Archive for the ‘Biology’ Category

Brazil and the Coronavirus

March 31, 2020

I have been wondering if the actions the United States and other countries have been taking to stop the spread of the Chinese Virus don’t represent a massive overreaction against a threat that is not all that serious. COVID-19 is not, after all, the Black Death, and even the most hysterical predictions have the number of deaths in the thousands, rather than the millions. Is that really worth shutting down whole sectors of our economy and bringing on a bad recession? It may seem callous to even ask the question. Isn’t it all worth it just to save a few, or even one life? Actually, no it is not. We do have to make some balance between saving lives and risking long-term damage to the economy. After all, people die in economic downturns too. Often we do not make choices between obvious good and bad outcomes but must select the least bad alternative. ‘

Despite my doubts, though, I think that we are striking a good balance between saving lives and protecting the economy. Better safe than sorry is my opinion. I’d rather have people asking whether all this sheltering in place was really necessary than wishing we could have done something more. If we have occasionally overreacted to the coronavirus threat, Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil has taken the opposite extreme. His policy to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in his country is to do nothing and rely on the Brazilians’ natural immunity to protect them from the pandemic. No this is not a joke. I wish it were.

Here is the account from the AP.

Even as coronavirus cases mount in Latin America’s largest nation, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has staked out the most deliberately dismissive position of any major world leader, calling the pandemic a momentary, minor problem and saying strong measures to contain it are unnecessary.

Bolsonaro says his response to the disease matches that of President Donald Trump in the U.S., but the Brazilian leader has gone further, labeling the virus as “a little flu” and saying state governors’ aggressive measures to halt the disease were crimes.

On Thursday, Bolsonaro told reporters in the capital, Brasilia, that he feels Brazilians’ natural immunity will protect the nation.

“The Brazilian needs to be studied. He doesn’t catch anything. You see a guy jumping into sewage, diving in, right? Nothing happens to him. I think a lot of people were already infected in Brazil, weeks or months ago, and they already have the antibodies that help it not proliferate,” Bolsonaro said. “I’m hopeful that’s really a reality.”

President Jair Bolsonaro

If I were the president of a country, I am not sure that I would brag about my countrymen jumping into sewage and I doubt that exposure to sewage really strengthens one’s immune system. It seems to me that long term exposure to pools of sewage would have a deleterious effect on the immune system, but what do I know? Maybe I should have been diving into sewage all this time. And maybe President Bolsonario isn’t as crazy as he sounds. Brazil’s warm, tropical climate could inhibit the spread of COVID-19. It still seems reckless though, and it seems that a majority of his fellow Brazilians are not too happy with President Bolsonaro’s laissez-faire attitude.

Bolsonaro, 65, shows no sign of wavering even as the nation’s tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases approach 4,000, deaths top 100 and Brazilians overwhelmingly demand tough anti-virus measures. Pollster Datafolha this month found 73% of people supported total isolation, and 54% approved of governors’ management of the crisis. Bolsonaro’s backing was just 33%.

It may be that President Bolsonaro is taking a long term look at the pandemic and its aftermath and concluding that it is important to keep Brazil’s economy afloat.

Does Bolsonaro actually believe, as he says, that the virus will be vanquished by a cocktail of drugs and Brazil’s tropical climate? It’s possible, but analysts say a more calculated political gamble may underlie his increasingly defiant position.

Bolsonaro may have concluded that when he faces reelection in two and a half years, the economy will matter more to most Brazilians than the death toll from coronavirus. By labeling the virus threat as overblown and decrying state governors’ quarantines and shutdowns as unnecessary, he could be preparing to blame others for any recession that might happen.

“If things go really poorly from an economic point of view, he can point his finger at the governors,” Christopher Garman, managing director for the Americas at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, said by phone. “What he isn’t calculating is the public opinion hit that he can take for being seen to have not handled well the public health crisis.”

So, is the president of Brazil an idiot or a visionary? I guess we’ll find out.

 

 

 

“Chinese Virus” is not Racist

March 22, 2020

No, it is not racist to refer to the coronavirus or COVID-19 as the Chinese virus or the Wuhan virus. Calling it the Kung Flu might be racist and is certainly inaccurate, considering we are not dealing with a strain of influenza, but it is funny. This pandemic had its start in Wuhan, China, and it is commonplace to name a new form of a disease by its origin. As David Mastio, the Deputy Editor of USA Today’s editorial page, and no Trump supporter, explains;

But many of the reports left something out: just how common and innocuous geographic names are for diseases.

Here are a few:

And disease names don’t have to come with a foreign flavor. Lyme disease is named for a town in Connecticut. Norovirus is named for Norwalk, OhioRocky Mountain spotted fever!

And then there is the issue of facts. The Spanish flu was most likely misnamed; we don’t know where it came from. But we do know that the novel coronavirus now sweeping the world emerged from a city called Wuhan in central China.

I suppose that if COVID-19 had first emerged from Hoboken, New Jersey it would be popularly named the Hoboken virus or the American virus. Would that be racist? Is referring to rubella as German measles racist or anti-German? No sensible person would maintain such a ridiculous notion. Why is Wuhan or the Chinese virus somehow racist? Why are so many in the media jumping on this bandwagon? I can only think of two reasons.

The government of the People’s Republic of China has been very eager for the rest of the world to forget that the coronavirus originated in China. China’s leaders would especially like for people to forget that the pandemic could have been easily managed had they managed the minimal level of transparency expected in a good global citizen. Instead, they tried to cover up the problem to protect the Party’s reputation. Now, they are trying to blame the United States by promulgating a bizarre conspiracy theory, while insisting that “China virus” is racist. Our elite media seems all too eager to repeat Chinese Communist propaganda points, whether because they are that eager to find some way to blame Trump or they admire China’s authoritarian government, I don’t know.

Or maybe they just despise their fellow Americans. The idea among our betters seems to be that if the president refers to the Chinese virus, it will lead to attacks against Asian-Americans. Already, the media is breathlessly reporting on a handful of incidents of insults and violence against East Asians. According to our elite, those of us who are benighted enough to live in flyover country are so racist and ignorant that any mention of the China virus will drive us into a frenzy of hate and will cause us to form mobs to hunt down every Chinese we can find and murder them, just as mobs of Europeans murdered Jews during the time of the Black Death. Well, in a nation of over 320 million people there are going to be a few cases of people behaving badly, especially in California. Contrary to what our betters on the coast might believe, the United States of America is not a nation of haters. We do not form mobs to kill “foreigners” at the drop of a hat. There are not KKK rallies being held on every street corner, and Trump’s supporters are not White supremacists. We are better people than they believe us to be and I wish they would stop projecting their own bigotry on to us.

It is certainly appropriate to refer to the coronavirus as the Chinese virus. I cannot say that I am very much troubled if the Chinese leadership or their allies among our own leaders are upset by the use of that term. To be honest, I am more than a little irritated at the Chinese, or to be more accurate, at the Chinese communist government for their negligence which led to our present crisis. I have already been upset by the Chinese government’s totalitarian disregard for the basic civil rights of their own citizens, the near genocide of the Uighurs, the occupation of Tibet and the bullying way in which they have been leveraging their economic power to supplant the democratic values of free nations with their own authoritarian values. The Chinese virus is simply the last straw. The People’s Republic of China has shown that it is not a friend to the United States or to the free world. It is time we take their threat seriously. We can begin by assigning the blame for the coronavirus pandemic where it belongs and not allowing them to bully us into denying the obvious truth.

Coronavirus

March 16, 2020

Maybe I shouldn’t bother to write anything about the COVID 19 virus since I don’t really have anything to say that has not already been said, but since I am off work, vacation, my place of work has not been closed, yet, I suppose I might as well say what’s on my mind.

First, despite what the media is saying, I actually think that our officials, from the president down, have done a fairly good job of containing the spread of the virus here in the US. Nobody is perfect, and I am sure they could have done a better job, but then they could have done a far worse job. I think that much of the criticism directed at President Trump is unfounded and counterproductive. He doesn’t seem to have taken the crisis seriously enough at first, but he did manage to turn around quickly and come up with a plan for managing the crisis. I have noticed that Trump has made a lot of mistakes while in office, particularly in the first year of his presidency, but he never repeated his mistakes. Trump is capable of learning quickly, unlike some other occupants of the Oval Office.

On the other hand, the media generally ought to be ashamed of themselves for needlessly spreading panic. Yes, the coronavirus is a problem. It could kill thousands if it is not contained, but this is hardly the second coming of the Black Death. There is absolutely no reason to panic. We are not going to see someone driving a cart shouting, “Bring out your dead!”

Yet, this is the impression that a lot of media coverage is generating. Even worse, some in the media, or the Democrats but I repeat myself, are indulging in speculation that the coronavirus could be Trumps’s Katrina. These people are actually hoping that Trump is not successful in containing this outbreak so that a Democrat will be elected in November. They hate Trump so much that they are willing to see thousands of Americans dead just to get him out of office. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see this. They were also rooting for a recession. Despicable.

Also despicable is the overreaction from some members of the general public, particularly the idiots who have been hoarding.  What is the matter with you people? As I said, this is not a matter for panic. Just keep your hands washed, and avoid large crowds and you should be fine. This is not a zombie apocalypse. Civilization is not on the brink of collapse. All of the necessities of civilization will still be available unless idiots like you keep emptying the store shelves. Just buy whatever you need. There is no reason to stock up a six month’s supply. And what is with the toilet paper hoarding? Coronavirus is a respiratory illness. I have not heard that it causes dysentery. We do not get our toilet paper from China, and even if we did, I am sure they are going to keep shipping it over here. If worse comes to worst, use old newspapers.

Speaking of China, no, it is not racist to refer to the coronavirus as the Wuhan virus. The virus came from Wuhan. I also do not think it is racist to point out that this country with its huge population and poor sanitary standards has been the source of many of the pandemics that have plagued the world in recent years. If the Chinese are bothered by the “Wuhan flu” then maybe they should clean up their standards and stop producing these diseases. In the meantime, maybe someone should build a wall around China. We should also look into producing more of the stuff we import from China here in America. It might cost a little more, but maybe it is worth it. At least, we can stop helping to fund one of the most evil governments in the world.

If there is any silver lining to the corona crisis, it is that is has exposed the folly of the globalist vision of a world without borders.  Better controls on the movement of goods and people between nations might have curtailed the spread of the virus. There may be a time for the utopian idea that movement between nations should be as easy as movement within nations, but that time, if it ever comes, is not now. The spread of the coronavirus from nation to nation has demonstrated that we need borders, and yes, we need walls. In light of recent events, any candidate for office who advocates opening the borders to illegal immigrants and abolishing ICE ought to be disqualified.

One more thing. Some states have been postponing their primary elections and this has caused some people to fear that President Trump will use this as a precedent to postpone or cancel the election in November. He can’t do that. There is an important difference between general elections and primaries. General elections are handled by federal law. Primaries are a matter for the states and the parties. No state has to have a primary at all. Primaries were only introduced during the so-called Progressive Era in the 1900-1910s and it wasn’t until the 1970s that enough states held primaries for them to become decisive in choosing a party’s candidates. There is no reason why we couldn’t go back to the time when candidates were chosen by party leaders in smoke-filled rooms, except that they probably wouldn’t allow smoking in the rooms. On the other hand, the date for the general election has been set on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November by federal law since 1845. It would require legislation by Congress to change the date of the election. Moreover, according to the constitution, the president must be inaugurated on January 20. It would require a constitutional amendment to change that, I don’t see that happening. So, again stop panicking. Trump is not going to use the coronavirus to cancel the election and set himself up as president for life. Although, seeing who his opponents are, a man suffering from dementia and a Communist who wants to turn the US into Venezuela, I’m not sure that would be the worst thing that could happen.

Only Women Can Give Birth

November 30, 2019

George Orwell once allegedly said, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. Orwell does not appear to have said that, but the quote is apt in our own time of LBGTIDK inspired deceit and madness. I am afraid that I am going to tell certain biological truths in this post as a response to this bit of insanity from the United Kingdom. whether I am going to commit a revolutionary act is not clear, but I am sure that some would regard the statement of basic biological facts as being transphobic, anti-LGBT, or bigoted.

First, the relevant article, concerning a birth coach who was fired for the high crime of stating only women can have babies, from Venus Valley, a feminist web magazine, which I don’t think is satire.

It all started in the UK, where a birthing coach was forced to resign after she said that only women could give birth, but how on earth did it get to this?

Her name is Lynsey McCarthy-Calvert, and she is a mother of four as well as a former Doula UK birth coach. She said that a small number of activists opposed her statement and then pressured her company to punish her too!

She is a non-medical companion that supports people who have given birth and she says that her company “ostracised” her over the pressure of being politically correct.

She said:

“I am angry and sad …I was effectively ostracised for saying I am a woman and so are my clients.”

“I have been very disappointed by Doula UK’s response. The leadership is paralyzed by not wanting to upset transgender rights activists. They have fallen over themselves to acquiesce to their demands.”

The margarine brand, called Flora, refused to advertise on Mumsnet after the website was said to be transphobic for having a wide range of views on transgender issues.

The makers of Always sanitary towels got rod of the female “Venus” symbol from the packaging after they got complaints from transgender men.

The fall out with Doula UK started after Cancer Research UK dropped the word ‘women’ from its smear test campaign, instead of saying screening was:

“…relevant for everyone aged 25-64 with a cervix”

So in response to this Mrs. McCarthy-Calvert then posted a picture on Facebook of a negligee-clad woman somersaulting, underwater, with these words:

‘I am not a “cervix owner” I am not a “menstruator” I am not a “feeling”. I am not defined by wearing a dress and lipstick. I am a woman: an adult human female.’

Then she added below it:

“Women birth all the people, make up half the population, but less than a third of the seats in the House of Commons are occupied by us.”

These statements, which would not be at all controversial, or even remarkable just ten years ago, are now completely beyond the pale. Mrs. McCarthy-Calvert has committed a revolutionary act of truth-telling.

Then it seems that her words provoked a group of about 20 individuals, also known as “trans-activists”, they wrote to the company saying that she had “clearly” breeched the company’s inclusive guidelines.

In the letter they wrote, they claimed McCarthy-Calvert was guilty of making several “trans-exclusionary comments” which included, of course, her description of being an “adult human female.”

Doula UK proceeded to straight away withdraw Mrs. McCarthy-Calvert as a spokesperson and, after a four-month dragged out an investigation, its board of directors decided:

“[The post] does breach Doula UK’s guidelines”

They said:

“We are proud to say that we seek to listen to the lived experience of marginalized groups and make changes – including changes to the language we use – if we believe it is necessary to make the Doula UK community more welcoming and supportive”

Here are the facts. Human beings, like nearly all complex organisms on the Planet Earth, are divided into two, and only two, genders. There are indeed a small number of people who have some medical condition, or genetic defect, which renders a certain gender ambiguity, but such conditions are pathologies and not the norm. It is also true that some individuals believe that they are, or ought to be, the gender opposite of their biological gender. These people, who are generally called transgendered, may be sincere in their feelings that they are “really” the opposite of their biological sex, but their feelings, however strong and sincere, do not change physical reality, even if they have pharmacological and surgical techniques applied to themselves to change their physical appearance to resemble the opposite sex.

The two genders into which human beings are divided are male and female. Each gender plays a separate and distinct role in reproduction. The female produces the ova or egg, and in mammals carries the fertilized egg in the uterus until it is born. The male produces the sperm which fertilizes the egg. Only women can become pregnant and give birth to children. Only men can beget children. This is a simple biological fact. It may be a laudable goal to be more welcoming and supportive of marginalized people, but not at the expense of denying the truth. Truth is a higher value than compassion and ought not to be compromised simply because some people might feel uncomfortable.

However, I am not convinced that the goal is in fact laudable. This is not so much an LGBT issue as a matter of how we define reality. Those people who insist that gender is a matter of personal feelings are stating that reality is defined not by any sort of objective facts but by subjective feelings, backed by the threat of punishment for those who dissent.  If a pregnant woman who feels that she is really a man can be considered a pregnant man, then there may be no distortions of facts and logic that we cannot be coerced into conceding. The implications here are truly Orwellian.

In George Orwell’s 1984, one of the central tenets of INGSOC, the ideology of the Party that rules Oceania is that there is no such thing as objective reality. Reality is what the Party says it is. If the Party says that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia when it was at war with Eurasia last week, or that the chocolate ration has been raised when it has really been lowered, they are not lying. Oceania really has always been at war with Eastasia and the chocolate ration really has been raised, because the Party said so. If you happen to remember otherwise, you are in the wrong, and you had better get your thinking straightened out, or else the Thought Police will straighten it for you. In the end, the protagonist Winston Smith reflected, the Party was going to declare that 2+2=5, with torture and execution in store for anyone who insisted that 2+2=4.

If we can be intimidated into saying that men can become pregnant, how long before we are forced to believe that 2+2=5?

There Are Four Lights

April 10, 2018

In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Chain of Command, Captain Picard is captured by the Cardassians who attempt to break him by torturing him into denying the reality directly in front of him. The Cardassian torturer shines four lights in Picard’s face and tries to force him to say there are five lights.

Little did the writers of this episode know that forcing people to deny the reality right in front of them would become standard policy on many college campuses. No one is shining lights in students’ faces or using torture, yet, but compelling the denial of reality is definitely a thing, as Lake Ingle discovered when he insisted that there are only two biological genders. Here is the report from Campus Reform.

A student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania has been barred from attending a religious studies class required for graduation after pointing out that there are only two genders.

“Later this week I will be defending myself and my FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS in front of the Academic Integrity Board (AIB) of the Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania (IUP) against allegations of Classroom Conduct violations,” Lake Ingle stated in a Facebook post, which was deleted after Ingle retained legal representation.

“The decision made by the AIB that day will determine whether I will be able to continue participating in my full course load, as well as graduate this May as scheduled,” Ingle continued, adding, “This is not transgender, woman’s rights, or wage issue. This is about free speech and the constant misuse of intellectual power in universities.”

“The decision made by the AIB that day will determine whether I will be able to continue participating in my full course load, as well as graduate this May as scheduled,” Ingle continued, adding, “This is not transgender, woman’s rights, or wage issue. This is about free speech and the constant misuse of intellectual power in universities.”

Silly boy, there is no free speech at universities these days, and certainly no intellectual freedom.

According to Ingle, the class was forced to watch a Ted-Talk on February 28 featuring Paula Stone, a transgender woman, who gave examples of “mansplaining,” “male privilege,” and systematic sexism. Following the video, Ingle wrote that the instructor “opened the floor to WOMEN ONLY. Barring men from speaking until the women in the class have had their chance to speak.”

After some time had elapsed, Ingle stated he “took this opportunity to point out the official view of biologists who claim there are only two biological genders,” and refuted the “gender wage gap,” after which class resumed as normal.

“The floor was opened, and not a single woman spoke. Thirty seconds or so passed and still no woman had spoken. So, I decided it was permissible for me to enter the conversation, especially because I felt the conversation itself was completely inappropriate in its structure,” Ingle told Campus Reform. “I objected to the use of the anecdotal accounts of one woman’s experience to begin a discussion in which they were considered reality. It was during my objection that Dr. Downie attempted to silence me because I am not a woman.”

On February 29, Ingle met with his instructor, who he says gave him two documents—an Academic Integrity Referral Form and Documented Agreement.

Both the referral form and agreement charge Ingle with “Disrespectful objection to the professor’s class discussion structure; refusal to stop talking out of turn; angry outbursts in response to being required to listen to a trans speaker discuss the reality of white male privilege and sexism; disrespectful references to the validity of trans identity and experience; [and making a] disrespectful claim that a low score on any class work would be evidence of professor’s personal prejudice.”

According to the documented agreement, IUP is now attempting to force Ingle to apologize, stipulating that “Lake will write an apology to the professor which specifically addresses each of the disrespectful behaviors described above.”

It’s disrespectful to actually use facts and logic to contest claims made by leftists. Facts and logic are not their strong points so it is unfair to make use of them.

Moreover, the agreement proclaims that on March 8, “Lake will begin class with an apology to the class for his behavior and then listen in silence as the professor and/or any student who wishes to speak shares how he or she felt during Lake’s disrespectful and disruptive outbursts on 2-28.”

IH hope that Lake Ingle prevails in his struggle. We all need to be willing to stand up to the social justice bullies and loudly proclaim that THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS no matter how they try to coerce us and shame us into saying there are five.

Humanzee

April 8, 2018

The mad dream of Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov lives on! You may recall that Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov was the Soviet mad scientist who sought to create a human-chimpanzee hybrid, or a humanzee, back in the 1920’s. Ivanov never came close to succeeding in part because the technology of the time was not advanced enough and also perhaps because the Soviet government never really gave Ivanov’s project the funding it needed. It seems that even the most ruthless and amoral ruling class in history, Stalin and the Bolsheviks, felt a bit queasy at the prospect. This unease has effectively prevented any further attempts at creating a humanzee and no one has even suggested such an experiment, until now.

David P. Barash, writing in Nautilus has proposed that making a humanzee might be a terrific idea.

 

It is a bit of a stretch, but by no means impossible or even unlikely that a hybrid or a chimera combining a human being and a chimpanzee could be produced in a laboratory. After all, human and chimp (or bonobo) share, by most estimates, roughly 99 percent of their nuclear DNA. Granted this 1 percent difference presumably involves some key alleles, the new gene-editing tool CRISPR offers the prospect (for some, the nightmare) of adding and deleting targeted genes as desired. As a result, it is not unreasonable to foresee the possibility—eventually, perhaps, the likelihood—of producing “humanzees” or “chimphumans.” Such an individual would not be an exact equal-parts-of-each combination, but would be neither human nor chimp: rather, something in between.

If that prospect isn’t shocking enough, here is an even more controversial suggestion: Doing so would be a terrific idea.

His reasoning:

Of course, all that we know of evolution (and by now, it’s a lot) demands otherwise, since evolution’s most fundamental take-home message is continuity. And it is in fact because of continuity—especially those shared genes—that humanzees or chimphumans could likely be produced. Moreover, I propose that the fundamental take-home message of such creation would be to drive a stake into the heart of that destructive disinformation campaign of discontinuity, of human hegemony over all other living things. There is an immense pile of evidence already demonstrating continuity, including but not limited to physiology, genetics, anatomy, embryology, and paleontology, but it is almost impossible to imagine how the most die-hard advocate of humans having a discontinuously unique biological status could continue to maintain this position if confronted with a real, functioning, human-chimp combination.1

It is also possible, however, that my suggestion is doubly fanciful, not only with respect to its biological feasibility, but also whether such a “creation” would have the impact that I propose—and hope. Thus, chimpanzees are widely known to be very similar to human beings: They make and use tools, engage in complex social behavior (including elaborate communication and long-lasting mother-offspring bonds), they laugh, grieve, and affirmatively reconcile after conflicts. They even look like us. Although such recognition has contributed to outrage about abusing chimps—as well as other primates in particular—in circus acts, laboratory experiments, and so forth, it has not generated notable resistance to hunting, imprisoning and eating other animal species, which, along with chimps themselves, are still considered by most people to be “other” and not aspects of “ourselves.” (Chimps, moreover, are enthusiastically consumed in parts of equatorial Africa, where they are a prized component of “bush meat.”)

Let’s stop right there. What Barash is saying is that there is no real distinction between humans and other animals. There is a continuity between human and animals and the difference in intelligence is a matter or degree and not of kind. In other words, we humans are no more than really intelligent animals.

This simply isn’t true. There is an actual discontinuity between human and animal cognition. Human beings are able to do things no other animal can do. This is not simply a matter of intelligence, There are some very intelligent animals and very stupid humans. This is a matter of a fundamental difference in mental ability. It is a difference of kind, not merely of degree. Every single human being, even the mentally handicapped,  has a special quality of mind that no other animal has and the advent of this quality of mind represented a quantum leap in evolution perhaps as great as the development of the central nervous system of the first vertebrates.

Barash disagrees. Very well, let him show me the ape Shakespeare or Homer. Let’s hear music composed by the primate Mozart or Beethoven. Let’s display paintings by the monkey Rembrandt.  No doubt there is a chimpanzee Edison somewhere making new inventions to benefit us all or a gorilla Einstein offering us new insights into time and space. For that matter, where is the ape Hitler. The special human quality can be used for evil as well as good. Chimpanzees have been observed to commit “genocide” against rival bands of chimps. There has been no chimpanzee Holocaust, however, because chimpanzees lack the ability to organize to commit such great evil. I’d even be satisfied if Barash can show us an ape that can read and write, tell stories, or create representational art as well as a child in kindergarten.

Would a humanzee have this special quality of mind? It is hard to say. I have a feeling that it might but not so much as a full human. The humanzee might be just intelligent enough to know it is lacking something. Such a being would probably not be as intelligent as a human being. It might also not be very intelligent by chimpanzee standards since it may lack the instincts that a chimpanzee has. The humanzee would be neither human nor animal, belonging to neither worlds. Chimpanzees would probably reject his society, probably violently. Humans would see him as a freak, a laboratory curiosity. Like a mule, the humanzee would be sterile, unable to bring forth more of his or her kind into the world. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the humanzee may have just cause to hate his creator for bringing him into a world in which he has no place.

Barash recognizes these possibilities, but then instantly dismisses them.

Neither fish nor fowl, wouldn’t they find themselves intolerably unspecified and inchoate, doomed to a living hell of biological and social indeterminacy? This is possible, but it is at least arguable that the ultimate benefit of teaching human beings their true nature would be worth the sacrifice paid by a few unfortunates. It is also arguable, moreover, that such individuals might not be so unfortunate at all. For every chimphuman or humanzee frustrated by her inability to write a poem or program a computer, there could equally be one delighted by her ability to do so while swinging from a tree branch.

What lesson would a humanzee teach human beings about their true nature? What great benefits might derive from such a creation?

ooking favorably on the prospect of a humanzee or chimphuman will likely be not only controversial, but to many people, downright immoral. But I propose that generating humanzees or chimphumans would be not only ethical, but profoundly so, even if there were no prospects of enhancing human welfare. How could even the most determinedly homo-centric, animal-denigrating religious fundamentalist maintain that God created us in his image and that we and we alone harbor a spark of the divine, distinct from all other life forms, once confronted with living beings that are indisputably intermediate between human and non-human?

In any event, the nonsensical insistence that human beings are uniquely created in God’s image and endowed with a soul, whereas other living things are mere brutes has not only permitted but encouraged an attitude toward the natural world in general and other animals in particular that has been at best indifferent and more often, downright antagonistic, jingoistic, and in many cases, intolerably cruel. It is only because of this self-serving myth that some people have been able to justify keeping other animals in such hideous conditions as factory farms in which they are literally unable to turn around, not to mention prevented from experiencing anything approaching a fulfilling life.

By establishing that we humans are nothing special, that we are simply animals like any other, albeit with more intelligence, Barash believes that we will come to treat animals more humanely. Notice how we use the word “humane”. People who argue against cruelty to animals believe in the humane treatment of animals. There is the Humane Society. Why do we use a word derived from the same source as “human”. Perhaps because humans are the only animal that has been observed consistently treating other species with some degree of kindness, as well as deliberate cruelty. The case against cruelty to animals is made precisely on the basis that we are ourselves, somehow more than animals and thus are obliged to exercise more responsibility in our treatment of other animals than they use in treating each other.

But, if we are nothing more than merely another species, simply a clever ape, then maybe we do not have that responsibility either to other animals or to our fellow human beings. If we are not created in the image of God, then maybe we have no inalienable rights given to us by our Creator, which we are required to respect. It is not really possible to raise animals to the status of human beings. It is possible to degrade human beings to the status of animals, and all too often in history groups of human beings have been regarded as less than human and treated accordingly. If we are regarded as nothing special, the result will not be that we will treat animals as though they are the same as humans. That really is not possible. The result will be that we will treat humans like animals, or worse. That is all too possible.

The creation of a human-chimpanzee hybrid is a truly terrible idea, proposed for the worst of motives. It is possible that such a thing could be done, though less easily than Mr. Barash believes. It is certain that it ought not to be done.

Piltdown Man

December 19, 2016

The intellectual process of developing theories and hypotheses based on observations and experiments and checking those hypotheses with further experiments and observations that we refer to as science has proven itself to be the best tool human beings have ever developed for understanding and making use of the world around us. This process is not an easy one, however.  Not only is it a lot of work to conduct the necessary experiments and interpret the results, but the process demands a  rigorous honesty that does not come easily to anyone. Most people are less interested in discovering the truth than in being proven right, and there is always a tendency to consider only the evidence that confirms existing ideas and ignore the evidence against them. As Dr. Richard Feynmann put it in his lecture about cargo cult science:

It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty—a kind of leaning over backwards.  For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid—not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked—to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them.  You must do the best you can—if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong—to explain it.  If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it.  There is also a more subtle problem.  When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

The problem is that this level of integrity is almost contrary to human nature. There is a great temptation to cheat, particularly when the rewards of fame and fortune are present.

One of the most famous instances of scientific cheating is Piltdown Man. Piltdown Man was a hypothetical “missing link” between human and ape discovered by an amatuer paleontologist Charles Dawson at the Piltdown gravel quarry in 1912. Dawson stated that workmen at the quarry had discovered skull fragments which they had given to him. Dawson had been able to reconstruct the skull with these fragments and other pieces that he had found at Piltdown. The resulting skull had a roughly human cranium, although only two thirds the size of a modern human brain, but an ape-like jaw with large canines. Clearly this was the remains of a creature caught midway in the transition between human and ape, the missing link of the chain of evolution.

Charles Dawson

Charles Dawson

At first, there was some skepticism about Dawson’s find. The canines seemed too large for the jaw and the whole thing seemed to be just a little too neat a combination of human and ape. Then, Dawson found another skull about two miles away. It might be possible for a human skull and ape jaw to have somehow been put together once and fossilized . Surely that couldn’t happen twice. Piltdown Man was accepted as a legitimate ancestor to homo sapiens.

 

Piltdown Man

Piltdown Man

 

At the time of Piltdown Man’s discovery, relatively little was known about the details of how humans evolved from their apelike ancestors. Over the years, more early human fossils were discovered and much more was learned about how humans became human. As the missing pieces were fitted together, it became increasingly obvious that Piltdown Man didn’t fit in. Paleontologists began to suspect that Piltdown Man was either an aberration, perhaps a mutation of some sort, of a hoax. In 1953, the question was definitely settled. Piltdown was shown to be a hoax. Piltdown Man was actually a rather crude forgery. The skull was that of a medieval man with a small head. The jaw was from an orangutan and the canines were the teeth of a chimpanzee.

The only remaining question was whether Charles Dawson was the forger or whether he was merely an innocent dupe. Dawson was the obvious suspect, but there were others associated with the discovery of Piltdown Man, who might have been able to perpetrate such a hoax, notably Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame, and the Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Recent research, however, has indicated that Charles Dawson was indeed the forger. He actually had something of a history of perpetrating such hoaxes and was well known for his skill at making unexpected archaeological finds, invariably later discovered to be forgeries.

Why did it take so long to expose Piltdown Man? The forgery was not very sophisticated and the discoverer had a reputation for not being particularly honest. To be fair, a space of forty years between the discovery and the exposure is not an unreasonable amount of time considering how much was discovered about human development in that time. Still, one might have expected more skepticism to be shown, especially considering how important the find seemed to be at the time. It seems as if everyone involved in the research involving Piltdown Man showed a disregard for the sort of scientific integrity that Dr. Feynman was talking about. For years no one seemed to want to consider the increasing evidence that Piltdown Man wasn’t real.

I think that was the problem. Piltdown Man was exactly what most paleontologists were expecting. At the time of his discovery, the general consensus was that human beings developed large brains first, while retaining a more apelike physiology such as a large jaw and lack of bipedalism. Only later, they believed did humans began to walk erect and to develop a flatter, more human face. It was also generally believed that human beings developed somewhere in Eurasia, Perhaps even in Germany, where Neanderthal Man had been discovered not long before, or in England. There was a certain amount of nationalistic pride in being the area where humanity began. It is not that surprising, then, that British paleontologists were the least likely to be skeptical about Piltdown Man.

In any event, these assumptions that Piltdown Man seemed to confirm have proven to be wrong. Primitive humans, such as the Australopithecus (Lucy)  began to walk erect on two feet long before developing larger brains, and the human race arose in Africa, almost the opposite of what was generally believed. I wonder how much these widely held but wrong assumptions held back the science of paleontology.

I also wonder how many other Piltdown Mans there are out there that are holding back the progress of science. I don’t mean hoaxes or forgeries necessarily, though that is a greater problem is science than many realized, but ideas and theories that are held to be settled science but aren’t. I wonder how much that everyone “knows” to be true and so not worth questioning, are not true, and how long it will take before anyone thinks to question it.

Growing Crops on Mars

June 27, 2016

We may have already a taken a step towards the colonization of Mars. Any colony on Mars whether a permanent settlement or a long-term scientific research expedition will have to be largely self-sufficient because of the long travel time from Earth. At the very least, humans living on Mars for any great length of time will have to be able to get food and water on Mars, if possible. Obviously, given Mars’s thin atmosphere, it will not be possible to plant fields of crops out in the open, but it may be possible to create domed habitations in which vegetables can be grown. This would be a lot easier if Martian soil could be used or modified since bringing soil from Earth, or hydroponic equipment would likely be prohibitively expensive.

Mars

It is not clear whether terrestrial plants can grow in Martian soil, given the lack of organic matter and different chemical composition. There is some encouraging news from The Netherlands in this article in phys.org.

Dutch scientists said Thursday crops of four vegetables and cereals grown on soil similar to that on Mars have been found safe to eat, amid plans for the first manned mission to the planet.

Abundant harvests of radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes all grown on the soil were found to contain “no dangerous levels” of heavy metals, said the team from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

“These remarkable results are very promising,” said senior ecologist Wieger Wamelink.

“We can actually eat the radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes, and I am very curious what they will taste like.”

Future Mars settlers will have to take food supplies with them and then plant crops in order to survive.

So using soil developed by NASA to resemble that of the red planet, the university has been experimenting since 2013 and has managed to raise 10 crops.

But uncertainty remains about whether they would absorb the high levels of heavy metals such cadmium, copper and lead, present in Mars soil.

Further tests are now needed on the remaining six crops, including potatoes, in research which is being backed by a crowd-funding campaign.

NASA plans a manned trip to Mars within the next 10 to 15 years or so, and similar projects are also being pursued by US billionaire Elon Musk and the Dutch company Mars One, tentatively aiming to set up human colonies on the Red Planet.

The Mars One project has backed the Wageningen experiments and is currently undertaking a third selection to whittle down the remaining 100 candidates hoping to be among their astronauts to 40.

“It’s important to test as many crops as possible, to make sure that settlers on Mars have access to a broad variety of different food sources,” said Wamelink.

When I read the headline, I thought that they had grown the vegetables and grains in actual Martian soil samples and I was a little disappointed to learn that the soil used was Earth soil made to simulate Martian soil. It does show that it is at least possible to use Martian soil, though I think it would be better to obtain actual Martian soil to be sure. No matter how well designed our probes are, there is always a possibility that we have overlooked something that could be only be discovered by human beings in laboratories on Earth.

If the members of a Martian expedition do grow their own food, they will need to bring along bacteria from Earth to add the necessary organic components to make the soil more Earth-like. Such bacteria could be genetically modified to flourish in Martian conditions. No form of terrestrial life can survive on the surface of Mars, at present, the thin atmosphere cannot shield the surface from deadly ultraviolet radiation, but there is no reason Terran life couldn’t survive underground. Conditions wouldn’t that much worse than in Antarctica. This bacteria, adapted for Mars could be the first step in terraforming Mars for human habitation.

So, when can I leave for Mars?

One of these days, I'd like to look out my window and see this.

One of these days, I’d like to look out my window and see this.

A Maze of Stars

May 23, 2016

I found A Maze of Stars by John Brunner to be an intriguing and slightly unusual book. The book does not seem to read like a novel with a continuous story from beginning to end, so much as a series of short stories or vignettes. The story takes place in the Arm of Stars, the last section of our galaxy to be colonized by humanity. A vast sentient Ship was built to travel along the Arm of Stars, seeding each habitable planet with the colonists who chose to settle there. After its great mission was complete, the Ship was supposed to stand by and monitor the progress of the colonies and rescue any population that was in danger.

Maze of Stars

Such was the plan. Instead the Ship found itself to be cast back and forth through time, compelled to retrace its journey along the Arm of Stars again and again centuries after the settlement of the Arm, observing but not contacting like an interstellar Flying Dutchman. At the end of each journey, the Ship travels through time again, emerging at the first planet it visited at a seemingly random time. In A Maze of Stars, the Ship finds itself at the earliest of its voyages, only 500 years after it seeded the colonies. The Ship travels from planet to planet with some knowledge of each planet’s future history, though there is much that remains hidden from the Ship. Some of the colonies have been successful, with a few even beginning to build star ships of their own. Many more are surviving with difficulty and more than a few are failures, the colonists destroyed by the hostile conditions of the planet they colonised. The Ship can recognise that some apparent successes will falter and fail, while some failures will recover. Occasionally, the Ship is able to exploit a loophole in its programming and take along a passenger on its travels. By the time the Ship reaches the end of its path, it learns why it was built and why it is sentenced to retrace its path again and again.

There is one issue raised by A Maze of Stars that I have not seen anywhere else in science fiction or nonfictional speculations about colonizing extra-terrestrial worlds. No life form on Earth either as an individual or a species exists in isolation. Every type of plant or animal lives in a complex ecosystem, composed of not just the obvious predators and sources of food, but also on a microscopic level with the bacteria than live around us and within us. Every form of life on Earth is to some extent depended on a vast web of interactions that are not always well understood. What would happen if some organisms are removed from that web and transplanted to a world with its own native lifeforms? Would the newcomers compete with the native life. Would alien organisms be toxic to creatures from Earth? What about the ecosystem of bacteria that each of us carries around with us and helps with our digestion? Could we maintain the proper balance in an alien world? Scientists have also recently learned that it is possible for DNA to be transferred between different species by viruses, and that these transfers have helped the process of evolution along. What if human colonists pick up alien DNA? Will they be able to remain human. The attempts of the various colonists to protect themselves against  and adjust to the alien environments they have found themselves in is an important backdrop to the story of each planet the Ship visits and is a major factor in the success or failure of each colony, and the questions raised about the future of human development make the book worth reading.

 

 

Have We Found Aliens?

January 25, 2016

It is just barely possible that we have discovered the first evidence for some sort of extraterrestrial intelligence. At any rate, astronomers have discovered a star that is something of an anomaly, according to this article.

Three months ago, news broke that a giant “alien megastructure” could exist around a bizarre-looking star 1,500 light-years away.

While the prospect of aliens was first launched by Penn State astronomer Jason Wright, almost everyone in the astronomy community agreed that the chances that this was the case were “very low.

Now, the latest investigations into this strange star by Louisiana State University astronomerBradley Schaefer have reignited the alien theory, New Scientist reported.

What makes this star, KIC8462852, so bizarre is the drastic changes in light we see from it over time. Many stars experience temporary fluctuations in brightness, increasing and decreasing in luminosity over time, but KIC8462852’s changes are severe by comparison.

Astronomers refer to stars that experience those fluctuations in luminosity as variable stars. A star can change in brightness either because something occasionally blocks the star’s light, usually a companion star or perhaps a planet, or because the internal processes of the star cause variations in luminosity. Probably every star is at least a little variable. The Sun has its eleven year sunspot cycle, for example. Whether the cause of a star’s variability is external or internal, its cycle of variability tends to be regular. That does not seem to be the case with KIC8462852.

Between 2009 and 2013, astronomers using the Kepler space telescope discovered that it would sometimes lose up to 20% of its brightness. What’s more, the changes didn’t follow any obvious pattern.

That would suggest something gigantic must be blocking the light at random times, meaning that it couldn’t be a planet or other regular orbiting object because that would generate a distinct pattern of dimming light. It must be something that changes shape over time, thereby blocking different levels of light at random intervals.

Could the cause be artificial?

An alien megastructure, called a Dyson swarm, was suggested as one explanation for what scientists have observed, but the most likely reason astronomers came up with was comets — a giant family of them.

But Shaefer says not so fast.

“The comet-family idea was reasonably put forth as the best of the proposals, even while acknowledging that they all were a poor lot,” Schaefer told New Scientist. “But now we have a refutation of the idea, and indeed, of all published ideas.”

To make his discovery, Schaefer had to dig deep down into the astronomy archives at Harvard. It turns out, astronomers have data on KIC8462852 dating back as far as 1890.

By analyzing over 1,200 measurements of this star’s brightness taken from 1890 through 1989, Schaefer found that the irregular dimming of KIC8462852 has been going on for over 100 years. Schaefer published his findings in the online preprint server arXiv.org.

What’s more, he explains in his paper that this “century-long dimming trend requires an estimated 648,000 giant comets (each with 200 km diameter) all orchestrated to pass in front of the star within the last century,” which he said is “completely implausible.”

By killing the comet theory, Schaefer has brought us one step closer to finding out what is really happening around KIC8462852.

At the same time, he’s also reignited the possibility that the source could be an alien megastructure that an advanced alien civilization has been slowly building over time. One thing’s certain for Schaefer: The bizarre dimmings are probably caused by a single, physical mechanism that’s undergoing some type of ongoing change.

“The century-long dimming and the day-long dips are both just extreme ends of a spectrum of timescales for unique dimming events, so by Ockham’s Razor, all this is produced by one physical mechanism,” Shaefer said in his paper. “This one mechanism does not appear as any isolated catastrophic event in the last century, but rather must be some ongoing process with continuous effects.”

Schaefer isn’t the only one interested in learning more about KIC8462852. Late last year, astronomer Doug Vakoch and his team at the new organization called SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) International — not to be confused with the SETI Institute — went hunting for aliens around KIC8462852.

They searched for signals that an alien civilization might be beaming toward Earth either in radio or visible wavelengths, but ultimately they came up empty handed. So, if it is aliens, then they’re being awfully quiet.

Is it aliens? If this is some structure created by an extraterrestrial civilization, we shouldn’t expect to be receiving any sort of messages from them. They would have no reason to believe that there is any intelligent life here on Earth since any radio waves we have emitted cannot be farther than about 100 light years away by now. Any message to or from KIC8462582 would take 1500 years to reach its destination. They may have sent a message last year but we won’t get it for a long time.

I tend to think, however, that the explanation for the strange behavior of KIC8462582 will turn out to be due to an entirely natural phenomenon.I think that as we begin to explore the universe we will find that life is fairly common. The elements and compounds that make up the basic components of life are found throughout the universe and if the current understanding of the earliest history of the Earth is accurate, it seems that life arose on this planet as soon as it was physically possible. Scientists do not know precisely how life began on Earth, but I think that they will find that where ever the right conditions are found, there will be life of some sort. I think, though, that most of the life we find in the universe is going to be simple and primitive, some equivalent of terrestrial bacteria. Bacteria were the only form of life found on Earth for most of its history. Intelligent life must be still rarer. Human beings have only been around much less than 1% of the Earth’s history and we have only had to capability to communicate by radio for a little over a century. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe that the development of intelligent life or a technological civilization was inevitable and considering the strange twists and turns of the history of life it  may not be very probable. I think then, that we will find some few worlds with alien plants or animals, but that we are probably the only intelligent form of life in our galaxy.

Even if there are extraterrestrial civilizations, our relations with them will not be like Star Wars or Star Trek in which there are a number of different races at about the same level of technology. It is more likely that if two civilizations make contact, one civilization will be millions of years ahead of the other. Any space wars are likely to be short and decisive with the more advanced civilization quickly overcoming the more primitive. With that in mind, maybe we shouldn’t be trying to draw attention to ourselves. I would hate to think that there is a fleet of conquistadors from KIC8462852 heading this way.


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