Do you want to be like El Salvador?

El Salvador has an absolute prohibition on all abortions — they can’t even be done to save the life of the mother (it’s a very Catholic country, are you surprised?) Now a situation has made the news that exposes the villainy of that policy.

A young woman named Beatriz is petitioning El Salvador’s supreme court to be allowed to get an abortion. Why? There’s a couple of really good reasons.

The four-month fetus is acephalic — no brain has formed. It’s doomed. It will never be viable. At best, it will be born, live a few days as a vegetable on life support, and die.

The mother is suffering from complications from lupus and kidney disease. The fetus won’t even get to the point of being born — the mother will be killed by this pregnancy first.

The heartless, amoral, religiously-based rules of that society are condemning this woman to death. In addition, if any doctor honors their Hippocratic oath and helps her live, they can be prosecuted and sentenced to long terms in prison for it.

Beatriz has been refused a necessary and simple medical procedure because the demented fuckwits of the Catholic Church have prioritized dogma over human life. She has to beg authorities, right up to the highest levels of government, for the right to live.

All because some old assholes believe god has told them that the dying lump of meat in her belly is more precious than a woman’s life.

Ars Technica on Dunning

It’s just looking worse and worse. Ars Technica discusses the Dunning widget to stuff cookies, and reveals something damning. It was coded to avoid planting cookies in computers in San Jose or Santa Barbara, where the eBay headquarters are located. If he considered this perfectly acceptable behavior in eBay’s eyes, why did he need to conceal his activity?

Bottom line is that he stole $5.2 million dollars over two years. I did my taxes last week, and realize that at my current salary I’ll have to work for the University of Minnesota for a century to earn that much money — that’s a colossal sum, wealth beyond my imagining, and I’m a fairly prosperous fellow. This was not a minor crime. There are kids robbing corner grocery stores for a handful of dollars who face greater penalties than this white collar criminal who slithered away with a small fortune at little risk.

What I also find dismaying is those members of the skeptical community who are closing their eyes and trying to pretend that their friend was a good guy. He was a thief. It’s that simple.

I know almost nothing about Jackiesue

I only just learned she even exists a few minutes ago. She calls herself “a pagan and a left wing democrat” in the tagline of her blog “Yellowdog Granny,” where she also says “I got older but I never grew up.” She’s a friend of someone I’ve known online for a few years. She’s in her late 60s.  She lives in Texas.

Oh, and I know that she works a day or two a month in the West Rest Haven, a nursing home in her town. And I also know how she spent her Wednesday evening, as recounted in her blog:

[S]he told me the fertilizer plant had blown up and that the nursing home had been damaged I said I’m going. She said not to go that the other one could blow at any time. I said “I’m going.” I drove straight down Reagan Street and passed a house on fire and then on the right I could see the Jr. High School was on fire and then I could see the apts which are directly across the street from the nursing home and it was almost a shell. I parked in my usual place and got my flashlight and leaving my keys in truck and purse too and went inside. I along with a bunch of other people were taking residents out in wheel chairs… water every where, the ceiling had falling, beeping alarms, insulation knee deep in places. I was soaked from head to toe. water leaking from the sprinklers and plaster all over the place. Each room with windows caved in, furniture upside down, beds turned over. The dining room was a jumble of chairs and tables. One of the nurses said the building just imploded. the roof went up and then came down and the windows blew in at the same time.…

The amount of immediate help was wonderful to see. They got all the residents to the senior center for emergency help. We went through the building about 4-5 times to make sure we got everyone.

I know I’m not the only person who’s commented on the people who’ve run towards the horror to see what they can do to help in the last few days.

But it’s been the kind of week where the more stories I hear about people trying to make the world better right now, the better I can make it through the rest of the week. Maybe you’re feeling that way too.

Like I said, I don’t really know much about Jackiesue. Except that I know yesterday she ran toward the horror to help people she cared about. That makes my world a little better right now.

Graaarh, physicists BIOLOGISTS

I thought physics was the most hubristic scientific discipline of them all, but I may have to revise that assessment. Last week I was sent another of those papers published in archiv, the physics repository, making grand pronouncements about evolution, and I made the mistake of simply dismissing it on twitter — it was simply too ridiculous to post about. But now io9 has picked it up, and more people are clamoring at me to explain it.

Jebus, it’s terrible.

Here’s what Sharov and Gordon claim:

An extrapolation of the genetic complexity of organisms to earlier times suggests that life began before the Earth was formed. Life may have started from systems with single heritable elements that are functionally equivalent to a nucleotide. The genetic complexity, roughly measured by the number of non-redundant functional nucleotides, is expected to have grown exponentially due to several positive feedback factors: gene cooperation, duplication of genes with their subsequent specialization, and emergence of novel functional niches associated with existing genes. Linear regression of genetic complexity on a log scale extrapolated back to just one base pair suggests the time of the origin of life 9.7 billion years ago. This cosmic time scale for the evolution of life has important consequences: life took ca. 5 billion years to reach the complexity of bacteria; the environments in which life originated and evolved to the prokaryote stage may have been quite different from those envisaged on Earth; there was no intelligent life in our universe prior to the origin of Earth, thus Earth could not have been deliberately seeded with life by intelligent aliens; Earth was seeded by panspermia; experimental replication of the origin of life from scratch may have to emulate many cumulative rare events; and the Drake equation for guesstimating the number of civilizations in the universe is likely wrong, as intelligent life has just begun appearing in our universe. Evolution of advanced organisms has accelerated via development of additional information-processing systems: epigenetic memory, primitive mind, multicellular brain, language, books, computers, and Internet. As a result the doubling time of complexity has reached ca. 20 years. Finally, we discuss the issue of the predicted technological singularity and give a biosemiotics perspective on the increase of complexity.

Life originated 9.7 billion years ago, huh? Maybe 13 billion plus years ago? I didn’t even have to read the paper: I predicted that there would be a certain graph in it, opened it up, scanned to Figure 1, and there it was.


We’re done. Anyone else see the problem?

They cherrypicked their data points. They didn’t include lungfish, ferns, onions, or some protists because that would totally undermine their premise; those are contemporary organisms with much larger genomes than mammals’, and their shallow, stupid exercise in curve-fitting would have flopped miserably. It’s a great example of garbage in, garbage out.

There’s another figure, in which they slap their ‘origin of life’ numbers on a diagram of the history of the universe. Very convincing. I could also stick a label on such an image and show the ‘origin of clowns’ at the time of the Big Bang. It wouldn’t make it scientific, though.


Do they have any other evidence to support their claim? No, not one bit. Most of the paper is a handwavey summary of various models of abiogenesis, with no effort to be quantitative…except for their quantitative claim on the basis of one fudged graph that life originated over 9 billion years ago. There’s also some weird stuff about biosemiotics, which they use to argue for goals and meaning in evolution. It seems to be a popular term among creationists, and what little I’ve read on it from marginally more credible sources makes it look like nonsense.

That graph, though, just kills it. At least try to respect the larger data set, will ya, guys?

This was published in archiv, probably to escape the restrictions of peer review (i.e., slip some bullshit under the door), and really, I read that and thought, “physicists, again?” But then I looked closer at the authors. I am so ashamed.

Alexei A. Sharov, Ph.D.
Staff Scientist, Laboratory of Genetics
National Institute on Aging (NIA/NIH)

Richard Gordon, Ph.D.
Theoretical Biologist, Embryogenesis Center
Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory

They’re biologists of some sort. Now I have to crawl off in embarrassment for my discipline.

I don’t even wanna…

I’m a biologist, Jim, not an astronomer! Someone else can have fun with this one: did you know The Sun is Not a Star?

How many of you have heard this before: "Our Sun is just another star. In fact, it is an average star – one of 100 billion – in the Milky Way galaxy". What if it isn’t just another star? What if what we know about the Sun does NOT apply to all the stars we see in the night sky? Would it throw the big bang theory into irreconcilable doubt? I believe it would.

The goal of this paper is to prove, using only the Bible, that the Sun is NOT a star. There are four major reasons from the Bible why I believe the Sun is not a star, and therefore the assumptions made about stars, their creation, their life, their death, their burn rate, the composition – basically every assumption we make about stars – are faulty. These faulty assumptions completely throw into doubt the theory of the evolution of the universe and the big bang theory.

I think that all that he has proved, using only the Bible, is that he is a ninny.