Now you can play Scienceblogger Hot or Not. I don’t know whether to approve or not.
Now this is a headline: Man lived to 112 on sausage-and-waffles diet. In addition to living that long, I have another dream:
“All of his organs were extremely youthful. They could have been the organs of someone who was 50 or 60, not 112. Clearly his genes had some secrets,” Coles said.
“Everything in his body that we looked at was clean as a whistle, except for his lungs with the pneumonia,” Coles said. “He had no heart disease, he had no cancer, no diabetes and no Alzheimer’s.
When I’m dead, I want someone to discuss my internal organs on the internet. Photos would be even better. I don’t anticipate that they will get quite the glowing report this fellow’s did, but still, the idea that my guts could be the topic of morning breakfast conversation appeals to me.
(via Byzantium’s Shores)
The Crocodile Hunter has died. It is absolutely no surprise that it was an animal that did him in—he was pierced by a stingray—but it’s still sad to see such an enthusiastic advocate for wildlife go.
At least, that is, it’s new to me. Austin Cline summarizes a report in The Philosophers’ Magazine by Michael La Bossier:
[R]ecent studies of cloned animals reveal that current cloning techniques produce animals that are as distinct in their personalities as animals produced by ÂnaturalÂ means of reproduction. Texas A&M, which has been on the forefront of animal cloning, has found that cloned pigs differ from each other in, among other things, their food preferences and degree of friendliness towards human beings.…
Given that the clones are genetically the same and are typically raised in similar environments, it seems reasonable to consider the possibility of a non-physical factor that causes the difference in personality. After all, once the physical factors are accounted for, what would seem to remain would be e non-physical. In light of the history of philosophy, the most plausible candidate would be the mind.
Ooh! Ooh! I have to test this!
I have in my hand two identical dice. I throw them at the same time, to the same place, with the same amount of force…whoa. A 5 and a 2. How can that be?
I have two quarters. They are the same, right down to the year. I flip them both and…two heads. That’s a relief. I flip them again, and get a head and a tail.
This is amazing! I have just proven that dice and coins have minds! Is there some kind of big rich philosophical prize I can win for this accomplishment? Would the Templeton Foundation hand out a million bucks for proving that there are immaterial spirits haunting objects in the world?
Please—no one mention the concept of chance until I’ve got the money. And especially don’t mention that complex dynamic systems, such as, say, cloned pigs, are highly sensitive to variations in initial conditions, and offer many opportunities for accumulation of subtle, random changes, such as occur during development.
There are plenty of outspoken atheists in the United States—read the latest Carnival of the Godless #48 for a small sampling—but you can still find many mainstream journalists writing about them as if they were peculiar aliens living under a log with other unsavory and oddly constructed organisms. Today, it’s Newsweek that exclaims in surprise that there are godless people among us.
It’s not a very deep or thoughtful article, and what I found most noticeable about it is the obliviousness of the author. Here’s how it starts:
Americans answered the atrocities of September 11, overwhelmingly, with faith. Attacked in the name of God, they turned to God for comfort; in the week after the attacks, nearly 70 percent said they were praying more than usual. Confronted by a hatred that seemed inexplicable, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson proclaimed that God was mad at America because it harbored feminists, gays and civil libertarians.
Wow, I’m impressed: The J Train finds a small guttering flicker of reason on WingNutDaily. It’s an article by a conservative Christian opposing public prayer at football games—he’d been in Hawai’i, where he’d been shocked to discover that pre-game prayers were given by Buddhist monks, and he found himself an uncomfortable minority in a sea of people following some strange religion (hmmm…does anybody else know what that’s like?)
It’s actually funny to read. He’s plainly horrified that he’d have to be in the presence of someone reciting a pagan prayer! He doesn’t quite get the response right, though.
At least, I’m in the Wikipedia. Nobody will ever be able to find it, though, because for some reason the author actually spelled my name correctly. I look forward to further additions, however, as the creationist strive to make the entry more complete by documenting my evil and my atrocities.
(No, I don’t go fishing through Wikipedia and the internet looking for instances of my name—I was told about it in email. I’m vain enough to want to avoid having people think I’m that vain.)
John Wilkins is fighting the philosophical and historical fight against the Darwin’s Deadly Legacy nonsense with an excellent summary of the course of the eugenics movement. I especially liked this quote from Dobzhansky:
The eugenical Jeremiahs keep constantly before our eyes the nightmare of human populations accumulating recessive genes that produce pathological effects when homozygous. These prophets of doom seem to be unaware of the fact that wild species in the state of nature fare in this respect no better than man does with all the artificiality of his surroundings, and yet life has not come to an end on this planet. The eschatological cries proclaiming the failure of natural selection to operate in human populations have more to do with political beliefs than with scientific findings.
If you don’t know who Theodosius Dobzhansky was, he was one of the founders of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and was far, far more influential on evolutionary thinking than either Haeckel or Hitler. Scientific leaders were calling this stuff nonsense before Hitler tried to invoke his Final Solution.
If you’ve ever wondered what the heck Behe was smoking when he claims there are literal trucks trundling about on literal highways with literal traffic signals inside of cells, well, I don’t have an answer for you…but there is a wonderful Flash movie that will show you the Inner Life of a Cell so you can see what “molecular machines” look like, more or less. It’s a spectacular show. What you’ll see is the series of events that transpire when a lymphocyte encounters a cell surface signal that triggers emigration out of a capillary and into other tissues; it zooms rather abruptly from a cellular view to the molecules on the surface interacting with one another, then into the interior of the cell to see the response. All kinds of cool stuff fly by: actin and microtubule assembly and disassembly, kinesin-mediated vesicle transport, protein synthesis on ribosomes, ER processing, vesicle fusion, etc.
I do have a couple of gripes, though. One is an understandable shortcut: the cell is far too uncluttered, and events proceed in too directed a manner—there ought to be much more stochastic noise at the molecular level. We’re seeing chemistry in action, after all. Another is that there is no explanation at all for anything we’re seeing, it’s simply a weird and trippy voyage into a subcellular world. This clip was created under the auspices of Harvard scientists, so I hope there is a viewing guide somewhere, otherwise it’s only going to be appreciated by people who have already read Molecular Biology of the Cell(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). I think it also needed a disclaimer somewhere that this video too is a visual metaphor for cellular activity.
But I’m being picky. Otherwise, it’s an excellent introduction to the profound weirdness of the processes going on inside a cell.