Category Archives: Off-topic

Hey Casey! Our Genome Is Mostly Junk

ape-finger

That picture hasn’t been seen around here since Hey Casey! (Number 9). That was a year ago, and it’s time we used it again.

Since the earliest days of this humble blog, the Discovery Institute has been claiming that there’s no such thing as junk DNA. They insist that the genome is perfectly designed, without flaws, and every little scrap of it is designed to be functional.

The concept junk DNA offends their belief in an all-wise supernatural Designer — blessed be he! — who wouldn’t put any non-functional debris in the genome. The Discoveroids’ creationist cousins, the young-earth creationists, can openly resort to religion to blame such things on degeneration caused by Original Sin. But the Discoveroids’ litigation strategy requires them to pretend that their motives are purely scientific; thus they’re stuck with their mantra that the genome is intelligently designed by an unknown, but — cough, cough — not necessarily divine designer.

The first time we wrote about this was Discovery Institute: Astounding Stupidity. It was a bold declaration by Casey Luskin — our favorite creationist — who said:

[I]ntelligent agents design objects for a purpose, and therefore intelligent design predicts that biological structures will have function.

Then we wrote Casey’s Crusade Against Junk DNA about a post by Casey that discusses some research (not done by creationists) showing that some regions of what had been considered junk DNA may play a role in gene regulation. We pointed out that it never occurs to Casey to wonder, if junk DNA is potentially so detrimental to “Darwinists,” why do they keep looking to find functions for it? And if they find some function, why do they publish their findings?

But the bigger question is why do the Discoveroids spend so much time on this silly prediction of theirs? The answer is that it’s their only pretense of being scientific. They’ve made a prediction based on their “theory,” so it must be true — notwithstanding the vast abundance of evidence to the contrary.

As you may recall, they went bonkers over the ENCODE project. Casey posted Our Top 10 Evolution-Related Stories: #1, ENCODE Project Buries “Junk DNA”. We wrote about that here: The Discoveroids’ Top Story for 2012.

And only a few days ago they posted Each Time Genomic “Junk” Turns Out to Be Functional, the Case for Intelligent Design Gets Stronger. It was their usual nonsense, so we didn’t bother to write about it.

But today we’ve got something. Look what we found at PhysOrg: 8.2 percent of our DNA is ‘functional’. Only 8.2 percent. BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Here are a few excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Only 8.2% of human DNA is likely to be doing something important – is ‘functional’ – say Oxford University researchers. This figure is very different from one given in 2012, when some scientists involved in the ENCODE (Encyclopedia of DNA Elements) project stated that 80% of our genome has some biochemical function.

That claim has been controversial, with many in the field arguing that the biochemical definition of ‘function’ was too broad – that just because an activity on DNA occurs, it does not necessarily have a consequence; for functionality you need to demonstrate that an activity matters.

That’s a detail the Discoveroids seem to have overlooked. Moving on:

To reach their figure, the Oxford University group took advantage of the ability of evolution to discern which activities matter and which do not. They identified how much of our genome has avoided accumulating changes over 100 million years of mammalian evolution – a clear indication that this DNA matters, it has some important function that needs to be retained.

That sounds like a reasonable approach. They quote joint senior author Professor Chris Pointing of the MRC Functional Genomics Unit at Oxford University:

But this isn’t just an academic argument about the nebulous word “function”. These definitions matter. When sequencing the genomes of patients, if our DNA was largely functional, we’d need to pay attention to every mutation. In contrast, with only 8% being functional, we have to work out the 8% of the mutations detected that might be important. From a medical point of view, this is essential to interpreting the role of human genetic variation in disease.

Let’s read on:

The scientists’ idea was to look at where insertions and deletions of chunks of DNA appeared in the mammals’ genomes. These could be expected to fall approximately randomly in the sequence – except where natural selection was acting to preserve functional DNA, where insertions and deletions would then lie further apart.

‘We found that 8.2% of our human genome is functional,’ says Dr Lunter. … The rest of our genome is leftover evolutionary material, parts of the genome that have undergone losses or gains in the DNA code – often called ‘junk’ DNA.

The Discoveroids are squirming. Wait — it’s even better. Get this:

Not all of the 8.2% is equally important, the researchers explain. A little over 1% of human DNA accounts for the proteins that carry out almost all of the critical biological processes in the body. The other 7% is thought to be involved in the switching on and off of genes that encode proteins – at different times, in response to various factors, and in different parts of the body. These are the control and regulation elements, and there are various different types.

Well, it’s still 8% functional. There’s much more to the article, but we have to stop somewhere, so this is a good place. Now let’s sit back and watch for the Discoveroids’ inevitable reaction. The reputation of their designer is at stake here, without whom they have nothing except their hatred of science, so they can’t ignore this.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Airplanes Evolve by Intelligent Design, Therefore …

We’re really going out on a limb here, because it’s difficult to predict what the Discovery Institute might do next, but we’ve seen enough of their antics and gyrations that we’re likely to be right about this.

Look what we just found at PhysOrg: Law of physics governs airplane evolution. A few excerpts will show why we’re fairly confident that, even as we speak, the Discoveroids are cooking up a post to use this as evidence for their bizarre theory of intelligent design. PhysOrg says, with a bit of bold font added by us for emphasis:

Researchers believe they now know why the supersonic trans-Atlantic Concorde aircraft went the way of the dodo — it hit an evolutionary cul-de-sac.

In a new study, Adrian Bejan, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke University, shows that a law of physics he penned more than two decades ago helps explain the evolution of passenger airplanes from the small, propeller-driven DC-3s of yore to today’s behemoth Boeing 787s. … The Concorde, alas, was too far from the curve of these good designs, Bejan says. The paper appears online July 22, in the Journal of Applied Physics.

Relax, dear reader. We’re not here for the Concorde. You’ll soon understand. This is a link to Bejan’s paper: The evolution of airplanes. You can read it online without a subscription. The abstract alone will excite the Discoveroids:

The prevailing view is that we cannot witness biological evolution because it occurred on a time scale immensely greater than our lifetime. Here, we show that we can witness evolution in our lifetime by watching the evolution of the flying human-and-machine species: the airplane. We document this evolution, and we also predict it based on a physics principle: the constructal law. We show that the airplanes must obey theoretical allometric rules that unite them with the birds and other animals. For example, the larger airplanes are faster, more efficient as vehicles, and have greater range. The engine mass is proportional to the body size: this scaling is analogous to animal design, where the mass of the motive organs (muscle, heart, lung) is proportional to the body size. Large or small, airplanes exhibit a proportionality between wing span and fuselage length, and between fuel load and body size. The animal-design counterparts of these features are evident. The view that emerges is that the evolution phenomenon is broader than biological evolution. The evolution of technology, river basins, and animal design is one phenomenon, and it belongs in physics.

We’re not imagining things. You know the Discoveroids are leaping around, rubbing their hands with glee. Even now, one of them is feverishly working on a post that will declare, as does our title: Airplanes evolve by intelligent design. Therefore …

Let’s return to PhysOrg:

In the case of commercial aircraft, designs have evolved to allow more people and goods to flow across the face of the Earth. Constructal law has also dictated the main design features needed for aircraft to succeed; the engine mass has remained proportional to the body size, the wing size has been tied to the fuselage length, and the fuel load has grown in step with the total weight.

“The same design features can be seen in any large land animal,” said Bejan. “Larger animals have longer lifespans and travel farther distances, just as passenger airplanes have been designed to do. For example, the ratio of the engine to aircraft size is analogous to the ratio of a large animal’s total body size to its heart, lungs and muscles.”

There is joy in Seattle. PhysOrg continues:

To apply his theories to airplane design, Bejan teamed up with Jordan Charles, a researcher and development engineer, and Sylvie Lorente, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Toulouse, to mine the historical databases of successful commercial aircraft. As they plotted thousands of statistics including year of introduction, size, cruising speed, engine weight, fuel weight, range, wingspan and fuselage length, many patterns began to emerge. But two in particular stood out.

In one chart, a clear curve tracks the increasing size of commercial airplanes through nearly a century of aviation. As time moves on, new commercial airliners come in all sizes but the biggest are joined by even bigger models. In another chart, the line that best tracks the relationship of body mass to airplane speeds is nearly identical to mass and speed statistics from various mammals, lizards, birds, insects and more. Evolutionary constraints found in nature, in other words, can be seen at work in the airline industry.

We can hear Casey swooning. Oooooooh! Oooooooooh! Here’s more:

There was, however, one outlier on the chart — the Concorde.

“The Concorde was too far off from the ratios that evolution has produced in passenger jets,” explained Bejan, who points out that the doomed aircraft had limited passenger capacity, a low mass-to-velocity ratio, an off-the-charts fuselage-to-wingspan ratio, massive engines and poor fuel economy. “It would have had to adhere to the constructal design rules to succeed.”

Tough luck for the Concorde. But that’s not our concern here, so that’s where we’ll quit our excerpts. What caused us to write about this wasn’t nostalgia for the Concorde. Rather, it’s that Bejan’s paper is obviously ripe for quote-mining and for making wild leaps of illogic that point to the Discoveroids’ magical designer in the sky.

This is much too good for them to pass up. Even though we’re jumping out ahead and predicting their behavior, they won’t be able to resist. Come on, Casey. This one’s for you!

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Blog of the Gaps — Free Fire Zone

Days like this aren’t easy for your Curmudgeon. What are we supposed to do when there isn’t any news to blog about?

1: We could sum up the past six months of failures by the Discoveroids — oh, wait, we’ve already done that.

2: We could work on our database of creationist perverts. Let’s see, the last time we reported about Rev. Robert Lyzenga was back in May: Creationist Voyeurism: Update on Case #5. At that time the rev had pleaded guilty to all charges of voyeurism for planting cameras inside air fresheners in the women’s bathroom stalls at Sunrise Christian Reformed Church.

Now, the Journal & Courier of West Lafayette, Indiana has this headline: Ex-pastor sentenced for church bathroom voyeurism. Wow — church bathroom voyeurism — what a phrase! In addition to describing the juicy details of the rev’s perversion, which you’ll want to read for yourself, they say:

Former pastor Robert Lyzenga, who admitted in May to hiding two video cameras inside a women’s restroom at the Lafayette church he shepherded, was sentenced Friday to four years in prison followed by three years of probation.

How many other creationist perverts are out there? It’s a horrifying thought, so we’ll drop it. Okay, what else can we post about?

3: We could post a new pic of Aaaargh!!, one of your Curmudgeon’s two splendid Dobermans. But we don’t want one of our dogs to share a post with a creationist voyeur, so that’s out. What else is there?

4: Aha — we can declare an Intellectual Free-Fire Zone. Hey, great idea!

As with all our free-fire zones, we’re open for the discussion of pretty much anything — science, politics, economics, whatever — as long as it’s tasteful and interesting. Banter, babble, bicker, bluster, blubber, blather, blab, blurt, burble, boast — say what you will. But avoid flame-wars and beware of the profanity filters.

We now throw open the comments to you, dear reader. Have at it!

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Post Number 4,500 — Free Fire Zone

This — yes, these very words which you are now reading! — is our humble blog’s 4,500th post. No one cares, but we’re announcing it anyway.

For some history which no one will ever consult, this was Number 4,000, and before that Number 3,500, and before that Number 3,000, and before that Number 2,500, and before that Number 2,000, and before that Number 1,500, and before that Number 1,000, and before that Number 500 (approximately), and before that, this was Post Number One — Clarke’s First Law and Intelligent Design.

The cumulative total of page-views for our humble blog reached 2.75 million yesterday. That’s a statistic of interest to advertisers, of whom we have none. We actually pay WordPress to keep the place ad-free. Eight months ago, when we were at 4,000 posts, the page-view total was just under 2.25 million. Since then we’ve had 500,000 more, which is 62,500 a month. Page-view numbers don’t include RSS subscribers and others who read us in various ways without actually visiting, but we think they add another 20% to our readership.

The total, whatever it may be, it’s no big deal compared to some of the blogging giants out there, but we’re not competing with anyone, and we don’t do anything to promote this place. We don’t even comment at other blogs. We used to, but sooner or later our comments always seem to generate problems, so we’ve given it up. A true Curmudgeon has to go it alone.

Speaking of comments, as is typical of all blogs, very few of our readers actually post them. The cumulative total of comments here is a bit over 54,700. That’s roughly 2% of the page-views, which is probably better than most blogs experience. We don’t know how you put up with our Curmudgeonly ways, but we’re delighted to hear from you. It’s your input that keep us doing what we do.

Because this information isn’t newsworthy in any way, feel free to use the comments section as an Intellectual Free Fire Zone. Talk about whatever you think is interesting — science, politics, philosophy, etc. You know the rules, and you know about our profanity filters. But before we throw open the comments, we’ll conclude with our famous guarantee of quality:

Self-Proving Truth Certificate

Everything written by the Curmudgeon in this blog is true. The presence of this Certificate is your proof. Our logic is undeniable.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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