Planetologist's Blog (75)

Happy zombie day!

Here's wishing everyone a good time today, but remember that even though zombies can be fun, they can also be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. Always have an adult present when attempting to raise the dead, in case something goes wrong and instead of a harmless dancing skeleton you accidentally summon up a horde of terrifying revenants bent on consuming the life force of all humanity. Please be courteous to others and always dispel your zombies when you're done with them. It only… Continue

Added by Planetologist on April 12, 2009 at 1:00pm — 2 Comments

The OTA needs a rez

At one time the United States had something called the Office of Technology Assessment. Renowned futurist Newt Gingrich killed the OTA in 1995, apparently out of fear that the OTA might help bring about the future. Now, at last under a President who values empirical data and a rationalist's approach to problems, there is a chance that the OTA might be resurrected with full hit points and an Acuity buff.…



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Added by Planetologist on April 9, 2009 at 3:00pm — 1 Comment

Vermont FTW!

Vermont has become the first state in the US to legislatively permit same-sex marriage without being first forced to do so by a court order. Vermont, unlike every other state so far, didn't need to be shamed or chivvied by a court decision into behaving like grownups toward same-sex marriage. Instead, the Vermont legislature took up the issue directly, and not only passed legislation guaranteeing marriage equality to all adult, pair-bonded humans in the state, they did so with a sufficient… Continue

Added by Planetologist on April 9, 2009 at 11:33am — 4 Comments

Ask, tell, then go fight the bad guys

It's great to finally see people treating the US military's "don't ask - don't tell" nonsense as the irrational woo that it is. The other night Colin Powell and Clifford Alexander separately addressed this issue on Rachel Maddow, and I thought Alexander in particular laid out the despicable illogic of the military's standing position.





I'm not a military specialist, so I can't address that side of this issue. But I do think this whole issue of gays in the… Continue

Added by Planetologist on April 4, 2009 at 10:37am — 3 Comments

Dyson's fear

I hate when non-clerics apply the word "heretic" to a scientist. Clerics at least have an excuse, albeit a catastrophically wrong and childish excuse, but when journalists, say, call scientific dissent heresy it makes me cringe. Too many people already think of science as some kind of secretive, dogmatic society, and combating that incorrect view is already hard enough. Last Sunday's cover article of the New York… Continue

Added by Planetologist on March 31, 2009 at 12:30pm — No Comments

Obama on reason

What would it be like to have a US President who valued reason, objective reality and evidence as the bases of public policy, instead of superstitions, ignorance and magic? Well, it would be - it is - something like this:





Oh… Continue

Added by Planetologist on March 21, 2009 at 10:13am — 1 Comment

Mutate or die

When life began on Earth it didn't resemble modern cells, with their modern fancy DNA and cell nuclei and ribosomes. The fundamental property shared by all living systems is replication with heredity, and the first things that naturally arose on Earth capable of doing that weren't complex modern microbes... most likely they were tiny constellations of tangled nucleic acids. Our biosphere seems to have begun as an "RNA World", where nucleic acids bubbled and stewed inside the plumbing of… Continue

Added by Planetologist on March 17, 2009 at 11:41am — 2 Comments

Molecular self-assembly caught on film

Even those who are largely comfortable with the natural evolution of life can sometimes have issues with abiogenesis - the natural origins of life itself. There's apparently a massive psychological hurdle that needs to be overcome, when faced with the prospect that not only did life evolve itself through the last four billion years, but that it bootstrapped itself up from dead minerals. Much of that difficulty probably arises from the starkly different ways that living and non-living systems… Continue

Added by Planetologist on March 17, 2009 at 10:29am — 1 Comment

Mirror, rorrim

A particularly interesting problem in origins-of-life research has been confirming an explanation for why life on Earth is handed. Life on Earth uses mostly left-handed amino acids, and it's not entirely clear why. Amino acids link together to form proteins, which are the functional machinery in your cells. Aminos also link up with phosphate and a sugar to make RNA and DNA, the machine codes of life. For precision functionality within the clockwork guts of a cell, it's important to… Continue

Added by Planetologist on March 16, 2009 at 8:52pm — No Comments

Deconstructing Conyers' ignorance about science

In a previous post I attacked US Representative John Conyers' bill HR 801, The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, which would forbid the government from requiring federal science grant awardees to publish their work where it can be accessed freely by the public. Existing policy for federal grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), for example,… Continue

Added by Planetologist on March 15, 2009 at 10:43am — 2 Comments

Publish and perish

Phil Plait recently posted on his Bad Astronomy blog about the latest Congressional creep to try and slam their boot heel in the face of science. This time it's Representative John Conyers (D-MI), with whom I am disgusted to share a state. Conyers is sponsoring a bill that would effectively muzzle open access and free exchange of publicly-funded scientific research in the US. Yes,… Continue

Added by Planetologist on March 12, 2009 at 12:30pm — No Comments

Stem cells are back on the menu

And golly, they're tasty.



Today Obama helped greatly to put science back on track in the US, by throwing into the ash heap of history Bush's moronic and despicable ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. That particular Bush-era stupidity was not just a sop to halfwit zealots, it was a crippling roadblock to a promising and highly competitive arena of basic medical research. Because Bush and his ilk believe… Continue

Added by Planetologist on March 9, 2009 at 2:29pm — 1 Comment

If a creationist asks you to debate...

...You would have a difficult challenge in responding to such deranged, deceitful garbage with greater precision than did Nicholas Gotelli, a professor at the University of Vermont.



Dr. Gotelli was invited by some goon at the Discovery Institute to organize a debate between a DI mouthpiece and himself. That's how the DI works; instead of quietly going about their stated goal of researching and publishing in peer-reviewed… Continue

Added by Planetologist on March 9, 2009 at 12:21pm — 1 Comment

Science is cool

I have discovered what I believe is the coolest sentence ever written in a scientific abstract preceding a peer-reviewed research journal article.
"We then examine the consequences of Earth being thrown into deep space."

Added by Planetologist on March 5, 2009 at 1:40pm — No Comments

When will Neptune get oceans?

Yes, and a strange question that is. But actually not an unrealistic question. Neptune, now the farthest true planet from the Sun (after Pluto's demotion), is namesake to the ancient god of the oceans. Neptune is shrouded in layers of icy, dense air laced with enough methane to color the world azure blue... hence the world's maritime label. But despite its pelagic associations, Neptune has no oceans... though it might have had, with a slightly different composition. And it's very possible that… Continue

Added by Planetologist on March 3, 2009 at 7:00pm — 5 Comments

Best theist smackdown ever

I'm a big fan of the Atheist Experience, hosted by the Atheist Community of Austin. Regular host Matt Dillahunty is a fundamentalism survivor who does an impressive and phenomenally eloquent job of advocating the rejection of irrational beliefs, including but not limited to theism. The Atheist Experience is a call-in show, based in Texas, which as you might imagine precipitates calls from all manner of unsavory types. Despite the crazies, the… Continue

Added by Planetologist on March 2, 2009 at 2:14pm — 1 Comment

Dawkins flicks Comfort aside, effortlessly

I've long been a fan of Richard Dawkins, mostly from his books, but more recently from his willingness to stand up unapologetically for science and reason and say, effectively, "yes, evolution does make religion redundant." This is not a view shared - or perhaps willingly articulated - by most scientists. Most of us have been too successfully indoctrinated by the hissing, spitting masses. We've been told it's not polite to point out mental defectiveness in others. Most scientists today… Continue

Added by Planetologist on March 2, 2009 at 10:28am — 2 Comments

Ben Stein is wrong... again.

I liked Ben Stein a lot more as a character actor and game show host. Stein embarrassed himself terribly last year in Expelled, in which his painful ignorance of evolutionary science was put on display for all the world to see. In that movie he equated science - apparently all science, judging from comments he's made since - with Nazism, and supporters of the facts of biological evolution with Nazi sympathizers. All of that is bad enough for one flailing end-stage career in… Continue

Added by Planetologist on February 25, 2009 at 9:05am — 4 Comments

Experimental theology

Sorry to have been under radio silence for so long, but I'm working on a scientific manuscript for publication. Once that's off to be savagely critiqued in peer review, I'll be back for more god-bashing. For now, though, I can only offer this ridiculously lengthy reply I just wrote, to a comment on one of my previous posts on evolution. Enjoy:



I actually don't think I'm being unfair to theists, in… Continue

Added by Planetologist on February 24, 2009 at 4:00pm — 2 Comments

Exposing bigots: eightmaps.com

An interesting convergence has occurred between information technology and election-donor transparency. California's election laws disclose to public record all campaign donors giving $100 or more. As part of the public record, anyone can access such data. Anyone can know who gave how much to what campaign... including the recent bigot-eruption in California, Prop 8. Using those public records a group has set up eightmaps.com, which uses Google map… Continue

Added by Planetologist on February 14, 2009 at 9:12am — 6 Comments

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