Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Brian Cox: What really goes on at the Large Hadron Collider

Brian Cox is a brilliant speaker. I don't have too much to comment on since I'm not a physicist. Just watch the video; you'll be glad you did.

The stupid! It burns!!

Evil Incarnate Ben Stein was interviewed...this means that he invariably said some incredibly stupid and offensive things. Let's have a look, shall we? (the following are all quotes from Stein)

"...the evidence does not take you to Darwinism about, uh, about, uh, as to the foundations of life. Darwin just had nothing to say about that. The evidence doesn’t take you to Darwinism about astronomy or about the laws of physics or of thermodynamics."

This is like beating a dead horse, but it's just so wrong that I can't stop whining every time someone is this dumb. First: "Darwinism about?" That doesn't even mean anything, demonstrating yet again that Stein has absolutely no clue what he's talking about. Also, evolution (I assume that's what he means by "Darwinism," though that's hardly an appropriate name for the theory anymore), of course, has nothing at all to do with astronomy or the laws of physics. Perhaps he should next make a documentary about how "Big String Theory" is expelling any scientist who dares to suggest that the laws of physics were actually put in place by an intelligent designer.

"When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. [PZ] Myers, talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed."

This is just way too out there. How can any sane person say that? I'll just refer you to PZ since he's the one who was of talking about science?

"Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people."

Compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and fanaticism and dogma leads you to killing people.

There, I fixed it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Civil Rights for the New Century

The US Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would bar discrimination on the basis of genetic test results. It still needs to pass the House and Dubya before it's a law, but I can't imagine either of them could find any reason to take issue with it.

This is a good idea, and a surprising example of foresight from the US legislature. Now that it is feasible for people to have their entire genome sequenced, there are all sorts of things to worry about for those that choose to have it done. Will employers refuse to hire you if it looks like you may develop a neurodegenerative within the next decade? Will you be charged a higher premium on health insurance, or denied it altogether, if you carry a gene for a late-onset disease? This law will help to prevent those kinds of things from happening.

On the same token, it does open the door to some dishonesty from patients. If you know that you're going to get sick and need some very expensive treatment sometime soon based on genetic evidence, then you'll go out of your way to make sure you get health insurance that covers the exact treatments you'll need. Right now, it's kind of a gamble - what do you want to protect yourself against? Do you spring for coverage of the rare disease that you may or may not have? With genetic evidence in your hands, you'll have much better information than the insurance companies, and they could stand to lose a lot of money. Yes, I realize that they exist to pay out money for medical procedures, but when the customers know exactly what they're going to need and about when they'll need it, that could throw a serious monkey wrench into the economy.

This bill is definitely a step in the right direction, but as science creates new frontiers, we are going to need to do a whole lot more thinking about the social and economic implications of those frontiers and do some tricky legislating to make sure everything still works. I haven't a clue what the best way is to handle the potential exploitation of insurance companies by their own customers. I suppose that may be an argument in favor of socialized medicine in the future. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Texans is Smrt

Texas has denied the Institute for Creation Research's request to begin offering online master's degrees in science education. Bravo! According to the Associated Press, the CEO of the institute said that the curriculum would include evolution as well as Bible-based alternatives, but also - and pay attention to this - that "students and faculty in the institute must profess faith in a literal translation of Biblical creation, that God created the world in six days and that the Earth is much newer than evolutionary science suggests."

There goes any chance that they had at convincing anyone at all that they're just trying to find a good scientific alternative to evolutionary theory. Far from teaching "both sides of the issue," (never mind that reality only has one side: the real one) it seems this program would actually require its students to come to a conclusion before ever learning anything, exactly what IDers accuse "evolutionists" of doing! And I suspect, probably correctly based on the decision of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, that very little learning would happen even after they entered the program anyway. I find it interesting that they admit their goal so openly this time; it's a level of honesty I have not yet seen from the ICR.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Holy aged tree! Wait...

...not holy. Not at all. It must have been planted by Satan himself.

It seems that Methuselah, the 4,768 year old bristlecone pine in California, has been dethroned by an even older tree. A cluster of spruces was recently discovered on Fulu Mountain in Sweden, all of which appear to be at least 8,000 years old. The granddaddy of the bunch is 9,550. Apparently, the stems (trunks) of these trees only last about 600 years, but after the trunk dies a new one can sprout from the same old root system. Pretty cool, first of all because it is, and second of all because now we have something else to wave in front of the face of any silly young Earth creationist who tries to argue that Methuselah's age coincides with Noah's flood so it proves his inane literal interpretation of the Bible.

Friday, April 18, 2008

That's Just Sick

In a video that can be seen here Ben Stein, narrator of the propaganda movie Expelled, which comes out today, asserts his belief that, if the theory of evolution is correct, then genocide is completely justifiable. I suggest you wait for it to load and skip straight to 20:30, where the remark in question is, because watching the 20 minutes before that may render you significantly stupider.

This presupposes some pretty ridiculous things. The central assumption is that evolution is incompatible with a belief in God. Even if you do believe in God (or any number of gods or other higher power(s)), why could they/He have not created the universe, beginning at the Big Bang, and left it to the laws of physics, having set it up specifically so that humans would evolve? Is Ben Stein willing to swear that his God, an all-powerful being that can do anything He wishes, somehow lacks the foresight to set up a system that will yield humans billions of years later? Somehow, He isn't smart enough to do that, so humans must be created in their present state? Whatever.

Also, how is it that knowledge that there is no creator leads to immorality in the first place? It's telling that creationists are the ones exploiting genocide to further their own political agendas, and intelligent people are the ones who are outraged at the callous disregard for human suffering. I'm not really sure what to argue against here, because the ID crowd simply asserts that no theism=no conscience. I haven't seen any supporting explanation to debunk.

If we are to take Expelled as the standard of Christian morality, I should think that a great many people would be opposed to this "Christianity" thing, because it's obviously nothing more than a school for training ignorant (or willfully deceitful), bigoted sociopaths. Of course, the IDiots are not representative of mainstream Christianity. But considering how loud they squawk about everything, that may come as a surprise to many.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


I know that picking on Expelled is old news now, but this latest stupidity made my head reel.

First of all, the ID goons are still grossly simplifying the issue, according to a synopsis of their movie which speaks of "Charles Darwin's 150-year-old theories about the origins of life." Any informed reader is surely aware that Darwin was merely one of the first ones to propose a mechanism for evolution which had already been observed to happen (Darwin did not, to my knowledge, propose any theory concerning the origins of life). Our understanding of the mechanism today barely resembles Darwin's theories at all. For example, genetics provides mountains of evidence for current evolutionary theory, and Darwin was blissfully unaware of DNA. Chronic liar and "Expelled" producer Mark Mathis also whines that "They [opponents of his film] cannot tolerate the connection "Expelled" draws between Darwinism and Adolf Hitler."

Well, yeah.

That would be like if I made a film that concluded that Christianity causes people to want to burn other people, and then I was confused when Christians were angry about it.

On a lighter, and cooler, note, I attended the Experimental Biology 2008 conference last weekend. As an undergraduate student who can't miss very much class, I was unable to do much more than present my poster on mitochondrial DNA damage caused by gamma radiation and see a few talks, but what I did see was pretty interesting. First and foremost, it was very helpful to talk to other scientists, some of whom specialized in areas related to my research, and get ideas for new lines of inquiry or new methods for future work. The other neat thing was a symposium on low-carb diets moderated by Richard Feinman (sweet name for a scientist, eh?) of SUNY Downstate Medical Center. There were some convincing presentations suggesting that carbohydrate-restricted diets may be a useful treatment for type I diabetes mellitus and certain metabolic disorders. Some of it was a bit difficult to follow (I'm only an undergrad, and not even a senior at that), but from my admittedly rudimentary understanding of the intricacies of metabolism, what they were saying seemed to make sense. I was disappointed that the data were mostly concerned with proving that their diets worked, rather than the mechanisms by which they worked, but I suppose that's the nature of clinical research. Maybe I'll take up some of those topics someday, if they haven't been claimed by other scientists by then. It seems like the field of metabolism is attracting quite a lot of attention lately.

Oh, and also, Ikaruga was released on XBOX Live Arcade on Wednesday. I excitedly downloaded the demo, recalling the hours I spent with this game back on Dreamcast. Sadly, I still suck at it, so I probably won't bother buying it, only to have it sit there and taunt me with achievements that I cannot achieve (besides, I still have a perfectly good Dreamcast to play it on).

Thursday, April 3, 2008

I feel...empty

I apologize to anyone who read the title of this post and expected an angsty teen depression-log; the emptiness referred to is not in the dark abyss of my tortured soul, but rather in...wherever indignant anger lives. I started this blog because I've noticed that any blog or website I've read so far claiming to be written by a Christian and which also addresses the topic of science seems to be authored by someone who falls into one of the following three categories:

1) a liar who make disingenuous or misleading claims to support their preconceived notion of reality
2) someone who has not done the proper research, and therefore draws naive and incorrect conclusions based on incomplete data
3) someone who is certifiably, frothing-at-the-mouth insane

Furthermore, any blog I've seen which addresses science in an intelligent manner, and which seems to be written by someone who is actually intelligent and educated in the topic of which they claim knowledge is written by an atheist.

That sucks.

There's nothing wrong with being an atheist, but the fact that the loudest Christians (in the United States, I can't claim knowledge of other countries) are also some of the most ill-informed, offensive, arrogant voices out there paints a very vivid picture for anyone who may be watching: atheists are smart, Christians are morons. This simply isn't true, but this idea has become pervasive, and will remain so, as long as every Christian that someone hears about spends all his/her time spewing anti-science garbage, pretending to "refute" scientific claims with made-up or misquoted sources, and sometimes (more often in some cases than in others) even outright lies.

This isn't a dichotomy, of course; nothing is. I created this blog because I fall into neither of these categories (anti-science creation nut or atheist), and I'm sure there are many others who hold a variety of views on faith and science. I found one blog recently written by a "secular Christian" that looks interesting. I haven't had time to read it yet, but the "about" page is intriguing at least. The problem, as I stated earlier, is that it seems like the loudest Christians are the loonies. Maybe the voices of a large number of us moderates can drown out the shrill shrieks of stupidity.

Now, this blog will not be focused primarily on issues of "creation vs. evolution" and the like. I'm going to write about whatever I feel like, from video games I'm playing to books I'm reading to anything interesting happening in the news. The point is just to show that someone can be a scientist and a Christian, and even believe in all that fancy evidence too.

So, back to the title. I guess I did write a bit, but when I decided to create a blog I was feeling really indignant about something or other that some stupid creationist said. Now that I've committed myself to write something about it, there's really nothing bothering me at the moment. I'm empty of annoyance. Oh well, I guess that's not really anything to complain about. I'll just end it here, and hope that someday I manage to post something that's interesting to someone.