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Brave New Chimeras

Tampering with human embryonic stem cells has been at the forefront of ethical debates for a decade. Behind it, though, lurks an even more alarming prospect: the creation of human-animal hybrids. As with embryos, the appeal has been to improve human health. But ethicists ask if there is any benefit worth blurring the line between humans and animals. Pro-chimera advocates admit there is a certain “disgust” factor that could arouse public anxiety, and agree that experimentation would need to be regulated. But who would regulate the regulators, and on what moral grounds?

Earth Uniqueness Up; SETI Down

Our earth seems special – maybe because it is. Some astronomers are seriously considering that life might be rare or unique on our rare (or unique) planet. If so, hopes for finding sentient aliens on the celestial radio dial drop accordingly. The 50th anniversary of the first SETI search came, unfortunately for search enthusiasts, came at a time when funding is harder to get.

Archaeopteryx Reclassification Raises Fear of Creationists

Archaeopteryx isn’t the first bird. At least, not today. It may be reclassified again, but Xing Xu, the man who brought a panoply of “feathered dinosaurs” to the world’s attention, has announced another Chinese fossil that led him to shuffle the bird evolution tree around, putting Archaeopteryx, an “icon of evolution” since its discovery in1861, onto a branch that includes dinosaur terrors like Deinonychus. At least, today. The backstory behind the shuffling of family trees, an upset that raises questions about everything evolutionists that they knew about the evolution of birds, is political, not scientific. Evolutionists are worried about how creationists are going to “spin” the news.

Weird Evolution Tales

Evolutionary theory leads to some fantastic tales. Since evolution is often presumed to be a fact that explains everything in biology, and is itself not subject to testing or doubt, everything in biology must be viewed through an evolutionary lens. This hard-core stance on evolution often leads to assertions and explanations that appear contrived, if not preposterous, to Darwin doubters. Here are some recent examples of weird evolution stories that made it past the logic inspectors simply because evolution is unquestioned.

Water, Water Everywhere in Space

The largest mass of water has been found surrounding a black hole in a quasar 12 billion light-years away. Space.com says the cloud harbors “140 trillion times more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined.” The discovery not only that “water has been prevalent in the universe for nearly its entire existence,” but that it “was present only some 1.6 billion years after the beginning of the universe.” Alberto Bolatto, of the University of Maryland, said, "This discovery pushes the detection of water one billion years closer to the Big Bang than any previous find.” In other cosmology news:

Texas Press Perpetuates ID Myths

Some reporters refuse to listen. Advocates of intelligent design (ID) have clarified their definitions, their evidences, and their goals for years now, with numerous books, essays, web articles, papers and lectures, but the secular mainstream press continues to misrepresent their positions, and divert discussion from the issues to red herrings. A vote by the Texas School Board concerning supplementary materials to match science standards offered the latest example. The Associated Press story is filled with talking points and generalities; the Discovery Institute response is detailed and to the point, citing scientific journal references for support. Will intelligent design ever get a fair hearing in the mainstream media?

Evolutionary Psychology Is So 1980

Evolutionary psychology, popular in the 1980s, has been criticized by some evolutionists as flawed in its basic assumptions. In practice, evo-psych explanations were often so speculative, they amounted to little more than “evolutionary storytelling,” according to an article on PhysOrg. Popular articles still arise from time to time telling us that our minds evolved to cope with hunting and gathering, not the stresses of modern city life (see for instance, “Evolutionize Your Life” from the 07/14/2011 entry). A team now admits that the foundations of evolutionary psychology were always questionable. But never fear, they say: new evo psych is coming!

Science Can Be Wrong for Decades, Centuries

The history of science shows some wrong theories being accepted by leading scholars for long periods of time. Ptolemaic astronomy, unquestioned for over 1200 years, is a prime example. Not all examples are old, though. In modern times as well, scientists are finding that theories unquestioned for decades, even centuries, were wrong. That being so, what confidence can we have that today’s scientific beliefs will stand the test of time for the next decade or century? A recent spate of science articles shows some long-held theories being questioned – others being tossed overboard.

Evolutionary Contradiction As Mental Illness

In their efforts to get their theory accepted, have some evolutionists crossed the line into irrationality? It is mentally sound to espouse well-argued points of view, even if controversial. What is marginal is arguing self-contradictory beliefs. Let the reader judge whether any of these ideas from evolutionists make sense.

Plant Patterns Prolong Perplexity

Plants perform a wonder that has attracted the admiration of scholars from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome to modern times: the ability to reproduce mathematically perfect patterns. This ability, called phyllotaxis, can be described mathematically with the Fibonacci Series and the Golden Angle. The beautiful spirals in sunflowers, artichokes, cacti, dandelion heads and other plants continue to fascinate children and adults today, but those are not the only examples. Leaves on a stem can emerge in phyllotactic patterns like a spiral staircase, and depending on the environment, plants can switch patterns at different stages in development. Scientists have learned a lot about the players in the phyllotaxis game, but still do not understand the script. The details of how genes and proteins produce the patterns remain elusive.

Can evolutionary theory explain terrorism?

In military strategy, it is vital to know what the enemy is up to. Can evolutionary theory help? An interdisciplinary team at the University of Miami got their heads together and appealed to an evolutionary notion called the “Red Queen” hypothesis, and claimed it provides a “Pattern in Escalations in Insurgent and Terrorist Activity” that is neutral regarding the good guys and the bad guys. It resembles, they argue, how pedators and prey evolve in nature. They offer their model as a way military planners can have the ability “to estimate not only the number of fatalities but how often attacks that result in fatalities will take place.” They applied their pattern prediction to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. How robust is this notion, and should evolutionary theory take credit for it?

A Tale of Two Pollens

Ambiguity is a bad word in science. Scientists want to be objective. To scientific realists, scientific truth is “out there” in the world, waiting to be discovered. The 20th century tempered scientific realism somewhat from its extreme form (scientism, the belief that science is the only reliable guide to truth). Knowledgeable scientists are more or less aware of the role of paradigms, social pressure and webs of belief that can affect interpretations of scientific data. But there is still a widespread perception that science “finds” truth in the world. Whether that happens can be pondered while exploring two recent stories about fossil pollen that arrived at opposite conclusions: one (by evolutionists) that supports old-earth geology (and “climate change” politics), and one (by creationists) that undermines it, finding fundamental biases among evolutionists who refuse to accept the implications of the data.

NOMA Still Isn’t Working

Science journals and websites continue to act as if religion is a subcategory of the science department.  If Stephen Jay Gould thought that NOMA was a good idea to keep peace between science and religion (see 11/05/2006), nobody paid any attention.  Scientism has taken over the world. Teen religion:  In “Teens Maintain Their Religion,” Medical […]

Political Science 101: Doubt Scientific Claims

Science goes through a chain of messengers from data to consumer. In between are fallible scientists, who speak often in incomprehensible jargon and often only partially understand what they observe, but often wish to gain notoriety with a major discovery (or need to publish or perish). Next, the institutional press offices decide what is significant and try to digest the jargon to layman level. The predigested stories are then delivered to science reporters, who sometimes sensationalize the filtered stories to make a name for themselves. Finally, the media outlets, prone to peer biases, dress up the products to grab the eyes of readers of their newspapers, magazines, or web pages. How much of the real scientific data remains at the end of this game of Telephone? Sometimes the bias is clearly evident, but often the product is delivered with all the presumptive authority of science. Once in awhile, a reporter comes clean about the dirty work involved.

Wrong Again: Planetologists Embarrassed

In most careers, being wrong too often is grounds for dismissal. False prophets in ancient kingdoms were stoned or shamed out of town. Only in science, it seems, can experts consistently get it wrong, and not only keep their jobs, but be highly esteemed as experts. Among the guiltiest of the lot are planetary scientists, whose predictions have been consistently wrong for almost every planetary body studied since the dawn of the space age. Their orbital mechanics is solid; they do get their spacecraft to arrive at the right place at the right time with uncanny accuracy. But what the missions reveal is often completely different from what scientists had told the public they expected to find. This has been true of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, comets, asteroids, and most of the moons of the solar system, where hasty revisions have had to be made after spacecraft data falsified the predictions. Here are some recent examples of “theory fail” in planetary science.
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