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

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.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4 is Higgsdependence Day

Very early this morning, CERN*, the Organisation Européenne pour la Recherché Nucléaire (European Organization for Nuclear Research), announced a major discovery.  A major piece of the universal puzzle is now in place.  Scientists have observed an elementary particle that is consistent with predictions made by the Standard Model.  That elementary particle has been named the Higgs boson after Peter Higgs,** one of the theoretical physicists who predicted its existence.

What is the Higgs boson, and why is it important?

Every interaction (force) in nature is mediated by a gauge boson.  Here's an analogy: Suppose you want to interact with a friend, but you're both blindfolded and gagged.  You both have a large bag of Nerf® balls,  so you both start throwing.  You will know where your friend is when you get hit.  

There are only four fundamental interactions: electromagnetic, gravitational, weak, and strong.  The photon is the EM boson; the graviton is the gravitational boson; W-, W+, and Z0 are the weak bosons, and the gluons are the strong ones.  Where does the Higgs fit in?

The Standard Model, the theory behind the interactions excluding gravity, has been very successful at explaining most of nature.  It lacks the physics of dark matter, dark energy, and gravity, but physicists everywhere are working on expanding it through efforts such as string theory, superstring theory, and M-brane theory.  The model does predict the existence of the Higgs boson that causes all the other particles to have mass.

How does this happen?  Here's another analogy:  Imagine a large cocktail party of physicists. I walk into the room, and since I'm not well known, I can get through the room and to the bar rather quickly.  Then Peter Higgs walks in.  Being quite the celebrity, he attracts a large crowd of admirers. The interaction works similarly.  When an electron moves through the Higgs field§, it attracts some Higgs bosons, but when a up quark moves through the field, it attracts many more, and hence, has more mass.

Some additional notes:
In 1993, Nobel Prize winner Leon Lederman and science writer Dick Teresi wrote the book "The God Particle: If The Universe Is The Answer, What Is The Question?"  Lederman joked that "the publisher wouldn't let us call [the Higgs Boson] the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing."

CERN and its American counterpart Fermi Lab can be thought as as time machines; that is, when experiments are being done, scientists are in effect recreating the conditions of the early universe.  Observing the Higgs boson brings us back to within a picosecond or so after the Big Bang. [A picosecond is 10–12 seconds or one billionth of a second.]

Peter Higgs and the equation
describing the Higgs boson
Peter Higgs once suggested that the Higgs boson be named the ABEGHHK’tH "all the people who discovered it or rediscovered it," those being Phil Anderson, Robert Brout, Francois Englert, Gerald Guralnik, Dick Hagen, Peter Higgs, Tom Kibble, and Gerard ‘t Hooft.

Enjoy your 4th!

If you want to read more, some other discussions you might enjoy are The Higgs Boson, What Can We Do With The Higgs Boson? (courtesy of Matt Koutroulis), Physicists Have Found The Higgs Boson (courtesy of Frank Ybarra), Higgs Found (courtesy of my niece Kate Higgs), and Brian Greene Reacts To Today's CERN Announcement.

*You might be wondering why there is a C in the acronym for the lab.  In 1952, a committee was formed whose charge was to establish a physics research center. The committee's name was Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire.  When the institution officially came into being in 1954, the name was changed, but the acronym was not.  Another bit of trivia - the World Wide Web was invented at CERN.

**There is a persistent rumor in my family that the boson is named after my brother-in-law Gene Higgs.

I've adapted an analogy that I've seen and heard used by several sources, but with no attribution.

§My brother-in-law Gene also has a Higgs field next to his house.