Monthly Archives: May 2010

Legislation Watch: South Carolina, Going, Going …

OUR last report on creationist legislation still pending this year was here Legislation Watch: Missouri and South Carolina. Since then the Missouri bill has died (see: Missouri Creationism Bill Goes Extinct).

There are, of course, a few states where the people are never safe because their legislatures are in session all year long (those are: Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), and there are other states with limited sessions that won’t adjourn for at least a few more weeks or months (Arizona, California, Delaware, Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Tennessee), so one never knows what may yet happen in such places, but for now we’re left with only South Carolina to actively watch.

For background, see Creationist Bill Filed in South Carolina. That unfortunate state has two creationist bills that have been pending since last year.

The first bill is S. 873. You can keep up with its legislative history here. The second bill is S. 875, and its progress can be followed here.

Both bills are the work of Senator Michael Fair, a hard-core, full-blown creationist who has been promoting such laws in his state for years. Here’s his page at the website of the South Carolina legislature. It informs us that his occupation is “insurance,” which we assume means he sells it. Wikipedia has an article on him: Michael L. Fair, but it’s not very informative.

Nothing is happening with either of Fair’s two bills — they’re just sitting in committee. Perhaps they’ll die there. According to the legislature’s website, this legislative session is scheduled to adjourn on 03 June — a few days from now. That date could change, of course, but as of now, time is running out for Fair’s bills.

From where your Curmudgeon sits, in his luxurious underground control room at the fabled CITADEL — the Curmudgeonly Institute for Tactics, Advocacy, and Defense of the Enlightenment Legacy — the secret global nerve center for monitoring events throughout the Creosphere, things are looking good for this year’s Legislation Watch.

But the creationists are forever active, so our work continues.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Creationists React to Venter’s Breakthrough, Part 6

THIS is another follow-up to Craig Venter‘s announcement that his lab has created a bacterial cell with a synthetic genome. For earlier creationist reactions see Part 1 and Part 2, and then Part 3, and then Part 4, and lastly Part 5.

Today’s reaction is written by Babu G. Ranganathan, an advocate of primitive, full-blown creationism, whose writing we’ve discussed a few times before, the last time here: Creationism, Socialism, and Intelligent Design.

Babu’s work is usually found in Pravda, but this article is in The Mercury, a daily newspaper published in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. It’s titled Scientists are simply copying God! Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

The recent news is that scientists have created the first cell controlled entirely by man-made genetic instructions. First thing to understand is that these genetic instructions did not come into existence by chance but by intelligent design.

See? Everything scientists do is evidence of intelligent design. ID will always be true! Babu continues:

Second, scientists didn’t create life but what they did is implant their man-made genetic instructions into an already existing living cell. All this happened by using intelligence, not chance.

Venter doesn’t claim to have created life, but he did artificially assemble a bacterium’s DNA, which then lived. According to Babu, Venter implanted that construct into “an already existing living cell.” Not quite. The recipient had once been a living bacterium, but before the implant it was empty and therefore lifeless — until the artificial DNA made it live. Here’s more from Babu:

All of this is, in a very small way, nothing more than copying God, the original Intelligence and Source behind life. Even if scientists ever create life from scratch it won’t be by chance.

This is pretty much the reaction of all the creationists in this series. Babu doesn’t offer us anything particularly new here. Not yet. However, we should point out that if Babu is correct and mere men can copy God, that’s no small accomplishment.

Then, Babu launches into a childish assault on the classic Miller–Urey experiment, claiming that it’s worthless. After that he babbles incoherently about organic chemistry. For example: “There is no innate chemical tendency for the various amino acids to bond with one another in a sequence.” We won’t burden you with any of that. Moving along:

If the cell had evolved it would have had to be all at once. A partially evolved cell cannot wait millions of years to become complete because it would be highly unstable and quickly disintegrate in the open environment, especially without the protection of a complete and fully functioning cell membrane. And even having a complete cell doesn’t necessarily mean there will be life. After all, even a dead cell is complete shortly after it dies!

We warned you that Babu adheres to a very primitive version of creationism. He claims that everything had to magically fly together all at once, and then life had to be breathed into it — like in Genesis. That’s the only way it can happen. Forget about Miller, Venter, and anyone else who may come along and demonstrate otherwise. You have heard the word of Babu, so it must be true. We continue:

What about natural selection? Thanks to evolution’s popular high priests and evangelists such as Richard Dawkins, many in society have come to believe that natural selection will solve all of evolution’s problems.

Natural selection cannot produce anything. It can only “select” from what is produced. It’s strictly a passive process in nature. If a life form develops a feature (I.e. change in skin color) that helps it survive then we say it was “selected” (it survived!). That’s all natural selection is. It’s another term for “survival of the fittest.” Furthermore, natural selection only operates once there is life and reproduction and not before so natural selection couldn’t be involved in how life originated. Natural selection is not an energy-converting and directing mechanism!

Got that? Natural selection didn’t originate life. It doesn’t do much of anything. There’s really nothing to it.

We’ve tried to imagine someone outside of an asylum who might be impressed by Babu’s writing, but we can’t. Yet the editor of The Mercury must have liked this article well enough to publish it. Anyway, here’s how it ends:

Science cannot prove that we’re here by chance or design. Both require faith. Where will you place your faith?

Click over to The Mercury and read it all. After that mind-numbing experience, you won’t know a thing about Venter’s work. But of course, neither does Babu.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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The Mammalian Methane Emissions Menace

AT the website of the University of New Mexico we read Research Suggests Large Mammals Influenced Global Climate. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

More than 13,000 years ago, millions of large mammals such as mammoths, mastodon, shrub-ox, bison, ground sloths and camels roamed the Americas and may have had profound influences on the environment according to research in a paper titled, “Methane Emissions from Extinct Megafauna” released in the publication Nature Geosciences Sunday.

Here’s the abstract: Methane emissions from extinct megafauna. Let’s read on:

The extinction of these large herbivores, which also include horses, llamas and stag moose in addition to the giant wooly mammoth, probably led to an abrupt decrease in methane emissions and atmospheric concentrations of the gas with potential implications for climate change says Dr. Felisa Smith, Associate Professor of Biology at the University of New Mexico.

[…]

Approximately 13,400 years ago, the Americas supported a mammal fauna that was richer than that of Africa today explained Smith. “Around 11,500 years ago and within 1,000 years of the arrival of humans in the New World, 80 percent of these large-bodied mammals were extinct,” said Smith in the paper.

Humans — you can’t let ‘em loose anywhere! We continue:

“This is arguably the first detectable influence of humans on the environment going back 13,400 years to when humans first got to the continent,” said Smith. “I think that it’s intriguing because there are a lot of ramifications. Potentially, if the decrease in methane, which is synchronous with this ice spell, was actually the cause, then humans contributed to the Younger Dryas cold episode.

We hope you’re paying attention. The Younger Dryas, according to Wikipedia, “also referred to as the Big Freeze, was a geologically brief (1,300 ± 70 years) cold climate period between approximately 12,800 and 11,500 years ago” This implies that the extinction of those large herbivores could have brought an end to what was then a period of global warming.

Here’s more from the University of New Mexico news item:

Herbivores produce methane as a by-product of cellulolytic-microbial fermentation during the digestive process. Enteric emission occurs when methane (CH4) is produced in the rumen as microbial fermentation takes place; most of this is released as burps. Past studies have shown that domestic livestock are an important contributor to greenhouse gas concentrations and can represent ~20 percent of annual emissions.

Burps? Well, those too. Moving along:

The researchers looked at 114 different herbivorous species that were extirpated from the Americas at the end of the Pleistocene epoch. Using ice cores to determine the amount of methane during the onset of the Younger Dryas cooling period, they found the extinction of megafauna closely coincides with an abrupt drop in atmospheric methane concentration.

No burps, no methane. And methane is a greenhouse gas. Are you starting to see where this is going? Another excerpt:

Armed with that information, the researchers then decided to try and determine how much methane was produced by these species. They came up with an estimate of the number of animals and then an estimate of how much methane those animals actually produced. Other animals such as elephant, giraffes and hippos have been studied by putting a gas mask type of apparatus on them to determine how much methane they produce in a day.

Consider, dear reader, that if things had worked out differently in your life, you might have become a master of mammalian methane measurement. While you’re pondering that, here’s one final excerpt from the article:

“We were able to come up with an estimate, which turns out to be about 10 teragrams. This is really pretty enormous,” said Smith. “When you bracket it, at the very minimum, the demise of all these animals explains 12 percent of the decrease in methane seen at this time. At the maximum, it explains the entire decrease. This suggests that the extinction of megafauna by humans caused a detectable impact on the environment long before the development of agriculture and the industrial age.”

[…]

The calculations suggest that decreased methane emissions caused by the extinction of New World megafauna could have played a role in the Younger Dryas cooling event.

The lesson is clear. To halt the progress of global warming we must exterminate all remaining mammalian herbivores. Hurry, before it’s too late!

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Good News: Environmentalists’ Heads Explode

THERE’s no news of The Controversy between evolution and creationism at the moment, so we’ll drift a little bit off topic — way off topic — into the field of environmentalism, where your Curmudgeon is completely out of his element.

There may be good people who consider themselves environmentalists, but we wouldn’t know. Every aspect of the environmental movement causes us unease, because each splinter group across the green spectrum seems to be united with all the others in their Luddite opposition to our technological civilization, and particularly the free enterprise system, labeling both scientists and industrialists as criminal polluters.

Some groups want to save the planet by restricting the use of fossil fuels and by promoting alternative methods of generating electric power; but they almost always oppose nuclear power plants, so their goal can’t be accomplished. Others focus on saving endangered species from extinction; but extinction has been the fate of most species, so these groups also have an impossible goal. The entirety of the environmental cause seems more like an eternal crusade than a movement with practical and achievable objectives. Crusaders make us uncomfortable.

The reason various environmental groups usually oppose the same things and support each other’s goals is because it’s freedom — including the freedom to develop and use technology — that they see as the enemy. In our Curmudgeonly way of looking at things, whenever we hear some group babbling that they want to save the planet, we pay no attention to what the drooling followers say. What we hear from their leaders isn’t that they want to save the planet — that’s just a slogan — they want to rule it. If you don’t hear what we hear, then you’re not listening.

But that’s enough grumbling. Let’s get to the news. What happens when the goals of one environmental group conflict with those of another group? That, dear reader, is today’s topic.

At the webiste of Michigan State University we learn that Scientists propose fix to keep insects away from solar panels. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

Solar power might be nature’s most plentiful and benign source of energy, but shiny black solar cells can lure water insects away from critical breeding areas, a Michigan State University scientist and colleagues warn.

Al Gore, why do you hate cute little water bugs? Let’s read on:

When species such as mayflies and caddis flies mistake shiny dark surfaces [of solar panels] for water, they set themselves up for reproductive failure and often become easy targets for predators, [Bruce] Robertson and colleagues noted in a recent online article in the journal Conservation Biology.

Here’s the abstract: Reducing the Maladaptive Attractiveness of Solar Panels to Polarotactic Insects. Back to the news article at Michigan State:

“This research demonstrates that solar panels are a strong new source of polarized light pollution that creates ecological traps for many types of insect,” says Bruce Robertson, a research associate at MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station in Hickory Corners. “This is of significant conservation importance given the radical expansion in solar energy development and the strong negative impacts of ecological traps on animal populations.”

This is his page at the university: Bruce A. Robertson. We continue:

Using nonpolarizing white grids, he adds, demonstrates a novel approach to reducing the attractiveness of a false habitat by applying what biologists call habitat fragmentation. That is an effect that usually is harmful to species, but in this case promises to solve a conservation problem.

White grids — that’s the solution. The insects are saved! However:

Robertson’s team estimates that adding white markings to solar cells might reduce their ability to collect solar energy by perhaps 1.8 percent, depending on the amount of space the strips cover.

Egad! Solar panels will reduce our use of petroleum, but only if they’re sufficiently productive. Defacing the panels with grids will save the bugs but decrease the value of the panels.

Preserving the bugs may destroy the planet. What a dilemma!

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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