Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday beautiful science

Today's Friday beautiful science comes from the book Evolution by Jean-Baptiste De Panafieu. As described:

Each chapter is made up of a short text that illuminates one theme of the evolutionary process-repetition, adaptation, polymorphism, sexual selection-and a series of exquisitely composed photographs of skeletons against a black background. Approximately three hundred photographs of whole skeletons or details have been made possible by the French National Museum of Natural History. The reader learns, by experiencing each text and photograph together, how the structure of every creature has been shaped by its environmental and genetic inheritance.
This one's on my Christmas list.

More photos below.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Do you suppose the Disco Institute will pay?

Do you suppose the Discovery Institute will offer to pay the legal fees of the teachers who take their advice?

The Dover decision was not appealed, and so it is not a binding legal precedent anywhere outside of the Dover school district.

It seems they're inciting schools to test the legal waters. Would you be willing to bet a million dollars on the Disco Institute's legal advice?


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

74th Skeptics' Circle

The turkey edition of the Skeptics' Circle is now up at Med Journal Watch. Go have a gander.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Judgment Day on NOVA

This show was fantastic. It's a look into the trial of Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board, and all the politics, religion and science that went into the trial. For anyone who missed the story, the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania tried to insert a disclaimer into science classes saying that evolution was "just a theory" and that they should look to the book Pandas and People (a creationist text) for alternative "theories".

You can watch the whole documentary here.

Do watch it, but keep this one, teeny, tiny complaint in mind. They present some of the science as if we've just recently sewn up the theory of evolution. Not true. It's been pretty clear that the theory of evolution is the best description for the origin of species on earth for decades. Recent data is just re-confirming the theory of evolution by natural selection over and over and over coming in from completely new angles (i.e. the mountain of data in support of evolution is just getting even more massive). Anyway, watch it, you'll be glad you did.


Monday, November 19, 2007

The creationists still don't get it.

Uncommon Descent is trumpeting the release of another book. They still don't get it:

Critics, in dismissing The Design of Life, contend that intelligent design has collapsed in the wake of the 2005 Dover trial. Author William Dembski responded, “Those same people have been announcing intelligent design’s demise every year since 1990. Strangle it as they might, intelligent design just won’t die. The Design of Life shows why the better arguments and stronger evidence are now on the intelligent design side.” According to FTE president Jon Buell, The Design of Life is not intended for high school students; it is aimed rather at college/university students and adults who want a clearer understanding of why a growing number of scientists doubt Darwin.
But... But...

They couldn't get scientists to take them seriously by writing books for high school kids, so they're going to write books for college kids? This is the approach that they want to take? Oy.

This is the reason scientists don't take them seriously. This is it, folks. If you've never heard it before, this is why. They're not engaging scientists. They're not doing experiments. They aren't testing hypotheses. They aren't writing papers for scientists. They aren't trying to change scientists' minds. They're writing books for kids. (Writing books for kids is important for the future of science, mind you, but it's not where paradigms are upset).

I think it's worth highlighting what stevestory wrote today at AtBC:
On some imaginary day in the future when I have a lot of free time, I'm going to write a long essay contrasting the basic features of scientific revolutions with those of fraudulent pseudoscience. I've read quite a bit about scientific revolutions, from Relativity to H. Pylori to The Barker Hypothesis, and a fair amount about quackery. In the meantime, here's the summary:

Revolutionary Science:
*(Usually) Expert in the field has great idea
*Expert faces lots of hostility and even gets papers rejected
*Expert works hard to gather more data or convince community
*In a few years community rapidly converts
*Tons and tons of normal science is made possible and done in a few short years

(Usually) Non-Expert has idea
*Non-Expert faces lots of hostility and gets papers rejected
*Non-Expert babbles for a long time, no one is convinced
*Non-Expert figures out a way to sucker a bunch of laymen, and claims conspiracy
*Years go by, the scientific community's still not remotely convinced
*No normal science is made possible by quack idea

anybody familiar with science can tell which one ID resembles.

Mister DNA writes:
I get such a Pinky and the Brain vibe from IDiots. Their plans to defeat Evilution/Darwinism/Materialism never involve something like... oh, I dunno... research; it's always:

1) This press release will be the death of Darwinism!

2) We'll let 9th Grade biology students decide!

3) The mere existence of this "lab" will be a crushing defeat for materialism; we won't even need to do any research! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!one!eleventy!

4) As this flash animation demonstrates, judges aren't qualified to rule on whether or not ID is science.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday beautiful science

For the second week in a row, the Friday beautiful science comes from the Japanese moon orbiter Kaguya/Selene. They caught this beautiful photo of the earth rising over the horizon of the moon. Very pretty. They also have a short movie on their site that they've shown in HD on TV programs in Japan and Canada (hopefully soon here in the U.S. as well).

I confess, I'm a tiny bit disappointed with the Japanese Space Agency, however. Unlike NASA, they don't seem to release full resolution photos. Just these low to medium resolution jpegs, marked with the copyright. It's a pity, because I'm just nerd enough to print these types of photos, frame them and hang them in my house, and this photo is barely high enough resolution to make a decent sized print. I think NASA makes a great choice by distributing high resolution photos as a public relations tool to get folks excited about their work. JAXA should do the same.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fox News Porn

You know, I hate to make it look like I only think Fox News isn't a credible news source (as it happens, I'm not all the fond of CNN, either). It's just Fox News is the easier target, and sometimes I feel a little lazy...

As Marge Simpson (from the future) says:

"Fox turned into a hard-core porn network so gradually, I didn't even notice!"
Well, in case you didn't notice, here's a few clips from Fox News for you:


We should be screaming.

This news is disturbing. George Bush just vetoed a bill that included a $1 billion dollar increase to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget (increasing the NIH budget from $29 to $30 billion). That's a 3.45% increase in the budget. Keep in mind, that throughout 2007, the rate of inflation has been between 2 and 3%. This is barely keeping up with inflation. In fact, the current NIH funding level is *lower* than it was in 2003 (when adjusted for inflation). That's right, the president thinks that paying for research for cancer, HIV and bird flu is unimportant.

The money quote?

In a statement released by the White House after Bush vetoed the bill, the president decried the Democrat-led Congress for engaging in what he called a "spending spree," and said that the legislative majority was "acting like a teenager with a new credit card."
Wow. Cancer research is what a teenager spends his/her money on. That's simply amazing.

I love that the work that I do is considered unimportant by George Bush.

Meanwhile? The direct costs of the Iraq war are up to $468 billion dollars. And counting.

Good work, George.

via Pharyngula


Quote of the day

The great tragedy of Science - the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.
- Thomas H. Huxley

(As an aside, the most beautiful hypotheses I've had in my career have all turned out to be wrong. Pity.)


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fox News Misleads - go figure.

Fox News misleads in the title and lead of their article:

Government Report: More Military Deaths in Some Years of Peace Than War:
More active members of the military died during two years of peacetime in the early 1980s than died during a two-year period of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a government report.
But then buries the truth later in the article:
"Let's not somehow pretend or try to convey the false impression that being at war is being safer than being at peace, of course not," said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.

"If we stopped these wars we would cut back our annual military fatalities by close to a thousand people, and that's just simple arithmetic."

The numbers, which outline active-duty deaths from 1980 to 2006, show a steady decline in accidents.
Demonstrating that Fox News is barely better than Red State at presenting the facts. Shame on you, Fox News.


Friday, November 9, 2007

Friday beautiful science - WOW!

Holy smokes! This image comes from the recent Japanese mission to the moon. They've put a satellite up around the moon with all kinds of crazy imaging equipment. Check out these images!

Absolutely amazing! And this is just from the first few weeks. They should have all kinds of crazy stuff in the weeks to come. They also released this movie taken of the surface of the moon. Apparently somebody on Youtube released it early, because the release date on Youtube is a week earlier than the press release date:



Thursday, November 8, 2007

Judgment Day - Terminator 4

This PBS documentary about the Dover Intelligent Design lawsuit will be showing on PBS next Tuesday at 8. The preview seems a little over the top (the voiceover makes it sound like we'll be seeing a giant man-eating Dembski-robot shooting flames out of his mouth all over the city of Dover). But the show should prove entertaining. Fire up your TiVo.


73rd Skeptics' Circle

The 73rd Skeptics' Circle is up at Holford Watch. Go have a gander.


Friday, November 2, 2007

Animal rights nuts trash researcher's home

Via Mark Hoofnagle at Denialism:

The latest pathetic assault on a scientist came from ALF against UCLA scientist Edyth London. Using a garden hose they flooded her home, causing tens of thousands in damage. However, rather than intimidating her out of performing research in addiction she has written an article for the LA Times, defending animal research.
She writes:
For years, I have watched with growing concern as my UCLA colleagues have been subjected to increasing harassment, violence and threats by animal rights extremists. In the last 15 months, these attempts at intimidation have included the placement of a Molotov cocktail-type device at a colleague's home and another under a colleague's car -- thankfully, they didn't ignite -- as well as rocks thrown through windows, phone and e-mail threats, banging on doors in the middle of the night and, on several occasions, direct confrontations with young children.

Then, several weeks ago, an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about the work I have been doing to understand and treat nicotine addition among adolescents informed readers that some of my research is done on primates. I was instantly on my guard. Would I be the next victim? Would the more extremist elements of the animal rights movement now turn their sights on me?

The answer came this week when the Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for vandalism that caused between $20,000 and $30,000 worth of damage to my home after extremists broke a window and inserted a garden hose, flooding the interior. Later, in a public statement addressed to me, the extremists said they had been torn between flooding my house or setting it afire. Maybe I should feel lucky.

Having come to the United States as the child of Holocaust survivors who had lost almost everything, I appreciate that perhaps "only in America" could I have fulfilled my dream of becoming a biomedical scientist, supported in doing research to reduce human suffering. But it is difficult for me to understand why the same country that was founded on the idea of freedom for all gives rise to an organization like the Animal Liberation Front, a shadowy group identified by the FBI as a domestic terrorism threat, which threatens the safety of researchers engaged in animal studies that are crucial to moving medicine forward.

I have devoted my career to understanding how nicotine, methamphetamine and other drugs can hijack brain chemistry and leave the affected individual at the mercy of his or her addiction. My personal connection to addiction is rooted in the untimely death of my father, who died of complications of nicotine dependence. My work on the neurobiology of addiction has spanned three decades of my life -- most of this time as a senior scientist at the National Institutes of Health. To me, nothing could be more important than solving the mysteries of addiction and learning how we can restore a person's control over his or her own life. Addiction robs young people of their futures, destroys families and places a tremendous burden on society.

Animal studies allow us to test potential treatments without confounding factors, such as prior drug use and other experiences that complicate human studies. Even more important, they allow us to test possibly life-saving treatments before they are considered safe to test in humans. Our animal studies address the effects of chronic drug use on brain functions, such as decision-making and self-control, that are impaired in human addicts. We are also testing potential treatments, and all of our studies comply with federal laws designed to ensure humane care.

While monkeys receive drugs in the laboratory, they do not become "addicted" in the same sense that humans become addicted. Still, we are able to see how changes in brain chemistry alter the way the brain works -- knowledge that is vital to the design of effective medications.

My colleagues and I place a huge value on the welfare of our research subjects. We constantly strive to minimize the risk to them; however, a certain amount of risk is necessary to provide us with the information we need in a rigorously scientific manner. Since the incident at my house, our research has gotten a lot of attention. Some anti-smoking groups have raised questions about the fact that our work was funded by Philip Morris USA. Is it moral to allow the tobacco industry to fund research on addiction? My view is that the problem of tobacco dependence is enormous, and the resources available for research on the problem are limited. It would, therefore, be immoral to decline an opportunity to increase our knowledge about addiction and develop new treatments for quitting smoking, especially when teens are involved. Few people are untouched by the scourge of addiction in their friends or family. It is through work like ours that the understanding of addiction expands and gives rise to hope that we can help people like my father live longer, healthier lives.

Thousands of other scientists use laboratory animals in other research, giving hope to those afflicted with a wide variety of ailments. Already, one scientist at UCLA has announced that he will not pursue potentially important studies involving how the brain receives information from the retina, for fear of the violence that animal rights radicals might visit on his family. We must not allow these extremists to stop important research that advances the human condition.
Bravo to her for standing up to these bullies.


Friday beautiful science

In honor of Hallowe'en (just passed) I present to you this photo of the oldest known bat fossil and is between 30 and 60 million years old. This fossil was found in the Green River Formation in the area that now makes up Colorado and Utah.