News From Around The Blogosphere 2.23.10

February 24, 2010

1. Protein study shows Evolutionary link between plants and animals

Inserting a human protein important in cancer development was able to revive dying plants, showing an evolutionary link between plants and humans and possibly making it easier to study the protein’s function in cancer development, a Purdue University study has shown.

And yet millions of creationists are still unimpressed. Go figure.

2. Mouse with human liver aids research –

How do you study-and try to cure in the laboratory-an infection that only humans can get? A team led by Salk Institute researchers does it by generating a mouse with an almost completely human liver. This “humanized” mouse is susceptible to human liver infections and responds to human drug treatments, providing a new way to test novel therapies for debilitating human liver diseases and other diseases with liver involvement such as malaria.

Just in case you needed another reason to want to punch anti-animal-testing extremists in the face.

3. Steve Novella gives the 411 on the Bloom Box – After it being featured on this week’s 60 Minutes, I too was interested in finding out more about this Bloom Box and whether it really was as impressive a solution for clean energy as it seemed on the show.

4. $cientology hires reporters to investigate the St. Petersburg Times – For those who don’t know the St. Petersburg Times has over the past several months become one of $cientology’s worst enemies, doing the kind of in depth investigative reporting on the evil cult that every other news outlet should have been doing decades ago. Now the $cientology is out for blood and has gotten three veteran journalists to try and investigate the paper’s conduct:

While the journalists have promised an independent review, the Times has refused to cooperate, saying their work will be used to fuel the church’s ongoing campaign against the Florida paper.

“I ultimately couldn’t take this request very seriously because it’s a study bought and paid for by the Church of Scientology,” says Executive Editor Neil Brown. “Candidly,” he adds, “I was surprised and disappointed that journalists who I understand to have an extensive background in investigative reporting would think it’s appropriate to ask me or our news organization to talk about that reporting while (a) it’s ongoing, and (b) while they’re being paid to ask these questions by the very subjects of our reporting.”

. . .

Church spokesman Tommy Davis says that he recently received the approximately 20-page study and that it will not necessarily be made public. It was commissioned, he says, because “we wanted to get an outside view” of the situation. Davis, who would not disclose how much the reporters were paid, calls the report highly critical of the Times stories on the church.

Shocker!

The names of those journalists who sold their souls to $cientology are: Russell Carollo, Christopher Szechenyi, and Steve Weinberg.

5. Judge Judy vs. creationism, anti-choicers, anti-stem cell researchers, and “fundie” politicians –


News From Around The Blogosphere 1.1.10

January 2, 2010

Happy 2010 all!

1. Phil Plait has officially turned over his responsibilities as President of the James Randi Educational Foundation to D.J. Grothe, who hosts of Point of Inquiry, the official podcast of the Center For Inquiry. Congratulations again to D.J. and to Phil, who is moving onto a yet to be announced television project.

2. Atheist Ireland challenges new Irish Blasphemy Law on Day 1 – The first big controversy of 2010 is the new Irish Blasphemy Law, which went into effect on the first of January. Atheist Ireland is challenging this law right away by publishing a list of 25 blasphemous quotes:

Despite these quotes being abusive and insulting in relation to matters held sacred by various religions, we unreservedly support the right of these people to have published or uttered them, and we unreservedly support the right of any Irish citizen to make comparable statements about matters held sacred by any religion without fear of being criminalised, and without having to prove to a court that a reasonable person would find any particular value in the statement.

The quotes come from a wide range of individuals from George Carlin to Salman Rushdie to Jesus.

Lisa Miller, wanted fugitive for kidnapping this child

3. “Ex-gay” mom kidnaps child – Some of you may be familiar with the strange case of Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins.  After the two women had a civil union, Miller had a child via artificial insemination. Later, Miller was converted into an evangelical Christian, denounced homosexuality as a sin, and a custody battle began over access to their child. Ultimately, the judge ruled in favor of Jenkins getting full custody with visitation rights for Miller. This was all supposed to go into effect today. But there’s just one small problem. Miller didn’t turn over the child and has now disappeared. Gotta love those good old fashioned Christian values.

4. Who was the most influential female atheist of 2009? – A great poll from Blag Hag.

5. Are Lithium-air batteries the future in automotive fuel?

Li-air batteries use a catalytic air cathode that supplies oxygen, an electrolyte and a lithium anode. The technology has the potential to store almost as much energy as a tank of gasoline, and will have a capacity for energy storage that is five to 10 times greater than that of Li-ion batteries, a bridge technology. That potential, however, will not be realized until critical scientific challenges have been solved.


News From Around The Blogosphere 12.13.09

December 13, 2009

1. Ray Comfort caught plagiarizing Origin of Species intro – I was reluctant to even bother reporting this story because it was about as irrelevant as that unauthorized use of Imagine in Expelled. I mean there are just so many better things to focus our criticisms on than the fact that the only part Comfort actually contributed his own original content too was not even original. But once PZ Myers decided to report it, I figured I might as well too. It turns out that Comfort stole the first three pages from an essay by University of Tennessee professor Stan Guffey. Also note that those were only part of the Comfort introduction that wasn’t idiotic, tired, and long-refuted creationist nonsense. Guffey is considering legal action.

2. Study finds monkeys have syntax

A study carried out in Ivory Coast has shown that monkeys of a certain forest-dwelling species called Campbell’s monkeys emit six types of alert calls. The primates combine these calls into long vocal sequences which allow them to convey messages about social cohesion or various dangers, including predation.

3. Christopher Hitchens tells the real story of Christmas

4.  Engineered Bacteria Turn CO2 Into Fuel

In a new approach, researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have genetically modified a cyanobacterium to consume carbon dioxide and produce the liquid fuel isobutanol, which holds great potential as a gasoline alternative. The reaction is powered directly by energy from sunlight, through photosynthesis.

5. French justice minister tells Muslim men who force their wives to wear burqas that they’re not welcome in France – That is freakin’ awesome. Why can’t we have people like this running our country. Thatwoman, Michele Alliot-Marie, deserves some kind of metal.

‘The wearing of the niqab or burkha is a problem that affects our ability to live together, the values of the republic and in particular human dignity.

‘For instance, someone who would be seeking French citizenship and whose wife wears the full veil is someone who would not appear to be sharing the values of our country.

‘Therefore in a case like that one, we would reject his request.’

You oppress women and you’re not welcome in our country. Sounds like the height of rationality to me.

6. Atheists save the world against the virus of religion in Marvel comic books

In an issue of The List: Wolverine, the heroes Fantomex (a genetically engineered supersoldier) and Captain Marvel are faced with an army of zombie-like creatures, people who have been infected with an evil virus that can only take over your mind if you believe in some sort of god. So they swing into action, safe from the infection, because neither one believes in gods.


News From Around The Blogosphere 12.26.08

December 26, 2008

Hysteria in 4 Acts – Did Sybil really have multiple personalities? Was the Salem Witch Hunts a case of mass hysteria? Did Mesmer actually believe his wacky theories? Do repressed memories exist? All of these questions are explored here.

WHAT’S THE HARM?

vaccine1The price of anti-vaccine fanaticism – Kent Heckenlively, the parent of an autistic child, is now a proud member of the Mercury Militia. Believing his daughter’s autism is the result of vaccine injury has caused him to subject her to lots and lots of pseudo-scientific “treatments” like chelation therapy, which while a legitimate treatment for heavy metal poisoning, has no effect on autism. Sadly, after all of this chelation therapy his daughter has not improved and he’s still convinced it’s not a useless treatment. And for the record, chelation is a very dangerous treatment. Orac responds:

The mercury militia (and, indeed, the antivaccine movement of which the mercury militia is a subgroup) to which Mr. Heckenlively proudly proclaims membership has indeed become like a religion–more like a cult, in fact. It attracts parents desperate to need to believe that there is a cure for autism and willing to pursue it at almost any cost and, worse, it seems every bit as capable of coopting intelligence in pursuit of doctrine and of convincing parents that pseudoscience and even outright magical thinking (the Magical Mystery Virus, for instance) are science.

AND NOW FOR A MOMENT OF SCIENCE:

scientist-use-in-case-of-emergencyModified Plants May Yield More Biofuel – “Plants, genetically modified to ease the breaking down of their woody material, could be the key to a cheaper and greener way of making ethanol, according to researchers who add that the approach could also help turn agricultural waste into food for livestock.”


Physics schmysics

December 17, 2008

BlackLight Power, a controvercial New Jersey company that claims to be able to convert water into a boundless source of cheap energ, has secured a buyer.

Most scientists say that this technology violates the basic laws of physics.

BlackLight Power’s founder, Dr. Randell Mills, insists that this is no longer an academic argument but a proven technology that they plan to commercialize as quickly as possible (whatever that means).

Another one for the “Don’t Bet On It” file.


News From Around The Blogosphere 12.15.08

December 16, 2008

House Resolution 847 – Proving even in an economic crisis Congress can still manage to waste more. Seriously guys, this isn’t Brewster’s Millions. Can someone please explain the point of this bullshit?

Remember the Iranian guy who recently blinded a woman by throwing acid in her face? Well his punishment is to be blinded as well. Ya gotta love the Iranian justice system, huh? Not really. As just as this punishment might seem from an safe distance, this is a preposterously barbaric and antiquated form of justice that leaves me once again wondering why that fairly accurate and still fairly accurate lyric in Disney’s Aladdin (‘where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face.’) was ever deemed “controversial.”

Teacher banned from primary school for saying Santa isn’t real? – This is the stupidest story I’ve heard all day. . .

. . .because obvious Santa is real. How else can you explain the Christmas presents, and the devoured milk and cookies?

Harry Potter sticking his broom where it doesn’t belong – I have no issue with Harry Potter. I’m not too into it but lots of other people are. And he seems to piss off a lot of religious kooks. . . and of course I love that. But one place where Harry doesn’t belong is in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

Talking religion with the kids from Children’s Scientology Pageant – I blogged about this show before here. Now the kids in the show are having a conversation about religion, which is hilarious. I’m also very happy to see how many critical thinkers there are in the group.

Have scientists finally solved the yawn? – The notion that yawning is a sign that an individual is tired is an almost universally accepted myth.  As far I’m aware, scientists have had several hypotheses regarding the purpose of yawning but have yet to reach a solid conclusion. But according to this article a new study suggests that yawning is primarily to regulate brain temperature.

Ghosts stop thief?

A burglar in Malaysia who decided to rob a house while its owners were out of town on vacation claims his getaway was held up for three days by a ghost that took him prisoner.

Wow. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the amazing feats of these alleged ghosts are exaggerated and that the guy’s just very superstitious. But I’ll admit, it makes a good story. But of course once again, where’s the evidence? But a ghost solving crimes sounds like a mid-season replacement show you’d expect to be coming to NBC.

The other day I mentioned that the Japanese were working on capturing dreams. I didn’t realize how close they were. They can already display images from the brain.

AND NOW FOR A MOMENT OF SCIENCE:

scientist-use-in-case-of-emergencyPesticides In Fruit-based Drinks Outside U.S. – “In the first worldwide study of pesticides in fruit-based soft drinks, researchers in Spain are reporting relatively high levels of pesticides in drinks in some countries, especially the United Kingdom and Spain. Drinks sampled from the United States, however, had relatively low levels, the researchers note.”

Brain Genes: Obesity All In Your Head? – “Is obesity all in your head? New research suggests that genes that predispose people to obesity act in the brain and that perhaps some people are simply hardwired to overeat.

A genetic study of more than 90,000 people has identified six new genetic variants that are associated with increased Body Mass Index (BMI), the most commonly used measure of obesity. Five of the genes are known to be active in the brain, suggesting that many genetic variants implicated in obesity might affect behaviour, rather than the chemical processes of energy or fat metabolism.”

Waste Coffee Grounds: Source Of Biodiesel Fuel – “Researchers in Nevada are reporting that waste coffee grounds can provide a cheap, abundant, and environmentally friendly source of biodiesel fuel for powering cars and trucks.”

THE FUNNIES:

Science explains nothing!

The flu is here – Get vaccinated.


News From Around The Blogosphere 12.11.08

December 12, 2008

Obama picks his Nobel Prize Winning Physicist Steven Chu as Energy Secretary – Apparently the Obama administration is trying a radical new direction, being pro-science.

But not everyone in the science community is happy with Obama – Mike Griffin, NASA’s Administrator, is rumored to be butting heads with Obama, because due to some poor decisions on his part, he may not be working for NASA for much longer. More on this rumor here.

Update: The Hugh Laurie interview on Conon O’Brien I mentioned yesterday can be seen here.

Brian Dunning visits Area 51 – The photo on the left just about sums up the excitement of their visit. This was a great companion piece to Phil Plait’s criticism of Stanton Friedman from yesterday.

WAR ON CHRISTMAS:

My favorite atheist holiday display finally went up in Philadelphia –  My brother and the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia have erected their 2nd annual “Tree of Knowledge” display on Tuesday.

I actually think this is a far better atheist display than the now “infamous” Washington display because the focus is on knowledge and diversity of ideas instead of being as divisive as the religious displays we fight against. The Tree includes photocopies of book covers including not only atheist books but what makes this display especially unique is that it also includes the Bible, Koran, etc. pushing the diversity of ideas angle. And although it gets criticized as much as any other atheist display, it’s a much less divisive and I think more productive way of pushing our overall message. I also have felt that the Washington display hasn’t been defended very well. I love Dan Barker but I don’t think in this particular case he’s done a good job defending what is essentially a negative holiday campaign in interviews lately. The Tree of Knowledge seems like more the direction we should be going in.

Festivus pole being added to holiday displays in Washington’s capitol – This is frakkin’ awesome! Not only that but the Westboro Baptist Church is also demanding to put up a sign reading, “Santa Claus will take you to hell.” Now someone of even below average intelligence might have figured out the lesson of this is that there’s a good reason our government is designed to make no laws respecting the establishment of religion. And that’s because if you respect one of them, you have to respect all. . .and there are a lot. Of course that doesn’t include Bill Donohue, who seems to have missed the point entirely:

Gov. Gregoire is responsible for this mess. Having first acceded to the requests of atheists to attack Christmas, she is now confronted with the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church, a viciously anti-American, anti-Catholic and anti-gay group. There is a way to deal with this situation in a manner that is legally acceptable and morally defensible, but neither the Washington governor, nor her lawyers, have figured it out.

Nor have you figured it out yet, Bill. You just need to go one display farther. We would not have been in this mess in the first place if Christians hadn’t insisted that the government pay for their holiday ornaments.

HUMOR:

Merry Christmukah

Continuing the current trend of large-scale mergers and acquisitions, it was announced today at a press conference that Christmas and Hanukkah will merge. An industry source said that the deal had been in the works about 1300 years.

AND NOW FOR A MOMENT OF SCIENCE:

scientist-use-in-case-of-emergencyLast Neandertal Contact With Modern Humans? – “It is widely accepted that Upper Paleolithic early modern humans spread westward across Europe about 42,000 years ago, variably displacing and absorbing Neandertal populations in the process. However, Middle Paleolithic assemblages persisted for another 8,000 years in Iberia, presumably made by Neandertals. It has been unclear whether these late Middle Paleolithic Iberian assemblages were made by Neandertals, and what the nature of those humans might have been.

New research, published Dec. 8 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is now shedding some light on what were probably the last Neandertals.”

How The Brain Thinks About Crime, Punishment – “In a pioneering, interdisciplinary study combining law and neuroscience, researchers at Vanderbilt University peered inside people’s minds to watch how the brain thinks about crime and punishment.”

. . .  “The researchers found that two distinct areas of the brain assess guilt and decide penalty.”

For some reason I’ve got the Virgin Mary on the brain lately: