I am back on an airplane, this time on my way to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I am speaking at an international education conference there. I did the same conference about three years ago, and I met some really incredible people. The location is nothing to write home about, and I really dislike the food. However, the conference attendees are truly amazing, making this something to which I am really looking forward!
In any event, since I am on a plane again, I am catching up on some of my reading. An interesting article in Chemical Engineering and News caught my eye1. It reported on a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that measured various nutrient levels in rice that had been genetically modified to be more resistant to insects and fungal infections. All three varieties of genetically-modified rice were found to be lacking in certain nutrients. One variety was deficient in vitamin E, another was deficient in protein content, and the last was deficient in key amino acids. The authors say that the study produced
…alarming information with regard to the nutritional value of transgenic rice.
Now I have no problem with genetically-modified crops, as long as they have been put through enough tests to make sure that they are safe for both the ecosystem and the consumer. Such tests are difficult, but certainly not impossible. However, I expect that very little research is done on the nutritional content of such crops. Geneticists tend to compartmentalize genomes, thinking that tinkering with genes involved in immunity won’t affect genes associated with metabolism and energy storage. Clearly this study shows that such compartmentalization is not a realistic approach to understanding genomes.
Anyone who knows me or has seen me in person knows that nutrition is just not all that important to me. I understand the value of good nutrition, but for me, taste rules. I eat the things I like, and I don’t eat the things I don’t like – regardless of nutritional value. I admit this is a short-sighted way to eat, but I would rather live happy than live long – it’s just that simple. So why do I care about this study on the nutritional content of transgenic rice?
I am currently doing an Alaskan tour of six cities in seven days, working with educators in a state-wide, publicly-funded charter school system. Even though it is cold, it is a lot of fun. Alaska is beautiful, and the charter school system is excellent. It is great to see quality education occurring in such a novel way.
Because airplanes are the main way one gets from city to city in Alaska, I have been spending a lot of time sitting in airports, on tarmacs, and occasionally on an airplane that is actually flying. As a result, I have been doing a lot of reading. I came across an interesting article in ScienceScience News today1, and I think it is a great illustration of something I stress in most of my science books.
For several years now, scientists have been using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe functioning brains. The main technique involves using a magnetic resonance imaging machine to look for small changes that occur within the blood vessels of a person’s brain. The very reasonable argument proposed is that the more active a neuron is, the more blood it needs. Thus, if the fMRI sees an increase in blood flow to a particular region of the brain, the neurons in that region must be more active. So…a subject is stimulated in some way, and the fMRI looks for increases in blood flow. Any region of the brain that “lights up” must be the region that is responsible for either processing whatever stimulus was provided or producing a response to it.
Several hundred papers have been published discussing the results of all manner of fMRI experiments, and they have made all sorts of definitive conclusions regarding what regions of the brain are responsible for processing various stimuli or producing various responses to those stimuli. Well, Craig Bennett wanted to see how reliable fMRI experiments are, so he decided to do a very simple baseline test. He used fMRI to study the way a dead fish’s brain responds to stimuli.
Global climate models (GCMs) are one of the driving forces behind the idea that global warming is real and is the result of human activity. These models attempt to simulate global climate as a result of various input parameters, one of which is the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These global climate models generally agree that the earth should be warming due to the increased levels of carbon dioxide found in the atmosphere. For example, here are the projections made by several different GCMs back in 2000:
Note that global temperatures were predicted to rise throughout the decade of 2000-2010. Instead, global temperatures have remained remarkably steady over that same time period:
So why have the computer model projections fared so poorly when compared to what has actually happened so far? Well, it seems that one of the real luminaries of climate science, Richard Lindzen, has found at least part of the answer to that question1.
First, Dr. Monton’s sharp intellect makes it hard for me to forget that there are intellectual atheists out there. Most of the “new atheists” are such buffoons that it lulls one into the false idea that atheists are mostly irrational. While this may be true about many atheists, it is certainly not the case for Dr. Monton.
The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.
He then makes the obvious point that everyone must agree with that statement. An athlete’s strong muscles (a feature of a living thing) are not the result of an undirected process such as natural selection – they are the result of the athlete’s intelligently-designed workout regime. Similarly, a building like the Empire State Building (a feature that is in the universe) is not the result of an undirected process such as natural selection. It is the result of design. Thus, he rightly points out that this description of intelligent design doesn’t really state what the proponents of intelligent design want their own theory to mean. He spends several pages coming up with a much more intellectually rigorous statement of intelligent design:
The blog starts out like most blogs that are uninterested in finding out what science really says about origins. Dr. O’Brien claims that in this blog, I repeat “the same worn out creationist canards throughout his site but obscures them within a cloak of scientific-sounding vocabulary.” This, of course, is nonsense. It is an attempt to sidestep the science and hope that no one notices. It is a common rhetorical technique, typically employed by those who do not have the courage to face opinions that contradict their own.
In any event, I want to mention Dr. O’Brien’s post because it is a classic example of how incorrect assumptions lead to incorrect conclusions. After once again trying to smear creationists rather than honestly address their arguments, the author of the post says:
Wile apparently believes this is sufficient for an instructor like me to start teaching ID in the classroom as a reasonable alternative to evolutionary theory.
This, of course, is also nonsense, and it shows that the author should stop making assumptions and actually start reading what he claims to have read.
I usually love to read the works of atheists, because they tend to remind me how irrational the atheist faith is. For example, I love reading PZ Meyers, because not only is he an excellent writer, but his writing is so emotional that it displays the fact that his atheism comes not from rational thought, but from some deep-seated anger or resentment that he harbors. In the same way, while Richard Dawkins knows a lot about biology, he is very sloppy with data, and he seems to be virtually unaware of how logic works. His writing makes it very clear that his atheism is not the result of rational thought. I even love it when “Norwegian Shooter” comments on this blog, because his refusal to look at even the simplest data makes it clear how desperately he clings to his atheistic faith.
However, there are some atheists who make me uncomfortable, and Dr. Bradley Monton is one of them. In his newest book, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design, he demonstrates quite clearly that not all atheists are irrational. This, of course, makes me uncomfortable, because it is easier to dismiss the atheistic view when it is represented by buffoons like Myers, Dawkins, Hitchens, and the like. When it is represented by people like Dr. Bradley Monton, you have to at least sit up and take notice.