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Friday, Feb 27, 2009
DC wants a voting black congresswoman
The Wash. Post reports:
The bill squeaked past the 60-vote threshold it needed to pass, under a bipartisan agreement that sped up the process. Six Republicans voted "aye" to produce a 61 to 37 result.
No, 6 Republican votes from nearby states does not make a bill bipartisan. Giving DC a vote in Congress is clearly unconstitutional. And if they were really following the constitution, they would not be arguing about DC gun rights either. The US Supreme Court has clearly ruled that DC citizens have 2A gun rights.

Monday, Feb 23, 2009
Accusing politicians of creationism
Randy Barnett writes:
[Louisiana Gov. Bobby] Jindal actually did: he promoted and signed a creationism bill ... While at it, you can read about GOP Governors Mark Sanford and Tim Pawlenty's creationist sympathies here. Republicans be warned: No demonstrably creationist politician will be elected President of the United States.
I don't want a creationist President either, but the folks complaining about Jindal are the same leftist-atheist-evolutionists who spent 8 years claiming that Pres. G.W. Bush was a creationist. Barbara Forrest complains that Jindal once answered “yes” when asked whether he favored teaching the “scientific weaknesses of evolution”, and that he is friends with someone who attacks the separation of church and state. Jindal also signed an “academic freedom” bill that would allow teachers to supplement their classes with someone that deviates from the official party line.

This is not creationist. It is just name-calling. Creationism refers to a biblical belief that Earth and Man were created as in the book of Genesis. Real scientists are not afraid of being confronted by scientific weaknesses. Show me where Bush or Jindal said something that was demonstrably incorrect.

Prosecutorial misconduct throws an election
The WSJ reports on how US Sen. Ted Stevens got an unfair trial:
The Justice Department this week took the highly unusual step of replacing the team handling posttrial litigation in the case. This followed last week's bizarre turn, when the chief of the public integrity section at Justice, William Welch, and his deputy, Brenda Morris -- the federal prosecutors who won the Stevens conviction -- were held in contempt of court. ...

Chad Joy claimed prosecutors covered up evidence and tried to keep a witness from testifying. He also said his partner, Mary Beth Kepner, had an unspecified "inappropriate relationship" with the state's star witness, Bill Allen, and other potential witnesses.

One excuse heard at Justice is that prosecutors didn't expect Mr. Stevens to get such a quick trial after his July indictment, and were rushed. That raises the more relevant question -- why was the Senator indicted so close to an election? The Stevens case emerged out of a broader corruption inquiry in Alaska overseen by Alice Fisher, a Bush appointee who headed up the Criminal Division. She left last May. The Stevens indictment was unveiled in July by Matthew Friedrich, tapped by the Bush Administration to run the division. He had served on the Enron task force, helping bring down Arthur Andersen. That verdict was later overturned by the Supreme Court, albeit too late for Andersen. He exited Justice on Inauguration Day, leaving the current mess.

Stevens was convicted of failing to report a loan of some household goods, and was narrowly voted out of office. But if he got an unfair trial, then he also got an unfair election.

Since when are prosecutors allowed to interfere with elections like this? I am all for exposing corruption, but unless they have a clear-cut case of some serious crimes, I think the voters should be able to decide on who to represent them.

Tuesday, Feb 17, 2009
Legitimacy of IQ research
The UK science mag Nature has published a commentary by Stephen Ceci and Wendy M. Williams arguing that research linking race and IQ is both morally defensible and important for the pursuit of truth. This is in a special issue devoted to Darwin Day. They say:
In today's world, subjective perceptions of scientists' intent seem to determine a study's acceptability — work is celebrated if perceived as elevating under-represented groups (as with focuses on women and minorities in the search for personalized medicine), but reviled if perceived as documenting sex and race differences in intelligence without a focus on interventions to eliminate them.
Of course the authors explain that they themselves have liberal views, and their beliefs were that the research would help promote liberal causes. There is a rebuttal essay saying that “there is no valid knowledge to be found in this area at all.”

Well there obviously is valid knowledge in this area, and you can easily find it on the web. Because the mainstream science organizations consider this field too sensitive politically, you have to look at second-tier publications.

I don't think that the scientists' intent should matter at all. You should not have to be a political liberal to have an opinion on this subject, or to do research on the subject. As long as the mainstream scientists censor data on racial differences, the public will conclude that racial differences are being covered up for political reasons.

Friday, Feb 13, 2009
Cloning Neanderthal Man
Here is Neanderthal news:
Scientists report that they have reconstructed the genome of Neanderthals, a human species that was driven to extinction some 30,000 years ago, probably by the first modern humans to enter Europe. ...

Possessing the Neanderthal genome raises the possibility of bringing Neanderthals back to life. Dr. George Church, a leading genome researcher at the Harvard Medical School, said Thursday that a Neanderthal could be brought to life with present technology for about $30 million. ...

He said he would start with the human genome, which is highly similar to that of Neanderthals, and change the few DNA units required to convert it into the Neanderthal version.

This could be done, he said, by splitting the human genome into 30,000 chunks about 100,000 DNA units in length. Each chunk would be inserted into bacteria and converted to the Neanderthal equivalent by changing the few DNA units in which the two species differ. The changed lengths of DNA would then be reassembled into a full Neanderthal genome. To avoid ethical problems, this genome would be inserted not into a human cell but into a chimpanzee cell.

The chimp cell would be reprogrammed to embryonic state and used to generate, in a chimpanzee’s womb, a mutant chimp embryo that was a Neanderthal in many or most of its features.

To avoid ethical problems? This sounds like a joke. He is going to clone a Neanderthal Man, but avoid ethical problems by putting human and fossil Neanderthal DNA in a mutant chimp embryo?

Any discussion of cloning Neanderthals seems to provoke the nuttiest ideas about ethics. One academic ethicist says that we should first determinine whether humans wrongfully wiped out the Neanderthals, so that cloning could be seen as righting that wrong!

Wednesday, Feb 11, 2009
Vaccine researcher accused of fraud
The London Times claims to have found some inaccuracies in some vaccine research:
The doctor who sparked the scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine for children changed and misreported results in his research, creating the appearance of a possible link with autism, a Sunday Times investigation has found....

The [original] research was published in February 1998 in an article in The Lancet medical journal. ... In most of the 12 cases, the children’s ailments as described in The Lancet were different from their hospital and GP records.

Some of the commenters on this have suggested criminally prosecuting the lead author, Andrew Wakefield, for raising doubts about vaccine safety. They want to hold him responsible for any unvaccinated person who gets sick. One even called Wakefield a fraud 35 times.

Mandatory vaccination is one of the great sacred cows of modern medicine. Anyone who says anything critical of vaccines is vilified. All Wakefield do was to publish a very small study ten years ago that raised some suspicions for further research. He also collected some expert witness fees as a paid consultant. For that, the vaccine establishment has done everything it can to destroy him.

I think that it is startling that vaccine medico attacked him for ten years, and none of them even looked at his data! The current allegations of discrepencies are based on a newspaper reporter looking at the data.

We now know that there is no significant correlation between MMR vaccine and autism. But the progress of science depends on people like Wakefield challenging the conventional wisdom, and putting forth hypotheses. The cause of autism is still unknown, and there is no good explanation for the rapid increases in autism diagnoses in the last 20 years.

It doesn't really matter whether Wakefield had a conflict of interest. The true test of his ideas is whether they can be replicated in other studies of more significant numbers of kids.

If you are concerned about objectivity in vaccines, a far bigger concern is the the USA FDA and CDC still use paid lobbyists for the vaccine industry on their vaccine expert panels, and no consumer representatives. The meetings are not even open to the public. When you hear that MMR or some other vaccine is on the official schedule of vaccine recommendations, it got there because of folks with admitted conflicts of interests. The feds have to grant them waivers to avoid violating federal conflict-of-interest laws. In the last ten years, about 5 or 10 vaccine have had to be recalled because of safety concerns, and in most cases these expert panels knew about the safety concerns and covered them up at the request of the vaccine industry.

The history is vaccines is that many safety concerns are not even considered until someone has the guts to stand up to the vaccine establishment. We have safer vaccines today as a result of vaccine controversies that the authorities tried to suppress.

The federal court of claims has now ruled against a link between MMR vaccine and autism:

In this case, the studies described above, taken as whole, show very clearly that the MMR vaccine does not cause any substantial portion of the cases of autism in the studied countries. And while those studies cannot completely rule out any possibility that the MMR vaccination might play some causative role in a tiny fraction of autism cases (a fraction too small to be detected by even the largest studies), it seems to me that the failure of so many studies to find any association between MMR vaccines and autism at least casts some doubt upon the proposition that the MMR vaccine ever plays a role in causing autism.
I don't doubt this, but it still does not tell parents whether the MMR vaccine is worthwhile. Measles has been eradicated from the USA, and there is only an occasional case that creeps in from overseas. If the parent is trying to decide whether MMR benefits outweigh the risks, there is still no clear-cut answer.

Update: See also: The witch-hunt against Andrew Wakefield.

Tuesday, Feb 10, 2009
The New Deal didn't work
Karl Frisch writes this San Jose op-ed:
Those who have watched cable news lately have undoubtedly noticed conservative media figures attempting to rewrite history by denigrating the successes of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal policies. This amounts to an orchestrated effort to derail the economic recovery plans of President Barack Obama.

Fox News' Brit Hume recently claimed that "everybody agrees, I think, on both sides of the spectrum now, that the New Deal failed."

He goes on to explain that FDR brought down the unemployment rate from 25% in 1933 to 19% in 1938.

What he does not show is that New Deal policies lowered unemployment at all. Most recessions just last a year or two. Had there been no New Deal, unemployment would have dropped even more.

The USA economy did really start recovering, in terms of typical Americans being able to get peacetime jobs and buy consumer goods, until after World War II. That was 15 years of a bad consumer economy. I think that the evidence strongly shows that we could have only had such a prolonged depression by bad economic policy by FDR.

Darwinism Must Die
Carl Safina writes in the NY Times:
Equating evolution with Charles Darwin ignores 150 years of discoveries, including most of what scientists understand about evolution. ...

Almost everything we understand about evolution came after Darwin, not from him. He knew nothing of heredity or genetics, both crucial to evolution. Evolution wasn’t even Darwin’s idea.

Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus believed life evolved from a single ancestor.

I agree with this. I think that it is strange that prominent evolutionists like Richard Dawkins call themselves Darwinists and seem to worship Darwin. I even see people with cars having a symbol on the back that is similar to A Christian fish except that it has the word "Darwin" and some little feet. They celebrate Darwin Day as if it were a religious holiday.

The same section of the newspaper has four other article on Darwin today. Anthropologist John Hawks responds that the term Darwinist is fine with him. Some of his theories about human evolution are quoted in this LA Times Darwin story.

Sunday, Feb 08, 2009
Sweden stays nuclear
The German magazine Spiegel reports:
Sweden's government announced on Thursday it was reversing its pledge to phase out nuclear energy. ...

The decision has angered the Swedish opposition as well as environmentalists around the world. "To rely on nuclear power to reduce CO2 emissions," Greenpeace spokeswoman Martina Kruger said, "is like smoking to lose weight. It's not a good idea."

Nuclear power is the cleanest energy technology we have. Any environmentalist who is anti-nuclear is not really promoting the environment. We would be better off if we just did the opposite of whatever the environmentalists are pushing.

Saturday, Feb 07, 2009
Forbes publishes evolution comments
Jonathan Wells writes in Forbes:
Darwinism is now facing a serious challenge from intelligent design, or ID, the theory that some features of living things are explained better as the work of an intelligent cause than by unguided natural processes. ...

Nevertheless, since ID opens the door to non-materialistic causes, Darwinists oppose it regardless of the evidence.

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist PZ Myers is upset that Forbes would publish such ideas, and writes:
We aren't going to accept immaterial, supernatural claims as evidence, no matter how much Jonathan Wells whines ...
I think that they actually agree on that last point. PZ Myers will not accept non-materialistic causes. So why is he so excited? Why does it bother him so much that some religious folks have some non-materialistic beliefs?

Thursday, Feb 05, 2009
Obama's war on science
Jonathan Adler reports:
The LA Times reports ...
California's farms and vineyards could vanish by the end of the century, and its major cities could be in jeopardy, if Americans do not act to slow the advance of global warming, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said Tuesday. ...
For years we've heard complaints about how the Bush Administration waged a "war on science" by, among other things, distorting or misrepresenting scientific findings in order to support its policy positions. If the LA Times accurately reported on Chu's remarks, it seems like Obama Administration officials are already doing the same thing (and even before John Holdren is confirmed).
Wine quality is very sensitive to the weather. Any change in the climate will some areas better for growing grapes, and some areas worse. In the worst case, the vineyards might move to the next county. No big deal.

Chu is grossly distorting the science in order to promote a political agenda. When did the Bush administration ever do that? It did not send out cabinet secretaries to tell phony science scare stories like that.

No one wants to see Lucy
An AP story reports:
SEATTLE – Who loves Lucy? Far fewer people than a Seattle science center hoped when officials paid millions to show the fossil remains of one of the earliest known human ancestors.

Halfway through the five-month exhibit, the Pacific Science Center faces a half-million-dollar loss resulting in layoffs of 8 percent of the staff, furloughs and a wage freeze, President Bryce Seidl said Friday.

Lucy is a 3.2 million-year-old fossilized partial skeleton of a species with chimplike features that walked upright. The discovery in 1974 in Ethiopia forced a major revision of theories about the evolution of Homo sapiens. ...

"Lucy may not be anywhere other than Ethiopia after Seattle," Seidl said.

But Donald Johanson, the American anthropologist who discovered Lucy, said fascination with the skeleton remained strong.

"As I travel around the country lecturing, people seem to have a deep interest in their origins, in their roots," Johanson said.

People are interested in their origins, but there is no proof that their origins have anything to do with Lucy. Lucy was just a small-brained chimp that is very unlikely to have been a human ancestor. The fossil is a fraud.

The only reason for even thinking that Lucy might be a human ancestor is that some people claim that Lucy could walk somewhat more upright than modern chimps usually walk, and that there is a scarcity of missing link fossils. But there is one other fossil from the same time that seems more likely to have been a human ancestor.