Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

And once more: Life can arise naturally from chemistry!

Yet it isn’t happening, and we have no idea how it happened even once… From science writer Michael Gross at Cell: Rapid progress in several research fields relating to the origin of life bring us closer to the point where it may become feasible to recreate coherent and plausible models of early life in the laboratory. (paywall) It’s a survey article, and it concludes: on our own planet and on many others. “One of the main new aspects of origins research is the growing effort to connect chemistry to geology,” Jack Szostak notes. “Finding reasonable geological settings for the origin of life is a critical aspect of understanding the whole pathway. We’ve moved beyond thinking that life emerged from the Read More ›

New brooms at NASA?

From Jeff Foust at Space.com: Ellen Stofan, NASA’s Chief Scientist, Departs Space Agency She served three years. In the NASA interview, Stofan cited a range of “fun challenges” she worked on while chief scientist, including helping develop NASA’s long-term strategy for human Mars exploration. That effort, she said, is a key part of a broader scientific theme of searching for evidence of life beyond Earth … Institutionally, she said one of the achievements she was most proud of as chief scientist was getting the agency to voluntarily request demographic information in grant proposals submitted by scientists. That information, she said, is important to understanding any biases in how the agency awards those grants. “Implicit or unconscious bias is all around Read More ›

Does the ability to “split” our brains help us understand consciousness?

From Neuroskeptic at Discover: When you’re doing two things at once – like listening to the radio while driving – your brain organizes itself into two, functionally independent networks, almost as if you temporarily have two brains. That’s according to a fascinating new study from University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists Shuntaro Sasai and colleagues. It’s called Functional split brain in a driving/listening paradigm. To study authors link their work to the experiences of split-brain epilepsy patients. In other words, when the GPS voice was helping the participants to drive (“integrated task”), the brain ‘driving network’ and ‘listening network’ were acting in concert, with a high degree of functional connectivity. But when the drivers were listening to the radio show (“split task”), Read More ›

But Darwinism is universally accepted among “real” scientists!

To hear lobbyists and pop science mags tell it. Except, that is, for a lot of insiders over the years. A friend started making a list of books that doubt all or most of modern Darwinism, neo-Darwinism, the slightly elastic Extended Synthesis, and came up with a three-tiered, hardly exhaustive, shelf: St. George Mivart, On the Genesis of Species (1871) Charles Hodge, What Is Darwinism (1874) Samuel Butler, Evolution, Old and New (1879) Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution (1907/tr. 1911) Svante Arrhenius Worlds in the Making (1908) Richard Goldschmidt, The Material Basis of Evolution (1940) Jacques Barzun, Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage (1941) Lecomte du Nouy, Human Destiny (1947) Gertrude Himmelfarb, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (1959) Norman Macbeth, Read More ›

Coffee!! Enhanced protein foods: Benefits doubtful, say British dieticians

From Haroon Siddique at Guardian: The UK’s rocketing demand for high-protein products is being fuelled by consumers buying foods unlikely to deliver the benefits they are seeking, experts have said. Weetabix, Shreddies, Mars, Snickers and Batchelors Cup a Soup were among the brands that launched enhanced protein versions this year as the trend hit the mainstream. Most Brits, even athletic ones, get enough protein but supplements sales have rocketed upwards. Tom Sanders, professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, said people were being taken in by “nutri-babble”. “There’s been a lot of hype in gyms pushing high-protein shakes, there’s also a need to get rid of a waste product from the dairy industry, which is whey protein,” Read More ›

Is artificial intelligence taking over? (AlphaGo version)

From Ross Pomeroy’s ultimate list of Top Ten science stories at RealClearScience: Artificial Intelligence Defeats Go World Champion This year we witnessed artificial intelligence master a new game: Go. Lee Sedol, the reigning world champion predicted victory at the outset, but by the end of the five-game series he had won only a single bout against Google’s AlphaGo computer program. Google technicians trained AlphaGo using 30 million positions from 160,000 games of Go played by human experts. They later made the program play games against itself to grow in skill even further. Programs like AlphaGo with an enormous potential to learn could one day be harnessed to solve real-world problems.More. Physicist Rob Sheldon offers a different take: There have been Read More ›

Plan to prosecute climate change skeptics was serious, FOIA dox reveal

From Kevin Mooney at Daily Signal: Just before joining climate change activist and former Vice President Al Gore for a press conference in New York City, seven state-level attorneys general huddled with a representative of the Union of Concerned Scientists. The political activist, Peter Frumhoff, called for them and other elected officials to move decisively against major corporations and institutions for “denying” climate change. The seeds of that call to action in March were planted four years earlier at a gathering of environmental activists, trial lawyers, and academics across the country in San Diego. The Daily Signal found this and other revealing bits of information among material produced in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed against Virginia’s Read More ›

The aliens went extinct before we found them—there, that’s the answer!

We get round to this every eighteen months or so. From Noelle Dahm at Nautilus: Absent signs of life, astronomers are starting to look for extraterrestrial nuclear wars and pandemics. The aliens may have found their grave. As we sweep the radio frequencies, we hear only noise; as we slew our telescopes, we see barren pixel after pixel. Is that because our fellow inhabitants of the galaxy have done themselves in, reducing their home planets to cinders? Is the night sky a charnel house hidden under a veil of tranquility? Last year Jack O’Malley-James, an astrobiologist at Cornell University, and his colleagues Adam Stevens and Duncan Forgan published their analysis of this macabre possibility. Just as astrobiologists have started to Read More ›

Rubber, meet Road: Climate change, the post-truth society, and going to jail

Three days ago: Why does climate change “denial” matter in a “post-truth” society? From Clare Foran at Atlantic: The entrenchment of climate-science denial is one of the ways the United States appears to be exceptional relative to the rest of the world. A comparative 2015 study of nine conservative political parties in countries such as Canada, Germany, and Spain concluded that “the U.S. Republican Party is an anomaly in denying anthropogenic climate change.” Meanwhile, Americans were least likely to agree that climate change is largely the result of human activity in a 2014 survey of 20 countries, including China, India, Australia, and Great Britain. … Clare Foran, meet Julie Shaw: A scientist on the benefits of a post-truth society: I’m Read More ›

“Fast evolution” affects everyone everywhere—provided we are not too particular about what we consider evolution

From ScienceDaily: Rapid evolution of other species happens all around us all the time — and many of the most extreme examples are associated with human influences. Consider three examples: Commercial fishing. When fishing pressure is high, the fish evolve to reproduce when they are younger and smaller, and thus tend to have fewer, smaller offspring. This evolutionary change can, in turn, reduce fisheries yields and the sustainability. But is this really a form of evolution? That is, are the changes irreversible? Will speciation occur in the affected population, so that the two new groups cannot interbreed with each other? Or, if the bottom fell out of the fish market, would everything be pretty much the same a couple of Read More ›

Science is afraid of animal consciousness?

From Drake Baer at New York Mag: Maybe it’s built into the structure of science itself. Oxford zoologist Antone Martinho makes the case in a new essay for Aeon. Martinho’s lab studies ducklings, while at home, he’s just adopted a pair of “celestial parrotlets,” a sublimely named species of mini-parrot indigenous to South America and suitable for a professorial apartment. As a pet owner, Martinho thinks that his new companions think, but he’d never say that as a scientist, even as his ducklings crane their necks at a new stimulus, in the classic body language of a confused dog. … Which brings us to the elephant in the room: Science can’t infer much about animal consciousness — if it’s there Read More ›

Proton decay findings provide less support now for grand unification theory (GUT) for universe

From Natalie Wolchover at Quanta: Different “grand unified theories” or “GUTs” tying together the strong, weak and electromagnetic forces make a range of predictions about how long protons take to decay. Super-K’s latest analysis finds that the subatomic particles must live, on average, at least 16 billion trillion trillion years, an increase from the minimum proton lifetime of 13 billion trillion trillion years that the team calculated in 2012. The findings, released in October and under review for publication in Physical Review D, rule out a greater range of the predicted proton lifetimes and leave the beloved, 1970s-era grand unification hypothesis as an unproven dream. “By far the most likely way we would ever verify this idea is proton decay,” Read More ›

Philosopher: No, do not “terraform” Mars. Appreciate beauty.

Terraforming means trying to make Mars capable of supporting lots of life, like Earth. From Monash philosopher Robert Sparrow at Nautilus: Enthusiasts often advertise space exploration as an opportunity to be virtuous. “To boldly go”—as they say in Star Trek—is valuable mostly because courage is a virtue. But one can’t have the opportunity to develop virtues without the possibility of demonstrating vices, and terraforming Mars would exhibit two major vicious character traits. One is insensitivity to beauty. Mars has many features of extraordinary natural beauty. It’s is home to the tallest known volcano on any planet, Olympus Mons, whose cap reaches 13.6 miles high—two and a half times the height of Mount Everest. Mars also has arguably the most spectacular Read More ›

Was evidence for liquid water on Mars really discovered last year? Doubts surface.

From Mike Wall at Space.com: The streaks, known as recurring slope lineae (RSL), occur seasonally on steep, relatively warm slopes at many locations on the Red Planet. They were discovered in 2011 by scientists studying images captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). … But it may be prudent to rein in that excitement a bit, according to a new study. Hydrated salts are crystalline solids, and it’s possible that the water the RSL salts contain comes from the Martian atmosphere rather than liquid water at or near the surface, said Raina Gough, a research scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder.More. On the bright side, we are now, as noted earlier, looking at specific locations and the hypotheses generated Read More ›

Life on Mars: New focus on deciding where to look – UPDATED!

From Tia Ghose at LiveScience: Evidence suggests that the Martian atmosphere was declining as early as 4.1 billion years ago, and any surface water likely dried up long ago. With a thin atmosphere, bombardment by deadly cosmic radiation and likely no modern flowing water, any life that emerged on Mars likely did so very early on in the planet’s history, during a time known as the Noachian period (from 4.1 billion to 3.7 billion years ago), Cabrol said. If that life is still hanging on, it likely went deep underground, where it is protected from Mars’ current harsh environment, she said. … Another way to determine what to look for is to find the most Martian-like places on Earth. The Read More ›