If you’re still trying to wrap your head around the meaning and significance of the big news in physics announced Monday, here are a few videos that should go a long way in helping understand.
Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist and cosmologist:
Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist and cosmologist
Anyone who follows my posts on Facebook knows that I talk quite a bit about pseudoscience and fear-mongering in areas of nutrition and healthcare. Several of my posts got into heated discussions with scores of comments from friends weighing in on the topics. I promised I’d write some sort of article or blog entry on it. After giving it some thought, I realized I’m not sure I can really add much to the discussion that hasn’t already been said. So instead of re-inventing the wheel and taking a couple of hours to give it the full treatment myself, I’m simply going to point you to a few articles that spell out the issues rather well.
Yoga Mat Chemical
Eating Yoga Mats. Steven Novella’s article on the “food babe” Azodicarbonamide fearmongering.
Hari the food babe has created a classic piece of pseudoscientific scaremongering, worthy of dihydrogen monoxide. She has collected a group of factoids that superficially appear scary, but do not relate to the risk of ADA as used in bread. They are designed to mislead and to stoke fears based upon scientific misunderstanding.
She also pulls the common scam of linking to references to support her claims, but not fairly representing what those references actually say.
Unfortunately, it appears that Subway is caving to this petition. I can’t blame them. It’s easy to fearmonger, especially about food, and more difficult to reassure customers with sober scientific facts. They have to think of their business bottom line.
But this essentially means that any blogger can hold any corporation hostage by simply grossly misrepresenting the scientific facts. It is unfortunate – it’s similar to caving into terrorism. I would hope, rather, that the food babe would be exposed for what she is, and that corporations would fight back against these nonsensical attacks.
More Yoga Mat Hysteria Steven Novella’s followup where he expands on the absurdity of the “yoga mat” meme.
What the food babe is engaging in is fear mongering of “chemicals” and anything “unnatural.” This is not a rational or science-based position. Everything we eat is made of chemicals (many with long and difficult to pronounce names). Natural vs unnatural does not matter at all.
It is also misleading to think of some chemicals as “toxins.” This is a false dichotomy. Everything is potentially toxic depending on dose and route of administration. I agree that we need scientific evidence and regulations to keep human exposure to substances far below the level where there is any harm to health. I agree with the principle that we should err on the side of caution. I don’t think corporations should have free reign.
What we need is a rational science-based conversation about the evidence and how best to protect human health in our complex industrialized civilization. Fearmongering based on pseudoscience and logical fallacies that fosters a misunderstanding of the relevant science and seeks to replace an evidence-based process with populist movements that are the equivalent of angry mobs with torches and pitch forks, is not the answer.
The GMO Controversy. Steven Novella goes into the nuances of the arguments for and against GMO.
GMOs are neither a panacea nor menace. Genetic modification is simply a powerful technology, and its impact will depend entirely on how it is used. In fact, it is difficult to talk about GMOs as if they are one thing, and when someone does they are likely speaking from an ideological position. Rather, each individual GMO needs to be assessed on its own risks and merits.
Like many technologies, what matters most is how it is used. Safely feeding the growing population of the world in a sustainable way without having a major negative impact on the environment is a great challenge for our civilization. We should not accept uncritically the hype and spin of companies offering simple answers (that involve buying their product), but neither should we reject an entire technology based upon fear and misinformation.
In the end I think the conversation can be a healthy one – exploring all the complex issues of the use of GM technology can lead to better practices and solutions.
Common Sense About GM Crops. PZ Myers talks about the necessity of GMO.
I have a lot of sympathy for the green argument, except that it ignores the real problem to focus on a minor issue. The real problem isn’t that some of our crops carry modified genes, especially since they all do — every single one of our major food plants are the product of intense artificial selection for traits that benefit agriculture. No, the real problem is how much of our country is overwhelmed with monocultured species — most of the botanical diversity of the United States is gone under a layer of wheat and corn and soybeans and pretty much nothing else. Minnesota is 54% farmland, and we aren’t even the most intensely plowed over state in the country.
It seems to me that the green approach would be to encourage more GMOs to increase the efficiency of farmland use; and to struggle to get less land committed to agriculture by ending the corn ethanol boondoggle and by encouraging more vegetarian diets, so less livestock. Worrying about an artificially introduced gene in a crop seems silly when the real problem is that versions of that crop are taking over everything, replacing wetlands and prairie with endless fields of corn, GMO or not.
After a press release on Wednesday about a major announcement in astrophysics to be made today, rumors were flying in the scientific community. Phil Plait said he’d prefer not to speculate or spread further rumors until more information was known. Sean Carroll seemed confident enough in the rumors to give a lengthy description of what the announcement would mean.
For further reading:
Cosmic News: Astronomers Find the Twisted Fingerprints of Inflation In the Background Glow of the Universe Phil Plait breaks down what this all means.
‘Smoking Gun’ Reveals How the Inflationary Big Bang Happened Mainstream news outlets are covering this major story as well.
Laurence Krauss on the announcement The best summary I’ve read so far.
The much-anticipated debate between educator and science-advocate Bill Nye and young-earth Creationist Ken Ham is over. If you haven’t watched it yet, you can check it out on YouTube, at least for now.
Debating a creationist is like negotiating with a terrorist.
— God (@TheTweetOfGod) February 4, 2014
Prior to the debate, many in the community were arguing that Bill Nye should not debate a Creationist for a variety of reasons including:
- It gives implicit credibility to pseudoscience by giving the appearance that there really is a legitimate scientific debate to be had–that the two sides are on equal footing.
- A common tactic used by Creationists when debating is to throw out so many false claims and attacks in such a short period of time that each point can’t possibly be unraveled and answered in the time allotted. This is commonly called the Gish Gallop. A common example would be a simple statement which only takes a few seconds to utter such as, “Radiometric dating methods are unreliable and based on false assumptions.” To really unravel that and show that radiometric dating methods are reliable, to give it a full treatment, would take a long time. You have to explain the physics, the assumptions, how we can cross-reference using a variety of methods, and explain to a lay-person audience Isochron dating
- Many people thought that while Bill Nye is a fantastic educator and passionate promoter of science, he may not be the best choice to debate a Creationist because he isn’t an evolutionary biologist and hadn’t really had experience in traditional debates. Even if he could somehow have a perfect and complete understanding of all the evidences for evolution, he could easily “lose” the debate simply by not being good at debate or by not knowing how to respond to Creationists.
- It could just be a waste of time since it likely won’t convince anyone to change their mind.
I was less negative about the idea of a highly publicized debate and was simply worried that Bill Nye might not be the right choice unless he really spent a great deal of time preparing. So I was looking forward to watching the debate live and promised on Facebook that even if Nye didn’t respond to all of Ham’s points, I would take notes and write responses. I won’t respond to every point he made because so much of it was repetitive in nature or just incoherent. But if you feel he made a strong point I don’t address, let me know in a comment.
In Ken Ham’s opening remarks he tries to show that young earth Creationists can be scientists who hold PhDs and do useful work. This is a non-sequitur to the topic of the debate and is just an argument from authority. Yes, it is possible to hold a PhD and do useful science while being totally wrong about the age of the earth and how life got to its current state.
He then goes into describe “Observational Science” vs. “Historical Science” and that Creationism is the only model confirmed by observational science. Throughout the debate Ken Ham mentioned this distinction and would say things like, “You weren’t there! You don’t know what happened!” This distinction is simply a false one. It’s just an attempt by Creationists to undermine any science that deals with what happened in the past. We don’t use this distinction in the “outside world” (to use a nice phrase from Bill Nye). When detectives and forensic experts are solving a crime, they look at the evidence to determine what happened in the past. When astronomers look up at the heavens, they are literally looking now at what happened (when the light first began its journey to Earth) in the past. When I’m doing my job as an Integration Engineer and trying to troubleshoot an issue that occurred last week, I’m looking at existing evidence of what happened a week ago: log files, auditing, patterns I recognize, etc. Everything you experience in your brain is evidence of something that happened in the past.
At one point, as if to illustrate that nothing in observational science contradicts young-earth Creationism, Ham says that he and Nye use the same evidence and just interpret these evidences differently. This is just simply false. Ken Ham actively ignores most of the evidence. When he even talks about a piece of evidence, he doesn’t look at it objectively and ask what it leads to. Instead he already “knows” the earth is 6,000 years old and just decides to jump through mental gymnastics and apologetic arguments to try to explain away the evidence! This is a huge distinction. Scientists follow the evidence. Creationists explain it away or ignore it. Bill Nye explains a few of the many ways you could falsify evolution. Find Kangaroo fossils along the path they supposedly took from where Noah’s Arc landed to Australia. Find a fossil that evolution predicts should be in an old layer of rock in a much more recent layer. Thus far, these examples have never been found. If you found them, scientists would be following the evidence where it leads.
“I believe we are teaching people to think critically” -Actual Ken Ham quote #creationdebate
— skepchicks (@skepchicks) February 5, 2014
Ham gives some examples of so-called predictions the Bible makes including a global flood (sorry, no evidence for that one), and “kinds.” I’ll quote Professor of Biology, PZ Myers here:
He’s getting specific. The biblical “kind” is equivalent to the Linnaean taxonomic category of family. He’s also claiming that there are limits — dogs will always be dogs. He cites a recent paper on dog evolution, showing a diagram of a tree generated from the genomic data, and then claims the collection of squiggles creationists draw of trees of descent (with a discontinuity at the Flood) are the same! No, this is so sleazy. The dog tree is based on real data. Any arbitrary tree would not work. The AiG tree is evidence free, and has a flood bottleneck not seen in the scientific tree.
Ken Ham then proceeds to basically embarrass himself by going off on a tangent which has nothing to do with the debate topic and say that evolution and naturalism are dangerous and lead to the degradation of our morality: i.e. gays, abortion, etc. Jesus is the answer, etc. This is what most surprised me about the debate. I thought he’d largely leave out the theology if he’s trying to convince people that Creationism makes sense scientifically. That seemed like a huge tactical mistake. What you believe religiously should have little to do with which model best explains the development of the earth and life. As Richard Dawkins tweeted, let’s give this guy more exposure!
I was against Bill Nye's decision to debate. I now realise Ken Ham is wonderfully embarrassing for Xtians & should be given max exposure.
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) February 6, 2014
I honestly don’t feel the need to talk about most of Bill Nye’s evidence/arguments because they speak for themselves. To briefly summarize, he talks about some of the evidence for the age of the earth, how the fossil record only makes sense in the evolution model, and went on to describe some of the absurdities of the young-earth Creation account: 7,000 kinds fitting in a boat 4,000 years ago gave rise to the millions of species we have today, how the ice cores that we know form using a regular cycle over hundreds of thousands of years. Ham’s model would require 170 Summer/Winter cycles per year. We have trees much older than 4,000 years old..they wouldn’t have survived the flood, there is light we can see which came from stars billions of light-years away, kangaroos somehow got from Mount Ararat to Australia over a non-existent land-bridge leaving no fossil evidence. This is where he could have gone on for days but I liked some of the choices he picked as they’re pretty digestible.
I made some notes about points Ken Ham made that I wanted to respond to, so I’ll just sort of string them together quickly:
- Problems with radiometric dating. Ham pointed to a basalt sample that was dated 45 million years by potassium-argon methods and then a piece of wood encased within the basalt was dated with a much younger age by radiocarbon dating. Duh. You can’t use C-14 dating to measure ages older than 50,000 years or so due to the decay rate.
- All animals were vegetarians before the flood. This makes no sense to a thinking person and the evidence in the Bible isn’t even there. Yes there is a pathetically weak argument made from interpreting a couple of passages in Genesis, but honestly…Ken Ham sort of shot himself in the foot by making this claim.
- Matter can never produce information. Just an assertion with no evidence given. Nothing about evolution violates the laws of physics whatsoever, no matter what Ken Ham would have you believe. Miracles, on the other hand, violate the laws of physics. So let’s be clear about which side is fine with violating the laws of physics.
- Genesis is historical, other parts of the Bible are poetic or have to be interpreted within the social context of the time. In other words, you can interpret scripture, it’s not all exactly literal history.
- There are no examples of increasing complexity through evolution that wasn’t already present in the genes. This is simply false
- God will reveal Himself to you if you just sincerely seek Him. A non-sequitur to the debate, but on a personal note I went through years of searching, praying, seeking and it ultimately resulted in my becoming an agnostic about anything supernatural. I just don’t see the evidence for it.
Ultimately I think Bill Nye won the debate hands down but that isn’t really what is important. What I think is most important is the message he got out to an audience of some 750,000 people of the importance of science to our society and how absolutely wonderful and joyful the process of discovery, examining evidence, and reason can be. Yes you can do science, engineering, etc. and still believe the earth is 6,000 years old, but you’ve cheated yourself by ignoring or explaining away the evidence using cheap apologetic tricks. You’ve given up some of your critical thinking skills and to use a Biblical phrase, you’ve “exchanged truth for a lie.”
I’ve had a couple weeks to play with my Nexus 7 so I thought I’d post a short review of my experience. I’ll start by saying right off the bat that it’s a fantastic device. If you’re on the fence about buying it, I’d recommend you go for it. That being said, here’s the pros and cons.
- The form factor hits a sweet spot. It’s not overly large and is quite comfortable to hold while at the same time having a large enough screen for watching HD videos and playing games. It’s a similar size to my Kindle with which I do most of my reading.
- Good battery life. I typically go 2-4 days on a charge with occasional use. By comparison I have to charge my iPhone daily.
- A wealth of apps, music, books, and other media available from Google Play.
- The latest Android OS is well-designed, responsive, and intuitive, even to an iOS user
Of course it’s not perfect. Here are a few issues I’ve run across.
- No SD card expansion slot. I bought the 16Gb version to mitigate that.
- Currently the official case isn’t available. I found this case on Amazon and can safely recommend it after using it for a few days. All the necessary bits are exposed and it automatically puts the device to sleep and wakes it up when you close/open it.
- A number of apps currently aren’t supported on the device currently including Amazon mobile. I’m sure this will change with time. Instagram recently released an update which fixed this, for example
- The sound isn’t as loud as I would like when not using headphones. It’s okay if you’re in a quiet room but with a decent amount of ambient noise, I found it somewhat difficult to hear the audio while playing a video. A minor issue.
- WiFi Only. A non-issue for me as I can tether it to my phone when mobile. Some users will want a tablet with 4G capabilities.
That’s about it. It’s easier to list the negatives since overall the device is fantastic. I would highly recommend it to someone looking for a tablet to surf the web, watch/listen to media, play some games, or as an eReader. It’s slim, light, has great battery life, and looks gorgeous.
My girlfriend, Amie Bossi, is staring in a production of “Same Time Next Year.” This is the last weekend you can catch it, so if you’re in the St. Louis area, head to KurtainKall.org for details.
Here are some photos I took from opening night last weekend: