Monday, March 31, 2008


One of the predictions of creationism intelligent design is that the hand of God the intelligent designer will be found in creation in the Design.

Well, I have finally found it. And wouldn't Behe be impressed, I found it in Plasmodium yoelli, a malarial parasite that infects rodents. Just like Craig Venter, who inscribed his name into the organism that he designed, God the Intelligent Designer placed his watermark on the chromosome of that totally improbable rodent parasite, Plasmodium. Are you ready? This is what he wrote:

It's found in the impossibly large hypothetical protein PY01329 in Plasmodium yoelli. GodThe Disembodied Telic entity has marked his work in there. And he did it *before* Craig Venter did it. And in the 3rd person. So there.

(Note: Searches for GODDIDIT so far haven't found any perfect matches, but give me time and a few more genomic sequences, and we'll find it)

For those folks totally lacking a sense of humor - I'm being sarcastic. While this sequence of amino acids is in the genome of the Plasmodium parasite, it is not an indication of God'sthe Designer's hand.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday beautiful science

Today's Friday Beautiful Science comes from the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute. They're genetically engineering mosquitoes, with the hopes of making a malaria resistant mosquito. See more pictures here.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

83rd Skeptics' Circle

This week's Skeptics' Circle is up at Mike's Weekly Skeptic Rant. Go have a gander, and win Ben Stein's Knickers!


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Please, pretty please, read my blog?

An Open Letter to PZ,

funny pictures

I'm just begging for more traffic. It's worked for others, why not for me?


Deathstar Troofers Unite!

Deathstar troofers:

We’ve all heard the “official conspiracy theory” of the Death Star attack. We all know about Luke Skywalker and his ragtag bunch of rebels, how they mounted a foolhardy attack on the most powerful, well-defended battle station ever built. And we’ve all seen the video over, and over, and over, of the one-in-a-million shot that resulted in a massive chain reaction that not just damaged, but completely obliterated that massive technological wonder.

Like many citizens of the Empire, I was fed this story when I was growing up. But as I watched the video, I began to realize that all was not as it seemed. And the more I questioned the official story, the deeper into the rabbit hole I went.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Death strike to my naiveté

I don't like to think of myself as naive. Who does? But this has been an eye opener for me.

When I first started following the evolution/creationism 'debate', I thought that the creationists were merely mistaken. I was raised a Christian, and while my immediate family aren't biblical literalists, many of my aunts and uncles are. I understand these people. I was raised as one of them. And I discovered, through science, that many of the suppositions that these people hold are incorrect.

That said, I assumed that all creationists were merely incorrect. I didn't like folks who railed against the dishonesty of creationists. After all, many of my family are creationists, and I don't think they're dishonest.

But professional creationists are of a completely other breed. These people lie for a living. If you doubt it, take a look at the recent movie "Expelled". It's a movie that portrays creationists as martyrs to an unkind establishment (see quote at the top of my blog about unkind establishments). Currently, they're offering free showings of this movie to the public, all you have to do is sign up on their website. It's free. I've been thinking of going. The only restrictions listed are:

Please fill out one entry form per attendee. Once confirmed, your name will be on a list at the door of the theater. IDs will be checked.

For security, no bags, cell phones, or recording devices of any kind will be allowed into the theater. Please leave them in your car.
That's it. Recently, PZ Myers registered to go, and then was stopped at the door, and told he couldn't enter. Juvenile, right? Fine. His guest, Richard Dawkins, was allowed in.

Look what professional creationists say about it:
Amazingly, the best selling Oxford scientist/author Richard Dawkins also crashed a showing of Expelled in Minnesota last night
Crashed? Crashed? Come on, he registered and showed his ID at the door.
Dawkins apparently acknowledged that he had not been invited and did not have a ticket. A sophomoric side to his ideological campaign is thus revealed.
He acknowledged he wasn't invited? Likely none of the other people were either. You can register to go on their website. Are you trying to be dishonest?

When even little details like these get twisted and embellished, one wonders what credibility they have at all.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Expelled, the musical!

Okay, this deserves all kinds of linkage. It contains humiliation! Armed guards! Nazis! (No, really, it contains Nazis. Well, it contains footage of Nazis). The makers of the pseudo-scientific "Expelled" movie tossed PZ Myers out of the movie (and he's even a subject in the movie!). Or, rather, they Expelled him. Oh the irony! Very funny! Read it! Link it! This deserves to be widely read!


Friday beautiful science

Okay, I've been doing a lot of astronomy photos for my Friday's, but it's only because those damn astronomers have been pumping out all kinds of great photos. This photo comes from the Cassini probe. From the Jet Propulsion Lab:

Cassini's March 2008 flyby of Enceladus was designed to directly investigate the ongoing plume activity at the moon's south pole, but the path of the spacecraft allowed investigation of older evidence for internal activity near the north pole.

Compared to much of the moon's southern hemisphere—the south polar region in particular—the north polar region is much older and covered with craters. These craters are captured at different stages of disruption and alteration by tectonic activity and probably past heating from below. Many of the craters seen here are sliced by small parallel cracks that seem to be ubiquitous throughout the old cratered terrains on Enceladus. The mosaic also shows a variety of impact crater shapes, some with bowed-up floors and smaller craters within, very likely indicating that the icy crust in this area was at some time warmer than at present. While this conclusion was previously reached from NASA Voyager spacecraft images, these new data provide a much more detailed look at the fractures that modify the surface. This data will give a significantly improved comparison of the geologic history at the satellite's north pole with that at the south pole.
Hat tip to Emily.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday beautiful science

Today's Friday beautiful science comes from an 5200-year old Assyrian bowl, with the oldest known moving animation:

The artefact bears five images depicting a wild goat jumping up to eat the leaves of a tree, which the members of the team at that time had not recognised the relationship between the pictures.

Several years later,Iranian archaeologist Dr Mansur Sadjadi, who became later appointed as the new director of the archaeological team working at the Burnt City discovered that the pictures formed a related series.
I wasn't able to upload the movie (darn blogger) I was able to convert the movie to an mpg, Blogger still hates this movie, but you can watch it in it's original form at Millard Fillmore's Bathtub or the Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies. Very cool!


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Science is a crazy business.

What a strange business this is: We stay in school forever. We have to battle the system with only a one in eight or one in ten chance of getting funded. We give up making a living until our forties. And we do it because we want to help the world. What kind of crazy person would go for that?
Nancy Andrews, M.D., Ph.D.
Dean, Duke University Medical School

Via Orac, I learned of this new lobbying effort to increase NIH funding. argues that a generation of researchers will be lost if we don't fix the NIH. They're right.

Currently, universities aren't hiring new researchers. They're poaching researchers from other universities. So folks in a position like me, where they're finishing a post-doc, and starting to look for work, are in the position that there are no new jobs available. It's a crazy time. Read more here.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

82nd Skeptics' Circle.

The 82nd Skeptics' Circle is up at Happy Jihad's House of Pancakes. Go take a gander.


Sex Conspiracy!

political statement?
Originally uploaded by kerusdotorg
Okay, this isn't really relevant, but it made me laugh, and is in reference to the Larry Craig scandal.

(Cue Eliot Spitzer jokes for fair and balanced joking).

(Edited for clarity).


Monday, March 10, 2008

John McCain is anti-science.

I wrote last week how John McCain has no plan for science. This week, we discover via the Washington Post that he points to basic science studies as a waste of money:

The federal government, he declares with horror and astonishment, has spent $3 million to study grizzly bear DNA. "I don't know if it was a paternity issue or criminal," he jokes, "but it was a waste of money."
Head over to the Washington Post for the whole story.


Oklahoma turns to relativistic, post-modern theocracy

The Oklahoma state legislature is in the process of passing a bill that codifies a student's right to remain ignorant - so long as they have a religious reason for doing so.

From ERV:

The bill requires public schools to guarantee students the right to express their religious viewpoints in a public forum, in class, in homework and in other ways without being penalized. If a student’s religious beliefs were in conflict with scientific theory, and the student chose to express those beliefs rather than explain the theory in response to an exam question, the student’s incorrect response would be deemed satisfactory, according to this bill.
Yow. So as long as you say your God told you that 1 + 1 = 3, you get to have the right answer.

From the actual text of the bill, HB2211:
Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Homework and classroom assignments shall be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school district. Students shall not be penalized or rewarded on account of the religious content of their work. (my bold)
I think Oklahoma's in for some good, old-fashioned grade inflation.
"No, all of my answers on all of my tests are divinely inspired. I get an A+"
I can't wait until some Buddhists, Sikhs and Rastafarians sue for their right under this law to answer their own creation stories in science class. I find this bill *very* funny.

Clearly, the good Oklahoma Legislature isn't busy with anything important.


Teach the controversy!

It's a conspiracy!


Friday, March 7, 2008

Friday beautiful science

Today's Friday beautiful science is us. Here's a shot of our tiny little planet, as seen from Mars. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HIRISE) is orbiting Mars:

Launched in August 2005, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) is flying onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) mission. HiRISE will investigate deposits and landforms resulting from geologic and climatic processes and assist in the evaluation of candidate landing sites.
But in this particular image, they've pointed their cameras at earth to get a shot of the earth and the moon.

As an aside, I wanted to put this shot down as the Friday beautiful science this week, but Mrs. Factician thinks it's too difficult to look at. I'll let you be the judge.

This is another shot taken by the HIRISE. It's catching an avalanche in real time. The top of the mountain is on the left side of the photo, sloping downwards to the right. Those clouds to the right are dust thrown up by the avalanche. Absolutely beautiful. This photo is false colored.
Material, likely including fine-grained ice and dust and possibly including large blocks, has detached from a towering cliff and cascaded to the gentler slopes below. The occurrence of the avalanches is spectacularly revealed by the accompanying clouds of fine material that continue to settle out of the air. The largest cloud (upper images) traces the path of the debris as it fell down the slope, hit the lower slope, and continues downhill, forming a billowing cloud front. This cloud is about 180 meters (590 feet) across and extends about 190 m (625 ft) from the base of the steep cliff. Shadows to the lower left of each cloud illustrate further that these are three dimensional features hanging in the air in front of the cliff face, and not markings on the ground (sun is from the upper right).


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

If McCain wins, science loses.

I'm a post-doctoral fellow at a large medical school in the U.S. I'm looking for a 'permanent' position for me to conduct research. These positions largely don't exist.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) are the largest organization for funding basic biomedical research in the United States. If you want basic research done, these are the folks who pay for it. The NIH budget hasn't been keeping up with inflation over the last few years. The purchasing power of the NIH has decreased every year. That said, funding rates for new grants are going down. My wife's advisor, who is one of the top 3 scientists in his field, failed to get a grant renewed that he has had for nearly 20 years. It's a tough funding situation, and basic scientists are the first to feel the crunch.

Here's the way getting a job as an assistant professor usually works: After successfully interviewing for a position, the department offers you a startup package. This startup package is money that belongs to the department, and in my field, ranges from $500,000 to $1 million. For the department, this represents a fairly substantial investment in you (for which they will expect returns). The money is used to buy new equipment and hire people to work for you while you try to get grant support from the NIH (or any other organization that is hiring). The department will get a cut from your grant, so this is why it is an investment for them.

Currently, many universities see this as too big a gamble. The funding situation is so bad, that many new investigators will fail to get a grant, and the departments know it. So to hedge their bets, many new research positions are requiring that you have a grant before you apply for the position. But, the NIH doesn't allow temporary trainees (post-docs) to apply for grant money. But universities are mostly only hiring people who have a grant. But you need a permanent position to get a grant.

That's some catch, that Catch-22.
Here's where things get even trickier. I'm currently paid by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. They will only pay post-docs for 6 years. So in January, I'm out of a job. I need to find a permanent position in the next 10 months. Anyone who is nearing the end of a post-doc position is this funding era will have a *very* hard time finding an academic job.

So, what does this have to do with McCain? Clinton and Obama both have explicit science policies that they describe on their web pages. Here's the first three of Clinton's science points:
1. Establish a $50-billion Strategic Energy Fund.

2. Increase the basic research budgets 50% over 10 years at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the Defense Department.

3. Increase the NIH budget by 50% over 5 years and aim to double it over 10 years.
Here's a short excerpt of Obama's:
Double federal science and research funding for clean energy projects, relying on the resources and ability of our national laboratories, universities and land grant colleges.

Barack Obama supports doubling federal funding for basic research, changing the posture of our federal government from being one of the most anti-science administrations in American history to one that embraces science and technology.
Here's McCain's:

Oh. He doesn't have one.

If John McCain wins, and we continue starving the NIH, there will be a whole generation of post-docs who will complete their training to find no jobs available for them. And all of their ideas, and all of the science they would have done will be moved elsewhere (either to other countries, or into industry). All of the biotech companies that would have been started, all of the basic science that could be done, and all of the young, fresh ideas that could be hatched will be moved elsewhere.