Category Archives: Science

The Age of Disbelief

The March issue of National Geographic has a great article titled “The Age of Disbelief” discussing the rise of skepticism about science and our increased polarization. I found it fascinating.

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Logan at Tulsa’s great Children’s Science Museum

It delved into the beliefs and disbeliefs of Climate Change, Evolution, The Moon Landing, Vaccinations, and Genetically Modified Organisms.

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Indigenous South Dakota Giraffes

 

I liked the article because it delved into the reasons why people don’t accept science rather than attacking the people. Science, the article says, is often counter-intuitive. It doesn’t appear to make sense to us. Even scientists have trouble sometimes.

#sunrise #southtulsa #igersok #myoklahoma

For instance, I know in my head and believe with all my heart that the earth revolves around the sun yet I can see with my own eyes that the sun comes up in the east and sets in the west. It takes considerable effort and the view of a night time sky to grasp the truth. That induces considerable awe when one begins to think about it and our place in the universe.

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The whole evolution thing upsets lots of people. Many people don’t believe in evolution. The genius of the theory of evolution is that Darwin proposed it before we had any idea of DNA or RNA and all that. The problem of course with denying evolution is that one quickly moves to denying physics, chemistry, astronomy, and just about every other branch of science.

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Logan at the wonderful City Museum in Saint Louis several years ago.

 

Vaccinations are another thing. Many well educated parents are not letting their children be vaccinated and that is endangering us all. The study published in 1998 in The Lancet has been thoroughly discredited but there are still many parents out there convinced that their children’s autism was caused by vaccinations.

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Me, looking forward to more global warming

 

Climate change is getting a lot of press now. I’m a Chemical Engineer and I remember in my Heat Transfer classes  in school discussions in our classes and text about radiative heat transfer and how certain molecules such as carbon dioxide help hold the heat on the earth. They didn’t talk about global warming because that wasn’t a concern back in the 1970’s.

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Closest thing to a lab photo I had.

 

Many people don’t understand that science is more than just a set of facts, it is a method. It is a method that eventually gets to the truth. Some of my creationist friends tell me that scientists are always changing their minds. Well, duh, yes. That is what you do when new facts force you to change your beliefs.

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Logan’s old school

 

The article points to a kind of tribalism that affects beliefs. The article asserts that people believe things because their “tribe” believes them. I think they are on to something. I’ve been long fascinated how beliefs are grouped up to a great extent. So that it seems to me that many evangelical Christians are also Republicans and also believe in the right to bear arms, creationism, and support the Keystone pipeline. Other people are Unitarians, who tend to be Democrats, vegans, abortion rights, and oppose the Keystone pipeline. (Everybody understands I’m going extremes, right?)

So, the article asserts, we believe things in order to retain membership in our tribe. (Maybe that is why sometimes I feel like I don’t have a tribe. Let me see, I’m a Christian, who is ambivalent about Keystone, am a devout evolutionist. I think GMO’s are probably harmless but support labelling because I think people have a right to know what the heck they are eating. I firmly believe in human climate change but wonder about our ability to reverse the changes that are coming.) Anyways the article implies that the tribalism leads to polarization. And I think polarization is bad.

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Non GMO sheep. These sheep are pets who will probably die of old age.

 

So maybe the way out is to talk with each instead of at each other. The older I get the more I think people are entitled to their beliefs. I also think that beliefs and acting on those beliefs have consequences. I also think that our often timid science education is partly to blame. Too many people don’t understand the scientific method and how unmerciful it is too erroneous thinking. I’m not a scientist, I’m an engineer and I’ve been to technical conferences where the debates about these technical matters really got heated. Science will win in the end.

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Horse mounted YogiCam

 

What do you think?

Additional Information: Infographics, I love infographics. I am all over information in graphical form.

Infographic on Climate Change Denials from ReUseThisBag.com

++ Click to Enlarge Image ++

Source: Reusable Bags

Infographic on Americans Views on Evolution vs Creationism

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America’s View on Evolution and Creationism (Infographic) | The BioLogos Forum.

Information on Vaccines and Autism

Vaccines and Autism
Source: Healthcare-Management-Degree.net

Are you still with me? How about another Infographic on the Scientific Method. I like it except it doesn’t show the feedback that often occurs between hypothesis and results. Scientists have to change their feedback if their experiement doesn’t work.

I have to tell you that finding a decent Infographic for GMO foods was hard. I hardly consider Monsanto and the American Enterprise Institute independent sources and I thought most of the anti GMO infographics were very sketchy and were also not independent. The university sponsored data were boring long youtube videos. Here is an infographic that I thought was pretty good from GMOAnswers.com

GMO Infographic

Kinetic Kites

I was reading my good old Scientific American the other day and they had an article on “Kinetic Kites.” These are wind turbines on a kite. They fly one thousand feet high where the wind is faster and more consistent. They are being developed by a company called Makani Power. Click through to their web site, lots of good information there.

(All Photographs by Makani Power) 

The electricity is transmitted to the ground via a tether line. To get into the air electricity is back fed up the teather to the wind turbines which are propellers during ascent.

It’s all computer controlled. During the power generation phase the kite flies in a circular pattern as shown below perpendicular to the wind direction.

The prototype generates 30 kw of power. About as much as an average automobile. The vision is that these devices would be stationed offshore. It is kind of hard for me to imagine.

Below is a one minute long YouTube Video on the technology. It is just so cool.

I work in the natural gas industry and I am strong  proponent of natural gas but I’m also an “All of the Above” kind of guy as far as energy is concerned including crude oil. This technology seems promising but I don’t think I would be a fan of a bunch of wind turbines offshore within sight of my favorite beaches. In the right area this seems like it could be promising. Wind Farms here in Oklahoma have destroyed some great views in some of the areas of our state.

What do you think? Are you into wind power?

My New Boat, HMS Laconia, Citizen Science, and Global Warming

What do you think of my new boat? You have to admit it is pretty nice. It is the HMS Laconia a former passenger liner turned armed merchantmen built in the early 1900’s.

Photo fromOldWeather.Org

It’s a little big to launch a lake for bass fishing and it probably doesn’t have a live well for the fish we’d catch anyway. HMS Laconia is a little pretentious for a fishing boat anyway.

It does have a Dining Saloon however. I don’t know if chicken fried steak is on the menu or not.

It doesn’t matter because it was sunk by the German submarine, U 50, pictured below six miles off Fastnet, which I think is an island just of the southern Irish coast on 25 February 1917.

 (subsim.com) (I am not actually sure this is the right U50. There were three U50’s in World War I and one more in World War II). 

Oh well, it would have been fun.

Why am I calling this boat mine? I found the coolest thing on the internet, second only to geocaching. It is called OldWeather.Org. It is a citizen science project to transcribe the old log books from all sorts of British Ships from the early part of the century. The books were written by hand in handwriting that is almost as bad as mine so they cannot just  scan them into the computer. They need people to transcribe them.

It’s easy and fun and doesn’t cost anything. They give you templates and instructions on where to enter the date and the location of the ship as wells as water, air, and dew point temperatures, wind speed, and direction, and sea state. Plus you can read the log pages as your ship goes into and out of ports and loads and unloads stuff. It really is fascinating. When they started the project they had a total of 750,000 log pages they need transcribed.  They also have other links involving citizen science if you want to do something else.

What is this data used for? It is for climate research to help calibrate and validate the weather models being developed today to help scientists determine just what affects are climate and how much. They didn’t have the network of weather stations back then with weather satellites. Plus Al Gore hadn’t been born yet and so they didn’t have the internet, that he built, to link all the data together. (Yeah I know, he never claimed that he built the internet.)
Go to OldWeather.Org to see how to get started.

Below is a video from their tutorial section to show how to get started.

Old Weather – Getting Started from The Zooniverse on Vimeo.

So what do you think? Give it a go. Don’t tell me you don’t have the time. You wouldn’t be reading this if you were busy.

Curiosity and Mars

I just found out this morning that NASA is about to launch a new Mars rover vehicle named Curiousity.

Curiosity Touching Down, Artist's Concept

Curiosity weighs over a ton and is loaded with all sorts of scientific instruments. It is so big that they are going to lower it on the surface via a crane from a hovering craft above the surface. How NASA can do that from a gazillion miles away is beyond me!

Curiosity at Work on Mars

Once there it will roll around on it’s six wheels, collect samples and engage aliens.

Curiosity at Center of Attention During Test

One thing I’ve never understood is how such a fragile machine that has to be assembled in a clean room can survive a thundering ride aboard a Saturn V rocket.

Atlas V Rocket Launches with Juno Spacecraft (201108050006HQ)

Used to be everybody was excited about space exploration, especially kids. We all wanted to be astronauts or scientists. Now most of the kids I talk with want to be video game designers.

Check out the NASA Curiosity site, lots of good stuff there for grownups, kids, and teachers.

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Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

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“UNTO Almighty God we commend the soul of our
brother departed, and we commit his body to the
ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure
and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life,
through our Lord Jesus Christ; at whose coming in glorious
majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give
up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who
sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his own
glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby
he is able to subdue all things unto himself.”

(1928 Book of Common Prayer, Prayer for the Dead) Link

One of the most fruitless searches on the internet is people looking for the Bible verse that incorporates “dust to dust”. It is not in the Bible. It is in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, 1928 edition.

I love cemeteries. I spend a lot of time in them while geocaching and I feel a real deep and abiding peace in them. I love spending time in the small cemetery that my mother is buried in Idaho. She is there with her parents and many of her brothers and sisters and other family and friends.

While there I think about the people as they were when they were alive, not as their earthly remains are now. However there are many people who don’t have that luxury. Medical Examiners and Forensic Anthropologists for example.

Many of our fellow humans are killed violently and their bodies hidden or disposed of by their murderers. Sometimes these bodies are not found for a long time. In order to bring the killers to justice it must be determined when the victims died. That is where the professionals come in to do the unthinkable. Examine the weathered remains and try and determine when and how the victims perished.

I got my new issue of Scientific American earlier this week and it is a special issue on “The End.”  They had an article that blew my mind. It was on a laboratory that studied the degradation and decomposition of human bodies after death. I had to check this out.

The laboratoryis in Tennessee, the Outdoor Research Facility of the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center that provides research and data to medical examiners trying to figure out when and how people died.  Basically the Outdoor Research Facility is several multi acre segments of woods where bodies are left in the woods and then studied as they decay and decompose. They are not only strewn about the woods, there are bodies left inside buildings, buried in the ground, and left in the trunks of cars. I’m not going to show any images here, there are plenty available on the internet if you are interested, but the bodies are completely exposed to the elements and to whatever critters inhabit the woods. The facility is popularly known in law enforcement circles as the “Body Farm.”

I cannot imagine anything more macabre but the facility has provided a ton of data that helps our law enforcement agencies apprehend and convict criminals. It is the brainchild of Dr. Bill Blass who runs the center. A TruTV profile of him, which includes a tour of the facility is here. There is a darn interesting article on the facility by Alan Bellows on his Damn Interesting web site. (Warning, very graphic photos!)

This is one of the most amazing things I have read about in a long time. If you check out the first link above, you will find that the facility needs bodies, lots of bodies, about 100 bodies a year are donated to them. Of course, if you  live more than 200 miles from them you, or your loved ones, will have to arrange transport of your remains to the lab. What got me is that 60% of the donations are “family donations.” That is where the family donates the body of a loved one, where the loved one didn’t necessarily wish to be donated. Like any good web site, it has links to the documents that you, and two witnesses, need to sign to join the “pre-enrollment list”of about 1300 people who have signed up for the “pre-enrollment” program.

Anyways, such discussions of the disposition of bodies are discomforting to consider but what difference does it make? (Dear wife and family, this is purely a rhetorical question, I don’t want my remains dumped out in the woods and strewn about by the various critters who happen to live there nor am I thinking about doing it to anybody else.) Just something to think about.

I have all sorts of questions. What kind of people become Medical Examiners and Forensic Anthropologists?  Do you know any? How do you feel about such a laboratory? I have to tell you that it creeps me out although I think it is a brilliant idea. Would you donate your body to such a lab? (not me!) Would you send a loved ones body there?

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Astropornography

I got my National Geographic Magazine today. They had an article about the Hubble Space Telescope. Do you realize that in April it will have been in orbit for 20 years? Wow! What is even more exciting is that it was given a comprehensive upgrade in May 2009 and is more capable than ever.

NASA aimed its Infrared camera at an empty spot in the sky and has discovered features from 13.1 billion years ago. The universe is only 13.7 billion years old. So we are getting closer and to the beginning of the universe. It boggles the mind. Here is an online version of the article. Here is a better article about it from Discover Magazine.

Check out the Hubble Site here. It is one of the most astonishing sites on the internet. I mean next to this blog.

There are photographs of constellations and galaxies and other amazing things. I call it astropornography. I get hooked and just can’t quit looking.

Cat’s Eye Nebula
Planetary Nebula NGC 6543: Gaseous Cocoon Around a Dying Star
Source: Hubblesite.org



Jupiter – with shadows from its three moons
"Overhead" Projection of Large Comet Impact on Jupiter
Source: Hubblesite.org



Saturn
Saturn Prior to Cassini Probe
Source: Hubblesite.org



Omega/Swan Nebula
The Omega Nebula (Swan Nebula/M17)
Source: Hubblesite.org



NGC3603 (Boy those astronomers have a knack for naming things!)
Star Cluster Bursts into Life in New Hubble Image
Source: Hubblesite.org



When I was a kid, space was the frontier. It was the Big Idea. Are there any more Big Ideas? What do you think?

“Finding Darwin’s God” by Kenneth R. Miller

I have to tell you that I have been a little lax lately. Until this past summer I had thought that the whole Genesis versus Evolution thing was settled a long long time ago. I knew that some of the Genesis literalists proponents when they finally figured out that it was actually against the law to teach religion in public schools tried to make something up called “Creation Science” and try to get their narrow religious views accepted as official State Dogma but they were blocked on that. Then they tried to distance themselves from religion and they recreated their beliefs as “Intelligent Design.” That thankfully has been blocked also.
Anyway I came to find out this past summer that people, educated people,  really do take this stuff seriously. They think that it really is science. They talked about “irrudicible complexity,” something I had never heard of, and claimed that for all the millions of fossils found there were zero fossils of “transitional species” (I had never heard of a transitional species.) They also said that “more and more scientists are finding out that evolution is wrong and that there had to be a designer.” I had never heard of that either. They also talked about a lawyer named Johnson who wrote a book who logically proved that Evolution is impossible. (A lawyer, a professional spinner, spinning, instead of a scientist in his lab?)
What’s the deal? I suscribe to Scientific American and I thought I was reasonably on top of things. Evolution as a biological theory that explained how life changes was thriving I thought. Paleontology looked like a thriving  field also. I mean people pay big bucks to see dinosaurs.
I was also puzzled because you see I am a believer in God and Jesus. In fact, I’m pretty conservative theologically. I like the basics. No fuzzy wuzzy, light some candles, get the incense smoking, me, we, you and the universe are one  nonsense for me. God created the heavens and the earth, he created you and me, he sent his son Jesus to die on a cross for our sins. That’s where I am at. I also believe that there is not one iota of conflict between science and the Bible. (Gasps!)
I had to hit the books, or rather start using Google. Lots of stuff out there. What I noticed though is that the creation scientists and the intelligent designers are not really into laboratories and peer reviewed journals. They are also great at using scientific sounding words to advance their beliefs. I am ashamed to admit that I’m not qualified to evaluate what they were claiming. I needed somebody or something to help me along.
I found “Finding Darwin’s God” by Kenneth R. Miller. Miller is not only a Biology Professor at Brown University, he is a Believer.
The book is great. In the first part of the book he takes on the so called scientific arguments of creationists and disposes of them in an even handed manner. He is not mean about it. I’m not really going into it here. Read the book! Besides that is not the best part of the book. Later on he talks about what the real problem some people have with evolution. Part of the problem is that some people including scientists are adamant that evolution proves that God doesn’t exist. My opinion, reinforced by reading this book, is that it does no such thing. Many scientists have an arrogance that some people of faith just cannot stand. Plus, some think evolution takes much of the magic out of the world. (Personally I think that creation science and intelligent design, and the young earth theories totally destroy the magic of creation and the universe.)
The more speculative last part of the book goes into his beliefs about God and evolution and the limits of science.
Why do I worry about this stuff so much? I worry about because it matters. People can believe whatever they want but when it gets to teaching wrong science in our schools I draw the line. Teaching magical science in our schools teaches fuzzy thinking which this country has way too much of anyway. I think there is a link between the avoidance of evolution teaching in our classrooms and our slow erosion of technical capability in this country. I also think that teaching fake biology creates an extremely fragile religion. If we say we know the Bible is true because of (whatever) and then the youngster finds our for himself that is wrong, then does that mean that the Bible is not true anymore?
Easy to do. I remember as a teenager participating in a youth group where the leader tried to tell us that the world is only a few thousand years old. I told him that couldn’t be true. When I lived in Utah I remember seeing thin coal seams exposed on road cuts on our Boy Scout hikes where we could see the outlines of ferns and other plants.  The leader told me that Satan put them there to deceive us. I also told him about fossilized shellfish I had seen. He didn’t want to talk about it.
I recommend this book highly. It sheds much light on the manner in a thorough but gentle manner. I give it a four on a one to four star rating for this type book.
Note that this book was first published in 1999 but has recently been updated in 2007. I didn’t know that until I finished the book and was researching this post. I recommend getting the updated book.