seems the most direct route to solving a pretty big problem. Most importantly, genocide never seems to work. Humans, for all our long gestation period, and 15-20 year path to maturity, are really, really good at breeding quickly.

I was thinking about one of my previous posts related to SETI. I said that I consider it more likely that we will construct things like Dyson spheres or things like Larry Niven's Ringworld (Yes, Halo counts, too) before we achieve interstellar travel. What I realized is that, even with immense numbers of robots performing work, to achieve those levels of construction would require a gargantuan population.

In fact, I consider ringworlds scattered throughout the solar system as the most viable option for long term space stations. They provide everything we could need. But even a small ringworld, say, a diameter of a few hundred miles, would require hundreds of thousands of workers and a budget likely in the quadrillions. In this very real sense, we don't want a smaller population. We want a much larger population.

Even small ideas, say, a station on the Moon, would require large numbers of skilled workers. Assuming our lifespans continue to increase, and we don't seem to show any sign of a slowed breeding, we're going to need other celestial bodies to hold our ever increasing mass. The moon is the first stop, and most importantly, a large presense on the moon only makes it easier to hop to the rest of the planets. No atmosphere and little gravity makes it much easier to launch.

No, instead of killing them, I think the correct path would instead be to invest billions, perhaps trillions, into the advanced education of as many people as possible. Only then do projects such as ringworlds and Moon stations become truly viable. And regardless of population pressures, for us to consider ourselves a truly advanced race, I feel, we must expand onto other planets and moons. The speed of light limits our ability to travel and communicate with other star systems, but our own is all fair game.

Monday, September 04, 2006

When The Moon Hits Your Eye Like a Big Pizza Pie, That's A'Monday!

Obviously, the Only Answer is That We All Wear Burqas From Now On.

A research team led by Kerry M. Hanson, a senior research scientist in the Department of Chemistry at UC Riverside, reports that unless people out in the sun apply sunscreen often, the sunscreen itself can become harmful to the skin. The researchers report that three UV filters, which are approved by the Food and Drug Administration and widely used in sunscreens, generate "reactive oxygen species" in skin when exposed to ultraviolet radiation, damaging skin cells.

Sunscreens can damage skin, researchers find (Via


Good. Keep the Blasted FBI Out of My Conversations.

A joint collaboration between Northwestern University and BBN Technologies of Cambridge, Mass., has led to the first demonstration of a truly quantum cryptographic data network. By integrating quantum noise protected data encryption with Quantum Key Distribution, the researchers have developed a complete data communication system with extraordinary resilience to eavesdropping. The method makes use of the inherent and irreducible quantum noise in laser light to enhance the security of the system.

First quantum cryptographic data network demonstrated (Via


Great! All We Have To Do Is Bring a Freshly Washed Car to Mars! It will start Raining Immediately.

Planetary scientists have discovered the highest clouds above any planetary surface. They found them above Mars using the SPICAM instrument on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft. The results are a new piece in the puzzle of how the Martian atmosphere works.

Rare high-altitude clouds found on Mars (Via


Well, I Guess Descartes Was Wrong.

A new study at the Université de Montréal has concluded that there is no single God spot in the brain. In other words, mystical experiences are mediated by several brain regions and systems normally implicated in a variety of functions (self-consciousness, emotion, body representation). The study published in the current issue of Neuroscience Letters was conducted by Dr. Mario Beauregard from the Department of Psychology at the Université de Montréal and his student Vincent Paquette.

Brain scan of nuns finds no single 'God spot' in the brain, Université de Montréal study finds (Via
No 'God Spot' in the Human Brain (Via


The Rich Are Getting Richer and, Well, You Know the Rest.

Since 2000, Americans have been getting poorer, and national rates of severe poverty have climbed sharply, according to a study published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The researchers reported that the growth in the poverty rate is due largely to a rise in severe poverty and that "moderate" poverty has grown little.

Increase in severe poverty in the US has serious implications for public health (Via


Wow. I Didn't Even Know It Was a Mystery.

A NASA-sponsored study shows that by using a new technique, scientists can determine what limits the growth of ocean algae, or phytoplankton, and how this affects Earth's climate.

NASA study solves ocean plant mystery (Via


Why Is It Almost Everything About 9/11 Seems to be Exaggerated or a Lie?

Almost five years ago, when two planes slammed into the World Trade Center towers in New York, we were told that our lives had changed forever -- but, as it turns out, not so much, says a professor at the University of Alberta.

9/11 not a signpost in most North Americans' lives, study shows (Via


The Number of Urban Myths About Kidney Stones is Hilarious. This Juice, That Food. I Bet They're All Wrong and Peanut Butter Is Best.

A daily glass of orange juice can help prevent the recurrence of kidney stones better than other citrus fruit juices such as lemonade, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have discovered.

Orange juice is better than lemonade at keeping kidney stones away (Via
And in related news...
Juices may reduce Alzheimer's disease risk (Via


Star Go Boom.

Earlier this year, astronomers witnessed for the first time the final death throes of an aged and collapsing star as it spewed high-energy light beams into space before exploding as a supernova.

Strange Exploding Star Unlocks Supernova Secrets (Via


Why Is This Taking So Long?

Northern Iowa could have one of the nation's largest wind farms by 2008. Iowa Winds LLC wants to build a 200- to 300-megawatt farm covering about 40,000 acres in Franklin County.

40,000-Acre Wind Farm Proposed for Iowa (Via


No Shit Sherlock. I Could Tell You This From Ground Observations. We Just Go From 85 Degrees To Snow In a Week.

The lines between seasons are blurring and summer is getting longer in North America, a new study indicates.

Study: Summer is Getting Longer (Via


I'm Glad My Mom Took Vitamins.

Children whose mothers had a low intake of vitamin E during pregnancy are more likely to develop wheezing and asthma by age five.

Low vitamin E intake during pregnancy can lead to childhood asthma (Via


More About How Much Our Schools Suck.

A study by Cornell University's John Cawley finds that increasing the amount of time spent in physical education classes does not result in a corresponding amount of time in additional exercise.

More time in gym class doesn't mean more exercise, study finds (Via


Damnit! Why Didn't I Think Of That?!

To make education more accessible, a professor in the University of Georgia Terry College of Business is spearheading an effort to produce free online textbooks using a modified version of the Wiki software that powers the Web site Wikipedia.

Global Text Project aims to create free, Wiki-based textbooks for developing nations (Via


I figured that was the best title. It's both funny and sad. Steve Irwin was a wild guy, and a guy who, in the tradition of naturalists before him, managed to make learning about the variety of animals the world had to offer painfully entertaining. Both the entertainment world and the scientific world have lost a great contributor.

I have to admit, I imagine in my mind how it happened. It's a bit sick, a bit funny, and also a bit satisfying. I imagine he died how he lived. On camera, in his trademark accent...

"What a beautiful specimen! Now, most people don't think of the sting ray as a deadly animal, but if one of those barbs were to hit you in a vital organ, you could be a goner! Watch!"

Friday, September 01, 2006

Don't Worry Pluto. We Still Love You.

I've been holding off on commenting about Pluto. It was a subject of such coverage that I figured there is nothing I could possibly say, unless it was in some obscure language, like Tagalog, that hadn't already been said.

Since this "re-naming" has triggered a near world war, I figure I'd lend a word or two. So here they are.

I disagree.

I disagree on an emotional front --to me, Pluto will always be planet no matter what anyone says-- and I disagree on a semantic front. After learning of why they declassified Pluto as a planet, I was stunned. I assumed it had something to do with its diminutive size, but no! It had to do with Pluto's orbital crossing with Neptune. Pluto had failed to clear its neighborhood, as it were.

Well why not declassify Neptune? It has failed on the same count. Does Neptune get a free pass because it's larger than the giant rock we call home? I agree a definition is good idea, but this is silly. How could simply nailing down a definition to a word cause such problems?

And an interesting side effect is coming out of this; total confusion on how to teach the planets! When the scientific community is totally split on something, what are the poor teachers to do? Do they just flip a coin? It's quite a pickle into which the IAU has gotten us all.

I think the idea of a "legacy planet" is a good one. At least until me and every other intransigent adult who was taught otherwise has died. Moreover, instead of totally reclassifying "planet," I think subcategories is the best move. Unfortunately, this will add Xena into the fold. Xena is still surrounded by junk, so why not call Xena a proto-planet? Jupiter is very different from us, so we've always called it a "gas giant." We're already sub-categorizing our planets. We don't say we have 5 planets, and 4 gas giants. We just say we have 9 planets. Let's continue in that vein.

Astronomers Continue Fight For Pluto's Planetary Status (Via Science.QJ.Net)
Bulldoze Pluto? I Don’t Think So (Via
Pluto: Down But Maybe Not Out (Via
300 Astronomers Will Not Use New Planet Definition (Via

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Today's Politics.

I try to avoid politics. Politics, any politics, is so fleeting as to be almost pointless. I generally consider politics to be the games fools play while the truly dedicated and intelligent work behind the scenes.

Think about it. Name a single politician who has really changed the world. I bet you anything you'll be able to count them on one hand. Now name scientists who have changed the world. You're gonna' need a whole lot of hands.

As to politics ephemeral nature, think about the great poltical debates of ten years ago? No one remembers. No one cares. No one even thinks about the fact that Bill Clinton got a bit freaky in the Oval Office, but scientific work that has long been superceded, say, Newton's Laws, continue to get discussed. No matter how important whatever subject the local politicians are raging about seems now, it will be incredibly unimportant in a few years.

It's for this reason I don't usually get involved with politics. It's just too short-lived for me to care. Unfortunately, our current government is acting in ways that can have far-reaching and dangerous effects. I consider the gravest duty of any government to be the protection of freedom. Freedom from fear, danger, and oppression. Instead of protecting us, our current government is using all three as tools and propaganda in ways rarely seen before.

Today, it is our government that is taking our freedom. And that can not be abided. The rampant limp-dickery in the media as it desperately attempts to not insult anyone has been sickening. Over four years of lies, anguish, corruption, and failure has seemingly gone unnoticed by wide swaths of the US. This apathy is leading to ever deeper intrusions into our privacy and our freedom. There is NO safety that is worth the surrender of fundamental freedom. I consider this freedom so crticially important because science, and thus all of humanity, can not advance without it.

All throughout history, poets, artists, politicians, firebrands, and revolutionaries have said that there are worse things than death. I say a life without freedom is the worst thing of all, because while we may draw breath, we can hardly be called alive. I would rather fear injury from my fellow human than fear my government.

Finally, the media appears to have grown a set of balls. I'm not talking about bias, I'm talking about having a position at all. Instead of living perpetually in this nether realm of "just delivering the news," and actually providing insight into the events for those too oblivious or too stupid to figure it out for themselves.

This video is fantastic. We finally have a voice against this horrid administration outside of Comedy Central. I'm very proud of MSNBC. Good boy.

Keith Olbermann Delivers One Hell Of a Commentary on Rumsfeld (Via

Also available here. (Via YouTube)

Scientists vs. Bumps In the Night: FIGHT!

It at first seems silly to debunk something like vampires. Creatures that are, especially now, so a part of pop-culture that we actually have space vampires on TV.

But no, there are people who actually believe in these things! Ghosts are one thing. There are tons of people who believe in ghosts. They're no less idiotic, but at least the group is larger.

So some scientists have taken it upon themselves to disprove both ghosts and vampires. The vampire one is beyond reproach, but they don't seem to get the concept of "supernatural" for ghosts. They don't need feet to walk! They have GHOST FEET.

The Professor Vs. Vampires & Ghosts (Via
Physics proves horror movies get it wrong (Via

Politics as Science- Part 3: Packs and Pachyderms.

Humans are pack animals. Did you know that? We’re kind of like wolves. We naturally develop a hierarchy of dominance and, most importantly for this discussion, determine who is part of the in crowd, and who is part of the out crowd. Howsoever is part of the out crowd is automatically hated. They aren’t with us, so they’re against us, to steal a phrase from our illustrious leader.

These are not the functions of the reasoning human. They belong to the primal parts of our brain that evolved with our ancient ancestors. Those same ancestors didn’t care too much about whether we need tort reform or not. They were much more concerned with surviving, and being in a group is a much better way to survive. As such, it’s really no surprise people get so heated about politics. When someone attacks a person’s political party they are attacking their in crowd. The response is emotional, not logical, and now we have proof.

In a recent study done at Emory University, researchers used Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging on the brains of 15 men self-reported as either strongly democratic or strongly republican. Both groups were shown videos of their preferred presidential candidate, this was just before the 2004 election, blatantly contradicting themselves. Both groups let their own candidate off the hook while being highly critical of the opposing candidate.

The brain imaging helps to explain. Areas of the brain most associated with logical reasoning were dark, whereas areas of the brain most associated with emotion, conflict resolution, moral judgment and accountability, and, once a conclusion had been reached, areas associated with reward and pleasure. There was absolutely nothing associated with logical reasoning in these people’s conclusions. It was all irrational emotion.

These people were literally getting a high from confirming their own candidate’s superiority to themselves. And absolute none of us can say “Oh, well I’m different.” No. No you’re not. Unless parts of your brain are missing or in different locations, you are exactly the same. We can all fall victim to this kind of bias. All of a sudden, and very easily, the correct answer becomes immaterial as we desperately try to rationalize our preexisting conclusion.

The importance of this simple study is far reaching. We now have a neurological base to help explain how so many people can ignore evidence that is seemingly self-explanatory to outsiders and reach illogical conclusions which they then defend vocally and sometimes violently. And what seems obvious to me and doubly depressing is that scientists have been well aware of these biases for hundreds of years.

Science has a strong self-correction mechanism whereby biases are put into the bright light of raw, logical criticism for exposure. Yes, some of the opponents of some particular research will be biased, and this bias will be the true basis of their opposition. But they, as must all scientists, must develop criticisms within the framework of logical thought and argument.

So, ironically, in science, your most vocal opponent is your most trusted cohort because you can rest assured that if there are problems in your work, they will find them. In politics, since this isn’t the case, your opponent is someone whom you consider having whacked. You do not rely on your opponent to find problems in your thought to allow you to develop and ever more refined law, or bill, or whatever. You want to have the right answer, and have it now, and anyone who says otherwise must be beaten to a pulp.

I do not entirely blame the politicians for this. Politicians are, by the nature of politics, some of the savviest people to have ever walked the Earth. They are keenly aware of what people want of them because, if they aren’t, they will get voted out before you can say governator. They not only want an answer and they want it now, they know that if they don’t get an answer now another politician will rise up with the answer to the electorate’s problems, right or wrong. Because, remember, people don’t care about the answer being correct.

Politicians are, in many ways, forced into this in-crowd/out-crowd conflict because people so naturally fall into it. People want to fall into it. It easily defines who is part of your group and, most importantly, who you are. Self definition is a strong drive. While the population must put politicians’ feet to the fire, so must politicians do the same to those they lead.

People are stupid. We’re all stupid. We naturally and easily fall into irrational and emotional thought. As in the world of science, we must all work together to catch ourselves. We must teach logical thought from an early age. We must remind politicians and allow ourselves to be reminded by them. We must literally force ourselves, regardless of how bad it can feel sometimes, to recognize that we can be wrong, and our group may not be defined as we would like.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

God Intended it This Way!

Hmmm, a seemingly watery creature that spends all of its time on land. Almost as though it changed from being aquatic to land dwelling via some, some process... some development over time... Where have I heard that before?

Phreatobius walkeri: A Catfish Out Of Water (Via

SETI In The Crosshairs

My previous writings about SETI can be found here, here, and here.

In a recent article on The Committe for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal's (CSICOP) website discusses that SETI, an icon of geeky intelliectual expression for decades, needs a solid dose of skepticism. This is a difficult point for me because while I agree wholeheartedly with his conclusion, I don't agree with most of his premises.

The full article can be read here. It was written by Peter Schenkel.

There are two major points to his argument. First, the fact that SETI has never successfully detected a signal of indisputably intelligent origin. Second, that life is likely to be much more rare than we assumed. It's impossible to argue with the first point because that's just a fact. He admits that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, though.

Obviously, explanations for a lack of contact run the gamut from scientific (we lack the technology), to philosophical and humanistic (we're evil, hence they avoid us). He says "...they may use communication methods unknown to us." May use?? I see this is the real problem with our detection methods. Any civilization that has advanced to multi-planetary status would require a faster form of communication. Light travels slowly enough where just communication within our solar system is problematic. The fact that we have not discovered alien signals, I think, proves nothing. Since it's highly likely that any civilizations are either incredibly far away or are at a greatly different stage in advancement. I consider the proposition that SETI will never detect a signal to be likely for the reason that the signals, not the civilizations, are just not there.

Schenkel goes on to discuss the "Fermi Paradox." It asks why, if the universe is just teeming with intelligent life, have we not made contact. First, aliens of sufficient technological advancement have no interest in us. He considers this highly implausible. I sort of ride the fence on this subject. If we assume the universe is teeming with life, then we will most likely be of little interest. Think of how nascent our civilization actually is. We've barely made it into space. Our civilization runs rampant with violence, stupidity, corruption, and disorder. We are mortal creatures of a remarkably short lifespan with tiny perceptions to go with it. The horizons of immortality are visible even now, 10,000 years in the future our world would be beyond imagination. On a cosmological scale, we would be barbarians.

In what I consider the greatest oversight of the article, he explains why the great distances of space as an impediment is not so.

"...this explanation also stands on shaky ground. Even our scientifically and technically adolescent civilization is exploring space and sending probes-the Voyager crafts-which someday may reach other stellar systems. We are still far from achieving velocities, near the velocity of light, necessary for interstellar travel. But some scientists predict that in 200 or 300 years, maybe even earlier, we are likely to master low "c" velocities, and once we reach them our civilization will send manned exploratory expeditions to the nearest stars."

I consider faster speeds to be the greatest impediment to interstellar travel. The faster we go, the more our time slows down. At near the speed of light this time dilation becomes enough to nearly freeze the travelers in relation to the rest of the universe. This makes merely faster speeds an untenable option for interstellar travel. By the time we actually reached another planet, hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, will have passed on Earth. In that time, the world to which the explorers would report would change entirely. They would perhaps even discover a faster-than-light form of travel that doesn't involve that pesky time dilation. We could set out for a planet, only to discover it already colonized when we arrive. Exploration by merely going faster is impossible. Since exploration by other means, say, worm holes, would require a not only advanced but massive civilization. The amount of work required would neccessitate millions, perhaps billions of skilled people. I consider the construction of a Dyson Sphere to be more likely within any kind of measureable time frame. A civilization advanced enough to explore to our planet would be so mind-blowingly more advanced than us, I would consider us possibly worthy of monitoring, but not contact.

Schenkel then goes on to discuss why civilizations more advanced than us would bother to make contact.

"Advanced ETI civilizations would engage in such explorations not only out of scientific curiosity, but in their own interest, for instance for spreading out and finding new habitats for their growing population, or because of the need to abandon their planet due to hazards from their star, and also because with the help of other civilizations it may confront dangers, lurking in the universe, more successfully than alone. The Fermi Paradox should therefore put us on guard, and foster a sound skepticism. Lack of interest in meeting a civilization such as ours is the least plausible reason why we have not heard from ETI."

Curiosity is something I can't deny, but the others are absurd. A burdgeoning civilization could easily be contained on planets within the species' own system and on artificial planets. Yes, I consider even the construction of whole planets to be plausible before faster-than-light travel. A civilization would have no practical need to make contact with a backwater species such as us. We could provide nothing. Curiosity is the only undeniable reason for exploration, but it seems that curiosity would not neccessarily foster direct contact. I could easily imagine a species interested in monitoring us but doing so from a distance. Once again, the lack of contact supports no argument.

Schenkel's final argument is that life is not as ubiquitous as we would like to believe. "The evolution of life forms and eventually of intelligent life on Earth was due to a large number of very special conditions and developments, many of a coincidental nature." He then lists a variety of Earth characteristics to explain the complex system of variables that was in effect to bring about our own evolution. He makes it sound as though only with these circumstances could intelligent life evolve. I think intelligent life could evolve in almost any, suitably complex system. It doesn't matter which variables are there, just that there are enough of them. We don't need the Moon, or mountains, or great extinctions. These events led to us. Other events would have led to others. Experiments showing the building blocks of life emerging from electrically charged clouds shows that it's easy for it to start. Thrown into a complex system, I think increasingly intelligent species is then inevitable. Even if it takes a good, long time.

This assumption flies in the face of a man who is much more highly regarded than myself and was most likely a whole shit-load smarter, as well; Ernst Mayr.

In this regard we should note also the caveat of the distinguished biologist Ernst Mayr, who underscored the enormous complexity of human DNA and RNA and their functions for the production of proteins, the basic building blocks of life. He estimated that the likelihood that similar biological developments may have occurred elsewhere in the universe was nil.

He finishes with the conclusion that "The conditions in our universe are not as favorable for the evolution of life as optimists like to think." I do not take what I consider an optimistic view. Life seems able to eke out a living in almost any environment. Articles such as this and this express how extreme an environment life can evolve. I'm not saying that intelligent life will neccessarily evolve here, if anything, it will be very primitive because of limited resources. As Schenkel says "...the evolutionary path from such primitive forms to complex life as human beings is-as we have seen-a long one, studded with a unique sequence of chance and catastrophes." But where he concentrates on chance, I concentrate on just whether the environment can support it. If life exists, and it can, it will advance. It may take billions of years, but it will eventually advance to the point of intelligence.

Finally, Schenkel explains that he's not actually bashing SETI and does not suggest it to be a waste. I, on the other hand, am. I do not suggest this for his reasons, though. I suggest it because no matter how one looks at the variables, the outcome is an infinitesimal chance at detecing a signal. For all intents and purposes, statistically, we will never detect anything. So yes, his conclusion of "Whoa! Hold on a minute" is correct, but I think his premises are wrong.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Linky Linky, Click Click.

Almost There!

Scientists have found a way to trick cancer cells into committing suicide. The novel technique potentially offers an effective method of providing personalized anti-cancer therapy.

Synthetic Molecule Causes Cancer Cells to Self-Destruct (Via


Drunk Fetuses? Greeeeaaaaat.

Most studies of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) have been linked to heavy and/or binge drinking, especially in minority and poor populations. Popular thought contends that drinking in Western Europe is more moderate than it is in the U.S. New findings indicate that drinking levels among some women in Italy are similar to those of high-risk drinkers in the new world, reflected in coexisting levels of FAS and FASD.


Honestly, I get tired of parents. Not only is the planet already over populated, but parents are honestly getting stupider. There is a wealth of information out there and, yet, countless parents the world over disregard this information because they apparently possess the common sense of a tub of Cool Whip.

It has gotten bad enough where, beyond all common sense on my own part, the mere fact that someone is a parent sends their default status in my book to "shit list." They actually start off interactions with me already in the hole.

What is it with parents not accepting the immense responsibility that comes with children. I've seen it time and time again in psychological practice (not my own, thank God) and just watching parents in the grocery store. Anecdotal? Perhaps. But I feel safe in saying that at any given moment one in ten parents could actually be classified as doing a good job. The rest range from "almost there" to "Wicked Stepmother."

When you have kids, your life is over for a decade. I'm not some curmudgeon who thinks kids equals the end of fun. That's not the case. Having kids is obviously a great experience that many people treasure. The problem is that millions of parents have kids than try to do the same things they always did. This is impossible. It is the end of life as you knew it. If you aren't willing to accept that, don't have kids.

First-of-its-kind Italian school study finds high levels of prenatal alcohol exposure (Via


In Related News.

Women who take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) early in their pregnancies may be more likely to give birth to babies with congenital defects, particularly cardiac septal defects.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and congenital anomalies (Via


Wandering Poles Sounds Like a Dirty Movie

Imagine a shift in the Earth so profound that it could force our entire planet to spin on its side after a few million years, tilting it so far that Alaska would sit at the equator. Princeton scientists have now provided the first compelling evidence that this kind of major shift may have happened in our world's distant past.

Planet Earth may have 'tilted' to keep its balance, say scientists (Via Princeton University News)


Everyone Else is Saying "Duh," But I Think it's Actually Really Cool

Fuel ethanol could be cheaply and quickly converted into the purer, cleaner alcohol that goes into alcoholic drinks, cough medicines, mouth washes and other products requiring food-grade alcohol, say Iowa State University researchers.

Iowa State researchers explore turning fuel ethanol into beverage alcohol (Via Iowa State University News)


Not as Cool as That Frog That Freezes Itself.

Cooling water temperature during the fall prompts the crucian carp to store vast amounts of glycogen in its brain and at the same time reduce the amount of energy its brain needs. These physiological changes keep the brain functioning from February to April, when there is no oxygen in its ponds. The carp, a goldfish cousin, avoids predators this way.

Remarkable physiology allows crucian carp to survive months without oxygen (Via


I'm Sure Hostess is Really Hoping This Works.

Treatment of obese and diabetic mice with compounds that act as chemical chaperones called PBA and TUDCA restored healthy glucose levels and normal insulin action — and reduced the presence of fatty liver disease — according to a study published in the August 25 issue of Science. The work was conducted by a team of researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

Chemical compounds restore normal glucose levels and insulin action in obese mice (Via Harvard School of Public Health)


It Would be Great if People Were Like This.

Researchers at the Bar-Ilan University and the Israel Institute of Technology have used quantum mechanical calculations to identify the first class of chemical compounds that get thicker when stretched and thinner when compressed (molecular auxetics).

Get thicker when stretched, thinner when compressed: simulations identify auxetic molecules (Via


It's What Job Would do if He Were a Scientist.

The best science experiments are conducted carefully and often slowly, some taking years of painstaking work to yield results.

The World's Longest-Running Experiments (Via


Wow. I, uh... I Wonder If That's Happening to Humans. Where's My Tape Measure?!

The icecap may not be the only thing shrinking in the Arctic. The genitals of polar bears in east Greenland are apparently dwindling in size due to industrial pollutants.

Study: Polar Bear Genitals are Shrinking (Via


This Has Video, So It's Cool.

Scientists have discovered the fastest bite in the world, one so explosive it can be used to send the Latin American ant that performs it flying through the air to escape predators.

Ant Power: The World's Fastest Bite (Via

Friday, August 25, 2006

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Lovely SPAM! Yes wonderful SPAM!

Earlier today, I was forced to delete every single comment on my blog. I had a couple dozen. At first, I was shocked to see comments on some of my earliest posts. I then looked at them only to be crushed by the sight of post after post of spam.

I was so sad! I thought people were finally discovering this blog in large enough numbers to actually have someone interested enough to post. Oh how wrong I was! Cruel, cruel world!

I look at the links only to discover that my blog has been desecrated by some scumbag spammer! Judging from the strange grammar, I'd say whoever it was was from Eastern Europe or Asia. Most likely Eastern Europe. For some reason it's a hotbed of blog SPAM over there.

Being a relatively recent entrant into the world of blogs, I was initially hesitant. Considering everything I heard said a new blog was created every second, I could not even fathom that my views and words could at all be useful. Anything I had to say was already being said by thirty people.

I had nothing to worry about.

I was curious as to why there were so few science blogs. Everything I heard meant that there had to be gazillions. Where were they? Where were my fellow thinkers, undoubtedly waiting to welcome me with open arms! The world is very different from what CNN had me believe.

In the newest issue of WIRED magazine, September, they discuss the problem. I'm glad I'm not alone. There's a damn good reason a new blog is created every second, because most of them are fake.

"Some 56 percent of active English blogs are spam, according to a study released in May by Tim Finin, a researcher at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and two of his students. "The blogosphere is growing fast," Finin says. "But the splogosphere is now growing faster.""

I had heard of splogs before this and generally knew what the deal was, but I had no idea the problem was so far reaching. As far as I knew, the biggest problem facing the net today was click-fraud, namely competitors of a particular company clicking on said company's pay-per-click ads until they ran out of money.

I figured splogs were a minor problem because the major companies, such as the home of this blog, Blogger, would simply filter their new blogs and any foreign services that became known for spolgs would be eliminated from search results. Obviously, this isn't the case.

"A recent survey by Mitesh Vasa, a Virginia-based software engineer and splog researcher found that in December 2005, Blogger was hosting more than 100,000 sploggers."

This is insane! The very service I use is home to countless, well, almost countless droves of scumbag sploggers! This is of grave importance to me and I'm sure many other legitimate bloggers who will have the reputation of their service ruined and well earned ranking in Google and other search engines obliterated. The spurt of SPAM postings I got is, I'm sure, only the tip of the iceberg in an all-out assault on my comments that may come if this blog grows.

In fact, I'm getting less than 100 hits per week, right now. Most of them are probably finding that they want to be elsewhere. With less than 100 hits per week, I'm getting spammed. I worry about becoming one of the mega-blogs who have actually just shut down comments. It sucks hard because the idea of feedback from others about my ideas is something that gets my heart all a-flutter.

"Statistics compiled by Akismet, a system put together by WordPress developer [Matt] Mullenweg that tried to filter out blog spam, suggest that more than nine out of ten comments in the blogosphere are spam. Partly as a result, prominent blogs like Instapundit, The Corner, and Talking Points Memo simply refuse to turn on the commenting."

Also of importance to me, since it makes me feel that I am a somewhat unique voice on the net, is the massive number of dead blogs. Of the 12.9 million blogs on Blogger, over 10 million of them are dead, meaning inactive or were stillborn. These still have comments on them, so sploggers actually take over dead blogs and annex them into their splog empire. I will never die. I didn't hop on the bandwagon for so long because I had nothing to say. I had not made the choice. Now I have, and I will be one of the good ones.