Science, Just Science

23 February 2008

Journal Live: County Rejects Faith Academy At Consett

Filed under: Creationism & Intelligent Design,SJS Comment — Kyuuketsuki @ 11:12 am

Another positive result for good sense and reason!

EDUCATION bosses yesterday gave an emphatic snub to ex-motor magnate Sir Peter Vardy’s offer to set up a faith academy in a former steel town.

In doing so Durham County Council rejected the advice of a former chief inspector of schools and of an ex-Government chief whip.

The issue is politically contentious, with former chief whip and North West Durham MP Hilary Armstrong coming under fire from Labour councillors for supporting the proposal from Sir Peter Vardy’s Emmanuel Schools Foundation in partnership with former Sunderland AFC chairman Bob Murray.

Ms Armstrong, whose constituency includes Consett, said the town’s children could miss out on a “marvellous opportunity”.

The council instead favours as potential sponsor a consortium called Durham Excellence in Education Partnership (Deep) involving Durham University, local secondary schools, North East Chamber of Commerce and the county council itself.

Two other MPs, Kevan Jones, of Durham North, and Roberta Blackman-Woods, Durham City, support the council’s preferred option.

After the council cabinet voted on its preferred sponsor, Ms Blackman-Woods said: “In the House of Commons today I congratulated Durham University and its partners for putting forward their bid.

“If it was ultimately successful, it would help to raise aspirations in the county and provide more opportunities for young people.” Mr Jones said: “Durham County Council’s decision is fantastic news for education in Durham. The involvement of Durham University and the other members of the Deep group will bring a great deal of expertise to the academies programme and will certainly help to continue to drive up educational standards in Durham.”

[Read The Rest of The Article Here]

Anything that stops people like Reg Vardy advancing his creationism into our schools is a good thing! Now if we can only get someone with some real balls to push these people out of what they already have we’ll be truly on the winning path.

James “Kyuuketsuki” Rocks (UK Tech Portal)

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21 February 2008

BBC: ‘Frog From Hell’ Fossil Unearthed

Filed under: Education,News,Science — Kyuuketsuki @ 7:31 pm

From The BBC’s News (Science & Nature) site:

A 70-million-year-old fossil of a giant frog has been unearthed in Madagascar by a team of UK and US scientists.

What the 'Frog form hell' may have looked like

The creature would have been the size of a “squashed beach ball” and weighed about 4kg (9lb), the researchers said.

They added that the fossil, nicknamed Beelzebufo or “frog from hell”, was “strikingly different” from present-day frogs found on the island nation.

Details of the discovery are reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The team from University College London (UCL) and Stony Brook University, New York, said the frog would have had a body length of about 40cm (16 inches), and was among the largest of its kind to be found.

“This frog, a relative of today’s horned toads, would have been the size of a slightly squashed beach-ball, with short legs and a big mouth,” explained co-author Susan Evans, from UCL’s Department of Cell and Developmental Biology.

“If it shared the aggressive temperament and ‘sit-and-wait’ ambush tactics of [present-day] horned toads, it would have been a formidable predator on small animals.

“Its diet would most likely have consisted of insects and small vertebrates like lizards, but it’s not impossible that Beelzebufo might even have munched on hatchling or juvenile dinosaurs.”

[Read The Rest Of The Article Here]

James “Kyuuketsuki” Rocks (UK Tech Portal)

News In Science: World’s Oldest Bat Hunted Without Sonar

Filed under: Education,Science — Kyuuketsuki @ 6:27 pm

From Australia’s ABC “News In Science” site:

A nearly perfect bat fossil, the oldest ever found, lacked a key feature seen in most bats: the ability to hunt and navigate using sonar.

The finding, settles a long-simmering evolutionary debate: first came flight, and only then did bats develop echolocation to track and trap their prey.

Most experts thought it was the other way around, according to the study in today’s issue of the journal Nature.

Echolocation, the ability to emit high-pitched squeaks and hear the echo bouncing off flying insects as small as a mosquito, was assumed to be what made a bat a bat.

There are over 1000 species of bats in the world today, and all of them can ping the air with sound waves.

But some, especially larger fruit bats, depend on their sense of smell and sight to find food, showing that the winged mammals could survive without their amazingly capacity to gauge the location, direction and speed of flying creatures in the dark.

The bat, which would have flown around 52 million years ago, was dug out of limestone deposits in the US state of Wyoming in 2003.

[Read The Rest Of The Article Here]

James “Kyuuketsuki” Rocks (UK Tech Portal)

20 February 2008

Scientific American: ‘Junk’ RNA May Have Played Role In Vertebrate Evolution

Filed under: Education,News,Science — Kyuuketsuki @ 7:48 pm

From Scientific American:

Genetic material once dismissed as mere “junk” may in fact be responsible to the evolution of simple invertebrates into more complex organisms sporting backbones, according to a new study.

Tiny snippets of the genome known as microRNA were long thought to be genomic refuse because they were transcribed from so-called “junk DNA,” sections of the genome that do not carry information for making proteins responsible for various cellular functions. Evidence has been building since 1993, however, that microRNA is anything but genetic bric-a-brac. Quite the contrary, scientists say that it actually plays a crucial role in switching protein-coding genes on or off and regulating the amount of protein those genes produce.

Now, researchers from Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and the University of Bristol in England report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that these tiny genetic segments could be responsible for the evolution of animals with backbones, noting that they found a surfeit of microRNA in the genomes of the earliest vertebrates, such as lampreys (jawless fish), when compared with invertebrates like sea squirts.

“There’s this dramatic increase in microRNAs that were fixed in the genome of vertebrates and were rarely secondarily lost,” says study co-author Kevin Peterson, an associate professor of biological sciences at Dartmouth. “If a human has a microRNA that’s also found in zebra fish, we [typically] find it in lamprey but we don’t find it in any invertebrate,” implying that that piece of genetic material is unique to vertebrates.

[Read The Rest Of The Article Here]

James “Kyuuketsuki” Rocks (UK Tech Portal)

19 February 2008

Angry By Choice!

Filed under: Creationism & Intelligent Design,SJS Comment — Kyuuketsuki @ 9:33 am

I was browsing P. Z. Myer’s excellent Pharyngula blog and he linked to another one, Angry By Choice, a report about a Creation Science Home-Schooling Fair, and was saying what a typical mess it was and of course he’s right but I read Angry’s report and I saw something else, I saw hope!

Why do I say that? OK, it seems to me that even though these awful “creation science” leaders are doing what they do best (lie, cheat, delude and intentionally obscure reality for what I can only presume to be power and status) reason will win the day … at the fair there were exhibits at the show that showed young, creationism home-schooled, people were thinking or attempting to think rationally (don’t get me wrong, there were others that weren’t) and that gives me hope.

Even if everything science has done was wiped out today and the creationists took power I believe (or at least have reason to hope) that reason would eventually triumph again because reason and logic opposes what these awful people do, that belief-in-spite-of-evidence gets trashed once humans start to think for themselves.

That isn’t a reason to be complacent but it does mean that even if ID triumphs its victory will, in all liklihood, be transient and Humanity still has a chance to suceed and that makes me look at things just a little more positively.

Call it faith if you wish but I believe in our future.

James “Kyuuketsuki” Rocks (UK Tech Portal)

12 February 2008

Happy Darwin Day!

Filed under: Science — Kyuuketsuki @ 6:28 pm

Charles Darwin was born on the 12th of February 1809, so this would be his 199th birthday. It’s natural for me to celebrate the man because he’s one of he greatest thinkers of all time and arguably the single most influential scientist ever.  But I’m not going to.  I’m going to cheer for Darwin for other reasons.  Better reasons.

Darwin wrote several books and they are important and powerful but they are something else as well.  They are comprehensible.  The first scientific theory of any complexity that I really understood was Darwin’s evolutionary theory and the reason was because at the age of ten I could read and understand his books.  If you pick up the Origin of Species you are able to follow, step by step, the thought processes of a man who was not merely a great scientist but also a great communicator.  I salute the first man who could advance science by unimagined amounts and still explain it to a child.

That’s my personal reason for raising a glass to Darwin.  But I think there’s another that may be even more important.

Charles Darwin was a great father.  If there were Olympics for parenting then he’d have been buried under medals.  He made Downe House, his home, child friendly and he played games and went on walks with his children all the time.  His study at the bottom of the stairs always had the door open and when the weather was wet his children used to slide down the staircase on a tray and, kinetic energy working much the same way then as now, slide into his study giggling madly.  He was caring and loving, never too busy to stop work and talk with the younger generation.

The list of people who have truly had great influence on the world is not that long; the list of those who can still personally inspire us with their words today is shorter still. Most of the people who have changed the world have been warlords, dictators, selfish capitalists or greedy politicians.  Some have been unspeakably unpleasant, some have been foolish and vain but few have been truly decent and humble individuals.  Charles Darwin is practically unique as a man who changed the world and still remained a gentleman of charm and character.

Happy birthday Sir.

Ben Slythe (posted by James “Kyuuketsuki” Rocks)

9 February 2008

Science Just Science Campaign – A New Beginning!

Filed under: SJS Comment — Kyuuketsuki @ 5:43 pm

It’s taken a while I admit but we’ve finally got our act together and are re-launching the “Science, Just Science” Campaign and we’ve decided to do so as a blog.

It’s been fairly quiet since SJS faltered but on the plus side it’s given us a chance to think, to re-evaluate, to reconsider and to build upon what we’ve learned which, I’m sure you’ll agree, can only be a good thing. A key change in my own stance is that I feel even less like tolerating foolish views than I did previously and that, unfortunately, affects one of the key principles upon which the original campaign was based. SJS was founded upon the idea that neither atheists or religious moderates wanted Creationism or ID anywhere near a UK based science classroom and my personal problem with that was, as a rational atheist respecting the right of any individual to hold whatever views they wish (no matter how demented), I was and still am unable to respect any view unless it can be rationally justified. In that sense I am about as Dawkinsian as it is possible to be believing that no religious viewpoint inherently merits any greater tolerance or respect than any other [religious POV], that none deserve any special favour from individuals or state and that none should be especially excepted from critical evaluation. I’m a hardline atheist so it’s no secret that I am no friend of religion and indeed consider myself to be more oriented towards the downfall of such institutions than their maintenance. In that sense I feel SJS was founded on the lie (granted one that made perfect strategic sense) that the enemy of my enemy was my friend. In many ways (at least from the POV of an atheist) I think all I’ve been doing is to ignore the lesser of two evils; that whilst we dealt with the greater threat we had agreed to bury the metaphorical axe … for the present moment.

With hindsight I feel I’ve simply been making nice with a piranha.

Why do I think that? In SJS’s time I have noticed a few things …

  • No matter what we did to try and attract theists into our ranks (and trust me we really tried) the vast majority of our membership tended to be non-religious.
  • No matter how hard we tried, no matter what incentives we came up with, we were unable to attract a single one of our religious brethren into SJS’s core management group (the smaller number of us who steered SJS, who reacted directly to creationist tactics.
  • A noted tendency on the part of some theists to want their position (and those of their leading thinkers) respected whilst expecting to be able (unchallenged) to criticise leading atheist speakers and/or to be implicitly critical of atheism and conveniently ignoring the obvious similarities between their own beliefs & those of the fundamentalists whose actions we were so opposed to.
  • Some resentment of the participation of (and often early action by) atheists in the fight against the creationists.

This kind of attitude on the part of theists (and I stress that I do know of a few, too few IMO, theists who don’t act this way), their unwillingness to fully engage with atheists in the battle against pseudoscience has allowed many of those with stronger theistic views (including fundamentalists) to cry foul and act as if it were they who were the injured party. Fortunately today’s climate (to my mind far more conducive to healthy scientific scepticism) has allowed the hyper-reasoned views of Dawkins and his fellows to the fore and I think it is that, alongside an overly PC society that appears to quake in terror at the thought of upsetting ethnic and religious groups (including those we would have previously regarded as zealots), that accounts for many such theist claims and their apparent fear that naturalism, secularism, atheism or whatever may be getting too big for its boots.

Regardless of the fact that so many would like it to be so there is not only no available validatable evidence for deity but there is the significant problem that the introduction of deity-dependent explanations, by which I mean their acceptance as valid in a real sense (that the divine action of a creator god or a miracle maker was necessary for some aspect of an explanation to proceed), would present far more problems for science than they could ever solve. Such thinking not only arises out of 2000 year old plus thought, such thinking should have little or no relevance to a modern free-thinking enlightened society and I am amazed such things are tolerated in society at all (let alone in the education system where SJS’s concerns mainly lie) except of course as an example of how wrong a society can get it.

But to return to the point of this first SJS-as-a-blog post …

Following a period of consultation, we have decided to re-launch SJS in a blog format where we (or anyone else to whom we grant permission) can post articles (and where others can post comments) yet still allow us, as individuals, sufficient room to express our own views. I would, however, like to make it crystal clear that whilst SJS welcomes anyone to the fight and will willingly work with them to achieve our main goal of keeping science and only science in the UK education system we have agreed that we will no longer give anyone, atheist or theist, a get-out-of-jail-free card … your views, should you care to advance them, stand on their merit and on nothing else.

James “Kyuuketsuki” Rocks (UK Tech Portal)
Note:
The views stated above represent the views of the author and not necessarily the views of all core members of the “Science, Just Science” Campaign.
Addendum:
As the campaign switches from its old wiki-style format to the new blog one we will be progressively adding back in some of our old material so it will appear as archived and available to anyone as a resource.

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