Science Archives

After writing essays and giving speeches on the reasons he disagrees with the “consensus” that human-induced global warming is a direct threat to our planet, Michael Crichton, evidently, decided to write the techno-thriller State of Fear (2004).

In State of Fear he essentially presents the same arguments he’s made in his speeches, albeit in the context of a fictional story. The book follows the exploits of a lawyer, government security agent, and company, as they criss-cross the globe on the trail of eco-terrorists intent on causing massive catastrophes, all to further their cause (that being the universal acknowledgment of human-induced global warming of the doomsday variety). Unlike some of his other thrillers, Crichton notes that all references to real people, institutions, charts, and data, are documented (through his use of footnotes). Besides including a bibliography (for a work of fiction), he also includes a section titled Author’s Message, as well as two appendices.

In the Author’s Message, he clarifies his position on the topic of global warming, basically stating that we know very little about the complex process of climate change, that there is a variety of data on the subject, and that we do not have the knowledge or the ability to effectively manage the environment. Some have criticized Crichton for writing, in State of Fear, nothing more than a long op-ed piece. Yet, it’s his book, so why shouldn’t he write about what he wants?

In the first appendix, Crichton provides prose on why he considers politicized science to be dangerous. He gives an interesting history lesson on how a previous scientific theory predicting impending crisis, and was accepted as valid by the authorities of the time. The theory? Eugenics.

I found State of Fear to be an exciting page-turner of an adventure. There were a few slow points, mid-way through the book, as well as a few personality caricatures I thought to be too extreme. Note: There was also a fair bit of unnecessary sex, and quite a bit of R-rated language.

Recommendation:  I’d recommend reading the book if, for no other reason, than to get a glimpse of the data that is typically not found in the general media. Save your money though, and look for it at a used bookstore or at your local library bookstore (I picked up the hardback for $1.00 at our library bookstore).

[tags]michael crichton, global warming, CO2, earth first, ELF, greenhouse gases[/tags]

Technological Innovation is an interesting phenomenon (not to mention that it is mind-driven, and intelligence-based). It’s through such innovation that we have been able to progress from crossing the country in a covered wagon, to using a jet airliner. Yet, what of our dependence on fossil fuels, and the implications of such dependence? Current alternatives render electricity as a viable power source, yet current technology limits the means with which we can provide ample electrical power.

Consider, if you will, a future in which powerful batteries are small, very long lasting, and essentially universal in application. Would such a technological environment spell the demise of the domination of fossil fuel technology?

Enter three very interesting posts at ScienceDaily. In Sweet Nanotech Batteries: Nanotechnology Could Solve Lithium Battery Charging Problems, we read,

Nanotechnology could improve the life of the lithium batteries used in portable devices, including laptop computers, mp3 players, and mobile phones. Research to be published in the Inderscience publication International Journal of Nanomanufacturing demonstrates that carbon nanotubes can prevent such batteries from losing their charge capacity over time.

And in New Nanowire Battery Holds 10 Times The Charge Of Existing Ones,

Stanford researchers have found a way to use silicon nanowires to reinvent the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power laptops, iPods, video cameras, cell phones, and countless other devices.

…The greatly expanded storage capacity could make Li-ion batteries attractive to electric car manufacturers. Cui suggested that they could also be used in homes or offices to store electricity generated by rooftop solar panels.

Finally, in Newly Discovered Fundamental State Of Matter, A Superinsulator, Has Been Created,

Scientists could eventually form superinsulators that would encapsulate superconducting wires, creating an optimally efficient electrical pathway with almost no energy lost as heat. A miniature version of these superinsulated superconducting wires could find their way into more efficient electrical circuits.

Imagine, powerful, small batteries, capable of holding large charges for long periods of time. Will there be a time when one buys a laptop computer never expecting to have to recharge the battery? Will there be a time when one makes their monthly stop at the local “filling” station to  exchange a standard battery pack for their electric powered vehicle?

Would people, in such a time, view the internal combustion engine as quaintly as we now view the covered wagon?

[tags]battery, electric car, fossil fuel dependence, fossil fuels, nanotechnology, superconductor, superinsulator[/tags]

Christianity and Global Warming

I’ve recommended audio from the Acton Institute before, and they just keep cranking out great commentary.  Today’s recommendation is for Jay Richard’s "Is it Hot In Here? What Should Christians Think About Global Warming?"  At an hour and 20 minutes, it’s a bit to take in, but it goes in depth into 4 questions that Jay considers the main issues.

  1. Is the globe warming?
  2. Is man causing it?
  3. Is it a bad thing?
  4. What can / should government do about it?

You’ll find that Jay does believe that we’re in a warming trend if you only look back to the mid-1800s, but there have been times when the Earth has been much warmer, and Jay mentions something I’ve touched on before; that Greenland used to be farmland before SUVs, and yet the polar bears survived. 

He’s clear about what is his opinion and what is fact, so I think this is a balanced assessment of the situation. 

[tags]environment,global warming,Acton Institute,Jay Richardson,Christianity[/tags]

Cross-posted at New Covenant

Natural Process Evolution (aka Neo-Darwinism, Naturalism, etc.) rests on the Blind Watchmaker argument in which mindless processes, via the natural realm, are responsible for the diversity of life on planet earth (indeed, responsible for the very cosmos we exist in).

We are told that we, as humans, have evolved to the point where we have minds that think, that reason, that design, and that engineer. Yet, if this is the case, how is it that we now seem to take our mind-driven cues, as shown below, from the alleged products of a completely mindless process? Common sense, from our evolved minds, should tell us that if we see a well designed and engineered product, then it is reasonable to conclude that it, in fact, came from a mind.

Therefore, I’d like to present a series of examples that we find in nature, of so-called MD (i.e., Mindless-process Design) and how, in doing so, we acknowledge the inescapable conclusion that there is design / engineering in what we behold:

First, we have an example of the seemingly ubiquitous bar code. From Wikipedia,

The first patent for a bar code type product (US Patent #2,612,994) was issued to inventors Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver on October 7, 1952. Its implementation was made possible through the work of Raymond Alexander and Frank Stietz, two engineers with Sylvania (who were also granted a patent), as a result of their work on a system to identify railroad cars. It was not until 1966 that barcodes were put to commercial use and they were not commercially successful until the 1980s.

Note that the first patent for a bar code type product was issued to inventors, and that its implementation was made possible by two engineers. Yeah. Got that? Inventors… engineers? Persons. Persons with… minds.

From Dr. Fuz Rana at Today’s New Reason to Believe, DNA Barcodes Used to Inventory Plant Biodiversity,

Barcodes have revolutionized the retail business. Now cashiers simply scan the items while computer technology does the rest. It has increased the speed and accuracy of the checkout process and provides the added benefit of giving the store managers a real-time inventory.

Scientists have come to realize that DNA can be used as a barcode to perform some of the same functions as barcodes printed onto food packaging. Biologists have been able to identify, catalog, and monitor animal species using relatively short, standardized segments of DNA within the genome that are unique to the species, or subspecies in some cases. And now new work extends the utility of DNA barcoding to plants.

One of the challenges of DNA barcoding centers on identifying a region within the genome that can distinguish a wide range of taxa. Researchers have recently discovered that the matK gene found in plastid DNA fulfills this requirement. This gene displays the so-called barcoding gap by simultaneously varying little within a species, but varying significantly between species…

The use of DNA as barcodes underscores the informational content of this biomolecule. DNA barcoding makes it clear that biochemical information is truly information.

Dr. Rana also discussed this topic, recently, on the weekly Creation Update program sponsored by Reasons to Believe.

[tags]darwin, evolution, fuz rana, hugh ross, id, intelligent design, naturalism, old earth creationism, reasons to believe, rtb[/tags]

Religion, Meaning, and Science

John Polkinghorne has an interesting new book out Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship, which I highly recommend even if I’ve only read the first chapter. Mr Polkinghorne has had a distinguished career in theoretical physics involved in the development of the Standard Model, and is now retired from that and has subsequently been ordained as a Anglican priest and has been thinking theology. His view is that Theology and Science, especially Physics are not opponents, but more like cousins. In his words:

The basic reason is simply that science and theology are both concerned with the search for truth. In consequence, they complement each other rather than contrast each other. Of course, the two disciplines focus on different dimensions of truth, but they share a common conviction that there is truth to be sought. Although in both kinds of enquiry this truth will never be grasped totally and exhaustively, it can be approximated to in an intellectually satisfying manner that deserves the adjective ‘versimilitundinous’, even if it does not qualify to be described in an absolute sense as complete.


… The thesis of underlying turth-seeking connection between science and theology appeals strongly to someone like myself, who spent half a lifetime working as a theoretical physicist and then, feeling that I had done my little bit for science, was ordained to the Anglican priesthood and so began a serious, if necessarily amateur, engagement with theology. I do not discern a sharp rational discontinuity between these two halves of my adult life. Rather, I believe that both ahve been concerned with searching for truth through the pursuit of well-motivated beliefs, carefully evaluated.

[note: emphasis mine]

Mr Polkinghorne notes that this stands in contrast to the post-modernist currents which hold that there is no truth to be sought, that truths are constructed things. And I for one, applaud that.

This book attempts to trace in detail 5 events in Physics and Chrsitian theology and seeks to find parallels and to compare and contrast them. These are:

  1. A moment of enforced radical revision — for Physics, the photo-electric effect and the emergence of Quantum physics, for theology the realization that Jesus was God.
  2. A period of unresolved confusion — for Physics again, the period of 1900 to 1925 had held a growing number of experiments which had no resolution in the theory of the day. Again, for theology the period in the first centuries after Jesus as they attempted to formulate ways of talking about it.
  3. A new synthesis — 1925-1926 when Heisenberg and Schroedinger came up with a way to explain what was being seen and the Creedal periods of the 4th and 5th century when the Patristic fathers resolved the tensions between Jewish, Greek, and Christian ways of seeing the world and truth.
  4. Continued wrestling with unresolved issues — The measurement problem in Physics and understanding the divine, e.g., terms which are unclear “begetting” and “procession”.
  5. And deeper implications — the theories that resolve the problems (see above) have further implications which deepen our understaning of a wide variety of other matters.

This short book will as I mentioned investigate and explore similarities and differences of these matters in more depth. I look forward to reading on … and I encourage y’all to do so too.

For further reading of how science finds its meaning and its method of enquiry Mr Polkinghorne suggests this book: Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post- Critical Philosophy by Michael Polyani.

Intelligent Design is often ridiculed as not being science in that it is, allegedly, not falsifiable, has not produced any real predictions, and is creationism in disguise. However, what is the alternative to the notion of Intelligent Design, if not Unintelligent Design? Natural Process Evolution (aka Neo-Darwinism, Naturalism, etc.) rests on the Blind Watchmaker argument in which mindless processes, via the natural realm, are responsible for the diversity of life on planet earth.

We are told that we, as humans, have evolved to the point where we have minds that think, that reason, that design, and that engineer. Yet, if this is the case, how is it that we now seem to take our cues, as shown below, from the alleged products of a completely mindless process? Doesn’t common sense, from our evolved minds, tell us that if we see a well designed and engineered product, then it is reasonable to conclude that that product came from a mind?

Therefore, I’d like to present a series of examples that we find in nature, of MD (i.e., Mindless-process Design), and how we acknowledge the inescapable conclusion that there is design / engineering in what we behold:

Birds, Bats And Insects Hold Secrets For Aerospace Engineers

Natural flyers like birds, bats and insects outperform man-made aircraft in aerobatics and efficiency. Engineers are studying these animals as a step toward designing flapping-wing planes with wingspans smaller than a deck of playing cards.

A Biochemical Watch Found in a Cellular Heath

The discovery of biomolecular motors and machines inside the cell gives new life to the Watchmaker Argument. In many instances, this molecular-level biomachinery stands as a strict analog to man-made machinery and represents a potent response to the legitimate criticism leveled by Hume and others. The biomachines found in the cell’s interior reveal a diversity of form and function that mirrors the diversity of designs produced by human engineers. The one-to-one relationship between the parts of man-made machines and the molecular components of biomachines is startling. Paley’s case for the Creator only becomes stronger with every new example of a biomotor that biochemists discover.

As remarkable as these biomachines are, perhaps none are as provocative as the biochemical timekeeping devices discovered in cyanobacteria.

Scientists Discover Remarkable Editing System For Protein Production

Even small mistakes made by cells during protein production can have profound disease effects, but the processes cells use to correct mistakes have been challenging to decipher. Recent work by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute, however, has uncovered two surprising new methods for such editing.

[tags]blind watchmaker, creation, creationism, darwin, darwinism, evolution, hugh ross, id, intelligent design, ken miller, michael behe, naturalism, old earth creationism, phillip johnson, reasons to believe, richard dawkins, stephen jay gould[/tags]

Global Warming Update

It’s snowing.  No, I mean really snowing.

Snow cover over North America and much of Siberia, Mongolia and China is greater than at any time since 1966.

The U.S. National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) reported that many American cities and towns suffered record cold temperatures in January and early February. According to the NCDC, the average temperature in January "was -0.3 F cooler than the 1901-2000 (20th century) average."

In just the first two weeks of February, Toronto received 70 cm of snow, smashing the record of 66.6 cm for the entire month set back in the pre-SUV, pre-Kyoto, pre-carbon footprint days of 1950.

And remember the Arctic Sea ice? The ice we were told so hysterically last fall had melted to its "lowest levels on record? Never mind that those records only date back as far as 1972 and that there is anthropological and geological evidence of much greater melts in the past.

The ice is back.

Gilles Langis, a senior forecaster with the Canadian Ice Service in Ottawa, says the Arctic winter has been so severe the ice has not only recovered, it is actually 10 to 20 cm thicker in many places than at this time last year.

Granted, as the article goes on to day, "one winter does not a climate make".  But you just know that if the numbers were in the other direction this would be trumpeted by Al Gore and his shills in the media.  You just know it because, well, they have.

This has got some climatologists rethinking things.

According to Robert Toggweiler of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University and Joellen Russell, assistant professor of biogeochemical dynamics at the University of Arizona — two prominent climate modellers — the computer models that show polar ice-melt cooling the oceans, stopping the circulation of warm equatorial water to northern latitudes and triggering another Ice Age (a la the movie The Day After Tomorrow) are all wrong.

"We missed what was right in front of our eyes," says Prof. Russell. It’s not ice melt but rather wind circulation that drives ocean currents northward from the tropics. Climate models until now have not properly accounted for the wind’s effects on ocean circulation, so researchers have compensated by over-emphasizing the role of manmade warming on polar ice melt.

But when Profs. Toggweiler and Russell rejigged their model to include the 40-year cycle of winds away from the equator (then back towards it again), the role of ocean currents bringing warm southern waters to the north was obvious in the current Arctic warming.

And then there’s always that major source of global warming, the Sun.

Kenneth Tapping of our own National Research Council, who oversees a giant radio telescope focused on the sun, is convinced we are in for a long period of severely cold weather if sunspot activity does not pick up soon.

The last time the sun was this inactive, Earth suffered the Little Ice Age that lasted about five centuries and ended in 1850. Crops failed through killer frosts and drought. Famine, plague and war were widespread. Harbours froze, so did rivers, and trade ceased.

Again, as the article says, while it’s way too early to start predicting a new Ice Age, it’s also way too early to be predicting catastrophic warming as well.  Thus it’s also way too early to make huge economic and policy changes based on what could very well be a flawed premise.

[tags]global warming,environment,climate change,National Climatic Data Center,Toronto,Kyoto protocol,Arctic Sea,Gilles Langis,Canadian Ice Service,Robert Toggweiler,Joellen Russell,Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory,Princeton University,University of Arizona,Kenneth Tapping,National Research Council,Little Ice Age[/tags]

Science Saturday: Progressive design of the internal combustion engine

[Note: Cross-posted at New Covenant]

As a follow-up to my February 9th post, Science Saturday: Declaring the existence of transitional species post, I’d like to give you a lesson plan (of sorts), with the purpose of illustrating the concept of gradual, progressive engineering and design.

Read the rest of this entry

The Hydrocarbon Mother Lode

Scientists have discovered a hydrocarbon reserve larger than all of our current oil and gas reserves. Hydrocarbons, as you know, are those dregs of ancient dinosaurs and plants that we mine for energy. So then, where is this incredible field?

Oh, about 750 million miles away.

Before we get too excited here, let’s remember. There’s still an energy problem. Global warming, too. Nobody’s going to be importing oil substitutes from Titan anytime soon.

That said, data from the Cassini probe orbiting Saturn has shown that the ringed planet’s moon has “hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth,” according to research reported in the Geophysical Research Letters. The stuff is literally falling from the sky.

Lakes are scattered across the moon, with each of several dozen holding more hydrocarbon liquid – largely in the form of methane and ethane — than all of Earth’s oil and gas reserves.

OK, so it’s technically not the “mother lode” since it’s not physically connected to the oil and gas here. And it’s technically not biological in nature, since (and we’re pretty sure about this) dinosaurs and plants have never existed on Titan.

Which begs the question: Where did it come from, and are the same processes happening here on Earth? If so, perhaps oil isn’t from dead dinos. Worth looking into.

[tags]abiotic oil,Saturn,Titan,hydrocarbons,methane,ethane,energy,space,Cassini probe[/tags]

Science Saturday: Declaring the existence of transitional species

(Cross-posted at New Covenant)

At the Thumb, we have a post titled, The Inner Fish speaks: Neil Shubin makes a guest appearance on Pharyngula, in which we’re given a glimpse into how natural process evolution views template fossil forms which appear fully functional for the environment, and time, in which they existed: They’re declared as gap-filling transitional forms (the kind OEC types like myself say don’t exist).

The human ancestor in question, this time, is the fish Tiktaalik roseae. Yes, that’s correct, a fish. How, you may ask, is a fish an ancestor of us humans? Well, you see, it all has to do with the fact that the bone structure of the fish fins is eerily similar to the bone structure for human hands. Over time, it is supposed, such early structures transformed into the variety of similar structures we see today. For the Tiktaalik roseae this, Great Transformation, is but one of the many transformations that obviously occurred  over the millions of years of life’s history. Watch this clip from the PBS series, Evolution, particularly noting the quick animation of a fin to hand skeletal structure. Or take a look at the Flash animation, on page 1, from this NOVA site. (note: Evidence for Evolution, a NOVA Vodcast from 11/9/07, provides another glimpse of the thought processes involved here)

But wait, there’s more.

Read the rest of this entry

To evolve morality

A fatal flaw for the notion of natural process evolution is that it has no way to explain the abstract. In a world of the strictly natural, what are we to make of, say, love?

At the pro-evolution site, Panda’s Thumb, we see a post titled, Evolution of altruistic cooperation and communication in robot societies. The author states,

Discovery Magazine reports on a continuation of experiments involving evolvable robots, communication and concepts such as altruistic cooperation and lying.

By the 50th generation, the robots had learned to communicate—lighting up, in three out of four colonies, to alert the others when they’d found food or poison. The fourth colony sometimes evolved “cheater” robots instead, which would light up to tell the others that the poison was food, while they themselves rolled over to the food source and chowed down without emitting so much as a blink.

Some robots, though, were veritable heroes. They signaled danger and died to save other robots. “Sometimes,” Floreano says, “you see that in nature—an animal that emits a cry when it sees a predator; it gets eaten, and the others get away—but I never expected to see this in robots.”

Fascinating how simple processes of variation and selection can explain the evolution of altruism, cooperation as well as cheating. What has ID done recently that increases our understanding of how cooperation, cheating and altruism arose?

Is he serious? A contrived experiment (PDF), with designed parameters, mimicking established social group characteristics explains the evolution of altruism, cooperation as well as cheating?

Be on the lookout, whenever natural process evolutionists attempt to explain the abstract, they always end up sneaking in the back door and stealing concepts that don’t belong to them. You see, in the world of naturalism (i.e., the strictly natural), there is no basis with which one can declare that some action is altruistic or someone is a cheater. Without an objective moral understanding that altruism is good, and cheating is wrong, the words lose their meaning.

Get ready for more, or fewer hurricanes

From MSNBC, Study on hurricanes, warming creates storm,

Global warming could reduce how many hurricanes hit the United States, according to a new federal study that clashes with other research. The new study is the latest in a contentious scientific debate over how manmade global warming may affect the intensity and number of hurricanes.

Stem Cell Miracles

Again we find that stem cells could be the cure for things that had been incurable.

Heart attacks occur when the heart muscle is starved of oxygen, usually because the arteries that supply it with blood become blocked with fatty deposits. A bypass operation restores this blood supply, but the lack of oxygen leads to permanent scarring of the heart muscle.

Even after the operation the heart’s activity does not return to normal. "If you have a large heart attack like this and you are lucky and are referred for a bypass operation, your quality of life will be permanently affected because the pumping function of your heart is reduced," said Raimondo Ascione, the surgeon who is leading the research. "Your tolerance to exercise is reduced so you can’t really enjoy your life."

The trial will involve patients with the worst prognosis, those who have scarring on at least half of the left ventricular wall. "It’s the worst heart attack you can have. Most patients just die," said Ascione.

The team will extract bone marrow from all 60 patients and separate out a class of stem cells that makes up 1% of the tissue. Previous studies have suggested that this cell type is able to regenerate heart muscle cells and blood vessels. By using the patient’s own cells there will be no problems with tissue rejection.

But again, as well, is a missing word in the article.  It’s implied in that last quoted paragraph, but it’s not said by name.  These are adult stem cells, from the patient.  Very little these days is said about adult stem cells, because of the agenda of folks who want embryonic stem cell research to get federal funding. 

The question isn’t whether or not embryonic stem cells would be useful.  The real question is; if adult stem cells have such wide, varied uses, and have been proven to work time after time, why do we want to step into the ethical quagmire of using embryos?

[tags]stem cells,Raimondo Ascione,heart disease,medicine[/tags]

Seeking Understanding: Abortion

So often in our world today, we grind up against those who have strongly held positions that we cannot understand. For myself, at this time, I fail to understand how anyone could hold a pro-abortion or even pro-choice point of view. The arguments “for” seem so weak as to be almost non-existent. Now this might be because I fail to enumerate or see the key insight behind a particular argument. So, below the fold, I’m going to attempt to enumerate all the arguments I know for the silencing of the lambs and summarize briefly why they are fundamentally unsound. My request for any readers of this would be to point out what I’m missing, why my critique misses the point, or to pass this on to someone who might be able to do so. Read the rest of this entry

Emotionally Tied to Embryonic Stem Cells

Now that normal skin cells can be made to mimic embryonic stem cells, you’d think that the big push to keep destroying embryos and the ethical considerations that accompany it would pretty much die out. You’d be wrong. Michael J. Fox, one of the more vocal and visible players advocating embryonic stem cell research, will have none of that.

MENOUNOS: Tell me what that does to Parkinson’s and how exciting that was for you?

FOX: Well any of these breakthroughs are fantastic. And it’s just thrilling. And at the same time too we don’t want to discontinue the embryonic stem cell research that’s being done because one begat the other and, and it all becomes part of a broad canvas that we want to continue to work on.

In the name of some ephemeral “broad canvas”, Fox simply won’t let go of his emotional tie (how else to explain it) to actual embryos. Science could very well get rid of the need to deal with the ethical and moral entanglement, but Fox won’t cut the umbilical cord.

MENOUNOS: Do you think that this will end the whole hot button issue of stem cell research?

FOX: Well I want to make sure that we, that, that doesn’t happen. But I think that the bottom line is whatever happens in the next election, the chances are very good that there’s gonna be a new attitude towards science.

Sounds to me like it’s Fox who needs to new attitude. Science is progressing, George W. Bush’s stand against destroying embryos has been vindicated, but Fox is stuck in his ways and his politics.

FOX: Well just about everybody’s in favor of it with the couple of exceptions on the, on the Republican side. But, but what I did in the last election in the midterm was not about parties but, but about who was in a race where they supported stem cell research and, and were, were opposed by someone who’s not in favor of stem cell research.

MENOUNOS: Who are you backing this election?

FOX: Whoever the most pro-science candidate is that comes out of either primary.

Turns out that Dubya’s faith in science — that it would find a way around destroying embryos — is the most pro-science of them all. Too bad he’s not running for re-election, eh Michael?

[tags]embryonic stem cells,science,Michael J. Fox,abortion[/tags]

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