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SETI Finds Intelligent Humans

The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is 50 years old this year. SETI’s latest scientific discovery was the detection of a human-made satellite in Earth orbit. In a sense, this counts as a success: the detection of a signal of intelligent origin from an extra-terrestrial source (beyond terra firma). The false alarm helped calibrate the instrumentation, but did little to garner support for the effort to find aliens. The SETI Institute was all SETI-ready to party hardy at the 50th anniversary of Frank Drake’s first search, but instead, found itself struggling to keep its doors open after a severe shortfall of private funds, highlighting questions about the scientific status of the long-shot project.

Science Grab Bag

Here's a random assortment of things floating around in the science news media – some fascinating, some informative, some disgusting. We’ll let the readers decide which is which. Since it’s Friday the 13th, a day to enjoy like any other day, we’ll give you a baker’s dozen to sample.

Tilt-A-World: Another Constraint on Habitability

Did you ever ride a Tilt-A-Whirl, one of those cheap carnival rides that makes you dizzy and sick? Our planet would be like that if its inclination were out of control. Without tilt stability, a new study reveals, we wouldn't be sick, we'd be dead, or never alive in the first place. It's not enough to be in the Habitable Zone. Would-be inhabited planets need to avoid a new problem, called “tilt erosion.”

Cosmologists Forced to “In the Beginning”

The late astronomer Robert Jastrow detailed in his 1978 book God and the Astronomers how cosmologists were repulsed by the idea the universe had a beginning. He found it quizzical that they would have such an emotional reaction. They all realized that a beginning out of nothing was implausible without a Creator. Since then, various models allowing for an eternal universe brought secular cosmologists relief from their emotional pains. It now appears that relief was premature.

What Do Scientists Know About Prehistory?

Evolutionary biologists and geologists speak of events happening millions or billions of years ago as concrete facts. They are not observational facts, though; they are inferences from indirect evidence. Indirect evidence can often lead to different conclusions; in fact, some philosophers like Duhem and Quine argue for “under-determination of theory by data,” meaning that data can never converge to support just one theory. Some can demonstrate logically that there are an infinite number of theories that can explain a set of data. Evolutionary scientists counter that there are only one or a few that are reasonable (implying that theirs is among the limited set of reasonable ones). Recent discoveries that threaten to overturn past reasonable theories, though, cast doubt on their confidence.

Body Talk

Scientists sometimes just prove the obvious, like that men and women are different. If we can talk body without talking bawdy, there are some new discoveries about body works that should put a spring in your step today about how your body works.

A Young Moon for Life

Our moon is unique in the solar system. Just the right size and just the right distance, it is positioned to stabilize the tilt of Earth’s axis, providing stable seasonal cycles. Science lacks data so far to know just how unique the Earth-moon relationship in a habitable zone is among other stellar systems. We know from the planets of our own solar system that moons come in all sizes, from tiny Deimos to massive Titan, and orbit in apparently arbitrary radii from their host planets. What astrophysicists can do is predict what would happen on earth if things were different. That’s what one scientist did. Another discovery could change the view of the moon’s surface being unaltered for billions of years.

Cells Optimize Their Tasks

The key to design in manufacturing is optimization – hitting the “sweet spot” between competing interests. It’s not always possible to have all the elements of a product be ideal. A laptop computer, for instance, can’t have an extra-large monitor and simultaneously have long battery life and compact design. A muscle car cannot be expected to have the best gas mileage. In the heyday of “faster, better, cheaper” spacecraft, engineers often joked, “pick any two.” In the same way, living cells have to optimize their operations. A couple of recent papers explore how they find that sweet spot.

Dino Expert Plays Chicken

Jack Horner, the dinosaur hunter who was science advisor to the Jurassic Park movies, wants to create a real dinosaur. He won’t use the movie method, trying to extract blood from Jurassic amber, because “DNA degrades too quickly,” he said. But he has a method he thinks will work: un-evolve a chicken back into its dinosaur ancestor.

Humans Evolved from Pigeons

Experiments with pigeons show that their intelligence matches or exceeds that of chimpanzees. If evolutionists can infer that chimpanzees are our closest living relatives based on intelligence, why wouldn’t it be just as logical to infer that humans evolved from birds? As some recent articles show, such a whimsical story does not exceed in silliness what some evolutionists actually do claim.

Naturalizing Miracles, or Miracle-izing Nature?

Certain scientists feel a need to explain all phenomena by means of natural processes, including reports of miracles. The word “natural,” however, is slippery, taking on a variety of meanings. Is scientific reasoning, for instance, natural? If so, it is not composed of atoms and forces acting according to “natural law.” Is it possible that the tables can be turned on the naturalizers, to rescue Christmas from materialist re-interpretation?

Human Variability Can Be Rapid

All living humans are interfertile – one species by definition. People from all parts of the globe can marry and have children, even though global travel is relatively recent in human history. Yet we know there is considerable variability between tribes and nationalities. Does this variability take millions of years? Does it lead to the origin of new human species? Recent evidence shows that variations can be rapid, both genetic and acquired, without reducing interfertility.

Philosophy on the Phringe

Some philosophy is just common sense. Some is abstruse, recondite, and technically challenging. But when employed against common sense, such as to support the belief that everything came from nothing, philosophy can get downright weird.

Hopping Fish and Other Darwin Mysteries

The chieftans of evolutionary theory insist that their doctrines have come a long way since Darwin. Discoveries in molecular biology, population genetics, biogeography, paleontology have left the Victorian concepts of evolution outdated and antiquated, they would say. Yet a look at the evolutionary literature shows otherwise. Simplistic just-so stories, Darwinian phrases like “survival of the fittest” and “missing link,” iconic fossils, and antiquated principles continue to be the rule, as the following articles illustrate.

Biomimetics for Your Christmas Wish List

Biomimetics (the imitation of nature) continues to promise cool gadgets and useful materials that will someday yield prized gifts under the tree. Some of them might even save your life.
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