Not So Fast, NASA

I recently commented on NASA’s paper regarding bacteria that can successfully incorporate arsenic into their biochemistry. Well, another blogger who has more expertise related to the paper has posted a very critical analysis. It is worth reading.

Essentially, the blogger believes that it is very possible the bacteria that lived in the arsenic-only cultures might have been scavenging phosphorous from others in the population that had died. As a result, the blogger is skeptical that arsenic was incorporated into the bacteria’s biochemistry to any meaningful extent.

The blogger is especially critical of the analysis claiming to have found arsenic incorporated into the bacteria’s DNA. He thinks the DNA-related data can be explained by contamination:

If this data was [sic] presented by a PhD student at their committee meeting, I’d send them back to the bench to do more cleanup and controls.

Based on the comments, it seems the blogger is sending a modified version of the post to Science as a letter to the editor. It will be interesting to see how the NASA group responds.

Debate: Do Vaccines Cause Autism?

The International Medical Council on Vaccination disseminates a lot of misinformation regarding vaccines. It claims to offer resources that will aid in “critical thinking for a critical dilemma.” Unfortunately, it does quite the opposite. It uses scaremongering and shoddy science in an effort to get people to stop giving critical medical care to their children.

They will be hosting a live debate on Monday, December 13th at 8 PM Central Time. The title of the debate is “Do Vaccines Cause Autism?” I have been asked to defend the scientific answer, which of course, is no. The debate is free, but you should sign up for it in advance. You can do that here.

If you have been deceived by those who want you to believe that vaccines cause autism, you might want to attend the debate so you can learn the actual science behind vaccination. If you know the science behind vaccines and therefore realize that they don’t cause autism, the debate might still be an interesting thing to attend so that you can see the shoddy science used by the anti-vaccination movement.

What Did NASA Really Discover?

“NASA Finds New Life Form” is the headline on the Fox News website. The article says:

NASA has discovered a new life form, a bacteria called GFAJ-1 that is unlike anything currently living in planet Earth. It’s capable of using arsenic to build its DNA, RNA, proteins, and cell membranes. This changes everything…NASA is saying that this is “life as we do not know it”. The reason is that all life on Earth is made of six components: Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. Every being, from the smallest amoeba to the largest whale, share the same life stream. Our DNA blocks are all the same. That was true until today.

While the NASA team has done something quite amazing, Fox News and other similar outlets have really over-hyped it. Not surprisingly, to get the real story, you must read the scientific article, which is groundbreaking indeed, but not in the way that the standard media outlets are saying.

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A Bacterium Walks Into a Restaurant…

We now know that some bacteria can walk
(Click Image for credit)
The hostess says, “Hold on there. We don’t allow bacteria in this fine establishment.” The bacterium says, “It’s okay…I’m staph!” It’s a stupid joke, I know, but at least the beginning isn’t scientifically inaccurate. It turns out that some bacteria can, indeed, walk!

Microbiologists have already shown that bacteria can swim through liquid using their amazingly well-designed flagella. They have also found that bacteria can crawl along a surface. However, no one had ever caught them in the act of walking until a team of UCLA researchers started studying the dynamics of bacterial biofilms.

The researchers were studying Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a species of bacterium found in soil, water, and many human-made environments. It can cause lung, skin, eye, and gastrointestinal infections. Like many bacteria, members of the species can exist as either free-swimming individuals or surface-clinging colonies. The surface-clinging colonies form biofilms.

Interestingly enough, a free-swimming bacterium can be genetically identical to a member of a biofilm. However, because the two different lifestyles have different requirements, some genes are active in the free-swimming bacteria but not in the biofilm bacteria, and vice-versa. This switching on and off of genes produces bacteria that look and behave quite different, even though they have the same genome.

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It’s Too Bad The APS Won’t Learn from This

Dr. Harold Lewis is a giant in physics. At one time, he was the chairman of the physics department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is now an Emeritus professor at the same institution. He served in the Navy during World War II, was chairman of the technology panel on the Defense Science Board, chaired that same board’s study on nuclear winter, was on the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, was a part of the President’s Nuclear Safety Oversight Committee, chaired the American Physical Society’s study on Nuclear Reactor Safety, and was a member of the United States Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. As if that’s not enough, he is a co-founder of JASON, a group of scientists who advise the United States Government on scientific and technological issues.

This giant recently resigned from the American Physical Society (APS). Why? Because he was sick and tired of the APS supporting pseudoscience when it comes to global warming. In his resignation letter, which I urge everyone to read, he specifically says:

…the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist.

Even though I doubt that the APS will learn from this action, I applaud Dr. Lewis for publicly separating himself from an organization that claims to be scientific but seems happy to throw science under the bus in order to jump onto a politically fashionable and incredibly lucrative bandwagon.

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Relativity Confirmed Under Normal Laboratory Conditions

Albert Einstein in 1921 (Click image for reference)
Einstein’s theories of relativity have fundamentally changed the way scientists view reality. This bothers some, which is why you can find creationists who desperately try to fight against them. These attacks often strike a chord since most people (even many scientists) know little about these revolutionary theories. Partly, this is because the theories are difficult to understand. In addition, they often deal with things that are not a part of everyday experience, such as extremely high speeds or unusual gravitational fields. Nevertheless, both theories are immensely important to some everyday items. For example, if you use a GPS device for navigation, that device would not work properly if the global positioning system did not use relativity correctly.

To understand what I mean, you first need to know that Einstein proposed two separate theories of relativity. Special relativity deals with systems that move relative to one another with a constant velocity. General relativity deals with systems that move relative to one another with a variable velocity. In each theory, Einstein’s only concern is that the laws of physics must work the same in both systems, regardless of the fact that they are moving relative to one another. While this seems like a common-sense idea, it leads to conclusions that make little sense.

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Another Confirmation of Quantum Mechanics

Some Christians don’t like quantum mechanics. More than 20 years ago, one Christian writer called it “the greatest contemporary threat to Christianity.”1 Eleven years ago, R. C. Sproul wrote a book entitled Not a Chance: The Myth of Chance in Modern Science and Cosmology. In that book, he attacked quantum mechanics. A Christian group called “Common Sense Science” champions an absurd model of elementary particles in order to get away from quantum mechanics.

Why all this Christian angst directed against quantum mechanics? Well, some Christians think that quantum mechanics is inconsistent with their view of God. For example, one of the fundamental conclusions of quantum mechanics is that the behavior of elementary particles and atoms is statistical, not mechanistic. This means that even if you knew everything there is to know about an atom, you could not predict exactly what that atom would do. You could make statistical statements like, “There is a 12% chance that it will do this and a 45% chance that it will do that.” However, there is no way to pin down exactly what an atom will do, regardless of how well you know the atom and everything that is affecting it.

This, of course, bothers many Christians, especially those of the Calvinist persuasion. Indeed, in the book I mentioned above, Sproul really seemed to think that quantum mechanics was somehow a threat to God’s sovereignty. If nature really is statistical at some level, then even God would not know exactly what His creation will do, and that just doesn’t work for a Calvinist!

Others don’t like quantum mechanics because, inherently, it doesn’t make sense. There is a lot in quantum mechanics that goes against common sense (as you will see in a moment), and since some people are under the mistaken view that science has to be rooted in common sense (as demonstrated by the website linked above), they think that there must be something wrong with quantum mechanics.

The problem is that when quantum mechanics is tested against the data, it passes with flying colors. Thus, even if you don’t like quantum mechanics, you must appreciate its scientific value. The experiment I will discuss below the fold is another clear example of this.

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Thank God for Whale Poop!

Sperm whales are amazing divers (Scarred Giant by artist Chris Harman, click picture for reference)
Whales are incredible creatures. They are perfectly designed for a life in the water, even though they breathe air. They can dive to depths that would kill human beings, because their ribcage and lungs are designed to change as they dive deeper. This allows the whales to adapt to water pressures that are simply incredible. Sperm whales, for example, can dive more than a mile underwater.1 At that depth, the pressure the whale experiences is well over 150 times atmospheric pressure!

Many whales have an intricate method of communication that allows them to be highly social. Most social mammals rely on visual cues for communication, but because the water they live in inhibits the effectiveness of visual cues, whales mostly communicate with vocalizations. Dolphins, for example communicate with clicks, whistles, and other sounds. A few years ago, researchers learned that dolphins use their whistles to identify other dolphins by name. Two dolphins that are “talking” might even refer to a third dolphin by name as a part of their “conversation”!2

Well, it seems there is another thing to add to the ever-growing list of what makes whales so amazing: they also have great poop!

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Climate Heretic Dr. Judith Curry

Dr. Judith Curry is the latest scientist to be branded a heretic by the climate community.
(Image from Wikipedia)
Dr. Judith A. Curry is the chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology. She is a member of the National Research Council’s Climate Research Committee, and she currently has 144 refereed publications to her credit. An active climate researcher, Curry is considered an expert on hurricanes, atmospheric modeling, polar climates, and air-sea interactions. She is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and has won awards from both NASA and the American Meteorological Society for her excellent climate research. She has also been officially branded a heretic by Scientific American.. What horrible offense has caused her to be labeled this way? She actually started thinking for herself rather than blindly following the reports of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Curry’s story is a classic one and is very similar to my own in many ways. She says that when she reviewed the parts of the IPCC’s third report that were related to her expertise:

I told them that their perspective was far too simplistic and that they didn’t even mention the issue of aerosol impacts on the nucleation of ice clouds. So it’s not so much as finding things that were wrong, but rather ignorance that was unrecognized and confidence that was overstated.

In other words, she had doubts about the IPCC’s report when it came to the areas in which she had serious expertise. However, when push came to shove, she says:

I had decided that the responsible thing to do in making public statements on the subject of global warming was to adopt the position of the IPCC. My decision was based on two reasons: 1) the subject was very complex and I had personally investigated a relatively small subset of the topic; 2) I bought into the meme of “don’t trust what one scientists says, trust what thousands of IPCC scientists say.”

As time went on, however, she began to question her supposedly “responsible” position.

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How Bacteria Talk

Evolutionists have always wanted a “simple” life form to exist. After all, to make the leap from nonliving chemicals to living systems, there must be something that is alive in every sense of the word, but at the same time, is reasonably simple. For a long time, evolutionists wanted bacteria to represent that “simple” life form.

As I make clear in my biology textbook, however, there is no such thing as a simple life form, and that holds true for bacteria as well. The more we learn about them, the more we learn how complex they really are. One of the surprises that has emerged in the past few decades is that bacteria actually talk to one another. They have an incredibly complex means of communication, but Dr. Bonnie Bassler (a professor at Princeton University) does an excellent job of describing it in the following video:

Even though it is 18 minutes long, it is worth watching. She not only tells you how important bacteria are to nature and to you, she explains bacterial communication in a very easy-to-understand manner.

What I find interesting about it is how she and I take such a different view of what the data really mean. She says that because we now know bacteria have one language to talk to other members of their own species and a second language to talk to the bacterial community as a whole, it is clear that bacteria really “set up the rules” for communication between cells. Thus, the communication that makes your cells able to work together so that you survive is simply a more advanced version of what bacteria were able to evolve billions of year ago. I look at the same data, however, and see incredible evidence for design. Just as a common genetic code tells us there is a common designer for creation, the fact that cellular communication is common amongst all the cells in creation tells us that cellular communication is the result of a preplanned design.

Regardless of how you look at what these data mean, the facts are amazing, and Dr. Bassler does an excellent job of communicating them!