New Mexicans for Science and Reason




Posted December 11th, 2009

Vaccinations Save Lives (Gasp!)...

Newsweek reports on Dec. 7th that "With some reports saying that the worst of the H1N1 outbreak may have already come and gone this flu season in North America but not worldwide, parents who decided to sit out vaccinations for their children may feel validated. But not only is that strategy risky, it's uninformed, and ignores a larger truth about the benefit of vaccines. Throughout North America and Europe, an anti-vaccination movement has steadily grown over the past two decades, and was recently jet-propelled amid anxiety over immunizing pregnant women and children against the H1N1 'swine flu.' The greatest fall-off in child vaccination, and the strongest proponents of various theoretical dangers associated with vaccines, are all rooted in wealthy, mostly Caucasian communities, located in the rich world. At a time when billions of people living in poorer countries are clamoring for equitable access to life-sparing drugs and vaccines for their families, the college-educated classes of the United States and other rich countries are saying 'no thanks,' even accusing their governments of 'forcing' them to give 'poison' to their children. ... If a woman is exposed to influenza while pregnant, or if an unvaccinated child gets the flu in his or her first year of life, the baby's developing brain may be severely damaged by the virus. Analysis of medical records of Americans who were born in the late '50s and early '60s shows that having the mother catch the flu while pregnant increased the chance her child would later develop schizophrenia. It's not a trivial difference: the children of moms who had flu midway during their pregnancies were as much as eight times more likely to become schizophrenic. ..."


Ebert on New Age Nonsense...

In a Dec. 2nd post titled "New Agers and Creationists should not be President," Roger Ebert notes "New Age beliefs are the Creationism of the Progressives. I move in circles where most people would find it absurd to believe that humans didn't evolve from prehistoric ancestors, yet many of these same people quite happily believe in astrology, psychics, reincarnation, the Tarot deck, the i Ching, and sooth-saying. Palmistry and phrenology have pretty much blown over. If you were attending a dinner party of community leaders in Dallas, Atlanta, Omaha or Colorado Springs and the conversation turned to religion, a chill might fall on the room if you confessed yourself an atheist. Yet at a dinner party of the nicest and brightest in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and (especially) Los Angeles, if the hostess began to confide about past lives, her Sign and yours, and her healing crystals, it might not go over so well if you confessed you thought she was full of it. New Age beliefs have largely stolen the stage from traditional religion in progressive circles. ... ..."


Mystery Spiral Light Over Norway...

The Daily Mail reported on Dec. 10th that a "... mysterious light display baffled residents yesterday. Speculation was increasing today that the display was the result of an embarrassing failed test launch of a jinxed new Russian missile. The Bulava missile was test-fired from the Dmitry Donskoi submarine in the White Sea early on Wednesday but failed at the third stage, say newspapers in Moscow today. ..."


Ghost Ranch Find Sheds Light on Dino Dawn...

Science Daily reports on Dec. 10th that "The first dinosaurs evolved 230 million years ago when the continents were assembled into one landmass called Pangea. The question of early dinosaur movements remained unclear until the discovery of some exciting new fossils. In the Dec. 11, 2009, issue of Science, a team of paleontologists presents the 213-million-year-old fossils of previously unknown carnivorous dinosaur Tawa hallae, including several of the best preserved dinosaur skeletons from the Triassic Period. Fossil bones of Tawa, named after the Hopi word for the Puebloan sun god, were recovered from a dig site in northern New Mexico known as Hayden Quarry. The quarry is located on Ghost Ranch, where late painter Georgia O'Keefe once lived. Fossil bones of several individuals were recovered, but the type specimen is a nearly complete skeleton of a juvenile that stood about 28 inches (70 centimeters) tall at the hips and was approximately 6 feet (about 2 meters) long, from snout to tail. Its body was about the size of a large dog, but with a much longer tail. Based on an analysis of the relationships among Tawa and other early dinosaurs, the researchers hypothesize that dinosaurs originated in a part of Pangea that is now South America, diverging into theropods (like Tyrannosaurus rex), sauropodomorphs (like Apatosaurus) and ornithischians (like Triceratops); and then dispersed more than 220 million years ago across parts of Pangea that later became separate continents. 'This new dinosaur Tawa hallae changes our understanding of the relationships of early dinosaurs, and provides fantastic insight into the evolution of the skeleton of the first carnivorous dinosaurs' said Randall Irmis of the Utah Museum of Natural History and University of Utah, a co-author of the study. ..."


Posted December 4th, 2009

Denver to Vote on ET Commission...

The LA Times reports on December 3rd that "Forget sky-high unemployment and those two wars overseas. Jeff Peckman has more earthly concerns: For one thing, if extraterrestrials were to descend on Denver, what's the best way to welcome them? Thanks to Peckman's tireless efforts and taste for the limelight, Denver voters will be asked in 2010 to boldly approve what no electorate has approved before: an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission. This week, Denver officials announced that Peckman had gathered about 4,000 valid signatures needed to place the issue before the 350,000 registered voters of the Colorado state capital. ..."


Evolution at Work - in the MALL...

Science Daily reports on Dec. 3rd "Male and female shopping styles are in our genes -- and we can look to evolution for the reason. Daniel Kruger, research faculty at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, says it's perfectly natural that men often can't distinguish a sage sock from a beige sock or that sometimes women can't tell if the shoe department is due north or west from the escalator. From an evolutionary perspective, it all harkens back to the skills that women used for gathering plant foods and the skills that men used for hunting meat. The contrast emerges because of the different foraging strategies for hunting and gathering used throughout human evolution. Sex-specific strategies can be seen in the modern consumer environment, according to Kruger's new study, ..."


Vatican Scientist explains Stance on Extraterrestrials to Colbert...

Universe Today has the dec. 3rd scoop and the link to Colbert report video: "The curator of meteorites at the Vatican, Guy Consolmagno, SJ was on the Colbert Report Tuesday to talk about the existence of extraterrestrials with Colbert. Consolmagno is author of a book about astronomy and its relation to the Catholic faith. Of course, Colbert handled the discussion in his own tongue-in-cheek joking manner, but Consolmagno was a good sport. This is just another in a series of public media events illustrating the Vatican's position on the possibility of alien existence. The Pope's chief astronomer, Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, announced last May that belief in the existence of extraterrestrial life is not in conflict with faith in God. Last month, the Vatican held a 6-day international conference to examine the likelihood of finding extraterrestrials, and discussing the impact such a finding would have on faith in God. During the conference, many scientists presented on the scientific evidence available on the possibility that aliens exist. ..."


Posted November 27th, 2009

First Programmable Quantum Computer...

Science News has the Nov. 23rd story. "Using a few ultracold ions, intense lasers and some electrodes, researchers have built the first programmable quantum computer. The new system, described in a paper to be published in Nature Physics, flexed its versatility by performing 160 randomly chosen processing routines. ... The researchers ran each program 900 times. On average, the quantum computer operated accurately 79 percent of the time, the team reported in their paper, which was published online November 15. 'Getting this kind of control over a quantum system is really interesting from a physics perspective,' Hanneke says. ..."

In other words, you might want to wait a while before balancing your checkbook on your quantum computer ...


European Docs Blast Anti-vaccination Sceptics...

AFP reports on Nov. 23rd "A leading association of clinicians on Monday accused an 'anti-vaccination movement' of breeding suspicion about the (A)H1N1 swine flu vaccine in Europe and declared public health and lives were at risk. The European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID) said it was worried by the slow rate of vaccination in some European countries. 'ESCMID joins others concerned about the lack of uptake due to both public skepticism and deliberate misinformation being raised by a growing anti-vaccination movement in a number of countries,' the Swiss-based group said in a press release. ..."


Another Landmark "Intelligent Design" Lawsuit?

Or, NOT? I'm thinking "not." The American Freedom Alliance is filing a lawsuit against the California Science Center (CSC) over the showing of an Intelligent Design Movie: "American Freedom Alliance (AFA), a non-profit group, has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles against a popular science museum for cancelling an event exploring the topic of Intelligent Design. The group says its free speech rights were violated when the California Science Center (CSC) abruptly reversed a decision to allow the showing of a pro-Intelligent Design documentary at the museum's IMAX Theater. The program was also scheduled to screen a pro-evolution film, but, the lawsuit alleges, museum officials were fearful of having Intelligent Design discussed in any context. The lawsuit is believed to be the first since the 2005 case of Kitzmiller v. Dover to consider the public's right to learn about Intelligent Design. ..."


Biggest thing since Dover? Erm, the plaintiffs might have trouble with that. As in, they were sabotaged by the Discovery Institute! ERV/Abbie had the story way back on October 10th. The short version: The Discovery Institute sent out a big Press release about their premier of 'Darwins Dilemma' at the California Science Center. But, the Center has to to approve every PR release that mentions events hosted at CSC. The Discovery Institute violated the contract. It'll be a short lawsuit, if it ever gets to court.


Sylvia Browne a Psychic? Ask Shawn Hornbeck...

Rather than going to see Browne and Montel Williams at the Kiva Auditorium, save your money and check out NMSR's "NM Skeptic" blog. The latest installment has links to videos of Browne telling the parents of Shawn Hornbeck that their abducted son is dead (he was rescued very much alive), and telling a 9/11 fire-fighter's widow that her husband was lost in a body of water.


Posted November 20th, 2009

The Galapagos - STILL Evolving... reports on Nov. 16th that "On one of the Galapagos islands whose finches shaped the theories of a young Charles Darwin, biologists have witnessed that elusive moment when a single species splits in two. In many ways, the split followed predictable patterns, requiring a hybrid newcomer who’d already taken baby steps down a new evolutionary path. But playing an unexpected part was chance, and the newcomer singing his own special song. This miniature evolutionary saga is described in a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It’s authored by Peter and Rosemary Grant, a husband-and-wife team who have spent much of the last 36 years studying a group of bird species known collectively as Darwin’s finches. ..."


Reflux Esophagitis Due to Immune Reaction, Not Acid Burning?

Science Daily reports on Nov. 19th that "Contrary to current thinking, a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) might not develop as a direct result of acidic digestive juices burning the esophagus, UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers have found in an animal study. Rather, gastroesophageal reflux spurs the esophageal cells to release chemicals called cytokines, which attract inflammatory cells to the esophagus. It is those inflammatory cells, drawn to the esophagus by cytokines, that cause the esophageal damage that is characteristic of GERD. The condition is manifested by symptoms such as heartburn and chest pain. 'Currently, we treat GERD by giving medications to prevent the stomach from making acid,' said Dr. Rhonda Souza, associate professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern and lead author of the study appearing the November issue of Gastroenterology. 'But if GERD is really an immune-mediated injury, maybe we should create medications that would prevent these cytokines from attracting inflammatory cells to the esophagus and starting the injury in the first place.' ..."


Hobbits Were a Real Species...

Science Daily reports on Nov. 19th that "Researchers from Stony Brook University Medical Center in New York have confirmed that Homo floresiensis is a genuine ancient human species and not a descendant of healthy humans dwarfed by disease. Using statistical analysis on skeletal remains of a well-preserved female specimen, researchers determined the "hobbit" to be a distinct species and not a genetically flawed version of modern humans. Details of the study appear in the December issue of Significance, the magazine of the Royal Statistical Society, published by Wiley-Blackwell. In 2003 Australian and Indonesian scientists discovered small-bodied, small-brained, hominin (human-like) fossils on the remote island of Flores in the Indonesian archipelago. This discovery of a new human species called Homo floresiensis has spawned much debate with some researchers claiming that the small creatures are really modern humans whose tiny head and brain are the result of a medical condition called microcephaly. ..."


Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron give Creationism-laced Copies of "Origin of Species" to College Students...

CNN News has the story, which includes a response from Brown biologist Ken Miller: "Former teen idol Kirk Cameron is on a crusade to debunk evolution. CNN's Carol Costello reports. ..."


Living Waters Ministry was handing out the book at New Mexico Tech on Wednesday. A handout in the book directed readers to a new website for discussion. Someone went to a lot of work to set this website up; however, it's apparently not having the desired effect on Tech students.


Posted November 13th, 2009

Masha Gessen of the Wall Street Journal writes on Nov. 6th "It may be no accident that, while some of the best American mathematical minds worked to solve one of the century's hardest problems—the Poincaré Conjecture—it was a Russian mathematician working in Russia who, early in this decade, finally triumphed. Decades before, in the Soviet Union, math placed a premium on logic and consistency in a culture that thrived on rhetoric and fear; it required highly specialized knowledge to understand; and, worst of all, mathematics lay claim to singular and knowable truths—when the regime had staked its own legitimacy on its own singular truth. All this made mathematicians suspect. Still, math escaped the purges, show trials and rule by decree that decimated other Soviet sciences. Three factors saved math. First, Russian math happened to be uncommonly strong right when it might have suffered the most, in the 1930s. Second, math proved too obscure for the sort of meddling Joseph Stalin most liked to exercise: It was simply too difficult to ignite a passionate debate about something as inaccessible as the objective nature of natural numbers (although just such a campaign was attempted). And third, at a critical moment math proved immensely useful to the state. ..."


Disco Institute Laments Darwinian Influence on THEOLOGY...

The Southern Baptist Texan Online has the Nov. 3rd scoop: "Darwinian materialism has wreaked havoc on ethics, culture and the study of Scripture and theology, scholars said during an inaugural conference sponsored by the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, Oct. 23-24. The conference, titled 'Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?' was held on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. 'Many people who have a Christian faith have a sense that something is amiss in our culture,' said philosopher and geophysicist Stephen C. Meyer, who is director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture and author of the 2009 publication, 'Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design.' Meyer made this comment on Oct. 22 during a chapel service at Southwestern Seminary prior to the conference. ... ..."


New Fossil Sheds Light on Dinosaur Transition to Quadrupeds...

Robyn Dixon of the LA Times reports on Nov. 12th "... Johannesburg, South Africa - Before the dig started, it looked like any other patch of dinosaur dirt: gray soil, a few brownish fossilized bones exposed by erosion. Paleontologist Adam Yates thought his diggers would find a few bones from the massospondylus -- South Africa's most common dinosaur. ... But within days, it was clear that they were on to something big. In about 11 weeks spread over the years since, Yates' team members excavated about 300 bones from a site just over 20 feet long and 9 feet wide. They discovered three new dinosaurs and the fangs of a mysterious dinosaur eater, a likely fourth new species. The first to be named and researched is Aardonyx celestae. ... What makes A. celestae so exciting is that the species, like a crucial piece in a complicated jigsaw puzzle, helps explain how some of the earliest dinosaurs, two-legged herbivores known as prosauropods, evolved into the largest creatures that ever walked Earth: the sauropods, four-legged creatures with long necks and small heads that ripped foliage off trees with their cavernous jaws. Yates doesn't like the term 'missing link.' It upsets his scientific sensibilities because evolution doesn't unfold in a neat, linear fashion. But he says the term does at least convey the import of the discovery. 'It's one of the dinosaurs in a long, smeary continuum,' he said Wednesday. 'It shows us what we should already have pretty much guessed, which was that evolution was a messy, complicated affair.' ..."


See Also:

Chiropractors to get the Needle...

Actually, they getting the opportunity to stick the nedle into YOU. The Albuquirky Journal reports on Nov. 10th that "New Mexico chiropractors are moving into new realms of practice now associated with medical doctors and practitioners of alternative medicine. The New Mexico Board of Medicine is to consider this week a proposal that would allow chiropractors to dispense a variety of substances ranging from some prescription drugs to injected substances such as vitamins and trigger-point injections for treating pain. Some chiropractors already are allowed to inject a short list of substances under a law approved by state lawmakers earlier this year. The proposed list includes a variety of substances that are injected into joints and connective tissue to treat joint pain and weakness. "In New Mexico, it's a big change," said Bill Harvey, executive director of the New Mexico Board of Pharmacy, which helped negotiate the proposal. Chiropractors here "have never had prescriptive authority before." The proposal already has been approved by the Board of Pharmacy. ..."


UFO "Modern Mythology" Slides Now On Line...

CSI (The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) has posted presentations by NASA's David Morrison and NMSR's Dave Thomas on the Conference Website. The conference was held from October 9th-12th in Tucson, Arizona.


Posted November 6th, 2009

1964 Socorro 'Saucer' Witness Dies...

Lonnie Zamora, the policeman at the center of the famed 1964 UFO sighting in Socorro, NM, died on November 2nd, in Socorro. The incident has been in the news lately, with the discovery of a letter from ex-Tech-president Colgate to Linus Pauling, indicating the affair was a student's prank.


"Star of David" Sighted in Spider's Web...

West Texas CBS station KOSA reoports on Nov. 5th "Odessa, Texas - It's something you will have to see to believe... Employees of B-Line Filter and Supply in Odessa found a spider web shaped like a perfect Star of David. People at the business say they don't know when or how the web was made, but said that an employee stumbled across it while cleaning up in the back of the building. ..."

Eat your heart out, Christians. This isn't a smudge on a tortilla that might resumble Jesus or Mary. This is clearly a Designed Star of David!


Ray Comfort: Darwin Doubter or Plagiarizer?

Earlier, we reported on 'The Charles Darwin Bible,' which features anti-evolution commentary by evangelist Ray Comfort.

Source: Hot News from earlier in 2009

Now, blogger "Answers in Genesis BUSTED!" writes "I recently had a look at Ray Comfort's 'special introduction' to Origin of Species, and, I got to thinking that the first part of the introduction sounded a little too smart to be Ray Comfort. So I did some googling and found that Ray's introduction looks suspiciously like 'A Brief History of Charles Darwin' by Dr. Stan Guffey. Here are some quotes from Ray's intro followed by their parallels in Stan Guffey's work:

"Ray: On returning to England in 1836, Darwin set to work examining and disseminating the extensive collection of specimens he acquired during the voyage. He quickly established a reputation as an accomplished naturalist on the London scene. In 1839 he married his cousin, Emma Wedgwood. That same year he published his journal of the voyage of the Beagle, which brought him immediate celebrity among London’s intellectuals. In 1842 he and Emma moved to Down House in Kent. It was there that she bore ten children and she and Charles spent the rest of their lives."
"Stan: On returning to England in 1836, Darwin set to work examining and disseminating the extensive collection of natural history specimens acquired during the voyage. He quickly established a reputation as an accomplished naturalist on the London scene. In 1839 he married Emma Wedgwood, and saw his journal of the voyage of the Beagle published. In 1842 he and Emma moved to Downe house, Kent where Emma would bear 10 children and she and he would live for the rest of their lives."

Plagiarism? Check out the blog for more!


WIRED takes on Autism/Vaccine scares...

James Rainey of the LA Times writes on Nov. 4th "Los Angeles writer Amy Wallace knew there would be blow back when she wrote a story for Wired magazine debunking the idea that autism is caused by childhood vaccinations. But she didn't imagine anything like this. Two weeks after the story hit the Internet, the e-mail keeps flowing. A majority voice support for 'An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All.' But at least one in five disagrees. Many seethe with indignation. A few sling vile names and veiled threats. ... Wallace's piece did something brave but not atypical for traditional journalism: It delved into a complex and emotionally charged subject with nuance. It presented the best state of current knowledge while acknowledging that true science does not traffic in absolute truths. The fact that 12 epidemiological studies have found no link between the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine and autism might seem probative to some. But failing an ironclad conclusion, Wallace writes, many parents are more persuaded by anecdotal evidence, numerous tales of children first exhibiting signs of impairment at about the same age -- 18 to 24 months -- that they received vaccines. Correlation is not causation, any scientist will tell you. But that hardly relieves the anxiety of parents trying to cope with children who aren't exactly what they were expected to be. ... 'It's great that people can find out more than they ever could before,' Wallace said. 'But it seems it will make trusting in experts even more important. More than ever now, we need help sifting through the torrent.' ..."


Posted October 30th, 2009

Statisticians reject global cooling...

The AP reports on Oct. 26th that "Have you heard that the world is now cooling instead of warming? You may have seen some news reports on the Internet or heard about it from a provocative new book. Only one problem: It's not true, according to an analysis of the numbers done by several independent statisticians for The Associated Press. The case that the Earth might be cooling partly stems from recent weather. Last year was cooler than previous years. It's been a while since the super-hot years of 1998 and 2005. So is this a longer climate trend or just weather's normal ups and downs? In a blind test, the AP gave temperature data to four independent statisticians and asked them to look for trends, without telling them what the numbers represented. The experts found no true temperature declines over time. 'If you look at the data and sort of cherry-pick a micro-trend within a bigger trend, that technique is particularly suspect,' said John Grego, a professor of statistics at the University of South Carolina. ..."


Secret Code in Arnold Schwarzenegger's Letter?

BoingBoing has the letter from Schwarzenegger to the California State Assembly: "Governator Arnold hides a colorful response in a carefully worded veto. ..."

The response is so "colorful" it can't be printed here. The Wall Street Journal has asked me to look at the odds of such a message being simply coincidental.


Pat Robertson’s CBN Warns Americans Of 'Demonic' Halloween Candy...

Americans United writes on Oct. 29th that "TV preacher Pat Robertson's Web site has just issued a bulletin warning Americans of the real threat we face this season: Demons may be lurking in our Halloween candy. In a column on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Web site, writer Kimberly Daniels asserts that 'demons' sneak into bags of Halloween candy at grocery stores. '[M]ost of the candy sold during this season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches,' Daniels wrote. 'I do not buy candy during the Halloween season. Curses are sent through the tricks and treats of the innocent whether they get it by going door to door or by purchasing it from the local grocery store. The demons cannot tell the difference.' ..."


The original article has been pulled - perhaps out of embarrassment? If you're quick, you can still see the Google Cache of the posting. Copy this address to the Google search bar, click Search, then click "Cached version". After all, you wouldn't want to miss learning that "The danger of Halloween is not in the scary things we see but in the secret, wicked, cruel activities that go on behind the scenes. These activities include:


Radford and Barker take on Cuchillo and Kimo Ghost Tales...

On Thursday, Oct. 29th, KRQE TV13's Larry Barker investigated some celebrated ghost stories of New Mexico, working with Ben Radford, the managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer. Barker's story is posted as both text and video on the web address below. Barker observes "Hollywood phantoms, poltergeists, spirits, specters and spooks come in all shapes and sizes, but those ghosts aren't real. If it's reality you want, step up to the bar in Cuchillo. 'I couldn't ask for a better place to look for ghosts,' Ben Radford said. 'This is awesome. If this place isn't haunted it should be.' ... [Radford] has spent 10 years investigating the paranormal and questions the findings of the Cuchillo ghost hunters. 'If the group has, in fact, scientifically proven paranormal activity, this needs to be in the New York Times because this is the first time in history this has ever happened,' he said. 'I can't come into this place and say there is definitely not a ghost here because there might be. But, nor for example can ghost hunters credibly come in here and say for a fact this place is haunted.' ... Radford [also] spent months investigating the Kimo ghost story. 'It's a great story,' he said. 'It's just not true.' ..."


Posted October 23rd, 2009

Did Shiva Doom the Dinosaurs?

Discovery News reports on Oct. 19th "Off the west coast of India, there is a suspicious basin called Shiva. It forms a rough ring over 500 kilometers (311 miles) in diameter and has a central underwater peak the size of Mt. McKinley. Where it sweeps on shore, the land appears shattered and riddled with faults and geothermal hot springs. If Sankar Chatterjee of Texas Tech University is right, Shiva is the largest impact crater on the planet, the scar leftover from a cataclysm that had a hand in killing the dinosaurs. ... 'The idea of Shiva as an impact basin is still very speculative,' Chatterjee admitted. 'But it tends to explain so many things.' ... But the idea, which Chatterjee presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Portland, Ore., has been met with deep skepticism. 'There is no need to call on Deccan or Shiva to extend the trauma of the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction,' Steven D'Hondt of the University of Rhode Island said. 'We can explain it in the context of the Chicxulub impact alone.' D'hondt allowed that if Siva is ever definitively shown to be an impact crater, it will force scientists to rethink the devastation of 65 million years ago. But he said, 'Nobody has yet demonstrated that this feature is an impact feature.' ..."


"9/11 Truth" Debate coming to New Mexico Tech...

One of the reasons this Weekly Update is brief is that I am busy playing with the house band for NM Tech's alumni weekend, "49er's" (Google Vigilante Band for the details). Part of the alumni weekend has evolved into a presentation by Tech alumna Kathy McGrade, along with Richard Gage, the founder of the website "Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth", Saturday, 2:30 at the Fidel Bldg ("SUB"), 3rd floor. I have been drafted to present the opposing view - that fires from the hijacked planes brought down the Twin Towers - at 3:00, followed by a half-hour discussion. It's hosted by Tech Vice President of Research Van Romero, who has been vilified by the "9/11 Truth" movement for changing his mind after learning more about the events of September 11th. As the following release from Gage shows, it'll be a contentious affair.



Posted October 16th, 2009

Bizarre Cloud in Russia...

The Daily Mail reports on Oct. 13th that "In what could have been a scene from the film Independence Day, a luminous ring-shaped cloud could be seen hovering over the city of Moscow last week. The pale gold 'halo' could be seen above the Russian capital city's Western District on Wednesday, and was captured on film by stunned Muscovites. Meteorologists rejected any theories of the supernatural however, calling it an optical effect. ..."


Those silly Russians, eh? We Americans would NEVER waste our time looking at a strange saucer-shaped object floating in the sky for hours - right?

Computer to Shakespeare: You Were Not the Only Bard...

The Times (UK) reports on Oct. 12th that "The 400-year-old mystery of whether William Shakespeare was the author of an unattributed play about Edward III may have been solved by a computer program designed to detect plagiarism. Sir Brian Vickers, an authority on Shakespeare at the Institute of English Studies at the University of London, believes that a comparison of phrases used in The Reign of King Edward III with Shakespeare’s early works proves conclusively that the Bard wrote the play in collaboration with Thomas Kyd, one of the most popular playwrights of his day. ..."


KOB TV4, on Electrolysis: This happens Spontaneously, Right?

KOB TV4 reported on Oct. 14th that a "retired school teacher in Carlsbad was fed up with the price of gasoline. So he turned to the Internet for help. With parts from the hardware store, he’s now harnessing the power of hydrogen to revitalize a former gas guzzler. ... Goodwin says the system is easy and safe. With a couple of stainless steal plates submerged in a water and potassium hydroxide mixture, he is able to create hydrogen gas which is fed into the engine. And the results? 'I got 31 miles to the gallon, which was a 94 percent increase over the EPA,' said Goodwin. ... Rick McKean is an antique car dealer helping Goodwin develop his system. The results he’s seen have him scratching his head about why there aren’t more hydrogen-powered cars on the road. 'Seventy-five percent of the world is water. Water is H20, two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. Through electrolysis you can divide the molecules and you have burnable fuel and it's clean, efficient fuel… and it's free. That's neat,' said McKean. ..."


UPDATE: After Dave Thomas complained to KOB about the article, the words "and it's free." were redacted. But, the piece still gives the impression that using the car's electricity to break water down into hydrogen and oxygen, and then burning the gas, improves efficiency. Because it costs more energy to break water into hydrogen and oxygen than can be recovered by combustion of those gases, the mileage gains are illusory. And, the video of Tom Joles and crew doing this segment is still on-line, and this still has McKean proclaiming "and it's free." (34 seconds remaining).

Posted October 9th, 2009

1964 Socorro UFO Incident In the News...

Anthony Bragalia has come across an old letter indicating that former NM Tech president Stirling Colgate had inside knowledge that the 1964 Socorro, NM sighting of a UFO by police officer Lonnie Zamora was the result of a college-student prank. The evidence is far from conclusive, however, as comments on the articles are indicating. Bragalia and I are combining efforts to find Tech alumni who may have more information.



Meanwhile, the city of Socorro is considering a plaque to commemmorate the affair. "Other council business heard testimony about the Socorro UFO incident from 1964 (the 'Zamora incident' so-named because of retired Socorro policeman Lonnie Zamora's eyewitness account of the encounter); a request was made for a plaque to be erected commemorating the site. It was suggested that a plaque would not only serve to designate the location of the encounter, but could also be leveraged for tourism. While none of the council members suggested that Socorro could ever rival Roswell's alien-themed culture, it was agreed that it could help tourism. It was noted that the council had pondered the question of a commemorative plaque before and was ready to move on it, provided that Mr. Zamora has no objections. ..."


'Shroud' Reproduced?

Reuters reports on Oct. 5th "An Italian scientist says he has reproduced the Shroud of Turin, a feat that he says proves definitively that the linen some Christians revere as Jesus Christ's burial cloth is a medieval fake. The shroud, measuring 14 feet, 4 inches by 3 feet, 7 inches bears the image, eerily reversed like a photographic negative, of a crucified man some believers say is Christ. 'We have shown that is possible to reproduce something which has the same characteristics as the Shroud,' Luigi Garlaschelli, who is due to illustrate the results at a conference on the para-normal this weekend in northern Italy, said on Monday. A professor of organic chemistry at the University of Pavia, Garlaschelli made available to Reuters the paper he will deliver and the accompanying comparative photographs. ..."


Kim Johnson notes "Ray Rogers, the fellow responsible for the chemical part of the study at LANL (STRP Project) was pretty adamant that the chemistry was typical of the material made about 2000 years ago, and not so easy to produce in later times without a modern lab. He had no axe to grind - he simply reported his results and proceeded to get crucified by non-chemist scientists who didn't want that to be true. Also, the carbon 14 dating was from a corner that was used whenever the nuns caring for the cloth folded and unfolded it. Ray thought that it was almost certainly contaminated. Unfortunately, he is no longer here to speak for himself. He was quite a guy and a Los Alamos Fellow. ..."

Ray Rogers' NMSR page:

"CO2 is Green" ?!?...

Just as my family was asking me "What's up with all these TV ads that say carbon dioxide is GOOD for plants, and to call Bingaman?", along comes John Fleck's analysis of related ads appearing in the Albuquerque Journal. Fleck writes on Oct. 6th "It is hard to square Leighton Steward's cheery message with the vast swaths of dead trees across the mountains of northern New Mexico. 'Fall of '02 is when they started to die,' biologist Craig Allen told me a few years ago as we walked through a forest of piñon corpses in the Jemez Mountains. The years 2002 and 2003 were very warm and very dry in the mountains of northern New Mexico. It's been this dry here before, but this time around far more trees died. Why? When Allen and a group of colleagues crunched the numbers, they noticed that, like much of the globe, New Mexico has been warmer in the 21st century than it has been since we've been measuring. It was bark beetles that finished off the trees, but it was the heat of the drought of 2002-03 that made the difference between a garden-variety drought and the massive forest die-off, the scientists concluded. Scientists say the reason for the warming is rising levels of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide from the tailpipes of our cars and factory stacks. That heat, Allen and his colleagues concluded, explains the widespread tree death. So why does Steward, a charming 74-year-old Texan, say carbon dioxide emissions are a good thing? That is the claim made by an organization founded by Steward, which has been running half-page ads in the Albuquerque Journal. 'CO2 is green,' the organization claims. Increasing amounts in our atmosphere 'actually help ecosystems and support more plant and animal life.' Plants breathe in carbon dioxide, and more carbon dioxide will be good for them, Steward argued in a telephone interview. To say that is at odds with the scientific literature on this issue would be an understatement. Joe Galewsky, a climate researcher at the University of New Mexico, called Steward's claim 'a gross oversimplification of the situation.' While it is correct that increased carbon dioxide levels could be of small benefit to plants, the damage caused by higher temperatures is far greater, Galewsky said. This is about more than just trees in the mountains. New research shows that higher temperatures over the next century as a result of greenhouse warming could have a dramatic effect on crop production. ... The effort to influence Bingaman does not seem to be working. Calls to the senator's office in the past week have been running four-to-one in favor of legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to an aide. ..."


"See Darwin Evolve"...

In an article titled "See Darwin Evolve" By Jesse Ellison in the October 5th Newsweek, Ellison writes "It's not necessarily new technologies themselves that always dazzle, but rather the way they're applied. When done so with nuance, they can challenge and change our understanding of ideas that have long been taken for granted. Such is the case with a new project from Ben Fry. He's a master of a very modern (and specific) discipline - the intersection of computer science, graphic design, and 'data visualization' - and now he's using these fields to reimagine the work of the very pre-Information Age Charles Darwin. His Web site, The Preservation of Favoured Traces,, layers all six editions of Darwin's On the Origin of Species over each other. With every subsequent edition, color coding shows where language was tweaked, ideas refined, and entire sections added or removed. Navigate over the text for a more micro look at how specific sentences changed over time. Watch, in short, the theory of evolution evolve. ..."


Stop Bullying Moon, say Experts...

Anne Minard of National Geographic writes on Oct. 9th "NASA's LCROSS moon 'bombing' this morning is just the latest mission in a decades-long tradition of bullying the moon in the name of science—in this case, the search for water. But LCROSS impact and similar crashes have some experts are urging extra caution for the future. LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) gouged what was expected to be a 100-foot-wide (30-meter-wide) hole in a permanently shadowed crater near the moon's South Pole, letting fly more than 200 tons of material, scientists estimated before the launch. Such violent impacts are par for the course—the moon is already littered with more than two dozen NASA landers, orbiters, and rovers launched since the 1960s. But as the new international space race heats up, there's a growing movement to balance scientific ambition with its possible consequences for the moon. ..."


FYI, The Next Big DI Hissyfit...

The Discovery Magisterium Institute announced on Oct. 9th "The Los Angeles Daily News this morning is reporting the California Science Center's outrageous cancellation of a screening of the new intelligent design documentary, Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record. The California Science Center is a 'department of the State of California,” and its IMAX Theater had been rented by a private group, the American Freedom Alliance, to hold the Los Angeles premiere of the film as part of a series of activities commemorating the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. But after the screening became public knowledge, the pressure from Darwinist censors apparently became too intense. So this week the Science Center expelled the film ..."


Posted October 2nd, 2009

Ardipithecus: Behind the Hype, some Cool Science...

The story has been bouncing all over since Thursday. But, it's not a case of "This changes everything we know about human evolution," as some hypesters would have us believe. Carl Zimmer has an excellent summary of the new findings in an Oct. 1st posting on the Loom: "Meet Ardipithecus. This introduction has been a long time coming. Some 4.4 million years ago, a hominid now known as Ardipithecus ramidus lived in what were then forests in Ethiopia. Fifteen years ago, Tim White of Berkeley and a team of Ethiopian and American scientists published the first account of Ardipithecus, which they had just discovered. But it was just a preliminary report, and White promised more details later, once he and his colleagues had carefully prepared and analyzed all the fossils they had unearthed. 'Later,' it turned out, meant 15 years. ... At first, Ardipithecus ramidus was yet another scrappy pre-Lucy fossil. The first report offered details about part of a 4.4 million-year-old jaw bone–a remarkable jaw bone, but just a jaw bone nonetheless. Soon after, White's team found more fossil bones, from the hominid's hand, skull, pelvis, feet, and on and on–110 pieces all told. But finding these pieces was just the start of the team's labors. They picked away at the bits of rocks surrounding the fragile bits of fossils. They used a computer to manipulate CT-scans of the fossils to figure out how crushed fragments had originally fit together as a skull or a pelvis. All this happened in strict secrecy. ... White and his colleagues found so many teeth of different Ardipithecus individuals that they could compare male and female canines with some confidence. The male teeth turn out to be surprisingly blunted. This result suggests that hominids shifted away from a typical ape social structure early in our ancestry. If this was a result of males forming long-term bonds with females and helping raise young, this shift was able to occur while hominids were still living a very ape-like life. Ardipithecus existed about 2 million years before the oldest evidence of stone tools, suggesting that technology was not the trigger for the evolution of nice hominid guys. ... C. Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University spearheaded the studies on how Ardipithecus moved. He and his colleagues argue that its pelvis could support its upper body during bipedal walking. It wasn't a fabulous walker, and was probably a terrible runner. Nevertheless, it had some of the same anchors for muscles that we have on our pelvis, and which chimpanzees and other apes lack. Its pelvis was, in other words, a mosaic. Lucy, we now can see, represents a later step in the journey towards out own walking-adapted anatomy. ... Chimpanzees may be our closest living relatives, but that doesn't mean that our common ancestor with them looked precisely like a chimp. In fact, a lot of what makes a chimpanzee a chimpanzee evolved after our two lineages split roughly 7 million years ago. Ardipithecus offers strong evidence for the newness of chimps. ... Chimpanzees do still tell us certain things about our ancestry. Our ancestors had chimp-sized brains. They were hairy like chimps and other apes. And like chimps, they didn't wear jewelry or play the trumpet. But then again, humans turn out to be a good stand-in for the ancestors of chimpanzees in some ways–now that Ardipithecus has clambered finally into view. ..."


Putting the Foxes in Charge of the Chickenhouse in Louisiana...

Barbara Forrest describes the dire situation in Louisiana on Oct. 1st: "On September 16, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) ignored the recommendations of science education professionals in the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) and allowed the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), a Religious Right lobbying group, to dictate the procedure concerning complaints about creationist supplementary materials used in public school science classes under the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA). At BESE’s September 16 Student/School Performance and Support (SSPS) Committee meeting, DOE presented recommendations for reviewing such materials (see attached DOE proposal). However, DOE’s recommendations were amended to include changes proposed by SSPS Committee chair Dale Bayard, the LFF’s point man at BESE ... BESE committee members approved the changes without opposition after hearing testimony by creationists who attended the meeting. As a result, the prerogatives of the DOE professional science education staff have been severely undermined, as explained below. The audiotape of the meeting shows that Bayard and the LFF pulled off a royal snow job. ..."


LA Times: Bush officials objected to witchcraft themes in 'Harry Potter' series ...

The Los Angeles Times noted on Sept. 30th that "Earlier this year, author J.K. Rowling was given one of France's highest honors when she was inducted into the Legion of Honor by French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee presidential palace. ... according to a new book by a speechwriter during the Bush administration, there was talk of honoring the British author with the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom a few years ago but the idea was a non-starter in the White House. The former administration had decision- makers who spoke up to 'actually object to giving the author J.K. Rowling a presidential medal because the Harry Potter books encouraged witchcraft,' writes Matthew Latimer, author of 'Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor.' ..."


Bragalia claims he is "STALKED BY A SAUCER SKEPTIC"...

UFO blogger Anthony Bragalia writes to say "... you can view my reply to Tim Printy's 'analysis' that he wrote in his 'SUNlite' newsletter of my recent articles on Roswell and UFOs. ..."


What's all the fuss about? Check out Tim Printy's SUNLITE newsletter.


What Bragalia doesn't like: "SUNlite Volume 1 Number 3 : September-October 2009",

Posted September 25th, 2009

Water Found on Moon, Mars...

Reuters reports on Sept. 24th that "International space missions have found ice on the moon and more evidence of ice on Mars -- good news for future settlements and also for scientists looking for extraterrestrial life. Four reports published in Friday's issue of the journal Science show clear evidence of water, likely frozen, on the desert surfaces of both the Moon and Mars. The U.S. space agency NASA said its Moon Mineralogy Mapper, or M3, found water molecules all over the moon's surface. The M3 instrument was carried there last October by the Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft -- India's first space mission. 'Water ice on the moon has been something of a holy grail for lunar scientists for a very long time,' said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA in Washington. 'When we say 'water on the moon,' we are not talking about lakes, oceans or even puddles. Water on the moon means molecules of water and hydroxyl (hydrogen and oxygen) that interact with molecules of rock and dust specifically in the top millimeters of the moon's surface,' Carle Pieters of Brown University in Rhode Island said in a statement.... ..."


"Creation" Movie to Hit U.S. Screens in December...

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) announced on Sept. 24th that "The new film about Darwin, Creation, will be distributed in the United States after all, according to a story in the Hollywood Reporter (September 24, 2009). The film is expected to be released by Newmarket Films in December 2009. Earlier the producer of the film, Jeremy Thomas, lamented to the Telegraph (September 11, 2009), "It has got a deal everywhere else in the world but in the US, and it's because of what the film is about. ... It is unbelievable to us that this is still a really hot potato in America." A few days later, however, NBC Bay Area (September 15, 2009) reported that a distribution deal was imminent. In her review of Creation at The Panda's Thumb blog, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott described it as 'a thoughtful, well-made film that will change many views of Darwin held by the public — for the good.' It also received praise from Steve Jones in Time Out London (September 22, 2009), who called it 'a great film about a great man and a greater theory' and by Adam Rutherford in his Guardian blog (September 23, 2009), where he wrote, 'we should ... be grateful that this film is moving and beautiful, just like the creation Darwin so luminously untangled,' adding, 'Creationists the world over deserve to see it.' ..."


1964 Socorro UFO... a College Prank?

In a Sept. 22nd post titled "THE SOCORRO HOAX EXPOSED! (Famous 1964 sighting was a college prank)," Anthony Bragalia writes "After 45 years the truth is now revealed- one of the most famous UFO sightings in history was a hoax. The recent confession of an elderly College President -and a newly discovered document- indicate that the 1964 sighting of a landed UFO by Socorro, NM policeman Lonnie Zamora was the result of an elaborate school prank. This incredible story is publicly recounted for the first time ever by individuals who have held the secret of Socorro for decades. ..."

The "newly discovered document" is a notation on a letter from Linus Pauling to former NM Tech president Stirling Colgate, in which Colgate told Pauling "I have a good indication of the student who engineered the hoax. Student has left. Cheers, Stirling."


This possibility has long been mentioned on connection to Officer Zamora's sighting of "something" on April 24, 1964; see, for example, the NMSR article on the sighting, at

But, many questions remained unanswered. For one, how could college students use a 1960's era projector to cast images on a screen in bright daylight? So far, the skeptical UFO community regards this as a promising lead, but nowhere near "settled."

One more thing: New Mexico residents, brace yourself before seeing a misplaced Saguaro cactus in Bragalia's image of the Socorro crash site. Where's Larry Calloway when we need him?

Posted September 18th, 2009

Two Flu Strains + One Pig = New Swine Flu Virus...

The Chicago Tribune reports on Sept. 13th that "The virus behind the global influenza outbreak may be known as swine flu, but it didn't just come from pigs. Wild birds and humans also played a role in its creation. Scientists are still trying to unravel how it wound up infecting people and spreading rapidly around the world. To date, the pandemic has caused at least 3,205 deaths, as of Sept. 6, according to the World Health Organization. ... The new H1N1 strain is based primarily on an unusual virus that has been circulating widely in U.S. pigs since the 1990s. That "triple reassortant" flu is actually a combination of classic swine flu, a North American avian flu and a strain of human flu. Somehow, a single pig became simultaneously infected with that virus and a pure swine flu strain found in pigs in Europe and Asia. The two strains swapped genetic material to produce the new H1N1 strain, which then began to infect humans. HOW DID STRAINS MIX? That remains a mystery, and scientists will probably never know. ..."


Ebert: "Creation" Movie "Looking for a deal"...

The blogosphere has been bubbling over with chat about a new movie, "Creation," that showcases Charles Darwin's complex relationship with his religious wife Emma, his reaction to his daughter's death, and the introduction of his controversial theories. The film, which stars Paul Bettany and his real-life wife Jennifer Connelly, has premiered all around the world, but has yet to find a U.S. distributor. I asked Roger Ebert about the film's prospects on his blog on Sept. 13th, and he replied that "I expect it to find distribution. They don't have a deal, but haven't been shut out. ..."


Longest Lightning Storm EVER...Nine Months and Counting!

Yahoo News reports on Sept. 15th that "A tempest that erupted on Saturn in January has become the Solar System's longest continuously observed lightning storm, astronomers reported on Tuesday. The storm broke out in 'Storm Alley,' a region 35 degrees south of the ringed giant's equator, researchers told the European Planetary Science Congress in Potsdam, near Berlin. Thunderstorms there can be as big as 3,000 kilometers (nearly 2,000 miles) across. The powerful event was spotted by the US space probe Cassini, using an instrument that can detect radiowaves emitted by lightning discharge. ..."


T-Rex Started Out TINY, Got Big Later...

Ed Yong of the "It's Not Rocket Science" blog writes on Sept. 17th "Meet Raptorex, the 'king of thieves.' It's a new species of dinosaur that looks, for all intents and purposes¸ like the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex, complete with large, powerful skull and tiny, comical forearms. But there's one very important difference - it's 100 times smaller. Unlike the ever- shrinking world of music players and phones, it seems that evolution crafted tyrannosaur technology with much smaller specifications before enlarging the design into the giant predators of the late Cretaceous. Raptorex is a new species of meat-eating dinosaur, discovered in northwest China by Paul Sereno from the University of Chicago. The specimen is a young adult, but it wouldn't have grown to more than 3 metres in length. It stood about as tall as a human, and wouldn't have weighed much more. And yet Raptorex looked very much like a scaled-down version of its giant future relatives. All the features that made tyrannosaurs so recognisable and such efficient killers (except their enormous size) were present in this animal. It really is a beautiful transitional fossil. As Sereno says, 'Raptorex really is a pivotal moment in the history of the group where most of the biologically meaningful features of tyrannosaurs came into being, and the surprising thing is that they came into being in such a small animal.' Raptorex clearly shows that natural selection initially honed the distinct body shape of these giant predators at a 1/100th scale. This design was then scaled up with remarkably few modifications. ..."


More Anti-Science Eco-Activism in British Columbia...UPDATE

Since our last report (Aug. 28th) on how the Canadian "Ecojustice" group tried to stop a seismological research expedition with a last-minute lawsuit, the experiment has been completed. Investigator Doug Toomey reports on September 14th that "Scientists from the University of Oregon and the University of Washington have successfully completed ~16 days of seismic surveying at the Endeavour segment of the Juan de Fuca ridge, a region that includes the Endeavour Marine Protected Area (MPA). The Endeavour MPA was established to facilitate scientific study of a deep-sea hydrothermal ecosystem. Results of the environmental research will have direct societal benefits, including an improved understanding of the life-cycle of deep-sea vents, of the importance of the MPA as a long-term species reservoir for the entire northeast Pacific spreading ridge system, and of how the structure of ocean crust and the Juan de Fuca plate contributes to earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic hazards that threaten the Pacific Northwest. ... During the survey, certified Marine Mammal Observers monitored the region on a 24-hour per-day basis. Not a single marine mammal was either visually observed or acoustically detected during the seismic survey. ..."

Since the Sept. 14th update by Toomey on the Panda's Thumb, members and supporters of Ecojustice have been arguing about the details of the situation with several scientists involved in the project. After a representative of Ecojustice made many specific claims against the scientific teams involved, members of those teams replied in detail. We're waiting for a further response by Ecojustice, but so far cricket chirping is all we've gotten. It's a fascinating exchange, worth checking out.


Posted September 11th, 2009

Tinkerbell the Fairy... Film at Ten?

The Daily Mail (UK) reports on Sept. 8th that "It fluttered into her life and left a little bit of fairy dust. But no matter how hard Phyllis Bacon scours her garden, she can find no trace of her silver-winged visitor. All she has is this picture. And as she examines the photo of the tiny glowing creature darting around above her lawn, she finds herself believing in fairies. 'To be honest, I don't know what it is and I'm keen to listen to anyone's suggestions. But until someone can tell me otherwise I'm going to go on thinking it's a fairy.' Experts and the simply sceptical will no doubt point to explanations involving reflections, flashes or technical glitches. But then, that's just taking all the magic out of it. ..."


What's So Special about 9-9-09? asks on Sept. 9th "Have special plans this 09/09/09? Everyone from brides and grooms to movie studio execs are celebrating the upcoming calendrical anomaly in their own way. In Florida, at least one county clerk's office is offering a one-day wedding special for $99.99. The rarity of this Sept. 9 hasn't been lost on the creators of the iPod, who have moved their traditional Tuesday release day to Wednesday to take advantage of the special date. Focus Features is releasing their new film "9," an animated tale about the apocalypse, on the 9th. Not only does the date look good in marketing promotions, but it also represents the last set of repeating, single-digit dates that we'll see for almost a century (until January 1, 2101), or a millennium (mark your calendars for January 1, 3001), depending on how you want to count it. ... Both China and Japan have strong feelings about the number nine. Those feelings just happen to be on opposite ends of the spectrum. The Chinese pulled out all the stops to celebrate their lucky number eight during last year's Summer Olympics, ringing the games in at 8 p.m. on 08/08/08. What many might not realize is that nine comes in second on their list of auspicious digits and is associated with long life, due to how similar its pronunciation is to the local word for long-lasting (eight sounds like wealth). Historically, ancient Chinese emperors associated themselves closely with the number nine, which appeared prominently in architecture and royal dress, often in the form of nine fearsome dragons. The imperial dynasties were so convinced of the power of the number nine that the palace complex at Beijing's Forbidden City is rumored to have been built with 9,999 rooms. Japanese emperors would have never worn a robe with nine dragons, however. In Japanese, the word for nine is a homophone for the word for suffering, so the number is considered highly unlucky - second only to four, which sounds like death. Many Japanese will go so far as to avoid room numbers including nine at hotels or hospitals, if the building planners haven't already eliminated them altogether. ..."


Meanwhile, CNN reported on Sept. 10th that "A 44-year-old Bolivian former drug addict and alcoholic who now works as a preacher is accused of hijacking the Boeing 737-800 AeroMexico jet Wednesday by telling a crew member he had a bomb, officials said. ... Flores told authorities he hijacked the jet because the date -- September 9, 2009, or 9/9/9 -- was 666 upside down and held significance for him, Garcia said Wednesday. Some Christians see 666 as the sign of the anti-Christ. ..."


National Geographics takes on 9/11 Truthers - Sort of...

The good news is that the National Geographic televised special on investigating claims of the "9/11 Truth" movement was meticulous, careful, and scientific. The bad news is that the special was aired only once, at 10 AM last Monday. You can see some clips and analysis at the website for the program. In the segment titled "CONSPIRACY VS. SCIENCE," the producers compare conspiracy claims to reality. Here is one such comparison: "Conspiracy: Thermite, which is less traceable, was used in the controlled demolition that brought down the towers. Science: Some Truthers claim that pulverized dust found by some New Yorkers after the attack contained the checmical signature of thermite. Scientists assert that even if this dust did contain thermite, it would be impossible to determine whether the thermite came from a controlled demolition or simply from the melting of the airplanes. EMRTC [The Energetic Materials Research and Test Center at New Mexico Tech in Socorro] designed an experiment to see if thermite was a plausible option in the collapse of the towers. The thermite in the test was not even able to melt a column much smaller than those in the World Trade Center. ..."


See Also:

You Are what you Eat - but WHEN You Eat is Important, Too...

Science Daily reports on Sept. 7th "Eat less, exercise more. Now there is new evidence to support adding another 'must' to the weight-loss mantra: eat at the right time of day. A Northwestern University study has found that eating at irregular times -- the equivalent of the middle of the night for humans, when the body wants to sleep -- influences weight gain. The regulation of energy by the body's circadian rhythms may play a significant role. The study is the first causal evidence linking meal timing and increased weight gain. 'How or why a person gains weight is very complicated, but it clearly is not just calories in and calories out,' said Fred Turek, professor of neurobiology and physiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology. 'We think some factors are under circadian control. Better timing of meals, which would require a change in behavior, could be a critical element in slowing the ever-increasing incidence of obesity.' ..."


More SUNlite Shining on UFOs...

Skeptic Tim Printy has announced "The latest version of SUNlite, Volume 1, No. 3, can be downloaded here: ..."


The new issue has already struck a nerve. UFO proponent Anthony Bragalia has replied to Printy, threatening him with publication of a blog titled "SINISTER SECRETS OF A UFO SKEPTIC." Bragalia wrote Printy "And on the memory metal? You will read and are so far off on so many things on this that it may take a book!!! But your [sic] not worth that. ..."

On the Lighter Side...

Cartoon Laws of Physics:
CARTOON LAW I: Any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation.
CARTOON LAW IX: Everything falls faster than an anvil.

Video: Zooming Into a Leaf (as Far as Possible!):

Posted September 4th, 2009

What Makes Us Human? Genetics Progress...

Elizabeth Pennisi of ScienceNOW Daily News reports on Sept. 1st that "Finding genes that have evolved in humans among our genome's 3 billion bases is no easy feat. But now, a team has pinpointed three genes that arose from noncoding DNA and may help make our species unique. Most genes have deep histories, with ancestors that reach down into the tree of life, sometimes all the way back to bacteria. The gradual increase from the few thousand genes in a bacterium to the tens of thousands of genes in a person came primarily through genome- and gene-duplication events, which created extra sets of genes free to evolve new sequences and new functions. Much of this duplication happened long before humans evolved, though some duplications occurred in the human lineage to create exclusively human twins of existing genes. But in 2006, geneticists showed for the first time that they could identify truly novel genes. In fruit flies, they came across five young genes that were derived from "noncoding" DNA between existing genes and not from preexisting genes. As a result, other researchers started looking for novel genes in other species. Meanwhile, while looking for gene duplications in humans, geneticists Aoife McLysaght and David Knowles of Trinity College Dublin kept coming across genes that seemed to have no counterparts in other primates, suggesting that new genes arose in us as well. ... ..."


Dogs Originated in East Asia After All...

Elizabeth Pennisi of ScienceNOW Daily News reports on Sept. 1st that "The latest "made in China" item isn't a plastic widget or a pair of shoes. It's a dog. A new study suggests that wolves were first domesticated in Southeast Asia some 16,000 years ago. The work is the latest volley in a long- standing debate about just where canine companionship got its start. Most researchers agree that dogs descended from wolves, but when and where has been hard to pin down because archaeologists have trouble telling wolf remains from dog remains. So in the past decade, geneticists have started to look at DNA for clues. In 2002, geneticist Peter Savolainen of the KTH-Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and colleagues analyzed mitochondrial DNA from 38 wolves and more than 500 dogs around the world. They found the most genetic diversity--a marker of a species' origin--in East Asia and concluded that dogs were domesticated there, and just once. But last month, a study of African village dogs called that conclusion into question. ... Now Savolainen, Ya-Ping Zhang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Kunming Institute of Zoology, and their colleagues have done an even more extensive survey of dog DNA. They looked at a small piece of mitochondrial DNA from more than 1500 dogs distributed across Europe, Africa, and Asia, with an emphasis on East Asia. Some were breeds with known geographic origins; others were working dogs in rural areas. The researchers also looked at 40 wolves. They then sequenced almost all of the mitochondrial genome from eight wolves and from 169 dogs representing the range of diversity identified in the initial 1500-plus animals. The data reaffirm a single site for domestication and pinpoint the origin of the domesticated dog to a region south of the Yangtze River, where wolf taming was quite common, Savolainen's team reports today in Molecular Biology and Evolution. That's where the largest number of similar groupings of DNA, called haplogroups, is found. As the researchers looked at dogs farther from this region, they saw fewer haplogroups; Europe had only four, for example.... ..."


Japan's new First Lady says she likes traveling... to Venus!

Reuters reports on Sept. 2nd that "Japan's next prime minister might be nicknamed 'the alien,' but it's his wife who claims to have had a close encounter with another world. 'While my body was asleep, I think my soul rode on a triangular-shaped UFO and went to Venus,' Miyuki Hatoyama, the wife of premier-in-waiting Yukio Hatoyama, wrote in a book published last year. 'It was a very beautiful place and it was really green.' Yukio Hatoyama is due to be voted in as premier on September 16 following his party's crushing election victory over the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party Sunday. Miyuki, 66, described the extraterrestrial experience, which she said took place some 20 years ago, in a book entitled 'Very Strange Things I've Encountered.' When she awoke, Japan's next first lady wrote, she told her now ex-husband that she had just been to Venus. He advised her that it was probably just a dream. 'My current husband has a different way of thinking,' she wrote. 'He would surely say 'Oh, that's great'.' Yukio Hatoyama, 62, the rich grandson of a former prime minister, was once nicknamed 'the alien' for his prominent eyes. Miyuki, also known for her culinary skills, spent six years acting in the Takarazuka Revue, an all-female musical theater group. She met the U.S.-educated Yukio while living in America. ..."


Posted August 28th, 2009

Who's Writing that Medical Journal Article?

It might not be an impartial medical researcher. PLOS editors, in an Aug. 21st piece titled "Ghostwriting: The Dirty Little Secret of Medical Publishing That Just Got Bigger" , write "If you are an editor, author, reviewer, or reader of medical journals, or if you depend on your doctor or health care provider getting unbiased information from medical journals, then the 1,500 documents now hosted on the PLoS Medicine Web site should make you very concerned and angry. Because, quite simply, the story told in these documents amounts to one of the most compelling expositions ever seen of the systematic manipulation and abuse of scholarly publishing by the pharmaceutical industry and its commercial partners in their attempt to influence the health care decisions of physicians and the general public. Here’s just one sample thread that gives an idea of the topsy-turvy world invented by the pharmaceutical and medical writing companies involved. While readers expect and assume that the named academic authors on a paper carried out the piece of work and then wrote up their article or review informed by their professional qualifications and expertise, instead we see a prime example of 'ghostwriting': a writing company was commissioned to produce a manuscript on a piece of research to fit the drug company's needs and then a person was identified to be the 'author': ..."


Newsweek discovers Morton's Demon: "Lies of Mass Destruction"...

Sharon Begley writes in the Aug. 25th Newsweek that " I was not exactly surprised at the e-mails I got in response to my story analyzing why the myths about health-care reform—even the totally loony ones, like death panels—have gained such traction. One retired military officer called me 'nothing more than an 'Obama Zombie' that has lost touch with reality,' while a housewife sweetly suggested that I sign up for 'socialistic medicine' and die, the sooner the better. (My kids get upset when people wish me dead, but hey, they'll survive.) But now I think I understand people who believe the health-care lies—and the Obama-was-born-in-Kenya lie—even better than when I wrote that piece. Some people form and cling to false beliefs about health-care reform (or Obama's citizenship) despite overwhelming evidence thanks to a mental phenomenon called motivated reasoning, says sociologist Steven Hoffman, visiting assistant professor at the University at Buffalo. 'Rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief,' he says, 'people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe.' And God knows, in the Internet age there is no dearth of sources to confirm even the most ludicrous claims (my favorite being that the moon landings were faked). "For the most part," says Hoffman, "people completely ignore contrary information" and are able to "develop elaborate rationalizations based on faulty information." ..."


More Anti-Science Eco-Activism in British Columbia...

A Panda's Thumb blog has the details: on Aug. 18th, Nature reported that "An environmental lawsuit is threatening the departure of a long-planned, US$4.7-million research cruise to image sea-floor structures off the coast of western Canada. The RV Marcus Langseth, a vessel operated by Columbia University in New York for the US National Science Foundation, had acquired all its permits to depart on 21 August for the Endeavour hydrothermal vents, 250 kilometres southwest of Vancouver Island. But on 10 August, the Canadian activist legal group Ecojustice, in Vancouver, British Columbia, sued the university, the Canadian department of fisheries and oceans and the minister of foreign affairs, alleging among other things that proper procedures were not followed in assessing how the seismic air bursts set off during the cruise would affect marine life. ..."

Project scientist Lincoln Hollister (Princeton), commented in the Times Colonist (August 13th): It's a standard ploy by environmental groups to go to court to stop a project by legal fine print rather than by reason of science. The project they wish to stop is designed specifically to understand the plumbing system of the seabed volcanic vents ecosystem of the Endeavor Marine Protected Area. It is led by Professor Toomey at the University of Oregon; it would not damage marine life. The environmental groups have known of the pending study for over a year and a half; however, they waited until the research vessel was about to begin the study to announce by press release and application to the court the reasons they are against it. They did not submit their objections for open scientific review. With experienced lawyers, and with judges unfamiliar with the issues, they may succeed in court where they failed in consultations. Maybe after the judges, and the public, become aware of what has been lost by killing the academic research project, they will lift the injunction, but by then it will be too late. The ship will have moved on to other academic studies, elsewhere on the globe. In this case, there are no winners.

Late word: the lawsuit was rejected on August 27th.


Posted August 21st, 2009

Next-Gen Computer Chips might use DNA...

The BBC reported on August 17th that "Shapes of DNA have been used to enhance the production of circuits for next-generation computer chips. Researchers reporting in Nature Nanotechnology have now shown how to get engineered 'DNA origami' to self-organise on silicon. The origami can be designed to serve as a scaffold for electronic components just six billionths of a metre apart. Making chips with components closer together leads to smaller devices and faster computers. The six nanometre mark is nearly eight times better than the current industry produces. Several research groups have shown that DNA itself can be used to store or manipulate data, and the juggling of DNA in a test tube or within bacteria has been shown to solve simple computational tasks. The current method, by contrast, leverages the ability to design DNA strands into regular shapes such as triangles. ..."


Did Strep Do In Mozart?

The AP reports on August 18th that "For more than two centuries, the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has endured — as has the speculation about what led to his sudden death at age 35 on Dec. 5, 1791. Was the wunderkind composer poisoned by a jealous rival? Did he have an intestinal parasite from an undercooked pork chop? Could he have accidentally poisoned himself with mercury used to treat a bout of syphilis? A report in Tuesday's Annals of Internal Medicine suggests the exalted Austrian composer might have succumbed to something far more commonplace: a streptococcal infection — possibly strep throat — that led to kidney failure. ..."


Dembski and Marks get "Peer-Reviewed" Paper in IEEE Journal...

Mark Chu-Carroll has a math analysis of the IEEE paper that ID proponents are claiming supports ID. In an August 20th scienceblogs post, Chu-Carroll writes " My biggest criticism of the paper is how utterly dull it is. It's obvious how they got it published - they removed anything that's really interesting from it. It's a rehash of the stuff they've written before, stripped of any content that directly hints at the anti-evolution part of their claims - which leaves a not-particularly-interesting paper on search algorithms. I'm not going to rehash my primary criticisms of Dembski's approach here - I've done it lots of times before, most recently in this post, which critiques a very closely related paper by D&M. In fact, this paper is really just an edited version of the one I critiqued in that post: it's that paper with all of the intelligent-design speak removed. What this paper does is take the basic idea of the NFL theorems, and builds on it in a way that allows them to quantify success. ... In this paper, one of the examples that Dembski uses is the Weasel with locking. (And he does it without any reference to Dawkins.) He uses it as an example of partitioned search. ... As for intelligent design? There's really nothing in this paper about it. I'm Dembski will run around bragging about how he got an ID paper published in a peer-reviewed journal. But arguing that this is an ID paper is really dishonest, because all ID-related content was stripped out. In other places, Dembski has used these quantification-based arguments to claim that evolution can't possible work. But this paper contains none of that. It's just a fairly drab paper about how to quantify the amount of information in a search algorithm. ..."


Posted August 14th, 2009

Chris Comer appeals decision...

The NCSE reports on August 13th that "Chris Comer, whose lawsuit challenging the Texas Education Agency's policy of requiring neutrality about evolution and creationism was dismissed on March 31, 2009, is now appealing the decision. Formerly the director of science at the TEA, Comer was forced to resign in November 2007 after she forwarded a note announcing a talk by Barbara Forrest in Austin; according to a memorandum recommending her dismissal, 'the TEA requires, as agency policy, neutrality when talking about evolution and creationism.' In June 2008, Comer filed suit in federal court in the Western District of Texas, arguing that the policy violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment: 'By professing 'neutrality,' the Agency credits creationism as a valid scientific theory.' The judge ruled otherwise, however, writing, 'As a matter of law, the Agency's neutrality policy, if it advances religion at all, only does so incidentally. Further, a reasonable observer of the neutrality policy would not believe the Agency endorses religion through the policy.' In her appellate brief, submitted to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Comer asked (PDF, p. 39) the court to "review the record de novo and reverse and vacate the district court's decision. ..."


Real-Life Evolution of a News Story...

David Hone, a paleontologist working in China, sent out a press release on a new find to several media outlets. Being the curious sort, however, Hone tracked the news story as it propagated and morphed in transit from one media outlet to the next. Hone writes in his Aug. 13th blog that "Various inconsistencies and incongruencies crept in even from the first report, such as me apparently being German, Tyrannosaurus hunting Diplodocus, a quote from the press release being cited as being from the paper and so on. ..."

A fascinating analysis!


Tulsa Mayoral Candidate Wants Creationism Exhibit...

Tulsa OK television station "News on 6" reported on Aug. 11th that " A mayoral candidate has resurrected a controversy over Creationism at the Tulsa Zoo. A push to exhibit the Christian story of creation at the Tulsa Zoo failed four years ago. Republican candidate for Tulsa mayor, Anna Falling, is bringing the issue front and center. It's the same exhibit and the same arguments, but now it is given from the bully pulpit of a candidate running for mayor. 'Some may ask why this issue during a Mayoral campaign? And I say why not?' said candidate Anna Falling. For Anna Falling, the road to city hall runs through the Tulsa Zoo. She's made her Christianity central to her platform and now the exhibit depicting the Christian story of Creationism is her first campaign promise. 'Today we are announcing that God will be glorified in this city. He shall not be shunned. Upon our election, we hereby commit to honoring Him in all ways that He has been dishonored,' said Anna Falling. Falling says God was dishonored four years ago, when the Tulsa Parks Board rejected an exhibit which borrows heavily from the first book of the Bible. ..."



Beer in SPACE...

Australian station ABC reports on Aug. 13th "Australians pride themselves on drinking beer just about anywhere and for any occasion - but what about in space? A Queensland astrochemist believes beer and the cosmos are more closely linked than we would have first thought. James Cook University's Centre for Astronomy director, Dr Andrew Walsh, combines his two passions - beer brewing and space study - to bring his science 'down to earth'. His research involves identifying different substances, molecules and chemicals in space and in doing that has he discovered many of the chemical ingredients in beer are out there. 'There's plenty of ethanol, the most important ingredient in beer, out there in space,' he told ABC News Online. 'From a scientific point of view, this indicates to us that there are new stars forming.' Dr Walsh, who judges beer at brewing competitions in his spare time, has broken a recipe down to 12 essential beer constituents and found seven already. ..."


Posted August 7th, 2009

Ben Stein EXPELLED as NY Times Columnist...

Over at, Ryan Tate blogs on Aug. 6th that "Ben Stein's TV ads for a scuzzy 'free' credit product have finally caught up to him: The New York Times has fired Stein as a Sunday business columnist for violating ethics guidelines. Stein was pilloried online for his endorsement of the bait-and-switch operation, which offers a free credit score but charges an outrageous $30 per month to see the credit report behind the score. As Reuters blogger Felix Salmon pointed out, consumers can get a free online report under federal law. The Times' issue, though, is that Stein has violated its ethics policy, which states 'it is an inherent conflict for a journalist to perform public relations work, paid or unpaid.' ..."


Nutrition News LINKS...

The following LINKS were mentioned in NMSR's July 18th Science Watch Radio show (hosts Marshall Berman and Lisa Durkin), on "Benefits of Exercise for the Elderly and Couch Potatoes."

The calorie delusion: Why food labels are wrong (New Scientist):

Alcohol Metabolism; Alcohol Alert From NIAAA:

The Skinny on Alcoholic Beverages and Weight Loss (US News & World Report):

NOVA scienceNOW | Aiding Aging Muscles | PBS:

NOVA scienceNOW Marathon Mouse: Test out some mouse-racing experiments to learn how drugs that mimic exercise were discovered:

AICAR - latest news, information (AICAR, not yet in production, turns on production of cell mitochondria that eat fat. Acts like phys.exercise, increases endurance):

Scientists May Be Closing In On Exercise Pill (

AICAR, GW1516 Are An Exercise In A Pill (EmaxHealth):

A wonder drug from Salk University scientists - AICAR, the exercise pill (Health Jockey):

Albuquerque Journal article explains KiMo 'Ghost'...

The Aug. 2nd edition of the Albuquerque Sunday Journal, in an article titled "Is the KiMo Theatre really haunted by the spirit of a boy killed there in 1951, or is it urban legend?" notes "It's a poltergeist tale that has been retold in numerous books about haunted New Mexico sites and is resurrected regularly for newspaper, magazine and TV features — especially around Halloween. The story? The KiMo Theatre in Downtown Albuquerque, known for its Art Deco and Pueblo style architecture, has for decades been home to the restless spirit of a child killed in an accident in the theater's lobby in 1951. The story is so pervasive that a team of paranormal investigators a couple of years ago scoured the KiMo with electromagnetic field detectors, dowsing rods and other tools of the trade. They claim to have detected wisps of light and energy called "orbs," as well as other "anomalous" energy surges. 'It's all very dramatic, but there's no science to it,' says Ben Radford, managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, a national publication dedicated to exploring claims of the unusual, including the paranormal. Like many ghost stories, the one involving the KiMo Theatre contains a 'nugget of truth,' but upon further examination the evidence of a ghost is as ethereal and insubstantial as an apparition, says Radford, 38, of Rio Rancho. ..."


Posted July 9th, 2009

NMSR Weekly Update to go on Hiatus for July...

Dave Thomas is being deployed to the backwoods of British Columbia for the next three weeks to participate in the Batholiths Experiment. He won't have internet access; they're telling the crew they'll have an Iridium satellite phone for emergencies.

Weekly Updates will resume at the end of July.

Read about Batholiths Experiment.

Aliens No Longer Winning - but "Flying Mocos" is in Trouble......

I've extended the voting period on the poll about the latest Socorro "sighting." If you haven't yet, check out the video from the Journal's website, then vote! ..."


Posted June 26th, 2009

Creationists Handing Out "Darwin Bibles" to Teachers..

The Christian news service reported this week that "Several ministries are teaming up to get the Word of God into the hands of public school teachers. One-thousand copies of 'The Charles Darwin Bible' will be given out to teachers at the annual National Education Association convention in San Diego next week. The Bible is published by Holman Bible Outreach International and features commentary by evangelist Ray Comfort. Later this summer Comfort, who is founder of Living Waters ministries, plans to release Darwin's On the Origin of the Species, with special notes aimed at intellectuals and atheists. 'We're publishing Origin of the Species with a special 22-page introduction that, very gently, brings in our perspective and the history of Charles Darwin and where evolution comes from and how DNA shows indisputably that there is an intelligent designer and how Darwin inspired Hitler. We have quotes from Hitler that are just unbelievable, all going in this introduction,' the evangelist explains. 'We want to get a million copies printed. We want to give them away and have a 300-page book available at 99 cents per book. We want Christians to give them away at universities, and let's see if universities ban Origin of the Species. That would be a very interesting thing to happen.' Answers in Genesis donated the Bibles to the NEA Creation Science Educators Caucus to give the Bibles out at the upcoming meeting. ..."


Scientists Study at Creation Museum...

Bit, the scientists weren't studying creationism - they were studying creationists! The AP reports on June 25th "In a dimly lit corner of the Creation Museum stands a life-size replica of a wrecking ball labeled 'Millions of Years' demolishing the facade of a brick church. For the more than six dozen paleontologists who visited the museum Wednesday, the ball might as well have read 'Science.' In one of the largest gatherings of critics since the northern Kentucky museum opened two years ago, the scientists in the area for a conference took a field trip to get a glimpse of the marketing tactics used by the other side of the evolution debate. Paleontologists spend their careers studying evolution, and here they were visiting a place where nearly every room is dedicated to disproving it. 'The real purpose of the museum visit is to give some of my colleagues an opportunity to sense how they're being portrayed,' said Arnold Miller, a professor of paleontology at the University of Cincinnati, which is hosting the conference. 'They're being demonized, I feel, in this museum as people who are responsible for all the ills of society.' Miller and other paleontologists object to numerous other aspects of the museum they say imply science is doing more harm than good. For example, multiple rooms are devoted to the great flood, which a strict biblical interpretation might explain was a rebuke for questioning God. The implication, some of the paleontologists say, is that their studies concluding Earth is millions of years old — not thousands as creationists claim — must pose a similar threat to mankind. Scientists also disagree with the depiction of Noah's ark itself. Inside a miniature ark is a compartment holding two small dinosaurs, living alongside the monkeys, cows and other animals. 'It's like a theme park, but the problem is it masquerades as truth,' said Derek Briggs, a Yale University paleontologist. ..."


Primitive Primates Probed...

LiveScience/USNews reports on June 23rd that "Using a 54 million-year-old skull, researchers have constructed the first-ever virtual model of a primitive primate brain. 'This is our first glimpse of what an ancestral primate would have looked like in terms of its brain," said Jonathan Bloch, a vertebrate paleontologists at the Florida Museum of Natural History who was part of the modeling team. "And that tells us quite a bit about its behavior and the evolution of things like certain aspects of intelligence.' ..."


Posted June 19th, 2009

John West Gets a D- on Evolution/ID Essay...

In the June issue of "On Faith" at the Washington Post, Peter M. J. Hess, Ph.D., Faith Project Director, National Center for Science Education writes "John West recently asked, 'Is evolution compatible with God?' West, a senior fellow at the creationist Discovery Institute, concluded that religious belief and scientific inquiry are mutually exclusive. He is wrong. West sets up a simplistic dichotomy--either you believe in God or you believe in evolution. This black or white view ignores the fact that for many scientists, science deepens their religious faith, and for many people of faith, scientific insight complements their belief. West's goal here is not to examine the shared history and complex interconnections between science and faith, but rather, to promote a creationist agenda. While West's question is valid, his dichotomy is a sham. Consider the humble grapefruit. You can says it's yellow and it's roughly spherical. Asking, 'Is this fruit yellow or spherical?' has no meaning. Yellowness and sphericity are not contradictory; likewise, 'religion' and 'evolution' can be complementary ways of looking at the same universe. ... As the International Society for Science and Religion put it in a 2008 statement, 'Darwinian natural history does preempt certain accounts of creation, leading, for example, to the contemporary creationist and ID controversies. However, in most instances, biology and religion operate at different and non-competing levels.' West's views are a skewed Cliff Notes version of the serious academic work surrounding faith and evolution--mostly wrong, mostly missing the important points, a repackaging of old ideas and a parroting of discredited arguments. I have taught graduate classes in theology, and if a student turned in something like West's essay on the issue of faith and evolution, it would merit him a D-. ..."


Progress on Dinosaur/Bird Evolution Enigma?

On June 19th at the Panda's Thumb, PZ Myers writes "My previous repost was made to give the background on a recent discovery of Jurassic ceratosaur, Limusaurus inextricabilis, and what it tells us about digit evolution. ... What's especially interesting about it is that it catches an evolutionary hypothesis in the act, and is another genuine transitional fossil. The hypothesis is about how fingers were modified over time to produce the patterns we see in dinosaurs and birds. Birds have greatly reduced digits, but when we examine them embryologically, we can see precisely what has happened: they've lost the outermost digits, the thumb (I) and pinky (V), and retain the forefinger, middle finger, and ring finger (II-IV), which have been reduced and fused together. This is called Bilateral Digit Reduction, BDR, because they've lost digits from the medial and lateral sides, leaving the middle set intact. Dinosaurs, when examined anatomically, seem to have a different pattern: they have a thumb (I), forefinger (II) and middle finger (III), and have lost the lateral two digits, the ring and pinky finger (IV-V). This arrangement has been advanced as evidence that birds did not evolve from dinosaurs, since they have different bones in their hands, and getting from one pattern to the other is complicated and difficult and very unlikely. The alternative hypothesis is that there is no conflict, and that dinosaurs actually underwent BDR and their digits are II-III-IV…but that what has also happened is a frame shift in digit identities. So dinosaurs actually have three digits, which are the index, middle, and ring finger, but they've undergone a subtle shift in morphology so that their forefinger develops as a thumb, and so forth. ..."


Zicam Takes a Hit...

Jeff Donn of the Associated Press reported on June 19th that "The unsettling little secret of Zicam cold remedy finally spilled out this week. Though widely sold in the united States for years as a drug for colds, it was never tested by federal regulators for safety like other drugs. and that was perfectly legal -- until scores of consumers lost their sense of smell. One little word on Zicam's label explains all this: 'homeopathic.' Zicam and hundreds of other homeopathic remedies -- highly diluted drugs made from natural ingredients-- are legally sold as treatments with explicit claims of medical benefit. yet they don't require federal checks for safety, effectiveness or even the right ingredients. They're somewhat similar to dietary supplements, which use many of the same natural ingredients and also aren't federally tested for safety or benefit. Many scientists view homeopathic remedies as modern snake oil -- ineffective but mostly harmless because the drugs in them are present in such tiny amounts. But an associated Press analysis of the Food and drug administration's side effect reports found that more than 800 homeopathic ingredients were potentially implicated in health problems last year. complaints ranged from vomiting to attempted suicide. In the case of Zicam, the Fda says it tied the drug to reports from 130 consumers who said they lost their sense of smell. The agency on Tuesday told Zicam maker Matrixx initiatives to stop marketing three products that carry zinc gluconate ..."


Posted June 12th, 2009

Scienceblogs blogger Ethan Siegel, a theoretical astrophysicist at the University of Portland, writes on June 8th "Now, there is a famous story that goes along with the discovery of the relationship between the distance something falls and the time it takes it to fall. Galileo allegedly went up to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa -- the tallest building he had available to him -- and dropped two different balls off of it; one 10 pound cannonball and one 1 pound ball of the same material. According to the legend, they hit the ground at exactly the same time. But would they? Let's figure it out. A 1 pound ball has about 22% of the surface area as a 10 pound ball of identical material, and about 22% of the drag force of the 10 pound ball. But it has only 10% of the force of gravity! This means that as the ball falls farther and farther, the smaller mass ball starts to fall behind, since its drag force is a larger fraction of the gravitational force pulling it down. If we went up to an infinite height, the terminal velocity of the large ball would be 215 mph (340 kph), while the small ball would only reach 145 mph (235 kph). The Leaning Tower of Pisa is tall -- about 55 meters (180 ft) high -- but things are moving much slower than terminal velocity. With a little math (it takes some to include air resistance), I can figure out that both balls would have hit the ground after just over 3 seconds of free fall. But not only is there a difference in time, the smaller ball hits the ground more than a quarter of a second later than the large ball! At this height, that means the small ball is over 20 feet behind the large one at impact! It'd be like watching Usain Bolt run a 100 meter race against normal men: So what do we learn from this? In real life, different balls fall at different rates! It's the fault of the air, sure, but the tiny little bit of atmosphere we have is enough to totally throw even the simplest physics experiment off! And historically, we can learn that Galileo never actually did this experiment, because if he had, he would have found that his predictions were wrong! In real life, different balls don't fall at the same rate. I'll repeat that: Galileo never actually did his most famous experiment! Go to such great heights and try it for yourself! ..."


Santa Fe New Mexican's "News" Story - Just a Free Ad for "Psychic Healer"...

John Knoll of the Santa Fe New Mexican called me last week, asking whether psychics had ever been tested scientifically. I told him that scientific verification of any 'psychic' ability is still lacking, and discussed James Randi's long-standing offer of a million dollars to anyone who can demonstrate paranormal abilities in controlled conditions. However, Knoll ignored everything I said. When his article finally appeared, it turned out that Knoll decided just to focus only on all the wonderful things the psychic will be bringing the valley. Here's what he wrote on June 8th: "Seventeen miles north of Santa Fe, on the west side of U.S. 84/285, there's a compelling sign that reads: Psychic Healer, with a picture of a dark-haired woman, hands cupped around a crystal ball. Tarot cards flank the woman's image and in smaller red letters, below the crystal ball, the words: 'curandera' and 'espiritista'. Gina, an eighth-generation, psychic healer who prefers to go only by her first name, is the person depicted on the sign. She opened her Pojoaque business May 25 after moving to the area because she 'felt a strong psychic feeling of reaching out to people in the area.' 'Our healing tradition has been passed down to the women of our family,' she said. 'None of the men in my family have this ability. 'I think it's in my DNA,' she said, sitting in her reading room where she holds her healing sessions. 'The energy gets stronger through every generation.' The word 'vision' pops up frequently in her conversation, as does the word 'God.' 'Vision comes through my third-eye chakra,' she said. 'My gift to heal is a gift from God. If God decides to work through me, I can heal. I don't have the power to heal. God is the only healer.' Gina said her first vision came to her in a dream when she was three. Although she didn't want to recount the dream 'because it's private,' she did have this to say about her first encounter with the spiritual dimension. 'I saw a soft, bright light,' she said. 'The most beautiful part was the silence and the peace and energy I felt that connected my body, mind and spirit.' Unlike many curanderas in Northern New Mexico, Gina said she does not use herbs to heal her clients; neither does she delve into the area of exorcising spirits as is often the case with espiritistas. She said she uses the terms: curandera, psychic healer and espiritista as synonyms, all of which mean 'a healer.' Gina's methodology involves Tarot card readings, palm readings and crystal gazing. 'I don't need these to heal, but some people prefer them,' she said. 'I can connect psychically to people without the aid of anything, except God.' Sounding somewhat like a psychotherapist, she said, 'I help people understand their problem by helping them realize what the problem is. Most people don't realize their capacities. I tell them, 'Be who you are. Be what God made you to be.' ' Many people, she said, don't know how to pray. If that is the case, they can drop by her office and she'll give free prayer instructions. For her other services, there is a fee. A crystal ball reading is $65. 'I can see 5 to 6 years into the future,' she said. 'I don't hold back. I tell it all, good and bad. Life isn't perfect. I try to help people understand that.' A Tarot card reading starts at $40, and a palm reading is $30. Until June 15, she has a $25 special on both types of readings. Working by appointment, her telephone number is 988-9941; she said she welcomes people of all faiths and denominations. 'I respect all beliefs,' she said. 'God believes in you, even if you don't believe in him.' ..."

Do YOU think this is "fair and balanced" reporting, or "fairly unbalanced"? Contact John Knoll at; or better yet, write Howard Houghton, City Editor,


Chiropractic Controversy erupts in United Kingdom...

In the Times Online (UK), a June 10th blog by Mark Henderson notes that " The British Chiropractic Association opened a can of worms by suing Simon Singh for libel over his claim that its members promote 'bogus treatments' -- and not only because of the implications of for free speech and unfettered scientific debate. It has also invited unprecedented scrutiny of the claims made for chiropractic -- and a small army of alternative medicine critics are now complaining about every unsubstantiated one they can find to the Advertising Standards Authority, the General Chiropractic Council and Trading Standards. As the Quackometer blog reports today, this has had quite an impact: one chiropractic association has advised its members to take down their websites, and to withdraw any leaflets that suggest they can treat whiplash, colic or any childhood ailments. Not quite the result that the chiropractors were hoping for, I'll wager. ..."



Posted June 5th, 2009

The Evolution of Primate Laughter...

The Associated Press reported on June 4th that "When scientists set out to trace the roots of human laughter, some chimps and gorillas were just tickled to help. Literally. That's how researchers made a variety of apes and some human babies laugh. After analyzing the sounds, they concluded that people and great apes inherited laughter from a shared ancestor that lived more than 10 million years ago. Experts praised the work. It gives very strong evidence that ape and human laughter are related through evolution, said Frans de Waal of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta. As far back as Charles Darwin, scientists have noted that apes make characteristic sounds during play or while being tickled, apparently to signal that they're interested in playing. ... Marina Davila Ross of the University of Portsmouth in England and colleagues carried out a detailed analysis of the sounds evoked by tickling three human babies and 21 orangutans, gorillas, chimps and bonobos. After measuring 11 traits in the sound from each species, they mapped out how these sounds appeared to be related to each other. The result looked like a family tree. Significantly, that tree matched the way the species themselves are related, the scientists reported online Thursday in the journal Current Biology. They also concluded that while human laughter sounds much different from the ape versions, its distinctive features could well have arisen from shared ancestral traits. ..."


Aliens Saved World from Tunguska? Yeah, Right...

Scienceblogs blogger Ethan Siegel, a theoretical astrophysicist at the University of Portland, writes on May 27th "... something large -- likely an icy rock like a comet -- came into contact with the Earth in the early summer of 1908. The collision is known as the Tunguska event. Based on everything we've been able to reconstruct, it entered the Earth's atmosphere, heated up, and -- somewhere over Siberia -- exploded due to the extreme heat. ... And then I read this, which made my stomach turn almost as hard as it did when I read that hikers had discovered Bigfoot. Yuri Lavbin -- a scientist in self-proclamation only -- claims that:'aliens downed the Tunguska meteorite 101 years ago to protect our planet from devastation. Yuri Lavbin says he found unusual quartz crystals at the site of the massive Siberian explosion. Ten crystals have holes in them, placed so the stones can be united in a chain, and other have drawings on them. 'We don't have any technologies that can print such kind of drawings on crystals,' said Lavbin. 'We also found ferrum silicate that can not be produced anywhere, except in space.' ... Even UFO hunters think this is probably a hoax. I'll take the physical, reproducible, scientific explanation every day of the week, thank you. ..."

One of the comments on this post notes that "This was presented, of all places, on the Science Channel -- not the SciFi channel! -- as part of a one-hour special on Tunguska a few weeks ago. It was covered straight, without even raised eyebrows."


Posted May 29th, 2009

McLeroy Ousted as leader of Texas Board of Education...

The Dallas Morning News reports on May 29th that "The Senate rejected Republican Don McLeroy's nomination as chairman of the State Board of Education on Thursday after Democrats decried his lack of leadership and 'endless culture wars' over evolution and other volatile topics. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte said that the State Board of Education has become a 'laughingstock of the nation' under nearly two years of Don McLeroy's leadership. Along strict party lines, the Senate voted 19-11 for McLeroy, but a two-thirds majority was required. One Democrat abstained from the vote. Several Democrats cited the recurring divisiveness on the board with McLeroy at the helm, along with his resistance to the views of educators and education experts on curriculum and other matters. GOP senators rejected the criticism and accused the Democrats of holding an "inquisition" against the College Station Republican for holding views shared by many Texans – including a Bible-based explanation for the origin of humans. Gov. Rick Perry, who nominated McLeroy, will now have to select another member of the board to serve as chairman. McLeroy maintains his seat on the board. Whoever is picked will not have to face Senate confirmation until the 2011 legislative session, unless there is a special session before then. ..."


Artefact that "Shattered the Time Barrier" is Relocated...

The Guardian (UK) reported on May 25th that "A lump of flint that challenged creationist history and was dubbed by an eminent archaeologist 'the stone that shattered the time barrier' has been tracked down after 150 years in the vast stores of the Natural History Museum in London. On 26 May 1859, six months before Charles Darwin shattered the biblical creation story when he finally plucked up the courage to publish his theory of natural selection, the stone hand axe from the bottom of a French quarry was presented to the world at a lecture at the Royal Society in London. Neither John Evans nor Joseph Prestwich, the businessmen and amateur archaeologist and geologist who found it, nor their distinguished audience, could guess its true age, around 400,000 years. But they did know it came from "a very remote period", when the woolly mammoth and rhinos, whose bones were mixed up in the same layer, roamed the plains of northern France. There was no way the mammoths and the man-made tool could be fitted into the traditional biblical timescale, calculated by the 17th-century Archbishop Ussher, that God made the world in 4004BC. ..."


Is Cooking What Makes Us Human?

In a May 26th book review by Dwight Garner of the NY Times, titled "Why Are Humans Different From All Other Apes? It’s the Cooking, Stupid", Garner writes "Human beings are not obviously equipped to be nature’s gladiators. We have no claws, no armor. That we eat meat seems surprising, because we are not made for chewing it uncooked in the wild. Our jaws are weak; our teeth are blunt; our mouths are small. That thing below our noses? It truly is a pie hole. To attend to these facts, for some people, is to plead for vegetarianism or for a raw-food diet. We should forage and eat the way our long-ago ancestors surely did. For Richard Wrangham, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard and the author of 'Catching Fire,' however, these facts and others demonstrate something quite different. They help prove that we are, as he vividly puts it, 'the cooking apes, the creatures of the flame.' The title of Mr. Wrangham’s new book — 'Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human' — sounds a bit touchy-feely. Perhaps, you think, he has written a meditation on hearth and fellow feeling and s’mores. He has not. 'Catching Fire' is a plain-spoken and thoroughly gripping scientific essay that presents nothing less than a new theory of human evolution, one he calls 'the cooking hypothesis,' one that Darwin (among others) simply missed. Apes began to morph into humans, and the species Homo erectus emerged some two million years ago, Mr. Wrangham argues, for one fundamental reason: We learned to tame fire and heat our food. ..."


Wikipedia Blocks All Scientologists From Editing Site...

FOX News reported on May 29th that " In an unprecedented move, Wikipedia has banned edits from an entire religion — the Church of Scientology. After four months of internal discussion, Wikipedia's top administrators decided Thursday to block Scientology-affiliated computers from changing items on any part of the free online encyclopedia, reports the British tech blog The Register. Wikipedia famously lets almost anyone make changes to almost any article. Troublesome individuals have been blocked from editing — among them virulently anti-Scientology activists who altered pages relating to the religion — but this is the first time a religious organization has been blocked. The encyclopedia's administrators found that Scientology computers had been repeatedly changing more than 400 pages related to the Church, deleting negative references and adding positive ones. The volume of changes was overwhelming administrators' ability to reverse them, hence the block. ..."


Posted May 22nd, 2009

Evolution Coverage 'Over the Top'...

Yes, the announcement of Darwinius masillae is important news. But, hasn't the connection of Mankind to the animal world already been demonstrated? NMSR's award for the most over-the-top coverage of the tiny primate Ida goes to Sky News. In an article titled "Scientists Unveil Missing Link In Evolution", Sky News on May 20th reported that "Scientists have unveiled a 47-million-year-old fossilised skeleton of a monkey hailed as the missing link in human evolution. This 95%-complete 'lemur monkey' is described as the "eighth wonder of the world" The search for a direct connection between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom has taken 200 years - but it was presented to the world today at a special news conference in New York. The discovery of the 95%-complete 'lemur monkey' - dubbed Ida - is described by experts as the 'eighth wonder of the world'. They say its impact on the world of palaeontology will be 'somewhat like an asteroid falling down to Earth'. Researchers say proof of this transitional species finally confirms Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, and the then radical, outlandish ideas he came up with during his time aboard the Beagle. Sir David Attenborough said Darwin 'would have been thrilled' to have seen the fossil - and says it tells us who we are and where we came from. ..."


Belshaw is BACK...

If you've been missing Jim Belshaw's Journal columns, there's good news - Belshaw is Back!

The new Blog, Tag End:

NMSR Helped:

Posted May 15th, 2009

Chemist Shows How RNA Can Be the Starting Point for Life...

Nichoals Wade of the NY Times reports on May 13th that "An English chemist has found the hidden gateway to the RNA world, the chemical milieu from which the first forms of life are thought to have emerged on earth some 3.8 billion years ago. He has solved a problem that for 20 years has thwarted researchers trying to understand the origin of life — how the building blocks of RNA, called nucleotides, could have spontaneously assembled themselves in the conditions of the primitive earth. The discovery, if correct, should set researchers on the right track to solving many other mysteries about the origin of life. It will also mean that for the first time a plausible explanation exists for how an information-carrying biological molecule could have emerged through natural processes from chemicals on the primitive earth. The author, John D. Sutherland, a chemist at the University of Manchester, likened his work to a crossword puzzle in which doing the first clues makes the others easier. 'Whether we’ve done one across is an open question,' he said. 'Our worry is that it may not be right.' Other researchers say they believe he has made a major advance in prebiotic chemistry, the study of the natural chemical reactions that preceded the first living cells. “It is precisely because this work opens up so many new directions for research that it will stand for years as one of the great advances in prebiotic chemistry,” Jack Szostak of the Massachusetts General Hospital wrote in a commentary in Nature, where the work is being published on Thursday. ..."


A companion article gets into the chemical nitty-gritty details. It's called "Visual Science: Reconstructing the Master Molecules of Life."


Posted May 8th, 2009

Swine Flu Updates...

Al Zelicoff has been posting frequently-updated Observational Epidemiology and Statistical Analyses regarding the spread of Swine Flu. In his latest update, Al writes "As predicted, the overall death rate in Mexico (where essentially all of the deaths have occurred) is trending downward. The current overall death rate in Mexico is 3.5% compared to just 5 days ago (7.2%) and is approaching statistical significance (p=0.7 for 1-tailed Fisher Exact test) Internationally, the death rate is indistinguishable from seasonal influenza (about 0.1%) as it has been from the beginning of case identification. The number of countries reporting illness remains at about 20. ..."


Latest Update:

Geology Meets Art on Friday Night...

The photography exhibit "Capturing the Artistry of Geology", by Lisa Verploegh (Photographer) and Daniel Harris (Geologist) has an open house tonight, Friday, May 8th, from 6PM to 8 PM, at The source (1111 Carlisle SE, next to Michael Thomas Coffee). In addition to the photographs, which are in true color, and are accompanied by descriptions and GPS coordinates, there will be dancing, drinks and light treats. Check it out!

NMSR -- the BLOG...

In the process of helping Jim Belshaw start a new blog at, I found I needed a blogspace of my own for experimentation. Thus, I've started a new blog for NMSR, called NM Skeptic. This will feature semi-irregular comnmentary on topics of interest to NMSR, wacky letters, and so forth. Drop on by, and leave a comment! NM Skeptic needs more Followers, so tell your friends!

NM Skeptic:

And, if you miss Jim Belshaw's Albuquerque Journal columns, hustle on over to his new blog, Tag End.

Tag End, Jim Belshaw's new Blog:

Science of Star Trek: A Review of Where We Stand...

Charles Q. Choi, LiveScience writes on May 6th "When 'Star Trek' first promised to boldly go where no man had gone before, it spun tales involving a dazzling array of futuristic technologies such as phasers and cloaking devices. How many of those devices are now actually realities today, and how many remain in the distant future? ..."

The article looks at progress on phasers, transporters, cloaking devices, photon torpedoes, universal translators, communicators, deflector shields, tractor Beams and more!


Posted May 1st, 2009

Metal Fragment "Linked" to Roswell Incident?

KRQE TV13 reports on April 30th, in a piece titled "Metal shard linked to Roswell Incident," that "In 2002, UFO investigators, including some from the University of New Mexico, found small pieces of material near the 1947 crash site of what has become known as the Roswell Incident. The group said it did some preliminary tests that found the mystery material is not native to the Roswell area although it is from this planet. This metal piece is aluminum silicon, they said. ... Investigator Debbie Ziegelmeyer said the groups' find could mean answers for people around the world and also for those in Roswell. 'There are a lot of people out there who are skeptics,' she said. 'Now we have something that may be trace evidence. ...' On Thursday the group gathered to ask the public for help after running out of money for tests. It's asking anyone from the scientific community to help them test these materials to find out their origin. The group wants to have the mystery solved in time for the annual Roswell UFO Festival that's held in early July. ..., ..."

What I'd like to know is - how did the "investigative team" determine that an earthly piece of metal found in the desert is "linked" to the recovery of some debris (most likely remains of a failed balloon-borne US surveillance project) from 1947?


The "Sun" Shines Again on UFOlogy...

Prominent UFO skeptic and Roswell specialist Tim Printy has started a new bi-monthly publication, "Sunlite," named to honor the memory of the late Phil Klass, longtime editor of "SUN" (Skeptics' UFO Newsletter). The first issue has the latest dirt on the Roswell Incident, the Arizona UFO, the Big Sur UFO, and more! I predict this important new resource will quickly find its place in the annals of UFOlogy. Congrats, Tim!

Main Site:

Inaugural Issue:

"Alien Skull" on Mars?!?...

The Telegraph (UK) reports on May 1st that "UFO spotters are claiming they have spotted an alien skull on Mars after NASA beamed back satellite images from the planet. At first glance it looks like a rocky desert - but this image of the Mars landscape has got space-gazers talking. An oddly shaped space boulder appears to show eye sockets and a nose leading to speculation it might be a Martian skull. Internet forums are full of chatter about the picture, taken by a panoramic NASA camera known as Spirit. One alien-spotter speculated: "The skull is 15 cm with binocular eyes 5 cm apart. The cranial capacity is approximately 1400 cc. 'There appears to be a narrow pointed small mouth, so this creature most likely is a carnivore.' ..."


Genetic Link to Autism Confirmed...

The BBC reports on April 28th that "Scientists have produced the most compelling evidence to date that genetics play a key role in autism. They highlighted tiny genetic changes that appear to have a strong impact on the likelihood of developing autism and related conditions. The changes influence genes which help form and maintain connections between brain cells. The Nature study highlighted one common genetic variant which, if corrected would cut cases of autism by 15%. Previously, other genetic variants have been linked to autism, but they are all relatively rare. ..."


McLeroy's Confirmation as Texas School Board Chair in Peril...

Kate Alexander of The Statesman reports on April 30th that "The confirmation of State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy is dead in the water, Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, said Thursday. Jackson, chairman of the Senate Nominations Committee, said McLeroy will be left pending in committee because there is enough opposition on the floor of the Senate to block his confirmation, which requires approval of two-thirds of the senators. There are too many other important issues to take up on the floor to waste time on a doomed confirmation, Jackson said. After a contentious confirmation hearing last week, Jackson said he would take the temperature of his colleagues before determining whether to give McLeroy a committee vote. McLeroy, R-Bryan, was first elected to the State Board of Education in 1998 and would retain his seat as a board member even if not confirmed as chairman by the end of the legislative session. ..."


Posted April 24th, 2009

Earthlike Planet?

Ian Musgrave has the update at Panda's Thumb, and reports "The Gliese 581 system delivers again. Giese 581 is a red dwarf star 20.4 light years away that until recently boasted the lightest extrasolar planet ever found. At 5 Earth masses, Gliese 581c was not exactly a second Earth, but it and 7 Earth mass Gliese 581d captured the worlds imagination as they seemed to be in the habitable zone of their parent star, where liquid water can exist. Now the smallest mass planet ever has been discovered around Gliese 581, a 1.9 mass planet Gliese 581e, presumably rocky, that screams around Gliese 581 in a little over three days. At a mere 0.03 Astronomical Units from its star, Gliese 581e is a Mercury-like world, baking in the close embrace of the Red Dwarf. ... ..."


Sad Times for Scientific American...

Jeff Bercovici at reports on April 23rd that "The recession has finally come to Scientific American. Editor in chief John Rennie and half a dozen or so of his underlings are leaving amid a major reorganization of the 164-year-old magazine's operations, according to sources. Rennie has held his job since 1994. [Update: More than 20 employees have been let go overall, including president Steven Yee; details below.] ..."



Posted April 17th, 2009

Cosmic Carnival, Saturday, April 18th, 2009...

Cosmic Carnival is a free family Science Festival to celebrate National Astronomy Day and the Albuquerque Founders Day Fiesta.
Cosmic Carnival is sponsored by Science and science education organizations through out New Mexico, who offer public friendly information, demos, activities, and materials to promote science and their organization.
Saturday, April 18th, 2009, 12:30 PM to 5:00 PM, Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico
Exhibitors include New Mexicans for Science and Reason - come by and visit us!!


It's not too late to volunteer for greeting visitors to NMSR's table!

Texas Legislature Ponders Actions on Rogue School Board...

The Wall street Journal reports on April 13th that "Texas state legislators are considering reining in the Board of Education amid frustration with the board's politically charged debate over how to teach evolution. The board last month approved a science curriculum that opens the door for teachers and textbooks to introduce creationist objections to evolution's explanation of the origin and progression of life forms. Other parts of the curriculum were carefully worded to raise doubts about global warming and the big-bang theory of how the universe began. While the science standards have drawn the most attention, the 15-member elected board has been embroiled in other controversies as well. Last year, it rejected a reading curriculum that teachers had spent nearly three years drafting. In its place, the board approved a document that a few members hastily assembled just hours before the vote. Some lawmakers -- mostly Democrats -- say they have had enough. The most far-reaching proposals would strip the Texas board of its authority to set curricula and approve textbooks. Depending on the bill, that power would be transferred to the state education agency, a legislative board or the commissioner of education. Other bills would transform the board to an appointed rather than elected body, require Webcasting of meetings, and take away the board's control of a vast pot of school funding. Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, hasn't taken a position on specific bills, a spokeswoman said. 'At this point, a lot of us are questioning...whether the state Board of Education serves a purpose anymore,' said state Rep. Donna Howard, a Democrat. ..."


Antarctic Ice Yields Million-Year-Old Microbe Colony...

Fox News reports on April 17th that "A living time capsule of sorts has been found buried under hundreds of feet of Antarctic ice — a colony of microbes that have been sealed off from the rest of the world for more than 1.5 million years. The finding, detailed in the April 17 issue of the journal Science, could serve as a model for how life might survive on icy planets elsewhere in the galaxy. The microbes, which live without light or oxygen, were detected in meltwater flowing out from Taylor Glacier, one of the outlet glaciers of the vast East Antarctic Ice Sheet in the otherwise ice-free McMurdo Dry Valleys. The Dry Valleys are considered one of Earth's most extreme deserts, devoid of animals and complex plants. ..."


New Species Named after Obama...

The Los Angeles Times reports on April 16th that "You could say Kerry Knudsen took a lichen to our new president. Knudsen, a curator of the plant-like combination of fungi and algae at the UC Riverside Herbarium, named a new species of tough, orange-colored lichen, Caloplaca obamae, after Barack Obama. 'I supported him running for president, and while we were doing the collecting the election was in its last couple of weeks,' Knudsen, 58, said Thursday. 'It was real suspense, so we were talking about that every day.' Coincidentally, the final peer review of the paper came back on Inauguration Day, and Knudsen finished the revisions while watching the event on television, sealing the deal. The paper was published a few weeks ago in the journal Opuscula Philolichenum, which Knudsen said means 'little works of lichen lovers.' Knudsen, who has studied lichens for about 10 years and roamed the California coast looking for them, said the naming decision wasn't about publicity. 'After the Bush administration, I appreciated the change to an administration supporting science and science education,' Knudsen said. ..."


Posted April 10th, 2009

Fifteen galaxies younger than thought...

UPI reports on April 10th that "Fifteen massive galaxies may have formed relatively recently despite wide-held belief they formed 13 billion years ago, says a U.S. astronomer. The relatively low abundance of heavy elements suggests the 15 galaxies may be 3 billion or 4 billion years old, said John Salzer, an astronomer at Indiana University who led a team in studying the galaxies. Most theories of galaxy formation have held that such massive, luminous systems, including the Milky Way, formed shortly after the big bang 13 billion years ago, he said. If the team's new theory is correct, astronomers could use the 15 galaxies to study to stellar formation and evolution, the university said in a release. The discoveries are the result of a several-year survey of more than 2,400 star-forming galaxies, Salzer said, noting previous surveys failed to find the unusual galaxies. ..."


Stick Science cartoon contest...

The NCSE announced on April 3rd "Florida Citizens for Science, a grassroots organization defending and promoting the integrity of science education in Florida, is sponsoring a cartoon contest! At the FCFS blog (April 1, 2009), Brandon Haught explains, "The basic concept here is to draw a cartoon that educates the public about misconceptions the average person has about science (or for the 12-year-old and under folks, a cartoon about 'why understanding science is important')." And lack of artistic ability isn't a problem: "all entries must be drawn using stick figures. This is about creative ideas, not artistic ability." Entries are due (by e-mail or post) by May 31, 2009. ..."


Bob Park Relates History with Dennis Lee...

The April 10th edition of Bob Park's "What's New" column is all about his long history with Dennis Lee, who was finally forced to face the camera on Dateline's expose aired last Sunday (April 5th). Park writes Last Sunday, NBC Dateline exposed the Hydro Assist Fuel Cell, sold by Dennis Lee, as a scam. It seemed like such a simple idea: powered by the alternator, the HAFC decomposes water into hydrogen and oxygen and adds a whiff of hydrogen into the combustion mixture, supposedly extending the mileage you get. There are two small problems: it takes more energy to decompose water than you get from combustion of the hydrogen, and Dennis Lee is notorious for his scams. The hydrogen fuel scam has been fooling the scientifically ignorant, including George W. Bush and former congressman Robert Walker, for at least 40 years. This time, however, Lee was up against tough Dateline investigators aided by the indefatigable Eric Krieg of the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking, and a cameo appearance by Bob Park. Lee got clobbered. I think. ..."

There's more:

Posted April 3rd, 2009

Dennis Lee's "HAFC" Unit to be Examined on Dateline NBC THIS Sunday...

Eric Krieg, the engineer who has tracked "Free Electricity" bunker Dennis Lee over the years, will appear on NBC's Dateline THIS weekend. Dateline NBC will have the first major network TV undercover investigation into the Dennis Lee operation Sunday 7pm EST. The original airing was delayed by Tiger Woods' stellar golf performance delayed the show; it will now be run on April 5th, 2009 (6 PM MDT). Krieg says "It will be a half hour segment with award winning correspondent Chris Hansen. I've been on and off giving them information for more than a year on this. I told them that it would be a much bigger story if they find out that HAFC really works. Dateline did have the leading HAFC installer do a conversion on a car model that Lee claims has been successful in the past. - watch the show to find out how it worked. The episode will reveal new information related to the on going FTC case against Lee and show interviews of people who Lee claimed in court got near doubled mileage. If you miss it, I will make sure to have a link to the full length web version of the story from my skeptical page at ..."


Comer Case Dismissed...

NCSE reports on April 1st that "In a March 31, 2009, decision, Chris Comer's lawsuit against the Texas Education Agency, challenging the agency's policy of requiring neutrality about evolution and creationism, was dismissed. The Austin American-Statesman (April 1, 2009) reported, 'The state's attorneys argued in court filings that the agency is allowed to bar its employees from giving the appearance that the agency is taking positions on issues that the State Board of Education must decide, such as the content of the science curriculum.' The newspaper quoted Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott as saying, 'We are sorry that this situation resulted in a lawsuit but we were confident we would prevail,' and John Oberdorfer, one of Comer's lawyers, as saying of the dismissal, 'We'll look at it and decide what we'll do next.' ..."


Curmudgeonly Legal Analysis:

NMSR makes ABC's GMA...

NMSR's "Alabama Pi" April Fool's stunt went viral in 1998, and has now moved from 8th to 7th in the Museum of Hoaxes Top 10 List." This week, ABC mentioned NMSR on the Wednesday, April 1 edition of "Good Morning America"!


Sue Vorenberg has also marked the occasion for the Santa Fe New Mexican:

Posted March 27th, 2009

Dennis Lee's "HAFC" Unit to be Examined on Dateline NBC this Sunday...

Eric Krieg, the engineer who has tracked "Free Electricity" bunker Dennis Lee over the years, announced the following on March 26th: "People, Dateline NBC will have the first major network TV undercover investigation into the Dennis Lee operation Sunday 7pm EST. (??? MDT) It will be a half hour segment with award winning correspondent Chris Hansen. I've been on and off giving them information for more than a year on this. I told them that it would be a much bigger story if they find out that HAFC really works. Dateline did have the leading HAFC installer do a conversion on a car model that Lee claims has been successful in the past. - watch the show to find out how it worked. The episode will reveal new information related to the on going FTC case against Lee and show interviews of people who Lee claimed in court got near doubled mileage. If you miss it, I will make sure to have a link to the full length web version of the story from my skeptical page at ..."

Update: Tiger Woods' stellar golf performance delayed the show; it will run on April 5th, 2009 (6 PM MDT)


Science Takes Hit in Texas...

The Texas Freedom Network reports on this week's Texas school board meetings (March 27th)) "TFN President Kathy Miller: Texas State Board of Education Adopts Flawed Science Standards The word 'weaknesses' no longer appears in the science standards. But the document still has plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make their way into Texas classrooms. Through a series of contradictory and convoluted amendments, the board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks. We appreciate that the politicians on the board seek compromise, but don't agree that compromises can be made on established mainstream science or on honest education policy. What's truly unfortunate is that we now have to revisit this entire debate in two years when new science textbooks are adopted. Perhaps the Texas legislature can do something to prevent that. ..."


SB433 - IT'S OVER!...

Kent Cravens' creationist legislation, SB 433, "USE OF SCIENCE IN TEACHING BIOLOGICAL ORIGINS," did not get out of committee before the 60-day session ended.


Posted March 20th, 2009

Bible Codes Mocked by Oregon Paper...

Bill Varble of the Mail Tribune (southern Oregon) writes on March 15th "Nathan Jacobi has found more than a dozen encoded Hebrew phrases in the Old Testament about today's economic crisis, a press release claims. Jacobi was a physicist in the United States in the 1970s and '80s, and now lives in an Israeli West Bank settlement. He says code letters are equally spaced in the text. Hip-hopping through the Bible from letter to letter in this way, he found phrases such as 'A credit crisis of my houses that will be numerous,' 'Where is the dream of the financial market?' and 'Destruction befits the financial market.' Well. Jacobi is like the guy who was impressed when the fortune teller told him a beloved pet had died. And I have about the same fascination with Bible codes as I do with Bigfoot, the Living Elvis and those figures always popping up magically on tortillas. But if you'd like to read more, check out Believers grant that finding terms like 'financial crisis' could be chance, but they argue that extended terms such as 'from whom to whom is the global financial crisis' are far less likely to be chance. For a different viewpoint, see, where writer Dave Thomas recounts finding a prediction that the Chicago Bulls would win the 1998 NBA championship encoded in Tolstoy's 'War and Peace.' His point is that you can find 'codes' dancing through any document that's long enough. I don't care. What I want to know is, if the Old Testament is the inspired word of an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent deity, why would he, in his infinite wisdom, hide a bunch of obscure Econ 101 stuff in there like a 3,000-year scavenger hunt? Why not put it in the New York Times classifieds, or on Facebook, or writ large across the sky? ..."


Dembski Stuck in the 80's...

Over at Panda's Thumb, Bill Dembski, the mathematical "wizard" of the Intelligent Design movement, has been shown to have been mis-interpreting Richard Dawkins' "Weasel" program since the 1980s. Pledging to look into the matter by developing new versions of "Weasel," Dembski's "Evolutionary Informatics lab" has thus far produced ... nothing! Meanwhile, visitors to the Panda's Thumb have already contributed several programs to look at the question of "latching" in such programs.




As this year's session draws to a close, SB 433, "USE OF SCIENCE IN TEACHING BIOLOGICAL ORIGINS," is still waiting to be heard. Look for a post-session analysis tomorrow!


Posted March 13th, 2009

Pseudoscience Bill Fails in NM Legislature...

Senate Memorial 9, "REQUESTING THE UNITED STATES FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION TO RESCIND APPROVAL OF ASPARTAME FOR UNITED STATES MARKETS," sponsored by NM state senator Gerald P. Ortiz y Pino, was defeated in a 4-2 vote on March 11th. The bill is based on Internet-fueled urban legends about aspartame; part of the bill reads "WHEREAS, the Ramazzini studies by the European foundation for oncology in Italy conducted exhaustive studies over three years with thousands of rats and proved aspartame to be a multipotential carcinogen, thus confirming the United States food and drug administration's original findings; ..."


The NCAHF(National Council Against Health Fraud) has analyzed the claims, and found them lacking. NCAHF points out that the FDA has severely criticized the the European Ramazzini Foundation (ERF, Bologna, Italy) study, citing the FDA statement on this study: " Aspartame was approved in the United States in 1981 and is one of the most widely used artificial sweeteners. When metabolized by the body, it is broken down into two common amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine, and trivial amounts of methanol. These three substances are available in similar or greater amounts from eating common foods. The FDA's criticism emphasizes three points: * The ERF did not comply with FDA's request for full disclosure of the study's data and would not permit the agency to review its pathology slides; * Based on the available data, there are significant shortcomings in the design, conduct, reporting, and interpretation of this study; * The pathological changes were incidental and appeared spontaneously in the study animals, and none of the tissue changes reported appear to be related to treatment with aspartame. ..."


Senate Rules Committee: The Tally

Snopes Report:

Quackwatch Report:

Meanwhile, Fiscal Analysis Released for SB 433...

The New Mexico Legislatures' Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) has finished a "Fiscal Impact Report" of Sen. Cravens' bill, "USE OF SCIENCE IN TEACHING BIOLOGICAL ORIGINS." The report says "WHAT WILL BE THE CONSEQUENCES OF NOT ENACTING THIS BILL: According to the PED, the state will avoid likely litigation resulting from enacting this bill and students will continue to learn the fundamental scientific concepts of biology and chemistry. In its 2007 analysis of the related Senate Bill 371 and House Bill 506, the PED stated that a consequence of not enacting those bills would have been that “the state would not be put in the unenviable position of defending litigation about enacting a bill that violated both the federal and state constitutions.” ..."


Creationist Sues Louisiana University...

The Associated Press repoorts on March 3rd that "A federal judge made an initial ruling Tuesday in favor of a Louisiana university being sued by a Christian evangelist who claims he was threatened with arrest if he didn't stop speaking on campus. U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle refused to grant a preliminary injunction requested by the Alliance Defend Fund, a Christian civil rights group that claims Southeastern Louisiana University stifled traveling evangelist Jeremy Sonnier's constitutional right to speak on campus. The group wanted to temporarily block the school from enforcing its speech policy while the lawsuit is argued. The state-funded school says it has a right to limit the time, place and manner of free speech on its Hammond campus, about 60 miles northwest of New Orleans. ..."


Posted March 6th, 2009

UFO Author Dennis Balthaser Caught in Blatant Hypocrisy...

This story is so shocking, so amazing, and so revealing of the corruption of professional UFO hucksters, that it's getting its own permanent page! When Roswell proponent Dennis Balthaser decided to attack NMSR's Dave Thomas for not checking his facts, he should have checked a few of his own, first!


Changes Coming to NM's Creationist Legislation?

Kate Nash of the The Santa Fe New Mexican reports on March 3rd that "A measure pending in the Senate Education Committee would protect teachers who want to talk about theories of a "controversial scientific nature," including but not limited to creationism, its sponsor said. "There's fear that if they say the wrong thing at the wrong time with the wrong student present or the wrong authority present, that there could be some reprisal," said Sen. Kent Cravens, R-Albuquerque, who is carrying the bill. The measure (SB433) "just asks that if there's a controversial scientific theory being presented, that a teacher can't be reprimanded or fired or downgraded or any way harmed if the teacher happens to mention that there are other theories of controversial scientific nature, to include biological evolution, human cloning, global warming, you name a dozen different things." Cravens said the bill isn't meant to be an anti-Darwinian measure. ..."


Meanwhile, Oklahoma Legislature Strikes Out at Dawkins...

While New Mexico's creationist legislation languishes pending a hearing, the Oklahoma legislature is not sitting idly by. Josh Rosenau reports this week that the Oklahoma bill says "... the Oklahoma House of Representative strongly opposes the invitation to speak on the campus of the University of Oklahoma to Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, whose published statements on the theory of evolution and opinion about those who do not believe in the theory are contrary and offensive to the views and opinions of most citizens of Oklahoma. ..."


Posted February 27th, 2009

1.5 Million-year-old Fossil Human Footprints are Amazing...

National Geographics reports on Feb. 26th that "About 1.5 million years ago, human ancestors walked upright with a spring in their steps just as modern humans do today, suggests an analysis of ancient footprints found in northern Kenya. The prints are the oldest known to show modern foot anatomy. The discovery also helps round out the picture of a cooling and drying episode in Africa that compelled tree-dwelling human ancestors to venture into the open landscape for food, said John Harris, a paleoanthropologist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. ..."


Jindal Versus the Volcano...

During the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal said "While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes $300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a "magnetic levitation" line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called 'volcano monitoring.' Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C. ..."


As NMSR member Bill Fienning aptly observed on the NMSR email list, "There are no volcanoes in Louisiana. A lot more money could be saved by not monitoring hurricanes. Would Gov. Bobby Jindal subscribe to this?"

LESC/PED Publish Analysis of Creationist Bill, SB433...

The state of NM has published analyses of Senate Bill 433, and it's not pretty. The short version: "Finally, the PED analysis suggests that enacting SB 433 would invite litigation. ..."

SB 433 Analysis, Toons, Links, More:

Posted February 20th, 2009

La Brea Tar Pits STILL Yielding Surprises...

The Associated Press reportewd on Feb. 18th that "Scientists are studying a huge cache of Ice Age fossil deposits recovered near the famous La Brea Tar Pits in the heart of the nation's second-largest city. Among the finds is a near-intact mammoth skeleton, a skull of an American lion and bones of saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, bison, horses, ground sloths and other mammals. Researchers discovered 16 fossil deposits under an old parking lot next to the tar pits in 2006 and began sifting through them last summer. The mammoth remains, including 10-foot-long tusks, were in an ancient riverbed near the fossil cache. Officials of the Page Museum at the tar pits plan to formally announce their findings on Wednesday. The discoveries could double the museum's Ice Age collection. Such a rich find usually takes years to excavate. But with a deadline looming to build an underground parking garage for the next-door art museum, researchers boxed up the deposits and lifted them out of the ground using a massive crane. 'It's like a paleontological Christmas,' research team member Andie Thomer wrote in a blog post in July. The research dubbed 'Project 23' -- because it took 23 boxes to house the deposits -- uncovered fossilized mammals as well as smaller critters including turtles, snails and insects. Separately, scientists found a well-preserved Columbian mammoth that they nicknamed Zed. ..."


(Gradual) Change We Can Believe In...

What is the connection between change we can believe in, and gradual change? Click through to find out!


Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Snubs Louisiana, Jindal...

As Katie Couric observed on her CBS News blog on Feb. 18th, "The saints might go marching into New Orleans, but the scientists are marching right on out. A group of more than two thousand biologists have decided NOT to hold their 2011 annual meeting in the Big Easy. The reason? Louisiana has a law that allows teachers to use supplemental materials in science class - things other than the state approved curriculum. Republican-up-and-comer Bobby Jindal signed it last summer after it passed the state legislature with overwhelming support. The scientific community says the law is nothing more than a free pass for the teaching of creationism, and that religion has no place in a biology class. The Times Picayune reports that Governor Jindal has not responded to the letter from the scientists. Either way, they've already moved on - to Utah - where they say the laws protect science. Salt Lake City is more progressive than New Orleans? Now there's a clear argument - that evolution exists. ..."


Posted February 13th, 2009

Vaccines not the Cause of Autism, Court Rules...

MSNBC reports on Feb. 13th that "Vaccines aren't to blame for autism, a special federal court declared Thursday in a blow to thousands of families hoping to win compensation and to many more who are convinced of a connection. The special masters who decided the case expressed sympathy for the families, some of whom have made emotional pleas describing their children's conditions, but the rulings were blunt: There's little if any evidence to support claims of a vaccine-autism link. The evidence 'is weak, contradictory and unpersuasive,' concluded Special Master Denise Vowell. 'Sadly, the petitioners in this litigation have been the victims of bad science conducted to support litigation rather than to advance medical and scientific understanding' of autism. ..."


Neanderthal Genome Released...

Gerry Ward at Genome Alberta announced on Feb. 12th that "Today, February 12, 2009 represents the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. It is also the 150th year since the publication of his groundbreaking book On the Origin of Species. ... Today, Darwin's birthday, there was a major scientific announcement made simultaneously from Leipzig and Chicago and streamed live over the web. I was lucky enough to tune in. The topic was the Neanderthal Genome. This has been a great week for cutting edge genomics. The speaker, Svante Paabo told us that this important research was the sequencing of the last diverging species of DNA from our own human genome. We branched from both the previously studied chimpanzee and orang-utan at least 5 to 7 million years ago. The Neanderthal branch is as recent as 300,000 years. Further studies will allow for the cataloguing of significant changes that made us humans what we are, and what similarities we have with our closest relative. This project took at least 2.5 years to complete the study of 200 extracts from 70 fossils and 16 sites. The fossils ranged in age from 38,000 years to 43,000 years. ..."


Creationist Legislation, New Mexico Legislature, 2009 60-day Session...

NMSR now has an analysis of creationist legislation in the current 60-day session of the New Mexico legislature, prepared by Kim Johnson.

SB 433 Analysis:

Posted February 6th, 2009

Jonathan Wells’ weird notions about development...

Intelligent Design "biologist" Jonathan Wells spoke in Albuquerque on Jan. 20th. PZ Myers has an analysis of this talk: "Jonathan Wells recently gave a talk in Albuquerque at something called the "Forum on Science, Origins, and Design", a conference about which I can find absolutely nothing on the web. I wasn't there, of course, and I don't get invited to these goofy events anyway, but I did get a copy of Wells' powerpoint presentation from an attendee. It's titled "DNA Does Not Control Embryo Development" — shall we look at it together? It's really a hoot. ..."


"Good Mother Whale" is Creationist Bane...

Brian Switek at the Laelaps blog has a Feb. 3rd article on Maiacetus, the good mother whale. He writes " Just announced in the journal PLoS One, Maiacetus was a member of the Protocetidae, an extinct group of early whales that beautifully illustrate an important phase of whale evolution. Previously known members of the group include Rodhocetus and Protocetus from Pakistan and Georgiacetus from the southern United States, the latter animal illustrating that this group included the first whales able to cross oceans. ... One of the Maiacetus skeletons contained an important clue that may support the idea that early protocetids hauled out onto the beach on occasion. The authors of the paper reported that a highly- developed Maiacetus fetus was found inside one of the skeletons. Its position (nearly inside the ribcage of its mother) illustrates that it may have shifted position between the time its mother died and when it became fossilized, but its orientation inside the mother might have been preserved in its natural state. The fossil fetus faces towards the tail-end of the mother, and if this was its natural orientation (as the authors suggest) then it might be a clue that Maiacetus gave birth on land. Modern whales are born tail-first, an adaptation to life in the sea that prevents them from drowning. Terrestrial mammals, by contrast, are often born head first. The authors use this difference to hypothesize that Maiacetus came out onto land to give birth, meaning that these early whales were still tied to the coast. ..."


The FTC goes after Dennis Lee...

The Federal Trade Commission announced on Feb. 2nd, 2009 that "FTC Sues Promoters of Bogus Fuel Efficiency Device; Ads Appeared in Major Magazines Promising to Turn Any Car Into a Hybrid; At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a federal court has temporarily halted the deceptive advertising campaign and frozen the assets of an operation claiming its device can boost automobile gas mileage by at least 50 percent and 'turn any vehicle into a hybrid.' The Commission is seeking a permanent ban on the ads and a further order providing reimbursement to customers who purchased the device. ... The FTC’s complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey against Dutchman Enterprises, LLC and United Community Services of America Inc. (UCSA). It also names as a defendant Dennis Lee, chief operating officer of Dutchman Enterprises and president of UCSA. Lee is a convicted felon who has been prosecuted in at least eight states in the past for violating consumer protection laws. ... The FTC asserts the defendants’ advertising campaign has used pseudo-scientific explanations to describe how their device purportedly works. For example, according to the papers the FTC filed, the promoters of the HAFC have claimed that the device uses electricity to turn plain water into “water gas” that has five times the potential energy of gasoline, and that it uses powerful magnets to ionize gasoline so that it burns more completely. However, in papers filed with the court, the FTC states that these and other claims defy well-established physical principles and contain 'gross errors and misrepresentations of fact.' According to an expert hired by the FTC, the device does not even meet the scientific definition of a 'fuel cell,' and several of the processes touted by the companies either are impossible or would lead to a net loss of energy. The promoters 'are marketing a product that cannot exist and function as claimed,' the FTC stated in the court papers. The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 4-0. ..."





FEBRUARY '09 NMSR REPORTS ON-LINE - New Puzzles, Open Access Publishing, WonderQuest, MORE!

Creationist Legislation, New Mexico Legislature, 2009 60-day Session...

NMSR has a new page for updates on creationist legislation in the current 60-day session of the New Mexico legislature. This week, Sen. Kent Cravens introduced the bill, Senate Bill 433.

Text of the Bill, News Updates:

Posted January 31st, 2009

Moth Expert Majerus Passes Away...

On the Panda's Thumb, Nick Matzke reports that "t Michael E. N. Majerus, Cambridge lepidopterist and world expert on the peppered moth and the evolution of melanism (and many other topics, e.g. ladybirds), has unexpectedly died after a short illness. This is very hard to understand, as he was quite young and in the midst of a very productive career. I admit that I was interested in his work mostly from evolution/creationism angle, and there is a lot more to his life and his work than that, but I want it noted that Majerus on many occasions went out of his way to not just do good science but to help improve the public understanding of science and evolution. For example, he communicated helpfully with several of us on PT who wrote on the peppered moth issue, he wrote and talked for scientists, educators, and the public on the issue ... Majerus maintained an amazing sense of composure in the face of what was a pretty ridiculous set of attacks on the peppered moth example from the media and creationists (which resulted, I am convinced, in the peppered moth getting inappropriately dropped from several textbooks). Instead of getting mad and indignant, which would have been perfectly appropriate and understandable responses, Majerus went back to the field and gathered more data, tested the mainstream hypothesis again, and even changed the mind of some of his scientific critics. ..."


Did Darwin's Anti-slavery Views Affect Development of Evolution Theory?

The Discover Magazine's "80 Beats" blog reported on Jan. 29th that "Charles Darwin's theory of evolution may have been shaped by his abhorrence of slavery as much as by his keen observations of Galapagos finches, a new book argues. Darwin's Sacred Cause, by Adrian Desmond and James Moore, notes that slavery propaganda of the time often claimed that different races belonged to different species, a notion that Darwin's work obliterated. The book suggests that Darwin's unique approach to evolution - relating all races and species by "common descent" - could have been fostered by his anti-slavery beliefs [BBC News]. Published to coincide with Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of his publication of On the Origin of Species this year, the book is likely to stir up a new debate over Darwin’s motives. ..."


Can Depression Drugs Treat Locust Swarms?

Reuters/UK reports on Jan. 30th that "A brain chemical that lifts people out of depression can transform solitary grasshoppers into swarming desert locusts, a finding that could one day help prevent the devastating plagues, researchers said on Thursday. Increases of serotonin, the nerve-signaling chemical targeted by many antidepressants, appears to spark the behavior changes needed to turn the normally harmless insects into bugs that gang up to munch crops, they said. 'Our paper shows how this change in behavior changes what are essentially large grasshoppers living in the desert into swarming, destructive pests,' said University of Cambridge researcher Stephen Rogers, who worked on the study. 'For a swarm to develop the locusts must transform from a solitary phase into a gregarious phase.' ..."


Creationist Legislation, New Mexico Legislature, 2009 60-day Session...

NMSR has a new page for updates on creationist legislation in the current 60-day session of the New Mexico legislature. So far, the bill's backers say that Sen. Kent Cravens will be the sponsor, but no further information is available.

Text of the Bill, News Updates:

Posted January 23rd, 2009

Amateur Paleontologist Digs Up Heap of Trouble...

The NY Times reports on Jan. 22nd that "In October 2006, a respected amateur paleontologist, Nathan L. Murphy, took a large rock containing the well-preserved bones of a new species of dinosaur to be X-rayed at the Dinosaur Field Station here. The origin of a fossil of a new species of dinosaur is in dispute. He called the fossil, a raptor the size of a wild turkey, Sid Vicious. The find was a coup, bringing Mr. Murphy prestige and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars from the rights to cast the fossil for sale to museums and collectors. Mr. Murphy was no stranger to fossil hunting success. He was part of the team that found Roberta and Elvis, two beautifully articulated duckbill fossils, and, in 2000, a team he led found a priceless fossil of a 77-million-year-old duckbill that has come to be known as Leonardo. The fossil is the only herbivore found with eaten meals intact. But Montana law enforcement officials now say that the fossil Mr. Murphy took to the field station in 2006 had actually been found four years earlier on a private ranch and therefore belongs to someone else. In September, after a yearlong investigation by state and federal authorities, Mr. Murphy was charged with felony theft. Federal agents have also questioned his associates about his other fossil discoveries. The investigations have caused consternation in this small town in the middle of some of the world’s richest dinosaur fields. ... Dr. Bakker [Robert Bakker, a paleontologist from Colorado and a consultant to the museum] estimates the value of what he jokingly refers to as the 'kleptoraptor' at $150,000 to $400,000. Ms. Frary called Mr. Murphy’s downfall 'a tragedy of Greek proportion.' He was a friend with 'a real passion for paleontology,' she said, one of 14 founding members of the museum and good at finding dinosaur fossils. Dr. Bakker and other researchers are furious that Mr. Murphy lied about the specimen’s provenance. 'That's a sin' because so much information is lost, Dr. Bakker said. ..."


Kevin Jackson (ex Rio Rancho mayor) Arrested...

The Albuquerque Journal reported on Jan. 20th that "Former Rio Rancho Mayor Kevin Jackson has landed in trouble again. Jackson is in a Pennsylvania prison, charged with violating a protection from abuse order filed by his wife. The former mayor was being held Monday at the Erie County prison, in lieu of a $20,000 cash-only bond. Charges against him include violating a protection from abuse order, burglary, criminal trespassing and carrying a firearm without a license, according to a Pennsylvania State Police report. The police report says that, on Jan. 13,Jackson went to his wife's home, entered through a basement window and went to her bedroom, where she was asleep. It says he pointed a semiautomatic pistol at his wife's face 'in an attempt to communicate and reconcile the relationship.' ..."


In 2002, Jackson's group, NMFC, sent hundreds of copies of Michael Behe's "Intelligent Design" (ID) book "Darwin's Black Box" to science teachers in New Mexico, on UNM letterhead: And in 2005, Jackson's wife Kathy sat on the Rio Rancho School Board as it approved since-rescinded "Science Policy 401," widely denounced as pro-ID in its original form.

More on Kevin Jackson:

Media Mania: "DARWIN WAS WRONG!"...

First, New Scientist published an article on Jan. 21st titled "Why Darwin was wrong about the tree of life," regarding the fact that biology, especially that involving the emergence of the first life forms billions of years ago, is a bit more complex than we'd thought.


The New Scientist editors at least had the decency to try to head off creationist misquotations of their article - as if that would be even marginally effective: "As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, we await a third revolution that will see biology changed and strengthened. None of this should give succour to creationists, whose blinkered universe is doubtless already buzzing with the news that 'New Scientist has announced Darwin was wrong'. Expect to find excerpts ripped out of context and presented as evidence that biologists are deserting the theory of evolution en masse. They are not. ..."


What's the scoop? Jasen Rosenhouse has a nice summary at Science Blogs: "If the article, by Graham Lawton, had some real news to report that would justify such a headline, then that would be one thing. In reality, though, the article has only the yawn-worthy old-news that horizontal gene transfer among single- celled organisms means that the metaphor of a tree of life must be modified. Scientific American published a far more informative version of the same article back in February of 2000....."


Then, Newsweek got in the act, with a Jan. 17th article by Sharon Begley titled "The Sins of the Fathers, Take 2:At tributes to Darwin, Lamarckism—inheritance of acquired traits—will be the skunk at the party."


PZ Myers, Bio Prof at U of Minn., had this to say in response: "Sharon Begley, how could you? ... She's describing real and interesting phenomena, but it isn't new and it isn't revolutionary. These are results of plasticity and epigenetics, and we aren't having heart palpitations over them (you're also going to have a difficult time finding any 'strict Darwinians' in the science community who are even surprised by this stuff). We load up pregnant women with folate and maternal vitamins and recommendations to eat well, and we tell them not to get drunk or smoke crack for a few months, because it is common sense and common knowledge that extra-genetic factors influence the health and development of the next generation. Genes don't execute rigid, predetermined programs of development — they are responsive to the environment and can express radically different patterns in different contexts. The same genes build a caterpillar and a butterfly, the difference is in the hormonal environment that selects which genes will be active. It's the same story with the water fleas. Stressed and unstressed mothers switch on different genes in their offspring epigenetically, which lead to the expression of different morphology. It's very cool stuff, but evolutionary biologists are about as shocked by this as they are by the idea that malnourished mothers have underweight babies. That environmental influences can have multi-generational effects, and that developmental programs can cue off of the history of the germ line, is not a new idea, especially among developmental biologists. ..."


Big Science Win in Texas - BUT...

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), writes on Jan. 22nd that "Just hours ago, the State Board of Education (SBOE) voted 8-7 to reject efforts by creationists to reinsert into draft curriculum standards sweeping language -- "strengths and weaknesses" -- used to undermine sound science education. If this vote stands, a key weapon creationists have used to attack evolution will be swept from the standards. But creationists on the board managed to sneak through other changes that complicate important parts of the standards. One change would have students question a core concept of evolutionary biology, common descent. It was a stunning display of arrogance, with the board's far-right faction pretending to know more about science than the teachers and scientists who crafted the standards draft. ... Sign the Stand Up for Science petition and forward this message to friends and family so that they can lend their names to this important cause. ..."


NM Creationist Bill Has a Sponsor..., the new Intelligent Design Creationist website for supporting anti-science legislation in New Mexico, reports that "NM Origins Bill to Get New Sponsor State Senator Steve Komadina helped get the NM Biological Origins Education Bill started, and then he sponsored it in the NM Senate in 2007. Unfortunately, he will not be able to sponsor the bill again because he was not reelected, but we really appreciate his initiative. Senator Kent Cravens has agreed to sponsor the bill in the 2009 session. Let’s support him in getting this legislation through the Senate. ..."


Who wrote the legislation? Would you believe... the Discovery Institute? (Shocked! Shocked, I say...) Check out the Institute's "Academic Freedom" site : (A simple WHOIS inquiry will verify that this is from the Disco Institute...)

This page offers a "sample academic freedom bill." From that model legislation:"Section 5. Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student in any public school or institution of higher education shall be penalized in any way because he or she may subscribe to a particular position on any views regarding biological or chemical evolution...."

Compare this to this sentence from the proposed NM bill: " C. Public school teachers may hold students accountable for knowing and understanding material taught in accordance with adopted standards and curricula about biological evolution or chemical evolution, but they may not penalize a student in any way because that student subscribes to a particular position on biological evolution or chemical evolution...."

A little subtle, but I could swear I see a wisp of smoke emanating from the barrel of a Colt revolver...


Posted January 16th, 2009

Texas Legislator wants to De-fang State Board of Education...

The Texas Freedom Network (TFN) reports on the ongoing science standards hearings in that state on Jan. 9th, stating "Currently, creationists on the board are trying to dumb down the public school science curriculum and force publishers to insert phony attacks on evolution in new science textbooks up for adoption in 2011. ..."
But, not all Texans are taking this lying down. TFN also reports that "State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has just filed legislation that would strip the Texas State Board of Education of all authority assigned to it by statute. Among the board’s powers that would go away: the power to set curriculum standards and adopt textbooks. That authority would be transferred to the Texas Education Agency. The only authority the board would keep under Senate Bill 440 is power granted under the Constitution, primarily managing the Permanent School Fund. Removing that authority and eliminating the board altogether would require passage of a constitutional amendment, followed by approval from Texas voters....


Louisiana: New Pro-Intelligent Design Rules for Teachers...

The AAAS Science Insider reports on Jan. 15th that "Last year, Louisiana passed the Louisiana Science Education Act, a law that many scientists and educators said was a thinly veiled attempt to allow creationism and its variants into the science classroom. On Tuesday, the state's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted a policy that sharpens those fears, giving teachers license to use materials outside of the regular curriculum to teach "controversial" scientific theories including evolution, origins of life, and global warming. Backers of the law, including the Louisiana Family Forum, say it is intended to foster critical thinking in students. Opponents insist its only purpose is to provide a loophole for creationists to attack the teaching of evolution. 'We fully expect to see the Discovery Institute's book, Explore Evolution, popping up in school districts across the state,' says Barbara Forrest, a philosopher at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. ..."


Quake Swarm at Yellowstone - is the Big One Imminent?

Yahoo News reported on Jan. 10th that "Hundreds of small earthquakes at Yellowstone National Park in recent weeks have been an unsettling reminder for some people that underneath the park's famous geysers and majestic scenery lurks one of the world's biggest volcanoes. In the ancient past, the volcano has erupted 1,000 times more powerfully than the 1980 blast at Mount St. Helens, hurling ash as far away as Louisiana. No eruption that big has occurred while humans have walked the earth, however, and geologists say even a minor lava flow is extremely unlikely any time soon. Some observers are nonetheless warning of imminent catastrophe. ..."

When this topic came up at the Jan. 14th NMSR meeting, UNM geology chair John Geissman said the fears were not warranted. Swarms of quakes are not that uncommon - but, if you see the appearance of eruptions with "juvenile" lava (coming directly from a magma body), it's time to Leave the area.


A New Mexican Found the Rock that Explains Lunar Magnetism... reports on Jan. 15th that "Moon rocks delivered to Earth by Apollo astronauts held a mystery that has plagued scientists since the 1970s: Why were the lunar rocks magnetic? Earth's rotating, iron core produces the planet's magnetic field. But the moon does not have such a setup. Now, scientists at MIT think they have a solution. Some 4.2 billion years ago, the moon had a liquid core with a dynamo (like Earth's core today) that produced a strong magnetic field. The moon's magnetic field would have been about 1-50th as strong as Earth's is today, the researchers say. The MIT team found evidence for the molten-core theory by analyzing the oldest of all the moon rocks that have not been subjected to major shocks from later impacts — something that tends to erase all evidence of earlier magnetic fields. ... The rock was collected during the last lunar landing mission, Apollo 17, by Harrison 'Jack' Schmitt [of NM], the only geologist ever to walk on the moon. 'Many people think that it's the most interesting lunar rock,' said MIT's Ben Weiss, who is senior author of a paper on the new finding being published in the Jan. 16 issue of the journal Science. ..."

Hat tip: Teddy Kring


Posted January 9th, 2009


It's time once again for NMSR's Annual Awards, for 2008 ...


New January Puzzle ...

Test your brains on NMSR's Puzzle of the Month for January '09: "What Comes Next?" ...


NMSR's JANUARY 2009 Newsletter is On-Line ...

Check out the January 2009 NMSR Reports!


Posted January 2nd, 2009

The Year in ID – 2008 Edition...

John Lynch reviews the Intelligent Design movement's accomplishments for 2008. "Last year I noted that the IDists achieved even less than in the previous year, noting that they had achieved so little that I actually didn't blog much on ID. This year, it looks like they achieved even less and my statement from last year looks even more accurate: 'Put bluntly, ID has not moved forward as a science one iota since this time last year. Depressing really. I mean, you'd like the opposition to at least try, otherwise the victories are just too damned easy.' ..."


Mayor Evicts Scientology-based Rehab Service...

The Albuquerque Journal reports in a copyrighted story by Dan McKay And Jeff Proctor on Dec. 27th that " It's official. Mayor Martin Chávez on Friday sent a notice to the Second Chance rehabilitation program, ordering it out of the old West Side jail by Jan. 31. The city contends that Second Chance violated its lease agreement by housing violent offenders and making unauthorized changes to the building. Chavez said he was particularly concerned that Second Chance, in his view, had recently moved some of its residents to 'avoid our oversight, our scrutiny.' ... The Second Chance Center uses saunas, massage and other methods as part of a drug rehabilitation program. Some of its training manuals are based on research by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology. But supporters say the program is not based on Scientology. Westrum has said that she is a Scientologist but that employees are prohibited from proselytizing any religion. City Hall doesn't provide funding for Second Chance but has allowed it to use the old West Side jail in exchange for completing improvements to the facility. The center has received federal and state money in the past and is now funded with private donations. ... ..."


See Also Hot News of the Week, or News Summaries for 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001 or 2000.


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