Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Let’s Talk Evolution

What? Again?

Yes, again. The trigger this time was a Yahoo article about the “Science Guy” knocking those that reject the Theory of Evolution. Actually, it wasn’t the article as much as the comments.

Every time I read comments or posts related to the Theory of Evolution, there are three things that I can invariably count upon finding. The first is the incredible level of ignorance about science in general and the Theory of Evolution in particular. Second, is at least one statement to the effect that evolution has been disproven or is not science and third, absolute certainty that their misinformed ideas are in fact correct.

Let’s start with ignorance about science and the Theory of Evolution.

The first thing to address is the word “Theory.” In general usage a “Theory” is a hunch or a guess but the word has a completely different meaning in science. The National Academy of Science (NAS) defines a theory as “a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence.” The National Center for Science Education (NCES) defines it as “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.”

I just like to say it’s the study of some broad area of the natural world. Think of it as a big filing cabinet containing observations, facts, ideas, hypotheses, laws and experimental results. Yes Virginia, laws are a part of theories.

The Theory of Evolution is the study of the observed fact of evolution. Evolution simply means “descent with modification.” Evolution occurs with every instance of biological reproduction. No offspring is the exact copy of its parents and no two siblings, except for identical twins, are exactly the same. This has been observed so many times, while the reverse has never been observed, that it is literally irrational not to accept it as true. To reject that evolution occurs would be on a par with rejecting that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow.

Why does it occur? It occurs because biological reproduction is not an exact process. Like most things in biology it’s complicated, messy and prone to error. Evolution is the result of errors creeping into the biological process of reproduction. These errors result in the mutation of DNA.

Most of these “errors” have absolutely no affect because DNA has enormous amounts of redundancy built into it. Other errors are catastrophic in nature and usually result in a spontaneous abortion, also known as a miscarriage. Errors that aren’t rendered moot by redundancy nor catastrophic can be either harmful or beneficial for the organism in its environment. The idea that no mutation can be beneficial is just flat out wrong. Note that mutations that are beneficial in one environment may be harmful in a different environment.

If the mutation is harmful, then the probability is that it will not be passed on to future generations simply because a harmful mutation tends to limit the ability of the affected individual to reproduce. A beneficial mutation tends to increase the probability that an individual will reproduce. From then on the mathematics of probability take over. Darwin called this process “Natural Selection.”

Multiply this by billions upon billions upon billions of reproductions and you get, in a word, evolution. It’s really not a very difficult concept.

Now let’s talk about the idea that evolution has been disproven or is not science.

If nonsense was a play, this would be one of the longest running plays in history. Ever since Darwin’s ideas began to be accepted by the scientific community the claim that evolution has been demonstrated as false began to appear. If evolution has been “disproven” or is not science, no one has mentioned that to any of the national scientific academies, any of the reputable universities or any of the professional engineering organizations in the world all of which support the Theory of Evolution.

What’s really weird is the people that claim evolution has been disproven are often the same people that argue it’s not science because it’s not falsifiable. This is a case of understanding neither the scientific method nor what falsifiable means.

That leaves us with the interesting fact that these folks are so certain that their mistaken ideas are correct. It is one thing to say you’re not convinced that the Theory of Evolution is correct” and a totally different thing to claim, with absolute certainty, that it is wrong or that it’s not valid science. This is another example of the conservative mind’s apparent inability to differentiate fact from fantasy.

In Kentucky (where else?) recently some Republican law makers realized that when they turned over state testing standards to ACT that meant that students would be expected to be able to answer questions about biological evolution. I found the quote from Kentucky State Senator Ben Waide to be a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Here’s the quote.

"The theory of evolution is a theory, and essentially the theory of evolution is not science -- Darwin made it up. My objection is they should ensure whatever scientific material is being put forth as a standard should at least stand up to scientific method. Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny."

This inane Republican babble (is there any other kind?) is a trifecta. Waide doesn’t understand what a scientific theory is; he doesn’t understand the scientific method and has probably never considered why the most intelligent and most highly educated community in the world, the scientific community, pretty much accepts the Theory of Evolution to a man. Even Michael Behe, darling of the Intelligent Design crowd, accepts evolution. He simply believes that at certain key points an intelligent agent was required to help things along.

Vincent Cassone, the chairman of the University of Kentucky biology department, said that the Republican’s issues with the Theory of Evolution were incomprehensible. "The theory of evolution is the fundamental backbone of all biological research," he said. "There is more evidence for evolution than there is for the theory of gravity, than the idea that things are made up of atoms, or Einstein's theory of relativity. It is the finest scientific theory ever devised."

I am absolutely certain that Conservatives, Christians and Republicans are wrong about science and the Theory of Evolution. They’re also wrong about Global Warming, abortion access and homosexuality. Their ideas about economic theory are, at best, doubtful.

So, given this abysmal track record, why would anyone with at least half a brain and in their right mind trust them to try and fix unemployment, the economy and the federal budget deficit?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Loch Ness Monster?

I don't know what the hell that thing is.

Not that long ago I made the following statement "Actually, Nessie appears to be a figment of the imagination. There is no viable evidence that Nessie even exists."
Could this be that evidence?

George Edwards, professional Scottish "Nessie Hunter" thinks it is. George spends almost every day on Loch Ness and believes that Nessie, or perhaps more correctly, Nessies, exist in the Loch. George believes they're Manatee like creatures and not the Plesiosaur like creature that popular imagination have turned them into. George believes that the "three hump" sightings are really several Nessies.

The problem here is similar to the problem with Big Foot and the Yeti. If these creature exist, then why hasn't someone at some time found any physical remains of a dead creature?

That's an interesting picture though, I'll give George that, but you'll excuse me if I remain skeptical until someone comes up with some physical evidence.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Romney picks Paul Ryan

Ok, so I was wrong again.

I have to admit that I'm surprised. I don't understand the rationale behind this pick. Then again, I'm not a political expert.

I hope the Democrats are sharpening their knives for this guy and are going to pound away at the Medicare and Social Security issues. These things are not handouts. People have been paying into them their entire working lives but Ryan doesn't see why those people should now get what they've been paying for.

If people are dumb enough to elect Paul Ryan vice-president and the man that would choose him president, then there is no hope for this country.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Romney’s VP Choice

This is an interesting question that could well determine the election.

Does Gentleman Mitt go safe or reckless with his choice? The rumor mill has it that the choice is down to three, Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, Rob Portman, the Senator from Ohio and Paul Ryan the congressman from Wisconsin.

I’m betting it will be Rob Portman.

Tim Pawlenty would be a safe choice and would allow Romney to play the “former successful governors vs. Washington” tune but Pawlenty generated no enthusiasm for his own run and the chances of Romney converting Minnesota to Red are pretty slim.

Converting Wisconsin is perhaps a bit more possible but Ryan carries with him all sorts of negative budget baggage. Even the dumb Democrats would crucify him for his past positions on Social Security and Medicare. Besides, he strikes me as a bit of a cold fish that I don’t think voters would take to if you put him on the tube.

Portman has all sorts of pluses. He’s got more personality than Pawlenty and Ryan put together and tends to exude confidence. Ohio is also a much better bet for Romney and Republicans never win without Ohio. Granted, being a Washington insider could be a disadvantage but I think it’s outweighed by the advantages.

Personally I was hoping Romney would do something stupid like pick Newt Gingrich but he’s not that dumb.

Intrade has Portman at 32% followed by Pawlenty at 21%. Ryan is at 14%. The only other person with any significant Intrade support is Marco Rubio at 12%.

Like I said, I’m betting on Portman. If there is any doubt remaining that the Republicans think gays should be ostracized and that women should be second class citizens whose uterus’ should be controlled by male politicians, the selection of Portman should end it pretty darn quick.

So is this a good choice or a bad choice? I thinks it's a very good choice that will immediately close the gap in Ohio, make the Republican base happy and not alienate Independents. Portman will probably make mincemeat of Joe Biden in the Vice Presidential debate but that didn't help the Republicans last time around.

Would Pawlenty be a disaster? No, but I don't think he's as good a choice as Portman and Ryan is just too much of an unknown in terms of how the country would react to him. I could be wrong but I think the selection of Ryan would be a high risk, high reward choice and the election is too close for Romney to look for a "game changer" like McCain was forced to do.

Friday, August 03, 2012

The Olympics

All too often the disgraceful moments mar the glorious ones.

I was in London in 1972 during the Munich Olympics which had the dual disgraces of the attack on Israeli athletics and the travesty of the basketball final. The current games added to the first disgrace by ignoring the 40th anniversary rather than memorializing it. Then there’s the absurd home town decision that stole a gold medal from Roy Jones and the idiocy that baseball and softball have been excluded while synchronized swimming and rhythm gymnastics are Olympic “sports.”

Do you think any of this could be politically motivated?

In the London Olympics we’ve had charges of a “fix” in boxing; a totally disgraceful performance by a referee, that I saw personally on TV, where a Japanese fighter lost despite knocking his opponent down SIX TIMES in the final round because the referee never credited a knockdown (at least this travesty was later rectified and the decision reversed), bad mitten teams trying to lose on purpose, the idiotic malfunction in fencing that cost a competitor a medal and the U.S. Men’s and Women’s basketball teams running up ridiculous scores against overmatched opponents. WTF ever happened to sportsmanship?

Every four years the real competition seems to be how to get the doping and performance enhancing drugs being taken past the so-called “testing.” Do you REALLY think that a 16 year-old Chinese woman can swim the final 50 meters of the individual medley faster than the MAN that won the men’s IM without a little help? She passed the “test” my ass.

If you train for years in order to compete in the Olympics, then the people supposedly managing and judging the competitions should at least be freaking competent, catching cheaters should be more effective and the coaches, as supposedly mature individuals, should help the players keep things in perspective.

Then of course there is the International Olympic Committee which every four years displays a bad case of misplaced arrogance and authoritarianism.

I’m even going to talk about the idiots on NBC “hosting” the events. At least there I can turn off the sound.

I wish there was some way we could reduce the spectacle down to what’s important, the athletes going head to head with each other for the pure love of the sport. Sometimes I watch the Olympics and pretend that’s the way it is.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Is it Hopeless?

I need to stop reading comments posted on the Internet. Whenever I read them I get depressed because a number of problems become immediately obvious.

The biggest issue is either people just flat out don’t understand what they read or they’re not bothering to read before they post their comment. I am utterly amazed by the number of people that just totally misinterpret what is actually written.

The second issue is the number of people that think they know what they’re talking about but don’t. The number of misinformed people is scary.

The third issue is the certainty of so many of the statements. There is never any hint of any doubt or any openness to consider an alternative view. I never knew there were so many experts out there on so many issues. Experts that have neither training nor experience in the subject. They know better than the climatologists on the climate, better than the scientists on science and better than the economists on the economy.

Look, everyone is entitled to their opinion and they are free to find what anyone says unconvincing for any number of reasons. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking people who state, with absolute confidence, “facts” that are just flat out wrong.

Phrases like “I think,” “I believe,” and “I’m pretty sure” appear to be going the way of the Dodo bird. Everything today appears to be stated with absolute certainty. The funny thing is the more wrong they are, the more certain they are.

Now you know it’s coming, so let me state it right know. This is far more a problem with Conservatives than Liberals. Liberals have strong opinions, but they’re usually using accurate facts to arrive at those opinions. It’s been my experience that Conservatives often can’t tell the difference between fact and fantasy and now appear to have even stopped caring that there is a difference.

You go back 20 years and I can remember debating Christian Apologists. They looked at things differently that was for sure. While you were focusing on “probability,” they were happy with “possibility.” A biblical contradiction was “resolved” if they had a possible explanation. It didn’t matter how improbable it was as long as accepting it wasn’t irrational. As delusional as they may have been in their beliefs, they were invariable on solid ground when it came to facts.

Creationists were a little different. They had a habit of accepting as true anything that attacked evolution without ever bothering to check its validity. This is what led to PRATTs, Points Refuted a Thousand Times. Once a misconception got into the Creationist community it was almost impossible to eliminate it. Some Creationist proponents used this dishonestly by pitching to people things they knew were wrong, but suspected their audience didn’t know were wrong, and would be naively accepted at face value. But, the dishonest types aside, even Creationists would accept facts as facts if you presented enough evidence.

This new breed of political conservative, the Tea Party types, just don’t seem to care about what’s true and what isn’t. They’re going to believe what they want to believe regardless of whether it’s true or not. Providing them with evidence is a waste of time. They are capable of deluding themselves into thinking what they want to be true is in fact true. Reality is irrelevant if it contradicts what they want to be the case.

Homosexuality is a choice, Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya, Obama raised their taxes, there is no scientific consensus on global warming, scientists are abandoning the Theory of Evolution, the Affordable Health Care Law institutes Death Panels and Fox News doesn’t lie are examples of what conservatives KNOW to be true that are just flat out not true. Not only do they “know” these things are true, no matter how much evidence you present to the contrary, they’re apparently always going to “know” they’re true.

This is more than delusional, this is irrational. How do you come to a compromise with someone who is irrational?

It may very well be hopeless.

You’re looking for more examples? Let’s try Bryan Fischer’s pronouncement that it was Conservatives that led the march to black civil rights and Liberals that stood in the way and just about ANYTHING that David Barton says.