Monthly Archives: November 2009

Scientific American on ClimateGate

UP to now we’ve only discussed ClimateGate in connection with the bizarre claims made by creationists, to the effect that all of science has been proven corrupt, therefore creationism is true. But creationists are too predictable. It’s time to see how a mainstream science publication is dealing with the email imbroglio.

We’re mostly interested in the politics of global warming, and therefore we’ve never expressed any firm opinion on the science. We’ll continue with that approach, and let you reach your own conclusions about an article in Scientific American titled Seven Answers to Climate Contrarian Nonsense.

It’s written by John Rennie, the same man who, seven years ago, wrote the highly recommended 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense.

Rennie starts his list of seven points by saying: “What follows is only a partial list of the contrarians’ bad arguments and some brief rebuttals of them.”

We’ll skip over Rennie’s first six points. They’re all interesting, and well worth reading, but you can judge them for yourself. Let’s get right to his last point, headlined: Claim 7: Technological fixes, such as inventing energy sources that don’t produce CO2 or geoengineering the climate, would be more affordable, prudent ways to address climate change than reducing our carbon footprint.

Note, dear reader, how Rennie frames the issue. It’s written in terms of “inventing energy sources that don’t produce CO2.” Not surprisingly, he concludes that this is unrealistic. Fair enough, however …

Perhaps you noticed, as we did, that Rennie ignores the option of deploying currently known and well-understood energy sources that don’t produce CO2. Is there such a technology? Hint: nuclear energy.

France uses it to produce almost all their electric power needs. See: Nuclear power in France. Were we to do the same, not only would there be an immediate reduction of CO2 emissions (we understand that over 70% of US electric power generation uses oil, natural gas, or coal), but there would also be a reduction in the money we send each year to oil-producing countries overseas.

But surely, you object, Rennie must be aware of this option.

Is he? Perhaps so. But he doesn’t mention it in his article.

We don’t know why Rennie left out nuclear power generation. To us it seems an obvious topic for discussion in an article such as his. We have some thoughts about the omission, but we don’t want to leap to any conclusions. There’s been more than enough of that already.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Creationist Wisdom — Example 88: Cows & Trees

WE present to you, dear reader, a letter-to-the-editor titled Buhl Cummings: Are cows and trees related?, which appears in the Athens Banner-Herald of Athens, Georgia. That’s a college town, home to the University of Georgia.

Athens is also home to Athens Christian School, and as their About Us page informs us, the school was “was founded in 1970 by Drs. Buhl and Lois Cummings …” We also learned from this news article that Buhl was succeeded as headmaster earlier this year by his son, Steve Cummings.

Today’s letter-to-the-editor is signed by Buhl Cummings, presumably the same man who founded Athens Christian and served so long as its headmaster. Therefore, because of the author’s local prominence, we’ll forgo our custom of omitting the letter-writer’s name and city.

We’ll copy today’s letter in its entirety, adding some bold font for emphasis, and of course our Curmudgeonly commentary between the paragraphs. Here we go:

The Banner-Herald’s Tuesday editorial page featured a commentary from a University of Georgia professor of cellular biology who proffered the following idea: “In the past 500 years there have been many great ideas that have affected human society, yet two stand alone.”

Buhl is probably referring to this letter from 24 November: ‘Origin’ should bring wonder, not fear. It’s a good letter, written by Mark Farmer, described as “a professor of cellular biology at the University of Georgia and a spokesman for Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education.” We assume he’s a frontline warrior in local creationism controversies, and we’re guessing that he and Buhl have had their disagreements in the past. We’ll quote one brief portion of professor Farmer’s letter:

Through our genes we are connected to every living thing. Through our chemistry we are connected to the Earth. Through our very atoms we are connected to the stars and the universe.

Okay, but what were those two great ideas in the past 500 years that Farmer wrote about and which Buhl started out by mentioning? Let’s read on from today’s letter:

The professor then goes on to note two books: “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres” by Nicolaus Copernicus, who first offered the idea that the Earth circles the sun, and Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” which sets forth the theory of biological evolution. In its simplest form, the theory states that all life on Earth is connected by common ancestry.

Whoa! Buhl can’t let that go unchallenged. His letter continues:

Now, my dear professor, you completely overlooked the book that predates both of these books by hundreds of years and has shaped the lives of millions of people across the world. That book is the Bible. The Bible teaches that God is the Creator.

Uh, we thought the professor had specifically mentioned the past 500 years. Oh well. Here’s more from Buhl:

Regardless of Darwin’s views, it’s hard for me to believe that the cow chewing her cud and the tree under which she stands are connected, except that the cow appreciates the shade of the tree.

Smack! Socko! Wham, Bamm! How do ya like that one, professor?

And this is the letter’s end:

Try the Bible on for size. You might like the fit.

Ah ha! Brilliant put-down! And now, dear reader, we leave the happy town of Athens, Georgia. Bless ’em all.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Discovery Institute: ClimateGate Obsession Continues

THE email imbroglio known as ClimateGate appears to have literally unhinged the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids). At their blog they now have this article posted: Wesley Smith on “The New Inquisition: Ideology’s Corruption of Science”. It’s by John West.

Who is John West? Most of you already know, so you can skip this indented paragraph:

West is a winner of the Curmudgeon’s Buffoon Award. He’s a Senior Fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute (the DI), where he is Associate Director of their Center for Science and Culture. That makes him one of the chief Keepers of their Wedge strategy, and the guru of the cdesign proponentsists (a term described here: cdesign proponentsists).

West’s new article isn’t much, but it’s the latest episode in the Discoveroids’ recent embrace of ClimateGate as the long-awaited vindication of their creationism. Somehow, because of the squabble over global warming, the Discoveroids imagine that “big science” will collapse and their jihad against “Darwinism” will achieve respectability. Fat chance. They’ll have better luck if they go out and search for the remains of Noah’s Ark.

West’s article is quite short. In fact, it’s little more than a link to and a brief excerpt from the blog of another creationist named Wesley J. Smith. A moment’s Googling around informs us that Smith is a “senior fellow” at the Discovery Institute, so we have here is one Discoveroid quoting another. Whoop-de-doo!

West is, we assume, attempting to give the impression that someone else, at some other blog, agrees with the Discoveroids about the meaning of ClimateGate. Yes, folks, it’s a real groundswell!

Anyway, although the substance of West’s post isn’t at all newsworthy, it does reveal the thinking in Seattle. You don’t want to call it “thinking”? Well, whatever it is the Discoveroids do, here’s West’s latest, with bold font added by us:

Wesley J. Smith has an excellent post at his First Things blog on how the recent ClimateGate scandal is just a symptom of a much broader problem involving the ideological corruption of science:

That’s all West says. The rest of his post is a one-paragraph excerpt from Smith’s blog. We’ll break that into smaller parts so we can toss in a bit of Curmudgeonly commentary. Here’s what West copied from Smith:

Global warming isn’t the only field in which we have witnessed this kind of brazen ideological corruption of science in recent years. I have seen the same approach taken repeatedly against heterodox views in the human cloning/ESCR controversy, to the point that people have been driven off of faculties or denied tenure.

More “expelled” material? We’re not interested in that. Let’s read on:

My colleagues at the Discovery Institute face a similar buzz saw in their pursuit of intelligent design hypothesis, and then are taunted by the censors for not being published in peer reviewed journals.

Get that? His “colleagues at the Discovery Institute,” which we translate as his “fellow creationists” are “taunted by the censors for not being published in peer reviewed journals.” Censors? He means scientists, the ones who review manuscripts to see if they meet their journal’s standards. They know creationist trash when they see it.

We continue with Smith’s paragraph:

Indeed, when Richard Sternberg published an ID article, he was attacked and slandered so mercilessly by the Darwinists, that it sent a clear and threatening message to all other journal editors that they publish ID-oriented papers at peril to their own careers.

He refers to what we’ve mentioned before, the peer review scandal, involving a paper by Discoveroid senior fellow Stephen Meyer, which was slipped into print by Richard von Sternberg, who was then managing editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

That’s all West copied from his creationist colleague — just a small collection of creationist gripes. If for some reason you want to read Smith’s entire blog article, go here: The New Inquisition: Ideology’s Corruption of Science.

So, dear reader, what have we learned from this? Well, we see how the Discoveroid mindset is — cough, cough — gaining momentum. What next? Maybe these guys will show that their ideas are winning even greater support — and to do that they’ll start quoting favorable comments from their own mothers.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Olivia Judson: The Limits of Evolution

Dr. Olivia Judson

Dr. Olivia Judson

IT is once more our delight, dear reader, to post about a column by the splendidly-evolved Olivia Judson — an evolutionary biologist and a research fellow in biology at Imperial College London. This article, part of Dr. Judson’s series in the New York Times, is titled: An Evolve-By Date. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

We humans are busily changing the environment for most of the beings on the planet, and often, we are doing so very fast. To know what effect this will have, we badly need to know how readily different creatures can evolve to deal with changes to their environment. For if we’re not careful, many groups will soon be faced with an evolve-by date: if they don’t evolve rapidly enough to survive in this changing world, they will vanish.

That’s the way of the world. Most species have become extinct. Let’s read on:

The basis of evolutionary potential is clear enough in principle. Whether a population can evolve to cope with new circumstances depends on how much underlying genetic variation there is: do any individuals in the population have the genes to cope, even barely, with the new environment, or not? If not, everybody dies, and it’s game over. If yes, evolution may come to the rescue, improving, as time goes by, the ability of individuals to cope in the new environment.

Quite so. That’s how the game is played. We continue:

What determines the extent of the underlying genetic variation? Factors such as how big the population is (bigger populations usually contain more genetic variation) and how often mutations occur.

Right. The more, the merrier. Olivia then says:

Suppose you put bacteria into test tubes where their usual sugar source is in short supply, but an alternative one — which they can’t consume at all — is abundant. (If you put them with just this alternative source, they would all die of starvation at once.) Then, you can watch how long it takes for the bacteria to evolve so they can digest the alternative. The answer, in one famous case, was more than 31,000 generations! Which just goes to show: just because a particular trait would be useful does not mean that it will soon evolve.

A pessimistic result, but it was achieved with a limited population sample. Here’s Olivia’s concluding paragraph:

To me, all this is a bit sobering. If most organisms have to wait 31,000 generations to evolve a useful new trait — they will probably go extinct first. Worse, many natural populations are shrinking fast, further reducing their evolutionary potential. In short, we can expect that — if the environment continues to change as rapidly as it is at the moment — many creatures will fail to meet their evolve-by dates.

That’s the way it is. Out with the dinosaurs, in with the mammals. And speaking of mammals, isn’t Olivia the greatest?

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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