Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Forensics files: What? We can’t trust forensic science?

From Jessica Gabel Cino at RealClearScience: For decades, there have been concerns about how the legal system uses forensic science. A groundbreaking 2009 report from the National Academy of Sciences finally drew the curtain back to reveal that the wizardry of forensics was more art than science. The report assessed forensic science’s methods and developed recommendations to increase validity and reliability among many of its disciplines. A key problem, Cino notes, is the unjustified reliance that TV crime dramas encourage the public to place in the field. Among the forensic science they assessed, PCAST found single-sourced DNA analysis to be the only discipline that was valid, both foundationally and as applied. They found DNA mixture evidence – when DNA from Read More ›

Ghost fish finally spotted alive

From Stephanie Pappas at LiveScience: The fish, part of the family Aphyonidae, was caught on camera during an ongoing National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) exploration by the ship Okeanos Explorer. … The secretive fish was swimming along a ridge 8,202 feet (2,500 meters) down, according to NOAA. The animal is about 4 inches (10 centimeters) long, with translucent, scale-less skin and eerie, colorless eyes. No fish in the family Aphyonidae has ever been seen alive before. They usually turned up dead in dreding or trawling operations. “There has been a big debate about whether these are pelagic, living up in the water column, or whether they’re associated with the bottom, like this one is,” he said. The observation of Read More ›

Physics flowering — yet in one of its “deepest funks”?

 From Richard Webb at New Scientist, a review of four new physics books, noting: In one sense fundamental physics is flowering like never before. In another, it is in one of its deepest funks. The past five years have seen three great experimental advances: the discoveries of the Higgs boson and gravitational waves, as well as the Planck satellite’s meticulous measurements of the cosmic microwave background. But all have served to confirm existing pictures of reality: the standard model of particle physics based on quantum field theory, and the standard cosmological model of a big bang universe rooted in Einstein’s theory of gravity, the general theory of relativity. Yet the deficiencies of those two theories are obvious. Not only do Read More ›

Why nanomachines are considered designed only if they are built by humans

From David Klinghoffer at Evolution News & Views: The 2016 Nobel Prize for Chemistry recognized the intelligent design (what else would you call it?) of artificial molecular machines. These “nano” machines are impressive as technical achievements. Yet they are also exceedingly simple, “cute” but “useless,” as Nature reported that “some chemists” say. “We need to convince [researchers] that these molecules are really exciting,” as one scientist remarked. Writing at CNSNews, Discovery Institute biochemist Michael Behe makes the point that Darwin advocates don’t want to hear. If scientists need to be “convinced” that nano machines are “exciting” and useful, the same is surely not true when it comes to the molecular machines familiar to biologists. That’s the nanotechnolgy that make continuing Read More ›

Terminology watch: Hidden intelligence in our cells?

From Kevin Loria at Business Insider: A Harvard scientist just won $3 million for discovering the hidden ‘intelligence’ that defends our cells … It’s only thanks to a mechanism in our cells that can recognize when something has gone wrong that we aren’t all riddled with cancer. That mechanism, known as the DNA damage response, functions like an individual intelligent agent, able to monitor when things are going wrong and then try to come up with a way to deal with them. … Discoveries explaining how that mechanism works are so significant that on December 4, geneticist Stephen Elledge was awarded one of five $3 million Breakthrough Prizes in life sciences. … “One of the remarkable properties of nature’s most Read More ›

Why we daren’t just “trust” scientists

  From Creation-Evolution Headlines: The problem is that many scientific opinions these days refer to predictions that are not verifiable and repeatable. What will the climate be in 100 years? Nobody has been there yet. What will happen to a star that enters a black hole? It’s impossible to experience such a thing. So if “scientists” are the default watchers of truth, who watches the watchers? … Some will respond that scientists make mistakes, too, but have the best methods for self-correction. But how can anyone know when they are fully correct? Erroneous advice by scientific experts can be propagated for decades. We’ve all been told to drink lots of water each day, but Medical Xpress now says there’s little Read More ›

Yes, the world really is flat

Okay, the universe is flat. From astrophysicist Paul Sutter at Space.com: The universe has all sorts of deformations in space-time where it varies from the perfectly flat. Any place where there’s mass or energy, there’s a corresponding bending of space-time — that’s General Relativity 101. So a couple light beams would naturally collide inside a wandering black hole, or bend along weird angles after encountering a galaxy or two. But average all those small-scale effects out and look at the big picture. When we examine very old light — say, the cosmic microwave background — that has been traveling the universe for more than 13.8 billion years, we get a true sense of the universe’s shape. And the answer, as Read More ›

Sparrow with four sexes?

From Carrie Arnold at Nature: “This bird acts like it has four sexes,” says Christopher Balakrishnan, an evolutionary biologist at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, who worked with Tuttle and Gonser. “One individual can only mate with one-quarter of the population. There are very few sexual systems with more than two sexes.” The work helps to explain a long-standing puzzle for biologists. It shows how two identical chromosomes can evolve into distinct subtypes that can define the sexes of a species and their different behaviours. “These birds are an amazing system,” says Catherine Peichel, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Berne. “The process of sex-chromosome evolution tends to erase much of the evidence of how it happened, Read More ›

Repurposed mammal bone gene fuels cognition in humans?

From ScienceDaily: A gene that regulates bone growth and muscle metabolism in mammals may take on an additional role as a promoter of brain maturation, cognition and learning in human and nonhuman primates, according to a new study led by neurobiologists at Harvard Medical School. Describing their findings in the Nov. 10 issue of Nature, researchers say their work provides a dramatic illustration of evolutionary economizing and creative gene retooling — mechanisms that contribute to the vast variability across species that share nearly identical set of genes yet differ profoundly in their physiology. … For their experiments, the team analyzed RNA levels — the molecular footprints of gene activity — in the brain cells of mice, rats and humans. Although Read More ›

New “tree of life” challenges vertebrate evolution

From The Conversation: If all jawed vertebrates, including humans, are nothing more than highly evolved placoderms, then key features of ourselves should be traceable to structures that first appeared in our fishy placoderm ancestors. This would include particular jaw and skull bones and the proportions of our face and brain. But our new evolutionary tree challenges the idea that placoderms gave rise to all other jawed vertebrates. Instead, we suggest they are a side branch in vertebrate evolution – diverse and successful in their day but ultimately all destined for extinction. If correct, this alternative tree would require a radical rethink of many aspects of vertebrate evolution.More. If evolution takes place by a number of means other than Darwinian descent, Read More ›

Cichlid speciation attributed to “plasticity” now

See this abstract from Molecular Ecology*: There is increasing evidence that phenotypic plasticity can promote population divergence by facilitating phenotypic diversification and, eventually, genetic divergence. When a ‘plastic’ population colonizes a new habitat, it has the possibility to occupy multiple niches by expressing several distinct phenotypes. These initially reflect the population’s plastic range but may later become genetically fixed by selection via the process of ‘genetic assimilation’ (GA). Through this process multiple specialized sister lineages can arise that share a common plastic ancestor – the ‘flexible stem’. Here, we review possible molecular mechanisms through which natural selection could fix an initially plastic trait during GA. These mechanisms could also explain how GA may contribute to cryptic genetic variation that can Read More ›

Suzan Mazur on pop science media and the recent “rethink evolution” meet

In the midst of a fairly heavy fog, if not blackout, in the pop science media, Mazur has done more than anyone to let the public know that evolutionary biology is being forced to rethink a commitment to Darwinism (or neo-Darwinism or a lightly stretched synthesis, or whatever your PR person wants to call it now). For one thing, the genome maps just don’t support the underlying genetic fundamentalism. And perhaps she was one of the few who even could do it. She has written mainly for popular media and her books are a valuable introduction for the layperson as to why Darwinism is failing as an explanation. They are especially helpful for those who do not have any religious Read More ›

Dying mainstream media on ID: They stand by their story, however wrong

This item at Evolution News & Views is worth pondering: A journalist working for a national newspaper chain has fabricated a claim about the Texas science standards, and now he and his editor are refusing to correct the record. In late September, three Texas newspapers owned by Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc. (CNHI) published an article by reporter John Austin claiming that a science standard adopted by Texas in 2009 authorizes the teaching of “non-scientific explanations.” That claim is false. Austin asserted that conservatives on the Texas State Board of Education in 2009 “inserted language into the high school biology curriculum allowing teachers to introduce non-scientific explanations for such questions as why some creatures suddenly appeared in the fossil record about Read More ›

Once more:“What if dark matter doesn’t exist?”

From Natalie Wolchover at Quanta, on the Dutch theoretical physicist Erik Verlinde, who argues that it doesn’t: he latest attempt to explain away dark matter is a much-discussed proposal by Erik Verlinde, a theoretical physicist at the University of Amsterdam who is known for bold and prescient, if sometimes imperfect, ideas. In a dense 51-page paper posted online on Nov. 7, Verlinde casts gravity as a byproduct of quantum interactions and suggests that the extra gravity attributed to dark matter is an effect of “dark energy” — the background energy woven into the space-time fabric of the universe. To make his case, Verlinde has adopted a radical perspective on the origin of gravity that is currently in vogue among leading Read More ›

Fred Hoyle, Chandra Wickramasinghe, God, their admirers and critics

There are stories that pop science is bound to tell wrong (you pay/they sneer). Re Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, here’s the skinny: One of them is about “atheist” Fred Hoyle, who was probably more of a panentheist (God is present in everything), according to science historian Michael Flannery: Hoyle is often regarded as a panspermia atheist, and his book The Intelligent Universe (1983) is cited as evidence for this alleged “fact.” Nevertheless, a careful reading of that fascinating book suggests otherwise. While Hoyle did argue for a version of panspermia, he insisted that “The origin of the Universe…requires an intelligence,” and he devoted an entire chapter to this topic. He further stated, “Even after widening the stage for the origin of Read More ›