As I?ve often mentioned in this blog, philosopher David Hume famously said that ?No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish,? setting the bar for believing in miracles properly high.
Today started out with my happy dog getting several vaccinations and later, a very sad and sick dog having nasty reactions to those vaccinations. Hives, swelling, vomiting, wobbling, and then a quick rush to the vet, some steroids and medication and now worry for another 12 hours. It was not something I wanted to deal with for all kinds of reasons. That’s how Barbara Boxer (D-CA) must feel just about every day her Environment and Public Works committee meets, except the sick dog is the minority member, Sen. Inhofe, (R-OK). Sen. Boxer must be a little annoyed that she has to deal with Inhofe spouting up his nonsense all over the place, and it’s obvious the man has problems. Why would anyone be that disruptive, that rude, that stubbornly ignorant of the facts, in public senate hearings, unless he had ‘problems’? Below is just one example of what people are up against in the Senate and the Congress when it comes to sane climate legislation.
I wish I could say Inhofe is some type of anomaly, or at least unexpected, but he now represents many of the right-wingers of his party. His views are shared by my Minnesota Congresswoman, Michele Bachmann. They all celebrate skepticism, as a means to an end and even just as an end. It’s blatant obstructionism. This is what we are up against in the fight for serious climate legislation.
Inhofe is actually going to go to Copenhagen (with a “team” of Congressional climate deniers) so he can disrupt the proceedings there, too. (If he drags Bachmann along I hope he’s prepared for some hallucinatory prayer meetings and anti-science talk.) Disrupting proceedings in the Senate isn’t enough for him, he has to do an international job of it.
In a lengthy speech on the Senate Floor, Inhofe said, ?I proudly declare 2009 as the ?Year of the Skeptic,? the year in which scientists who question the so-called global warming consensus are being heard.?
My dog is probably going to be OK, but Senator Inhofe’s condition continues to deteriorate. How do we fight such influential and powerful people when they decide to lie to the world?
Related stories:M.I.T. joins climate realists, doubles its projection of global warming by 2100 to 5.1°CStartling new sea level rise research: ?Most likely? 0.8 to 2.0 meters by 2100US Geological Survey stunner: Sea-level rise in 2100 will likely ?substantially exceed? IPCC projections
Ross Olson of the Twin Cities Creation Science Association has sent me the results of the survey that was given at the debate. He is trying to spin it as supporting the claim that this kind of debate was "useful" — but I'm unimpressed.
About 500 people attended, 290 returned the survey. The survey basically asked two questions about whether they supported teaching creationism in the classroom initially, and the same two questions to be answered after they listened to the debate, with a final question that asked whether the debate was held "on an intellectual level that can serve as an example for other discussions"…and with that, their motives are exposed. It wasn't to actually work through the problem, but entirely to give credibility to the creationist position. Contrary to Olson's interpretation, it tells me that this whole farce was a bad idea from the beginning.
When I looked at the numbers, what jumped out at me that there was almost no change in the audience's position. People who came in firmly opposed to teaching ID in the schools left with the same opinion (no surprise there, Bergman was a kook); people who came in demanding that creationism be given equal time left still feeling the same way. There were a couple of crazy people whose opinions did shift — from being initially opposed to creationism to being for including it in the curriculum. I call shenanigans on that; Bergman did not even try to argue for such a position, so these were ringers who walked in, gave false answers to the first questions, and then pretended to have been converted to a pro-creationist stance by Bergman. That is flatly unbelievable.
The numbers were boringly static. The comments were much more entertaining, and I've included them below the fold; to make it a little easier to sort out who was saying what, the comments from evolutionists are in blue, the creationists are in red, and the ones who switched significantly from the two pre-debate questions to the two post-debate questions are in purple.
What I mainly take home from these data is the simple fact that, even though this debate was a complete and embarrassing rout for the creationists, their minds were not changed at all. Debates with creationists are a waste of time, except for the small benefit of entertaining evolutionists with an amusing spectacle, and the larger detriment of giving liars for Jesus an opportunity to piously announce their support for rational discussion…despite the fact that they don't offer rational discussion.Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...
A new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society says that western lowland gorillas living in a large swamp in the Republic of Congo?part of the "mother lode" of more than 125,000 gorillas discovered last year?are becoming increasingly threatened by growing humans activity in the region.
A new study provides "incontrovertible evidence" that the volcanic super-eruption of Toba on the island of Sumatra about 73,000 years ago deforested much of central India, some 3,000 miles from the epicenter, researchers report.
The 130th Carnival of Space blog roundup is being hosted by the Chandra blog. Yes, that Chandra. So go there and put your tax dollars to work.[...]
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Edited to add: My Hive Overmind compatriots at Cosmic Variance have more details.]Hey, is the Earth still here? Because the Large Hadron Collider saw its first proton collisions today!OK, it wasn’t at full power, and this is just a preliminary[...]
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The President announces the “Educate to Innovate” initiative, a campaign to get students excited about pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Quotes from President Obama from his speech – (see webcast above):
“As President, I believe that robotics can inspire young people to pursue science and engineering.”
“Now the hard truth is that for decades we’ve been losing ground. One assessment shows American 15-year-olds now rank 21st in science and 25th in math when compared to their peers around the world.”
“And today, I’m announcing that we’re going to have an annual science fair at the White House with the winners of national competitions in science and technology. If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you’re a young person and you’ve produced the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too. Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models, and here at the White House we’re going to lead by example. We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.”
“improving education in math and science is about producing engineers and researchers and scientists and innovators who are going to help transform our economy and our lives for the better.”
Related: 2008 Intel Science Talent Search – Report on K-12 Science Education in USA – Fun k-12 Science and Engineering Learning – Science Education in the 21st Century – High School Inventor Teams @ MIT – Engineering Education Program for k-12 – 76 Nobel Laureates in Science Endorse Obama – Lego Learning
The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center is holding a contest - $750 towards attending SciOnline 2010 for two bloggers who write exceptional evolutionary blog posts in 2009. Living in Hawaii, it's tough to afford the round trip to North Carolina all by me onesies, so here's my attempt at getting the funds!
When Good Genes Go Bad
We tend to think of evolution as a directional process, whether its from simplicity to complexity or 'less fit' to 'more fit.' Even the classic images of evolution, like the evolution of man, reveal our inherent bias. But that is not always the case; species all over exhibit a variety of traits which damage their reproductive fitness despite the best-laid plans of genes and evolution.
You see, times are always changing, and what might be good for you one day could be disastrous the next (just imagine if the flock of seagulls haircut was genetic, and you can see what I mean). The big problem is that even if a trait was once adaptive or even just neutral, it can later become maladaptive as pressures shift. And that, unfortunately, is what has happened to the Hawaii Akepa.
Akepa (Loxops coccineus) are one of native species of Hawaiian honeycreeper that lives in the upper elevations of Hawaii's forests. They're stunning birds, with the males turning bright red when they reach adulthood and females remaining a pretty green. For centuries, they've used their specialized, crossed bills to eat caterpillars and other bugs and drink nectar from the native Koa and Ohi'a trees.
Like other native species, they took a hit when people arrived. Habitats were leveled for farming, invasive plants overtook native trees creating less food and habitat, and invasive birds began to take what little was left. However, they dodged a bullet that is devastating some of their closest kin by living too high up for the introduced mosquitoes and avian malaria to attack their blood. Sure, the loss of their habitat due to farming was tough, but we've started fixing that, so they're primed to re-expand back into their native range.
That is, they would be primed to, but they aren't. Scientists were confused. Despite the relatively long breeding season they have in which to produce young, which lasts from early spring until winter, the akepa just don't have the reproductive rate they need to bounce back. So scientists looked to see if the females were producing young - and they were. The females are pumping out baby birds like it's their job, so the issue isn't that they don't have enough young akepa. Despite the female's efforts, the akepa population's growth rate is still dangerously low. Scientists wanted to know why. What's going wrong?
Well, it all starts with these invasive Japanese White-Eyes I've mentioned before. They're up in the akepa's forests, eating their food, and putting stress on breeding mothers. The competition doesn't help, and its lowering the overall fitness of the breeding birds, hampering their survival rates. But the white-eyes aren't entirely to blame: they breed later in the year, so the competition is only really bad during the later half of the breeding season, which still leaves an entire early breeding season to make babies - and the akepa do. There are plenty of baby Akepa in the earlier part of the year which survive into adulthood, but the population numbers still aren't growing. It's not just competition with the invasive species - something else, scientists realized, is going wrong.
Blame evolution. You see, the akepa have evolved a trait which is dooming their population.
Once upon a time, before the white-eyes moved in, the akepa populations were booming. There were a lot of males fighting for a good number of females, and it worked out that the bigger, healthier males managed to get laid far more often than smaller ones. It also worked out that those mothers who nested earlier got more food and had bigger, healthier babies. Somehow, a genetic switch was turned on, and the akepa started biasing their young's sex, in a process called Sex Allocation.
It's a phenomenon you've probably heard about in context with deer. Female deer, when healthy and well fed, are more likely to have males. The theory goes that because in deer society only the best males reproduce, to produce a weak male is a waste of reproductive effort. Girls, on the other hand, are always welcome in a top male's harem, so small, weaker girls still can still pass on genes.
Something similar occurs in akepa. The females who produced males earlier in the breeding season were rewarded with strong, dominant boys that had lots of kids because, in general, males are able to have more offspring than females (the whole sperm versus egg thing). Somehow, through the magic of natural selection and genetics, it became the rule. Breed early, have a boy, breed later, have a girl.
If anybody has a handle on global religious trends, it should be Tom Smith, co-founder of the International Social Survey. He's just produced a report, Religious Change Around the World, that summarizes trends gleaned from opinion survey results around the world
Well, I say summarized, but the full report is 346 pages! OK so the beef of it is in the first 16 pages - the rest of it is a torrent of data. So let me summarize it a bit more for you.
The graph shows trends of some of the key measures of religion from the major surveys - the World Values Survey, the International Social Survey, and the European Social Survey.
The data are from Table 15 in the report, and I have to warn you that it's a bit of a bodge job. The data on religion over time are patchy at best. And what Smith has done here is a simple average across countries - they aren't weighted for population, so Belgium counts as much as India.
What's more, these survey over-represent the wealthy nations. If anything, you would expect that to produce a bias in favour of a global increase in religion. That's because these countries start out less religious than average. The countries that aren't in the survey, on the other hand, tend to start out at the top end of the religion scale, so there's not much scope for them to go up.
And the national trends are all over the place. Some countries are up, and some countries are down. So the average trend doesn't tell you anything about what's happening in any one country.
Even so, there seem to be some interesting global trends. It looks like more people say that they believe in god or the afterlife, although fewer pray every day. But the number of people actively participating has slipped, and fewer people claim a religious affiliation.
Over on Science+Religion Today, Smith talks about what might be behind this apparent drop in religious membership:
Partly this is due to the fact that, over time, governments and other institutions have taken over many of the societal roles that religions used to dominate (e.g. state welfare programs vs. alms for the poor). Partly this is due to religion becoming more individualized and less institutional. And partly, it is due to the fact that society in general has changed more rapidly than religions have.