From the Greek meaning 'heavy with wine'
A blog devoted to science and reason
Written after a glass or two of Pinot Noir.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Twas the Night Before What?

CREDIT: unknown
Isaac Newton, who in my not-so-humble-opinion may have been the smartest person to have lived, was born on the 25th of December 1642.*

In honor of his birth, I stole adapted the poem attributed to Clement Moore.  Here is

Twas the Night Before Newtonmas.

Twas the night before Newtonmas, when all through the house
Not a field was changing, not even a gauss.

The test tubes were stacked by the sink with care,

In hopes that Einstein soon would be there.

The faculty were huddled all smug in their wool threads,

While visions of bosons collided in their heads.

And the Dean at her desk, and I in my lab,

Had just collimated the particle beams at Fermilab.

When out on the quad there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the lab to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a photon,

Tore open the shutters and spied an electron of Compton.

The radiation through the nearly ideal gas

Gave a Cerenkov blue hue to objects of mass.

When, what should appear in the department,

But a miniature CERN, and eight grad students.

With a little old professor, proclaiming "nein, nein, nein!",

I knew in a moment it must be Albert Einstein.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!"

Now Bethe! now, Boltzmann! now, Maxwell and Feynman!
On, Noether! On, Pauli! on, on de Sitter and Gell-Mann!

To the top of the chart! to the top of the graph!

Now graph away! Graph away! Graph away staff!"

He sprang to his office, and his team of academicians,

And away they all flew like the neutrons of a fission.

But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he theorized out of sight,
"Happy Newtonmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

*In an amazing coincidence, Galileo Galilei died this same year on the 8th of January.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Science of Steak and Wine

Who would ever eat a good steak without a glass bottle of a good red wine?  Not I.  I prefer an earthy Pinot Noir, but a Cab or a Zin will do just fine.

Gastronomes and chefs know that certain foods pair well together.  But why?

Science now knows.

Drinks such as wine and tea and foods like pickles and sorbets are astringent, and they "elicit ‘dry, rough’ sensations, in part, by breaking down mucinous lubricating proteins in saliva."  Steak and other fatty foods lubricate the mouth that lessens the astringent feelings. The recent work* shows that "oral fatty sensations and astringency represent opposite ends of an oral spectrum extending from ‘slippery’ at one end to ‘dry’ and ‘rough’ at the other. This provides an explanation of how these sensations interplay over the course of a meal and maintain the balance of a moderate position along a tribological scale of oral sensations."  In other words, the alternating bites of a rib eye with sips of red wine leaves the mouth with a nice feeling.

Bon Appetit!

*Opponency of astringent and fat sensations, Catherine Peyrot des Gachons, Emi Mura, Camille Speziale, Charlotte J. Favreau, Guillaume F. Dubreuil, and Paul A.S. Breslin, Current Biology, Vol. 22, No. 19, R830 (2012).

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Magnetic Whine

I was flying back from Washington, D.C. on Tuesday when I got a little bored.  So I picked up the SkyMall catalog to see what outrageously expensive crap they had. 

These three items piqued my curiosity, so I ripped the page from the catalog.

Put your bottle of 2 Buck Chuck on one of these, and then somehow the magnets "realign the particles." Pardon my language and borrowing from Penn & Teller, but Bullshit!

I've dealt with this issue once before in Swirling Wine.  In my Electricity and Magnetism course, the students understand that magnets interact with other magnets, and they come to understand that a magnet does not necessarily have to be those things we stick to out refrigerator.  Electrical currents (moving electrons) also interact magnetically.  That's why we have electromagnets.

While there might be tiny, tiny amounts of iron in the wine, there is no process in which magnets will change the character of cheap wine.  

Now if I could get golfers to stop buying the magnetic bracelet crap.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Election Year Science

In election years, science issues rarely rise in importance to the level of ones involving the economy, foreign policy, and the military, but in my not-so-humble opinion, this is dangerous; science affects all aspects of our lives.  Climate change may not influence the way you live your life today, but your children and grandchildren will know a world greatly changed by our dependence on fossil fuels.

I care how you vote, though I care more that you vote.  We need to be responsible for the direction this country takes.  So when you are in the voting booth on Nov. 6, go ahead and vote your self-interests, but also vote for the interests of those we will leave behind.

With that said, let's look at some of our elected representatives and their wrong views on science.  I do not identify these politicians by their party affiliations, because that's not necessarily the issue, even if there is a correlation.

Rep. Todd Akin from Missouri:
 It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.  
 I don’t see [evolution] as even a matter of science because I don’t know that you can prove one or the other. That’s one of those things. We can talk about theology and all of those other things but I’m basically concerned about, you’ve got a choice between Claire McCaskill and myself. My job is to make the thing there. If we want to do theoretical stuff, we can do that, but I think I better stay on topic. 
Well, I’ve taken a look at both sides of the thing. And it seems to me that evolution takes a tremendous amount of faith.  To have all of a sudden all of the different things that have to be lined up, to create something as sophisticated as life, it takes a lot of faith. I don’t see it as even as a matter of science, because I don’t know if you can prove one or the other.
Rep. Paul Broun from Alabama:
All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.
Gov. Rick Perry from Texas:
[Evolution is] a theory that's out there. It's got some gaps in it. 
Rep. Mo Brooks from Alabama:
The last 4 or 5 years*, have they been cooler or warmer?
We're* being asked to undermine America's economy based on this guesswork speculation.
Rep. Michelle Bachmann from Minnesota: 
The science* indicates that human activity is not the cause of all this global warming. And that in fact, nature is the cause, with solar flares, etc. 
Rep. Joe Barton from Texas: 
Global warming* is 'unequivocal'? It's just flat not true! 
Sen. James Inhofe from Oklahoma:
This* 97% [of climate scientists accepting human-caused global warming], that doesn't mean anything. I named literally thousands of scientists on the floor...and these were top people. 
The claim* that global warming is caused by man-made emissions is simply untrue and not based on sound science. 
C02* does not cause catastrophic disasters-actually it would be benefitical to our environment and our economy.
The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous. 
Rep. Ben Quayle from Arizona: 
Our planet has warmed and cooled since the beginning of time. 
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher from California: 
Is there* some thought being given to subsidizing the clearing of rain forests in order for some countries to eliminate that production of greenhouse gases? Or would people be supportive of cutting down older trees in order to plant younger trees as a means to prevent this disaster from happening?
Rep. Ron Paul from Texas: 
You notice* they don’t call it global warming anymore. It’s weather control.
There is* no consensus in the scientific community that global warming is getting worse or that it is manmade.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin:
Our rovers* on Mars have indicated that there has been a slight warming in the atmosphere of Mars and that certainly was not caused by the internal combustion engine.
I personally* believe that the solar flares are more responsible for climatic cycles than anything that human beings do.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney:
My view* is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet.
I exhale* carbon dioxide. I don’t want those guys following me around with a meter to see if I’m breathing too hard.
I'll end this with the following comment made by Rep. Ed Markey from Massachusetts during a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Commerce:

Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to a bill that overturns the scientific finding that pollution is harming our people and our planet. 
However, I won’t rise physically, because I’m worried that Republicans will overturn the law of gravity, sending us floating around the room. 
I won’t call for the sunlight of additional hearings, for fear that Republicans might excommunicate the finding that the Earth revolves around the sun. 
Instead, we will embody Newton’s third law of motion and be an equal and opposing force against this attack on science and on laws that will reduce America’s importation of foreign oil. 
This bill will live in the House while simultaneously being dead in the Senate. It will be a legislative Schrödinger’s cat killed by the quantum mechanics of the legislative process! 
Arbitrary rejection of scientific fact will not cause us to rise from our seats today. But with this bill, pollution levels will rise. Oil imports will rise. Temperatures will rise. 
And with that, I yield back the balance of my time. That is, unless a rejection of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity is somewhere in the chair’s amendment pile.
*original sources at http://www.skepticalscience.com/skepticquotes.php

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Every once in awhile, students will show their appreciation by giving me a present.  I discourage this; a thank you is more than sufficient, and even this I don't expect.  

But as I wrote, every once in awhile someone will give me a souvenir bat (St. Louis Cardinals even though I grew up a Cubs fan), some small forks from Cambodia, a decorative vase, a Galilean thermometer, and even a fossil fish.  You can see these displayed in my office.  

Last week, I received my first poem.  The author is Selene Ramirez.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Billion with B! Santa Monica Sued for $1.7 Billion.


Before I get to the plaintiff's claim, let's think what $1.7 billion is.  It's $1,700 million.  $1,700,000,000.   Consider spending $1000 a day.  It would take 4,657 and 1/2 years to spend it all.  Santa Monica's total expenditures for fiscal year 2010-2011 was $521.7 million, one-third of what the plaintiff is asking. 

On to the claim.  The plaintiff, Denise Barton, alleges that the city's new parking meters are "causing ringing in her ears, ear infections and tightness on the back, left side of her neck."

Hmmm. Maybe Bob Dylan was right in his Subterranean Homesick Blues, "…watch your parking meters."

What could a parking meter do to cause these ailments?  She asserts it's the wireless signals from these new advanced parking meters the city has installed.

It's the old power lines cause cancer that was updated to cell phones cause cancer a few years ago.  Now it's parking meters.  On September 11, 2011, I dealt with the physics of electromagnetic radiation (light) and how it cannot cause chemical changes.  Microwaves cannot cause atoms and molecules to ionize.

Furthermore, these parking meters are about 1000 times less powerful than your cell phone.  Your cell phone must communicate with a cell tower that can be miles away.  These parking meters send signals to a sensor 5 to 8 feet away according to a city official.

So I'll repeat what I wrote last November:
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that "[a] large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use."
The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health says "there is no evidence from studies of cells, animals, or humans that radiofrequency energy can cause cancer."
Thanks to Josh Hibbard for tipping me off to the Santa Monica Daily Press article.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Giving Zeroes

Doesn't it sound reasonable that if a student misses an assignment that the instructor should score that as a zero?  That's what I do in my classes.

It was also the policy of Canadian high school physics teacher Lyden Dorval.  He's going to be fired for it.

Here's the story.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Applying Physics To Cooking

Need to separate the yolk from the egg white?  All you need is a slight difference in air pressure.  Watch.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

I'm Being Sued?

Almost a month ago, I wrote about how I had been banned by a couple of Facebook users FaceBookers, The Question Evolution Project and True Dinos.  In the post I invited both of them to respond.  It took them three weeks, but Cowboy Bob Sorensen did on this blog,
and Aaron Tullock did on his True Dinos Facebook FB page.
I'm a physicist, not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure I didn't post anything illegally.  Both of the Facebook pages are public, as are their web pages.  I believe that the Fair Use Doctrine may apply.

As to the defamation charge, Aaron needs to know the difference between slander and libel.  Notwithstanding the vocabulary, I think libel is " to publish in print (including pictures), writing or broadcast through radio, television or film, an untruth about another which will do harm to that person or his/her reputation, by tending to bring the target into ridicule, hatred, scorn or contempt of others." [dictionary.law.com]  If Aaron can point out the untruth, I will gladly retract.

By the way, Cowboy Bob and Aaron, calling you out for your scientific nonsense is not ridiculing you for spreading your gospel.  I'm ridiculing you for believing in creationist gibberish.

Lastly, I will take this opportunity to once again invite them to address the issue that led them to ban me.

Both Cowboy Bob and Aaron are biblical literalists.  The bible literally says the Sun orbits the Earth.  [A historical point here.  Galileo was tried and convicted by the Catholic Church in 1633 for promoting the heliocentric model for which Pope John Paul II apologized in 1992.]  Do they adhere to the biblical view or is their bible wrong on this matter?  To make matters easy on them I will once again provide a link to true biblical literalists that know what the bible says on this. Galileo Was Wrong; The Church Was Right.

They are invited to comment here using whatever language they deem appropriate.  I ask that they do not do so anonymously.  They will not be banned.

I wonder if they will extend to me the same courtesy?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Todd Akin Is An F***ing Idiot

Credit: Jeff Roberson/Associated Press
Todd Akin is a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Missouri.  When asked about abortion in an interview with Fox 2 of St. Louis, he asserted that in cases of "legitimate rape," it's difficult for a woman to become pregnant.
It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. 
What a putz.  

I'd like to know the names of those doctors.  They can't be M.D.s from any accredited medical school.  

Akin attended Worchester Worcester Polytechnic Institute and earned a bachelor's degree in management engineering, and he must have had to take some biology, but he must slept in on the days when reproduction was discussed.

Now upon realizing what he said, he quickly backtracked and said he "misspoke." He didn't misspeak.  He said what he thought he understood, but like many of his ilk, whenever their true thoughts expose them for what they are, they fall back on the time-tested I misspoke.

This moron is currently serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and sits on the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.  I feel less safe tonight knowing this jerk has a hand in legislation, but particularly with regard to women's health and science & technology.

Ebay Bans Prayers

ABC News reported on Aug. 16 that on August 30, 2012, Ebay will no longer allow the following to be offered for sale:
advice; spells; curses; hexing; conjuring; magic; prayers; blessing services; magic potions; healing sessions...

Their reason?
Transactions in these categories often result in issues between the buyer and seller that are difficult to resolve. To help build confidence in the marketplace for both buyers and sellers, eBay is discontinuing these categories and including the items on the list of prohibited items.
In other words, buyers were disappointed in the results of their purchases and wanted their money back. Sellers refused.

Albrecht Dürer
This reminds me of the study done on the effects of intercessory prayer on heart patients. The study's conclusion was that "intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from [coronary artery bypass graft surgery], but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications."

A Live Plesiosaur is Found!

There's even photographic evidence.  According to the Inverness Courier, cruise owner George Edwards walked to the back of his boat, Nessie Hunter IV, and saw this.
What is it?  Doesn't it have to be Nessie, the Loch Ness monster?

I tried to determine the size of this object by trying to find several distances in this photo, and I found it very difficult to come up with any calculation I trusted.  The biggest issue is I don't know if Loch Ness cruise owner Mr. Edwards zoomed in on the photo.  It's also hard to judge where Mr. Edwards is in the loch.

I was able to determine several things using Google Earth.  The distance across the loch from the castle directly across the loch is 1.1 miles or 1.8 km.  The distance between the castle and Temple Pier where he docks his boat is around 9/10 of a mile or 1.4 km.  The cruise owner claims he was a half mile from the object. From photos I could estimate the height of the Tower House (the structure on the right in the photo above) is approximately 11 meters or so.  I can't tell if the structure on the right is another castle structure or the visitor center.
Left: http://www.photo-pimp.com/gallery.php?gid=63; Right: Wikipedia Wknight94
The viewing angle appears to me to be too high.  If the cruise boat owner was on top of the boat, then he was approximately 3 meters above the water.  Remember he claims to also be one-half mile away (800 meters).  

Here another thing about the photo that bothers me.  Look at the ripples in the water.  The cruise boat owner reports that the object was moving slowly away from him toward the castle.  Then why are the ripples moving from the side of the object?

Another creature has been found in Norway.
Andreas Solvik

Here's a question for both Mr. Edwards and the Norwegians.  You had cameras.  You watched these things for up to ten minutes, yet you took one picture.  Plus even the most inexpensive digital cameras have a video camera.  

Cryptozoology is a pseudo-science like homeopathy, magnet therapy, intelligent design (neé creationism), chemtrails, ESP, ancient astronauts, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.  As Michael Shermer, Executive Director of the Skeptics Society and columnist for Scientific American, says, "Show me the body."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dr. Oz's Diet Advice

I was really bored yesterday, August 6, 2012.  Flipping through the channels, I came upon the Dr. Oz show, and I wondered what woo he was pushing today.  Sure enough, he begins the show with metabolism boosters.  

I immediately began to wonder whether a person can really boost their metabolism by simply drinking tomato juice spiked with a little Tabasco sauce and lime juice, but then he said this.

"And while wine snobs may not approve, adding ice chips to your red wine forces your body to burn calories, as it has to use its own energy to warm the liquid to body temperature."

Let's see what science has to say about this.

One learns in both physics and chemistry courses that to raise the temperature of any substance it takes an amount of energy equal to Q = mcdT where m is the mass of the substance, dT is the final temperature minus the initial temperature, and c is called the specific heat. The specific heat takes into account all the complicated physics and chemistry of how energy is distributed among the atoms and molecules.

I went to my freezer and looked at a ice cube - technically it's not a cube, it's a rectangular solid, but I'm being pedantic.  I don't have a kitchen scale, so I'll determine its mass by measuring its dimensions.  My cube is 5 cm by 3 cm by 3.5 cm or about 53 cm3.  The density of ice is 0.998 grams per cubic centimeter, so I can calculate its mass by multiplying the density by the volume.  Therefore, my ice cube's mass is 53 grams.

The ice will melt and cool the wine as cold as 0ºC.  After you drink the wine, your body will warm the liquid to body temperature, about 37ºC.

The specific heat of water is 1 calorie per gram per Celsius degree.  So your body will use 
Q = (53 g)(1 cal/(g ºC))(37ºC–0ºC) = 1961 calories.
But I have to correct something here.  A food calorie is different from a calorie.  A food calorie, also called the Calorie (notice the capital C), is equal to 1000 calories.

So your body has to expend almost 2 Calories to warm the cold wine.  I think you can burn 2 Calories by breathing for a whole minute.

UPDATE: Oops! I made a mistake here.  Your body has to warm all the liquid, not just the melted ice.  If you have a standard serving of wine, 6 oz., then your body expends 8.5 Calories.

You can do a little better by eating the ice, since your body has to melt the ice, too.  I''ll spare you the details, but that takes a whopping10 Calories! Assuming you drink the wine, too.

Even if you live a sedentary lifestyle, you will burn at least 1200 Calories every day by just existing. This is your metabolic activity. If you are active, your metabolic activity can be as high as 3000 Calories.  

If you want a little dieting advice, I share with you the only diet proven to work.  

The Thermodynamic Diet

The 1st law of thermodynamics states that one cannot create nor destroy energy.  All that can be done is to convert energy from one form to another.  Your body converts chemical energy in the food to kinetic energy (energy of motion) and thermal energy (you may call that heat, but that's technically incorrect).  Any energy not converted into these two forms may be converted into another form of chemical energy; that is, weight gain.

So the thermodynamic diet is burn more calories than you ingest.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I've Been Banned

CREDIT: True Dinos
CREDIT: True Dinos

So much for having a conversation.  

I visited the FaceBook page, True Dinos, of a young Earth creationist (YEC) run a fellow named Aaron Tulllock.  You can no longer see my posts, because I've blocked by the administrator for "being a troll." 

What did I do?

I asked about the design of the vas deferens and the recurrent laryngeal nerve. [See Smack Down.] Here's what left of the comments about Intelligent Design.

CREDIT: True Dinos
Then there was my comments on this post. Since True Dinos is also a biblical literalist, I informed him that the bible literally claims that the Sun revolves around the Earth. When pressed by another YEC called The Question Evolution Project, I provided not only the biblical verses, but a link to other biblical literalists who truly believe in geocentrism. [Regular readers might know my earlier blog posts Your Elementary School Teachers Were Right and LA Times Does Story on Geocentrism.] He never responded; in fact, his comments on True Dinos have been wiped.

Since The Question Evolution Project was unwilling to confront his obvious hypocrisy on the bible being literally true, I visited The Question Evolution Project FaceBook page. Because I had the audacity to debate, he promptly blocked me . 

Oh, what am I to do now? 

If any of the administrators from those pages wish to comment on this blog, they are free to do so.  All I ask is that they not do so anonymously. They are free to use whatever language they see fit to use. They will not be banned.

A bit more about these two pages.

Aaron Tullock (True Dinos) claims to have sighted a living pterosaur in 1995 in Marion County, Texas. The fossil and geologic evidence shows quite dramatically that  these reptiles became extinct about 65.5 million years ago. An excellent resource for those interested in pterosaurs is Pterosaur.net.

The paleontologists there say
Unusual winged animals reported from around the world have been suggested by some cryptozoologists and creationists to be modern-day pterosaurs that survived the end-Cretaceous extinction event. From Africa, people have reported a semi-aquatic winged animal called the kongamato while on New Guinea and the surrounding islands sightings are claimed of a gigantic, bioluminescent, crested flying creature (the duah) and a smaller, long-tailed version, the ropen. Fossil evidence demonstrates overwhelmingly that pterosaurs did not survive beyond the end of the Cretaceous, and the sightings of pterosaur-like animals that have been reported appear to be a combination of hoaxes and misidentification of large birds and bats. So-called modern pterosaurs are generally ugly, dark, carnivorous, bat-winged horrors—they sound more like imaginary generic flying monsters than the pterosaurs we know from the fossil record.
Like these other foundational scientific theories, the theory of evolution is supported by so many observations and confirming experiments that scientists are confident that the basic components of the theory will not be overturned by new evidence.
Plus technically speaking, pterosaurs aren't dinosaurs, although they did coexist.

Now for The Question Evolution Project.  In their About section, they write "true science is not afraid to examine contrary evidence and allows alternative theories to the interpretation of the evidence." Agreed. Science does not make progress without questioning.  Consider the Copernican revolution or the quantum revolution. So why was I banned? I presented biblical evidence that didn't fit their preconceived notions about what the bible says. 

On the other hand, "the Admins have other things to do besides engage in lengthy debates." It's strange that for people that being interested in "scientific evidence and its interpretation" and "intellectual honesty and freedom," they refuse to discuss anything.  How does The Question Evolution Project feel about questions? They say "[the site] is for people who can think for themselves and dare to ask questions," but don't ask them if they're geocentrists, because that will get you banned.

One last item, The Question Evolution Project claims that evolution is not a fact."  What do scientists say about that?  

The National Academy of Sciences says 
Like these other foundational scientific theories, the theory of evolution is supported by so many observations and confirming experiments that scientists are confident that the basic components of the theory will not be overturned by new evidence.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science states
But the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is an accepted fact.

I imagine The Question Evolution Project will just say we're being bullies.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Physics Helps Reduce Violence Against Women

More than 300,00 people in Darfur have been killed, and more than 2 million have fled their homes to live in huge refugee camps. Although they receive food aid, ones pressing problem remaining is cooking their food.

As described by Cookstove Projects
Due to the size of the IDP camps (some camps have more than 100,000 residents) and the desert-like terrain, wood is increasingly scarce. With deforestation, displaced women must walk up to seven hours to find a single tree, risking assault every step of the way. To avoid danger, some Darfuri women purchase wood from vendors... by selling the very food they need to feed their families. While the tangle of political and ethnic tensions underlying the Darfur conflict may seem beyond resolution, the solution to this one problem is clear: women in Darfur need a better stove.
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory physicist Ashok Gadgil and other LBNL scientists went to Darfur in 2005 to see the situation for themselves. As Dr. Gadgil says, “In terms of the physics end of it, of course you want high combustion efficiency, where you’re not left with charcoal and smoke, which is where some of the chemical energy could go,  and you want good heat transfer efficiency, so you’re not just heating the kitchen air but putting the heat into the pot.”

Just this past May, the US Agency for International Development awarded $1.5 million so that these stoves can be distributed in Darfur and Ethiopia.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Kangaroos Have 3 Vaginas

I meant to use this example for my last post Smackdown.  The blog Not Exactly Rocket Science has a good discussion, so I'll just provide this link.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Smack Down: The Crocoduck vs. The Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve

CREDIT: World Wresting Entertainment

I wrote earlier about Kirk Cameron of "Growing Pains" fame and Ray Comfort explaining how intelligently the banana was designed.  Today I discuss their complete lack of understanding of evolutionary theory, and I will show how lacking intelligent design is in explaining anything.

First watch Kirk try to completely demolish the science of biology.

A quick synopsis: Biology is wrong, because the crocoduck never existed.  You see, Kirk thinks that evolution demands that there be transitional species that are half of one species and half the other.  How else did reptiles evolve into birds?
The crocoduck
A couple of other of Kirk's examples, the sheepdog and the bullfrog.
Left: The Sheepdog. Right: The Bullfrog
A transitional fossil is any fossil that shows common traits to both a more ancient group and a later group.  My favorite example of one is Tiktaalik.  I highly recommend Neil Shubin's book Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into The 3.5 Billion Year history of the Human Body.  Shubin brilliantly writes on how human features such as the general body organization, our nose, our eyes, and our ears evolved. 

CREDIT: Nobu Tamura http://spinops.blogspot.com
However what many people fail to grasp about the fossil evidence is that scientists do not need fossils to support evolutionary theory. The evidence just from molecular biology is that strong. Rather than go into the evidence, I will just link to the Encyclopedia Britannica article.
Archeaopteryx - another transitional fossil

Some people* will even attempt to bring up the platypus to deride evolution.  The platypus is wonderfully weird.   It has a bill that contains a sophisticated sensory system that detects food electrically, it lays eggs, and the males have spurs on its hind legs that can deliver venom to other males during mating season.  In 2008, scientists decoded the platypus's genome and further confirmed that this species diverged from other mammals about 166 million years ago.

A Facebook post

But I digress.

Let's examine intelligent design.  I will start with two examples: the vas deferens and the recurrent laryngeal nerve.  The vas deferens carries sperm from the epididymis at the rear of the testes to the ejaculatory ducts.  

Let's think like a plumber.  How would a plumber connect a pipe?  I think any good plumber would use the most direct route possible.  Imagine one taking your water from the main outside to your kitchen faucet by doing this.  
3D houseplan courtesy of http://www.housepaintingideas.net/house-floor.html
Without a good reason for doing so, wouldn't you fire his ass?

Now examine the vas deferens.  A good plumber would take the most direct route as seen on the left in the figure below, but the actual route of the duct takes it over the ureter.  What an unintelligent design!  However, evolution has an explanation for this imperfection.  In the evolution of mammals, as the testes descended it accidentally looped over the ureter.  As Dawkins writes, "It is an beautiful example of an initial mistake compensated for in a post hoc fashion, rather than being properly corrected back on the drawing board."
CREDIT: Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth, Free Press, 2009, p.365.
Now let's see if the "intelligent designer" is an intelligent electrician.  Suppose you have to run a wire from your stereo system to your in-wall speakers.  Again, I think the most direct route is usually the best.  

Now suppose an electrician were to design a route for a nerve from the brain to your larynx.  The distance from the brain to the larynx is about 10 cm (4 inches). Does it make sense to run the nerve all the way down to the heart, loop it around the aorta, and then back up to the neck? That's nearly 60 cm (2 feet). An engineer might call that a suboptimal design. What is worse is that in a giraffe the recurrent laryngeal nerve is 15 feet long. I won't go into all the details, but evolution explains that this detour is the result of our aquatic ancestors, fish. For an excellent exposition, again I recommend Shubin's book.
Recurrent laryngeal nerve

Recurrent laryngeal nerve in the giraffe
Another favorite example of creationists is the flagellum of some bacteria.  In a FaceBook discussion, Tyler* insists that the flagellum is evidence of irreducible complexity.  Irreducible complexity is a claim that creationists make that some  biological systems are too complex to have evolved from simpler, "less complete" systems.  The premise is what use is a flagellum that can't drive the bacterium's motion.  This claim has been so thoroughly debunked that I will simply provide two links: one to the article The Flagellum Unspun:
 The Collapse of 'Irreducible Complexity" by Dr. Kenneth R. Miller of Brown University's Alpert Medical School; the second to a YouTube video called The Evolution of the Flagellum.  One chief proponent of irreducible complexity, Michael Behe, even admitted in the Dover, PA intelligent design trial that supposedly irreducibly complex systems may evolve. Perhaps a bigger blow to his credibility is that he testified that his definition of theory does not fit the National Academy of Science's definition and that using his definition, astrology is a scientific theory.

I can't be sure Tyler watched the video after I gave him the link.  Here is his response.
The video explains quite well what a flagellum that can't propel its bacteria is good for.  Fifty-seven seconds into the video, it explains that a system need not have the same function as the ancestral system.  The ancestral system might have been used for active transport of proteins.  A later predecessor might have been a pilus, a small hair-like projection.  As to how does a bacterium survive without a flagellum, there are countless examples of bacteria that seem to thrive without one.

I had some questions for Tyler and other creationists. 
Here is Tyler's answer.
There is so much wrong here, I'm not sure where to begin.  Let's begin with the concepts theory and fact.  According to the National Academy of Sciences,

The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence.

Many scientific theories are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the Sun (heliocentric theory), or that living things are not made of cells (cell theory), that matter is not composed of atoms, or that the surface of the Earth is not divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales (the theory of plate tectonics). Like these other foundational scientific theories, the theory of evolution is supported by so many observations and confirming experiments that scientists are confident that the basic components of the theory will not be overturned by new evidence.
In science, a “fact” typically refers to an observation, measurement, or other form of evidence that can be expected to occur the same way under similar circumstances. However, scientists also use the term “fact” to refer to a scientific explanation that has been tested and confirmed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing it or looking for additional examples. In that respect, the past and continuing occurrence of evolution is a scientific fact. Because the evidence supporting it is so strong, scientists no longer question whether biological evolution has occurred and is continuing to occur. Instead, they investigate the mechanisms of evolution, how rapidly evolution can take place, and related questions.
A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not "guesses" but reliable accounts of the real world. The theory of biological evolution is more than "just a theory." It is as factual an explanation of the universe as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease. Our understanding of gravity is still a work in progress. But the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is an accepted fact.
Questions 8 through 13 deal with facts from physics, not assumptions.  I simply ask for the reason behind these facts.  After all, designs have reasons, right?  He defers answering any of them except for #13.  Here he denies - sorry for shouting here, but he DENIES that photons (light) and matter are different aspects of the same thing.  Any of my PHY 212 students could school him on this.  Photons, electrons, quarks, protons, atoms, and molecules behave according to the Schrödinger equation in the nonrelativistic limit.† Plus we know that electrons and anti-electrons, for example, can annihilate each other and become photons.  And the reverse happens; photons can annihilate and become electrons and anti-electrons. E=mc2 THIS IS A FACT. [Oops. I'm shouting again.]  He cannot disagree; he cannot deny reality.

Two of the central characteristics of science are that all knowledge is provisional and that all claims must be testable.  It was these that prompted me to ask questions 1 through 6.  If one proposes the existence of an intelligent designer or designers, then that idea must be able to be put to an experiment.  

It is here that Tyler finally admits that intelligent design is religion and not science.  He writes "…some I can't answer, because they are matters of faith." If only all creationists were that honest.
Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam

*You may remember Aaron Troy Queen and Tyler Price Landis from my post You Keep Using That Word.  I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means. 
†A more correct statement is that all leptons, quarks, and gauge bosons are all described by the Standard Model.