Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Project Steve

National Center for Science Education
Project Steve "is a tongue-in-cheek parody of a long-standing creationist tradition of amassing lists of 'scientists who doubt evolution' or 'scientists who dissent from Darwinism'… Project Steve mocks this practice with a bit of humor, and because 'Steves' are only about 1% of scientists, it incidentally makes the point that tens of thousands of scientists support evolution. And it honors the late Stephen Jay Gould, NCSE supporter and friend."

Not only Steves, but also Stephens, Stevens, Stephanies, Stefans, Etiennes and Estebans!I must have had the worst love life in the whole field of leech systematics, but now that I'm an NCSE Steve my social life has really taken off! — Steve

Before I became an NCSE Steve, opportunities just never seemed to come my way. But now my department chair holds the door open for me, and brings me coffee! — Stephanie

Steve here. I have been waiting my entire scientific career for just such an opportunity...a chance to STAND OUT...a chance to SHINE...a chance to SHAMELESSLY CAPITALIZE WORDS THROUGHOUT MY SENTENCES!!!...AND TO USE EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!...WITHOUT REASON!!!! — Steve

The Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, Stephen W. HawkingStephen Hawking is #300 on the Steve list. I'm waiting for the list of Zachriels who support science education. I'll definitely sign up for that one!


Monday, August 29, 2005

Martian Dust Devils

Martian dust devils

Spirit and Opportunity on Mars

You can find more images of Martian dust devils on NASA's Rover Mission website.

"Ah, Martian summer! Finally, the days are long, just like on dear old Earth. And daytime highs rocket all the way up to a balmy 20°C (68°F) from the summer nighttime low of -90°C (-130°F), meaning you and your fellow astronauts can warm up your machinery earlier to get a good start on mining operations."

— from Science@NASA


Saturday, August 20, 2005

Evolution Defined

The Tree of Life, a.k.a. the nested hierarchy of common descent "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution." — Theodosius Dobzhansky

Darwin's original Theory of Evolution has been constantly refined in the light of new knowledge. That's how science works! However, the basic concepts of variation, natural selection and common descent are very strongly explanative concerning the millions of data points across multiple fields of study, including biology, paleontology, chemistry, and even geology.

Archaeopteryx retained many dinosaurian characters which are not found in modern birds, whilst having certain characters found in birds but not in dinosaurs.
Evolution is the observed change in allele frequencies in populations over time. The Theory of Evolution explains the mechanisms of evolution, including mutation, variation, natural selection, sexual selection, genetic drift, speciation, hybridization, contingency, common descent, etc. The primary areas of evidence are as follows:

* The nested hierarchy of extant life.
* The nested hierarchy in time of extinct life.
* The nested hierarchy of embryonic development.
* The nested hierarchy of biochemistry.
* The nested hierarchy of biogeography.
* The discovery that heredity is chemistry (Watson & Crick, 1953).
* Observation of genetic mutation.
* Observation of natural and artificial selection and their effects.
* Observation of genetic drift and fixation.
* Observation of speciation in the wild and in the lab.
* Observation of hybridization in the wild and in the lab.
* The recently discovered nested hierarchy of genomes (including endogenous retroviruses and pseudo-genes).
* Direct manipulation of the genomes.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is an honorific society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific research.
NATIONAL ACADEMY of SCIENCES: "The theory of evolution has become the central unifying concept of biology and is a critical component of many related scientific disciplines. In contrast, the claims of creation science lack empirical support and cannot be meaningfully tested."


Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Mohammad Ali: The GreatestIn the Rumble in the Jungle, one of the greatest moments in all of sports history, held under a pale African moon, Mohammad Ali boxed George Foreman using a tactic Ali termed "Rope-a-Dope". Ali's plan was to lay on the ropes and provoke his younger and stronger opponent into depleting all his punches. It's a punishing strategy, and can leave the defending boxer permanently injured.

In Iraq, the American strategy appears to one of outlasting the enemy in a war of attrition, in the hopes that the enemy gives up or runs out of ammunition.

One month in IraqGeorge Bush has apparently embarked on a policy of "Rope-a-Dope" with car bombers.

A Dossier of Civilian Casualties in Iraq


Monday, August 15, 2005

Principle of Superposition

Geological Map of England and Wales and Part of Scotland From geology, the Principle of Superposition, briefly, that a stratum (a sedimentary rock layer in a tectonically undisturbed sequence) is younger than the one beneath it and older than the one above it. This allows the relative ordering by time of fossils found in the strata.

  • Lucy is a fossil specimen of Australopithecus afarensis.New biological forms appear at different times in the fossil record.
  • New forms are preceded by similar forms.
  • New features are modifications of features existing in a preceding form.
This creates a nested hierarchy, a diversification of forms from common ancestors.

From this, we can make predictions about intermediate forms. For instance, Darwin predicted that there would be found fossils of organisms that had shared features of both humans and other apes. Many species and examples of such intermediate forms have been found, and have been found in the appropriate strata, e.g. Australopithecus afarensis has been found in strata dated at about 3¼ million years.

Geological strata containing an  evolutionary sequence of fossilsBut, even then, the fossil evidence is not the best evidence in support of the Theory of Evolution. The best evidence is in recently discovered genetic data.


Thursday, August 11, 2005

Beauty is Truth

Vase dit de SosibiosWhen old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'

There are many valid statements that are not scientific, such as those often found in philosophy or the arts. Here are a few:

The sparrow falls

Claims that God knows when even the sparrow falls are not scientific claims and are not subject to validation by the scientific method.

They are matters of faith.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Scientific Method

Albert EinsteinThe scientific method: hypothesis, prediction, observation, validation, repeat. The scientific method is a recursive system of matching theory with observation.

A hypothesis is a tentatively held conjecture for the purposes of developing predictions of empirical observations. Workable scientific hypotheses have historically come from almost any source, including deep-thought or vast experience in a field of study, but also from a hunch, a dream (Kekulé), serendipity, an inspiration, from fanciful thought-experiments (Einstein), a lucky guess, or even while playing cards (Mendeleev). However any such scientific hypothesis must be reasonably consistent with known observations and make scientific predictions of future observations. Most hypotheses are naturally derived as extensions of existing theories.

In other words, the hypothesis is just one step in the scientific method. It must then be confirmed through observation. The more successful the hypothesis is at predicting various observations, the more confident we are in its validity. But all scientific findings are considered tentative and subject to revision upon new information.

Star Factory as imaged by the Hubble Telescope
Most of science is composed of non-intuitive conclusions. If the facts were obvious or just common sense, we wouldn't need the scientific method to make these determinations. The Earth is billions of years old. The Solar System is vast, but just a speck in the Milky Way Galaxy, which itself is just a speck in the Cosmos. Most "interesting" atoms were forged in the bellies of huge exploding stars called supernova.

The Abjuration of Galileo Galilei
Eppur si muove!

Galileo's telescope
Many aspects of science can be easily confirmed. We can repeat the experiments of Galileo, build a telescope and see the phases of Venus. Like Faraday, we can make an electric motor to demonstrate the relationship between electricity and magnetism. Geological Map of Great BritainWe can make a microscope, just as Leeuwenhoek did, and rediscover tiny animalcules swimming in a single drop of water. We can see the spectrum of the Sun by using a prism, just as Newton did. Or we can take a hike, examine the geologic column, and verify the maps of geologists, such as those of William Smith — perhaps even finding a few common fossils.

Leeuwenhoek: I then most always saw, with great wonder, that in the said matter there were many very little living animalcules, very prettily a-moving.It is the repeatability of scientific observations that allows us to have confidence in our conclusions.