>> = Important Articles
** = Major Articles
WASHINGTON — A very large, 30-year study of just about everyone in Scandinavia shows no link between cellphone use and brain tumours, researchers reported Thursday.
Even though mobile telephone use soared in the 1990s and afterward, brain tumours did not become any more common during this time, the researchers reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Some activist groups and a few researchers have raised concerns about a link between cellphones and several kinds of cancer, including brain tumours, although years of research have failed to establish a connection.
“We did not detect any clear change in the long-term time trends in the incidence of brain tumours from 1998 to 2003 in any subgroup,” Isabelle Deltour of the Danish Cancer Society and colleagues wrote.
Ms. Deltour’s team analyzed annual incidence rates of two types of brain tumour - glioma and meningioma - among adults aged 20 to 79 from Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden from 1974 to 2003. These countries all have good cancer registries that keep a tally of known cancer cases.
This represented virtually the entire adult population of 16 million people, they said.
Over the 30 years, nearly 60,000 patients were diagnosed with brain tumours.
“In Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, the use of mobile phones increased sharply in the mid-1990s; thus, time trends in brain tumour incidence after 1998 may provide information about possible tumour risks associated with mobile phone use,” the researchers wrote.
They did see a small, steady increase in brain tumours, but it started in 1974, long before cellphones existed.
“From 1974 to 2003, the incidence rate of glioma increased by 0.5% per year among men and by 0.2% per year among women,” they wrote.
Incidence of meningioma tumours rose by 0.8% a year among men, and rose by 3.8 % a year among women starting in the mid-1990s. But this was mostly among women over the age of 60, who were already among those most likely to have brain tumours, they noted.
In addition, it became easier to diagnose these tumors because of better types of brain scans.
Overall, there was no significant pattern, they said.
“No change in incidence trends were observed from 1998 to 2003,” they added. That would have been when tumours would start showing up, assuming it took five to 10 years for one to develop, they said.
It is possible, Ms. Deltour’s team wrote, that it takes longer than 10 years for tumours caused by mobile phones to turn up, that the tumours are too rare in this group to show a useful trend, or that there are trends but in subgroups too small to be measured in the study.
It is just as possible that cellphones do not cause brain tumours, they added.
Most scientific studies show no association between cellphone use and brain tumours and researchers trying to find a connection have failed to find any biological explanation for how a mobile phone might cause cancer.
“Because of the high prevalence of mobile phone exposure in this population and worldwide, longer follow-up of time trends in brain tumour incidence rates are warranted,” Ms. Deltour’s team advised.
By Regis Nicoll
Science’s Holy Grail
From whence the universe? That question lies at the heart of the metaphysical quest. For what we believe about the origin of the universe will largely determine what we believe about the most pressing questions of human existence.
If the universe is the product of intelligent creation, then purpose is intrinsic to our being which, in turn, provides a compass setting for life’s direction. If, on the other hand, the cosmos is an artifact of unintelligent processes, life has no ultimate aim or meaning, leaving matters of ethics and morality up to the whims of each individual.
To early thinkers, the rational order of the world suggested a non-contingent source of reality. In various schools of thought, this source was the “apeiron,” the “One,” aether, or the “logos”—in all cases, a veritable fount of being that not only gave birth to the universe, but continuously shaped and sustained it. Discoveries made over the last century have supported this ancient concept, overturning some common perceptions.
The notion that the universe is a vast, dark wasteland, sprinkled hither and yon with random clumps of matter, has been shattered. The universe, as understood by modern science, is a cosmic fabric, supercharged with an all-pervading quantum potential. With space and time its warp and woof, the cosmos flexes and twists under the influence of matter and energy to weave out exquisite patterns of galaxies, nebula, and supernovae.
The interlocking of space, time, matter, and energy suggests a grand unifying principle that gives form and texture to the universe. The hope of researchers is to discover this mega-principle, or, as it has come to be called, the “theory of everything” (TOE). The metaphysical implications of TOE even cause some investigators to go into occasional “transports of delight.”
Remarking on recent speculations that neutrinos—wraith-like, subatomic particles—were the first products of the big bang, one scientist gushed, “We’re descended from neutrinos!” adding reverentially, “They’re our parents.” Another researcher fancied, “Neutrinos may tell us why we exist.”
As Stephen Hawking wrote in A Brief History in Time, “If we do discover a complete theory… [we would] be able to take part in the discussion of why it is we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God.”
That helps explain why the TOE has been the Holy Grail of science for the better part of a century.
To be a TOE, a theory must account for the fundamental forces and universal constants of nature, as well as a “zoo” of hundreds of elemental particles. To that end, the “standard model” of physics has been phenomenally successful, being confirmed time and again by experimental data.
That said, the model has two major drawbacks: It doesn’t account for gravity, and it doesn’t explain how general relativity (governing the macroscopic structure of the cosmos) and quantum mechanics (governing its subatomic infrastructure) can be reconciled with each other.
The nonsensical results encountered when a massive object is compressed into an infinitesimal space—like a black hole—indicate that there is something wrong with one or both of these highly venerated theories. And that makes physicists edgy.
Convinced that these problems are insurmountable, a number of researchers have turned their energies elsewhere.
By imagining the building blocks of matter not as vanishingly small points, but as “strings” of finite size, yet still incredibly small, theorists believe that the cosmic rip between the large “threads” of relativity and the small “fibers” of quantum theory can be joined up. What’s more, they feel that string theory can account for gravity. But despite these promising speculations, string theory has its own set of problems.
For starters, the theory suffers from a near infinite number of mathematical solutions that make finding the actual solution, if one exists, nigh impossible. Next, although strings are sufficiently large to resolve the incongruities between relativity theory and quantum theory, they remain sufficiently small to preclude verification by foreseeable investigative techniques.
Finally, even if we were to detect strings, according to emeritus professor Timothy Ferris, we would find that they “are just curved space.” Princeton physicist David Gross agrees: “To build matter itself from geometry—that in a sense is what string theory does.” In other words, matter is a product of geometry, which is a measure of space, which, according to relativity, is shaped by matter, which. . . . And round and round we go.
That could be why Harvard researchers Paul Ginsparg and Sheldon Glashow characterize string theory as an activity “to be conducted at schools of divinity by the future equivalents of medieval theologians.”
Recently, a new development has emerged from an unlikely source.
SURFER DUDE DISCOVERY
Late last year, Garrett Lisi outlined a new model of the universe. Lisi has a PhD in physics but works construction, and serves as a hiking guide, when not surfing. Lisi’s novel element is “E8”—an arcane mathematical artifact discovered in the 19th century. The essence of E8 is its ability to model the interrelationships for objects with up to 57 dimensions.
The eureka moment came when Lisi realized that the fundamental particles and forces of nature could be correlated to the geometrical points described by E8. His model also predicts 20 other particles that could be associated with gravity. And some of the top guns of science feel that Lisi is on to something.
Theoretical physicist Lee Smolin called it “one of the most compelling unification models I’ve seen in many, many years.” David Finkelstein of Georgia Tech remarked, “Some incredibly beautiful stuff falls out of Lisi’s theory. This must be more than coincidence and he really is touching on something profound.”
Much of the commotion is over the simplicity of E8, as compared with other theories. In a field where some of the most successful theories are expressed with a few symbols; like E=mc2, simplicity is a strong attractor. There’s also the eerie manner in which the squirrelly members of the particle “zoo” all seem to follow E8. It’s as if its mathematical formulations are embedded in the cosmos.
Needless to say, Lisi’s theory has a long gauntlet to pass before it is enshrined as science orthodoxy. The first hurdle will be experimental corroboration from the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.
OTHERS WEIGH IN
The idea that the laws of physics are embedded in nature is near and dear to the heart of author and astrobiologist Paul Davies. In Davies’ formulation, mind and matter are melded into a kind of cosmic consciousness that has encoded the blueprint of life in the fabric of the universe. As to how that came to be—well, that’s a “matter for future research.”
Others, like Stephen Hawking, believe that our universe is a product of quantum processes. In every moment of time, infinitesimal changes in the sub-nuclear stratum of nature cause whole worlds to branch off into separate realms—each with its own “history.”
At the moment of the big bang, the universe had no unique history; instead, there was a superimposition of histories for all possible universes. According to Hawking, the job of the investigator is to select a “history” from the mix. This amazing feat is accomplished by examining the conditions that now exist, and working backward to discover what the initial conditions must have been. In effect, the present determines the past.
If that’s not enough to make you squirm, Hawking resorts to some mathematical prestidigitation with “imaginary time” to avoid the absurdities encountered with big bang and black hole singularities.
Hawking’s theory is one of several variations on the “multiverse” —a supercosmos containing an infinite number of universes, trotted out by theorists in an attempt to account for our finely tweaked world as neither a creation nor accident, but as an inevitability. But here’s the rub: An infinite cosmos, in which everything (and anything) is inevitable, is one in which even God must exist in one of its branches.
I’m reminded of what quantum pioneer Erwin Schrödinger once said: “Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains, but the answers are often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously.”
THE REAL TOE
The notion that E8, cosmic consciousness, the multiverse, or any other naturalistic principle will lead to a theory of everything is flawed from the get-go. Should experimental research eventually verify one such model, it will merely describe how, rather than explain why, the cosmos conforms to it.
Indeed, the most vexing questions of man—Why is there something instead of nothing? What is the meaning and purpose of life? What does it mean to be human? and What is the “good” life?—will be left unanswered. That’s because the real “Theory of Everything” is not a mathematical abstraction embedded in nature and penetrable with the next generation of particle accelerators; it is the revelation in an ancient text that opens with, “In the beginning God . . .”
Time travel? Teleportation? No problem, says renowned physicist Michio Kaku.
Kaku, a professor at the City University of New York, is creating quite a stir in Britain with the release of his new book, “The Physics of the Impossible.”
On this side of the pond, outlandish claims in books are recognized as, well, a good way to sell books.
But in Blighty, Kaku’s being treated as if he’s Doctor Who informing dim-witted humans about the wonders of the Universe, with front-page treatment Wednesday in both the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian. Even the normally staid Economist is chiming in.
Kaku, one of the earliest proponents of string theory, still a contentious issue among physicists, divides the most common science-fiction tropes, or “impossibilities,” into three categories — possible soon, possible in the far future and really, truly impossible.
Category 1, as he dubs it, includes things that may become true within the next century, if not the next few decades: teleportation (already possible, but only among subatomic particles); telepathy (thanks to brain implants); invisibility (already being researched using light-bending ‘metamaterials’); laser guns (existing, but hugely power-hungry); force fields; and the discovery of extraterrestrial life.
Category 2 includes things that are theoretically possible but would be realized only with thousands more years of technological progress: time travel (possibly through “wormholes” in space); traveling faster than light; and the discovery of parallel universes.
Category 3 consists of things that really are impossible because they violate the laws of physics. Only two concepts qualify: knowing the future and perpetual motion.
“The Physics of the Impossible,” released March 11 in the U.S., is currently No. 123 on the Amazon bestseller lists. It comes out Thursday in Britain, though without the “Doctor Who”-themed cover of the U.S. version.
The urge to hug a departed loved one again or prevent atrocities are among the compelling reasons that keep the notion of time travel alive in the minds of many.
While the idea makes for great fiction, some scientists now say traveling to the past is impossible.
There are a handful of scenarios that theorists have suggested for how one might travel to the past, said Brian Greene, author of the bestseller “The Elegant Universe” and a physicist at Columbia University.
“And almost all of them, if you look at them closely, brush up right at the edge of physics as we understand it,” he said. “Most of us think that almost all of them can be ruled out.”
The fourth dimension
In physics, time is described as a dimension much like length, width and height.
When you travel from your house to the grocery store, you’re traveling through a direction in space, making headway in all the spatial dimensions — length, width and height.
But you’re also traveling forward in time, the fourth dimension.
“Space and time are tangled together in a sort of a four-dimensional fabric called space-time,” said Charles Liu, an astrophysicist with the City University of New York, College of Staten Island and co-author of the book “One Universe: At Home In The Cosmos.”
Space-time, Liu explains, can be thought of as a piece of spandex with four dimensions.
“When something that has mass — you and I, an object, a planet or any star — sits in that piece of four-dimensional spandex, it causes it to create a dimple,” he said. “That dimple is a manifestation of space-time bending to accommodate this mass.”
The bending of space-time causes objects to move on a curved path, and that curvature of space is what we know as gravity.
Mathematically one can go backwards or forwards in the three spatial dimensions. But time doesn’t share this multi-directional freedom.
“In this four-dimensional space-time, you’re only able to move forward in time,” Liu told LiveScience.
Tunneling to the past
A handful of proposals exist for time travel. The most developed of these approaches involves a wormhole — a hypothetical tunnel connecting two regions of space-time.
The regions bridged could be two completely different universes or two parts of one universe. Matter can travel through either mouth of the wormhole to reach a destination on the other side.
“Wormholes are the future, wormholes are the past,” said Michio Kaku, author of “Hyperspace” and “Parallel Worlds” and a physicist at the City University of New York. “But we have to be very careful. The gasoline necessary to energize a time machine is far beyond anything that we can assemble with today’s technology.”
To punch a hole into the fabric of space-time, Kaku explained, would require the energy of a star or negative energy, an exotic entity with an energy of less than nothing.
Greene, an expert on string theory — which views matter in a minimum of 10 dimensions and tries to bridge the gap between particle physics and nature’s fundamental forces, questioned this scenario.
“Many people who study the subject doubt that that approach has any chance of working,” Greene said in an interview . “But the basic idea if you’re very, very optimistic is that if you fiddle with the wormhole openings, you can make it not only a shortcut from a point in space to another point in space, but a shortcut from one moment in time to another moment in time.”
Another popular theory for potential time travelers involves something called cosmic strings — narrow tubes of energy stretched across the entire length of the ever-expanding universe.
These skinny regions, leftover from the early cosmos, are predicted to contain huge amounts of mass and therefore could warp the space-time around them.
Cosmic strings are either infinite or they’re in loops, with no ends, said J. Richard Gott, author of “Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe” and an astrophysicist at Princeton University. “So they are either like spaghetti or Spaghetti-O’s.”
The approach of two such strings parallel to each other, said Gott, will bend space-time so vigorously and in such a particular configuration that might make time travel possible, in theory.
“This is a project that a super-civilization might attempt,” Gott told LiveScience. “It’s far beyond what we can do. We’re a civilization that’s not even controlling the energy resources of our planet.”
Impossible, for now
Mathematically, you can certainly say something is traveling to the past, Liu said.
“But it is not possible for you and me to travel backward in time,” he said.
However, some scientists believe that traveling to the past is, in fact, theoretically possible, though impractical.
Maybe if there were a theory of everything, one could solve all of Einstein’s equations through a wormhole, and see whether time travel is really possible, Kaku said.
“But that would require a technology far more advanced than anything we can muster,” he said. “Don’t expect any young inventor to announce tomorrow in a press release that he or she has invented a time machine in their basement.”
For now, the only definitive part of travel in the fourth dimension is that we’re stepping further into the future with each passing moment.
So for those hoping to see Earth a million years from now, scientists have good news.
“If you want to know what the Earth is like one million years from now, I’ll tell you how to do that,” said Greene, a consultant for “Déjà Vu,” a recent movie that dealt with time travel. “Build a spaceship. Go near the speed of light for a length of time — that I could calculate. Come back to Earth, and when you step out of your ship you will have aged perhaps one year while the Earth would have aged one million years. You would have traveled to Earth’s future.”
By Richard W. Rahn
VIENNA, Austria. — Human lifespans in developed countries have been increasing 15 seconds every minute for the past 125 years, and they are increasing even faster in the developing countries — on average about 20 seconds every minute. This means that in Europe and America lifespans increase about one year over every four-year period. Why has this happened? In one word — chemistry.
Chemistry enables us to develop the compounds that cure most childhood diseases. Chemistry provides us with the disinfectants that destroy dangerous germs in our everyday lives, clean our wounds, and make modern surgery possible. Chemistry enables us to have the protective clothing and gear that shield us from many injuries in the workplace and on the athletic field. Chemistry gives us the pesticides that defend our crops and ourselves from insect-borne diseases. Chemistry has enabled pharmaceutical companies to develop the products that help protect us from cancer, heart disease and thousands of other ailments that affect an aging population. Without modern chemistry, most of us would be dead.
All chemicals, both natural and synthetic, have a downside. Too much of almost any of them can kill us or make us ill. Even the most basic chemicals that are necessary for life can also be very dangerous. We need just the right level of oxygen in our air to live. We need water, but the wrong quantities it can lead to dehydration or dilution of the body’s essential elements.
Take a look at the list of ingredients on your multivitamin and mineral package. The tablet is a combination of a couple of dozen chemicals, any one of which in excessive quantities might kill you. However, the total absence of many of these chemicals will also lead to poor health and premature death.
Knowledgeable people have long understood the need for but also the dangers in chemical compounds, and mankind has made great strides in getting the balance right, as demonstrated by ever increasing lifespans. But now, the European Union is about to take the Europeans, and to a lesser extent the rest of the world, in a giant step backward. A proposal known as “REACH” — which stands for registration, evaluation and authorization of chemicals — may soon become law in the European Union. In effect, the REACH proposal will require companies using any of more than 30,000 commonly used chemical compounds in their products (that daily protect and make our lives better) plus any new compounds they may develop to prove the chemical will do no harm in almost any quantity. The proposal is sheer lunacy from both a health and a safety point of view, and will be economically destructive not only to Europeans but to those who export to or import from Europe.
The argument is that perhaps as many as 4,500 lives could be saved each year if people were not exposed to chemical compounds in excessive quantities. The science behind this number is highly doubtful, but what should be obvious is hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives will be put in danger each year as a result of banning both highly desirable, and in fact necessary, chemical compounds of one sort or another. The proposed regulations will be extremely costly to business, arbitrary in their effect, and so onerous on small and medium-size businesses that many of them will have to withdraw from the market.
If the Europeans pass the regulation, in one stroke they will have increased their already disastrous unemployment rates, and denied themselves many products they need for safe and healthy lives. The only winners will be all of the new bureaucrats who will be hired to administer the impossible.
In one bow to economic reality, the REACH proponents have agreed to exempt certain natural chemicals, foods, cosmetics and pesticides — because they are regulated under other statues. However, many of these products will likely be affected, as their ingredients are regulated under REACH — some may be banned.
The Europeans have just been down a similar route. To try to prevent capital outflow — which is caused by excessive taxation and regulation in a number of the European states — they created the European Savings Directive. To get it passed and to mitigate the most economically destructive aspects of the proposal, they put in many loopholes. Now, the first year results are in, which show the Directive raised very little revenue, but greatly increased the administrative burden for the financial industry and did nothing to prevent capital outflow.
The good news is that more than 250 leaders and scholars from around the world (including many from the United States), representing both free market public policy organizations and taxpayer groups, met last week in Vienna at the largest ever European Resource Bank meeting. These scholars and political activists are working together to combat the economic and scientific know-nothings who dominate too much of the political discussion in Europe.
Let us hope, not only for the sake of Europe but for the global community, that their efforts will not be too little and too late.
HIS most famous equation, E=mc², is 100 years old, and 2005 has been named Einstein Year in his honour, but Albert Einstein has been trounced in a scientific beauty contest held to celebrate his own greatest achievements.
The most famous head of hair in science was soundly beaten by Sir Isaac Newton yesterday in a poll on the relative merits of their breakthroughs, with both scientists and the public favouring the Englishman by a surprisingly wide margin.
Asked by the Royal Society to decide which of the two made the more important contributions to science, 61.8 per cent of the public favoured the claims of the 17th-century scientist who developed calculus and the theory of gravity. Among 345 Royal Society scientists who voted, the margin of support for Newton was greater still, with 86.2 per cent deciding that his work was more important than Einstein’s. The vote was closer over who made a bigger positive contribution to humankind in general. Newton was again twice the winner, but with only 50.1 per cent of the public vote and 60.9 per cent of the specialists’.
The results of the online poll were revealed last night at a Royal Society debate on the two physicists’ claims to being the greatest of all. Sir Isaac was a elected a fellow of the society in 1672, while Einstein was voted a Foreign Member in 1921.
The poll was held as part of the celebrations of Einstein Year, which marks the German-born scientist’s annus mirabilis of 1905, when he published three papers that laid the foundation of modern physics.
Along with the special theory of relativity and its signature E=mc² equation, Einstein proved the existence of atoms and explained how light could have the properties of both waves and streams of particles.
Jim Al-Khalili, a professor at the University of Surrey, who proposed Einstein at the debate last night, said: “Within just a few months during 1905, Einstein published several papers that were to change the face of physics. He proved mathematically that atoms exist. He proved that light is lumpy. It is made up of tiny particles we now call photons and not continuous waves. He then published two papers on his theory of relativity, giving us a new view of reality itself.”
Einstein should also be favoured, he said, for finding the gaps in Sir Isaac’s theories. “He explained that Newton was wrong about the meaning of space and time,” Professor Al-Khalili said.
Sir John Enderby, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Bristol University and Vice-President of the Royal Society, argued Sir Isaac’s corner. He said that Principia, Sir Isaac’s great work, was a foundation stone of the modern scientific method.
Sir John said: “This book set out the mathematical principles of ‘natural philosophy’ and showed how a universal force, gravity, applied to all objects in all parts of the Universe.
“This amazing insight once and for all ruled out the belief that somehow laws related to Earth-bound objects were in some sense inferior to those which governed the heavens.”
Lord May of Oxford, the president of the Royal Society, said: “Many would say that comparing Newton and Einstein is like comparing apples and oranges, but what really matters is that people are appreciating the huge amount that both these physicists achieved, and that their impact on the world stretched far beyond the laboratory and the equation.”
BEIJING (AP) — Zoologists say they have discovered a colony of about 30 giant pandas living in the wilds of northwestern Gansu province, an official newspaper reported today.
Only 1,000 pandas are believed to remain in China, the endangered species’ only native habitat. They are scattered among natural reserves in the provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu.
Most of Gansu’s giant pandas are found in the Baishuijiang National Nature Reserve, in the southern tip of the province. The 30 recently discovered pandas were discovered further to the northwest, in a forest in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, the report in the China Daily said.
A program started in 1993 and partially funded by a group of U.S. zoos is aimed at upgrading the reserves and adding 15 more by 2010.
As the world’s fastest athletes settle into their blocks over the next three weeks, keep your eyes peeled. Otherwise you might miss a Sydney Olympics gold medallist showing us the perfect athletic performance.
Athletes have been running faster, jumping higher, throwing farther for at least 100 years. But rates of improvement are slowing and researchers are suggesting it won’t be long before the human body reaches its limit.
“We have not reached the ultimate performance yet, but we are getting close to the limit,” says Francois Peronnet, director of kinesiology at the Universite de Montreal.
We can no longer expect new records as a matter of course.
“It’s like learning to play the piano,” says Mr. Peronnet. “When you start the progress is fast. But after 10 years it is more difficult and the closer you get to perfection the more difficult it is to improve.”
Most of the records so far in Sydney have come in swimming, which electrified the first two days of the Games, producing eight world records. Two involved the 17-year-old Australian water wonder, Ian Thorpe, who smashed his own world record in the 400-metre freestyle on Saturday, then turned around and helped the Australian men’s 4x100 relay team to another world record time, including within it a world-record 100-metre swim by teammate Michael Klim.
Then there was Turkey’s new weightlifting sensation Halil Mutlu, the smallest man in the competition at a height of four feet 11 inches and weight of 56 kilograms, who set three new world records on Saturday. He lifted 138.0 kilograms in the snatch, 167.5 kilograms in the clean and jerk and 305 kilograms in the total lift — more than five times his own weight.
Predicting the ultimate human performance is a favourite topic for scientists around the world and a University of British Columbia professor is among them.
Using records in seven track events since the turn of the century, Robert Schutz has created performance curves that project when it will be impossible to go any faster.
Growing knowledge about the body’s genetic makeup may hold promise for the future, but Mr. Schutz says gains from better nutrition, equipment and training are now exhausted.
His calculations indicate the 100-metre ultimate will be 9.51 seconds, a fraction or two less than three-tenths of a second faster than today’s record, held by American Maurice Greene in July last year and standing at 9.78 seconds.
He also calculates that 50 years from now the marathon record will be two hours, two minutes, 39 seconds compared to the present record of 2:05:42, set last October by Khlaid Khannouchi of Morocco. In this case the ultimate marathon is projected under two hours at 1:59:25.
Mr. Peronnet has been intrigued by how fast an athlete can go for more than a decade. In 1989, he used world records established since 1912 to put together a series of predictions for how fast an athlete would run in 2000, 2028 and 2040.
“When we made the predictions I would not have bet a dollar we would be right,” says Mr. Peronnet. “But we were not far wrong and our model is good enough that it is reasonable to assume the 2028 and 2040 forecasts will not be too far off the mark.”
The 100 metres is the blue ribbon of the Olympics. When Mr. Peronnet made his predictions in 1989 the record stood at 9.83. He suggested that by 2000 that record would be reduced to 9.74, which is only slightly ahead of Greene’s 9.78 mark. In 2028, we can expect man to run the distance in 9.57 and in 40 years it will stand at 9.49.
What makes the perfect specimen, the ultimate athlete capable of reaching the human limit? Like coaches and exercise physiologists all around the world, Mr. Peronnet cannot define it.
“We don’t know everything about what makes a body fast,” he says. “There is no single factor to explain improvement and physiology discoveries are not the most important.”
Good shoes, good track, good nutrition, good coaching, the right body type, unflinching drive to be best all contribute to producing the athlete most likely to break records.
But Mr. Peronnet is most fascinated by a factor that has nothing to do with any of that. He thinks the fastest man or woman on earth may be out there somewhere, undiscovered.
“Most improvement in records is due to the fact there are more and more people competing from various ethnic backgrounds,” he says. “There is, somewhere in the world, the person with the best potential to be faster than any other human. Maybe this guy is living in a country where a track has never been seen, who has never seen running shoes.
“It is the numbers that really count. The best way to improve times, find the best potential, is to take a large number of people and get them involved in running.”
The belief the fastest man or woman on earth may be somewhere out there racing through a forest or across sand dunes is echoed by Will Hopkins of the University of Otago in New Zealand. He says exceptional athletes are more likely to be unearthed if more and more people are participating.
“It’s a statistical effect,” he says in an interview with New Scientist magazine. “The bigger the sample you take, the more extreme you can expect the results to be.”
Mr. Peronnet says there are three overriding physical factors governing improvement.
Athletes have to reach the maximum in three bioenergetic areas. The ability to consume oxygen, the ability to obtain energy from non-aerobic sources — like conversion of glucose into lactic acid — and the ability to use good nutrition and to get rid of heat produced during a run in order to sustain high energy expenditure for a long time.
Even if they manage this, many other barriers can block improvement for any athlete prepared to pay the physical price in the search for perfection.
If we believe what they complain about, most elite athletes suffer from some aspects of over-training syndrome.
These include sore muscles, brittle bones, fatigue, loss of energy, inability to throw off common infections as fast as ordinary mortals and violent mood swings.
“This syndrome is something athletes describe but it is associated with bad performance so they are afraid of that,” says Mr. Peronnet. “We don’t know exactly the reasons. They could be personal, physical or psychological.”
That’s where the coach comes in. “If an athlete is allowed to go too far chasing the ultimate performance it can be dangerous,” he says.
“You want to get a lot out of an athlete. You know what he can achieve so you are pushing him very close to the point where he will break. If you don’t push him enough he will not achieve his potential. There is a very thin line between the best and breakdown.”
Sri Lankan wildlife officials stunned by lack of carcasses
As the human death toll from Sunday’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami continues to skyrocket in Asia, a mystery is unfolding in Sri Lanka.
Somehow, the animals survived the disaster.
According to reports out of Colombo, Sri Lankan wildlife officials are said to be stunned.
“The strange thing is we haven’t recorded any dead animals,” H.D. Ratnayake, deputy director of the national Wildlife Department, told Reuters. “No elephants are dead, not even a dead hare or rabbit.”
“I think animals can sense disaster,” he added. “They have a sixth sense. They know when things are happening.”
The sentiment was echoed by Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, whose Jetwing Eco Holidays runs a hotel in the Yala National Park, the country’s largest wildlife reserve where hundreds of wild elephants dwell along with some 130 other species.
“This is very interesting. I am finding bodies of humans, but I have yet to see a dead animal,” he told the Associated Press.
Floodwaters reportedly rushed up to two miles inland at the park, where 41 human bodies have been recovered so far, including 13 foreigners, according to Lanka Business Online.
Wildlife officers reportedly found a 13-year-old boy yesterday morning, the only survivor of the tsunami at the park.
Wildlife Conservation Director General Dayananda Kariyawasam told the paper except for dead fish, no carcasses of animals have been found.
The human death toll in Sri Lanka exceeds 21,000.
WASHINGTON — One hundred years ago a minor Swiss civil servant, having traveled home in a streetcar from his job in the Bern patent office, wondered: What would the city’s clock tower look like if observed from a streetcar racing away from the tower at the speed of light? The clock, he decided, would appear stopped because light could not catch up to the streetcar, but his own watch would tick normally.
“A storm broke loose in my mind,” Albert Einstein later remembered. He produced five papers in 1905 and for physicists, the world has never been the same. For lay people, it has never felt the same.
In his book “Einstein’s Cosmos,” Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York, makes Einstein’s genius seem akin to a poet’s sensibility. Einstein, says Kaku, was able to “see everything in terms of physical pictures” — to see “the laws of physics as clear as simple images.”
Hitherto, space and time were assumed to be absolutes. They still can be for our everyday business, because we and the objects we deal with do not move at the speed of light. But since Einstein’s postulate of relativity, measurements of space and time are thought to be relative to speed.
One implication of Einstein’s theories did have thunderous practical implications: matter and energy are interchangeable, and the mass of an object increases the faster it moves. In the most famous equation in the history of science, energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light squared. A wee bit of matter can be converted into a city-leveling amount of energy.
In the 1920s, while people were enjoying being told that space is warped and it pushes things down (that is the real “force” of gravity), Einstein became an international celebrity of a sort not seen before or since. Selfridges department store in London pasted the six pages of an Einstein paper on a plate glass window for passersby to read. Charlie Chaplin said to him, “The people applaud me because everyone understands me, and they applaud you because no one understands you.”
The precision of modern scientific instruments makes possible the confirmation of implications of Einstein’s theories — e.g., the universe had a beginning (the Big Bang) and its expansion is accelerating; time slows in a large gravitational field and beats slower the faster one moves; the sun bends starlight from across the sky and there are black holes so dense that they swallow light. Does all this bewilder you? The late Richard Feynman, winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, said, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”
Three years ago we learned that the Milky Way galaxy, which is next door, contains a black hole weighing as much as two million suns. “Thus,” says Kaku, “our moon revolves around the earth, the earth revolves around the sun, and the sun revolves around a black hole.” Can this story have a happy ending?
Science offers no guarantees. Astronomy evicted us from our presumed place at the center of the universe many centuries before we learned that “center” is unintelligible in an expanding universe where space and time are warped. And before 19th-century biology further diminished our sense of grandeur by connecting us with undignified ancestors, 18th-century geology indicated that seashells unearthed on mountain tops proved that Earth has a longer, more turbulent and unfinished history than most creation stories suggest. Dec. 26, 2004, brought another geological challenge to the biblical notion of an intervening, caring God.
Einstein’s theism, such as it was, was his faith that God does not play dice with the universe — that there are elegant, eventually discoverable laws, not randomness, at work. Saying “I’m not an atheist,” he explained:
“We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is.”
A century on from Einstein’s “miracle year,” never mind E=mc2. Try this: L=BB+pw+BC/BF. Meaning: Life equals the Big Bang, followed by lots of paper work, ending with either a Big Crunch, as the universe collapses back on itself, or a Big Freeze as it expands forever.
A bad ending? Compared to what? Everything, as has been said since Einstein, is relative.
PITTSBURGH — He dodged lobster pots for decades, endured a trip from the coast of Massachusetts to Pittsburgh and survived about a week in a fish market. But a trip to the zoo proved to be too much for a 22-pound lobster named Bubba.
The leviathan of a lobster died Wednesday afternoon at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium about a day after he was moved from Wholey’s Market, said zoo spokeswoman Rachel Capp and Bob Wholey, owner of the fish market.
“They’re very finicky. It could have been a change in the water. You have no idea,” said Wholey.
Bubba died in a quarantine area of the zoo’s aquarium, where he was being checked out to see if he was healthy enough to make a trip to an aquarium at a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum, Capp said.
Bubba will be examined to try to figure out why he died, although Capp and Wholey guessed it may have been the stress of being moved.
Based on how long it typically takes a lobster to reach eating size — about five to seven years to grow to a pound — some estimated Bubba was about 100 years old. But marine biologists said 30 to 50 years was more likely.
Other large lobsters didn’t fare well after they were caught, too.
In 1985, a 25-pound lobster that the New England Aquarium planned to give to a Tokyo museum died when the water temperature rose and the salt dropped in its aquarium. In 1990, a 17 1/2-pound lobster named Mimi died just days after being flown to a restaurant in Detroit. Last year, a 14-pound lobster named Hercules that was rescued by a Washington state middle school class died before it could be released off the coast of Maine.
SAN FRANCISCO — Earth’s north magnetic pole is drifting away from North America and toward Siberia at such a clip that Alaska might lose its spectacular Northern Lights in the next 50 years, scientists said Thursday.
Despite accelerated movement over the past century, the possibility that Earth’s modestly fading magnetic field will collapse is remote. But the shift could mean Alaska may no longer see the sky lights known as auroras, which might then be more visible in more southerly areas of Siberia and Europe.
The magnetic poles are part of the magnetic field generated by liquid iron in Earth’s core and are different from the geographic poles, the surface points marking the axis of the planet’s rotation.
Scientists have long known that magnetic poles migrate and, in rare cases, swap places. Exactly why this happens is a mystery.
“This may be part of a normal oscillation and it will eventually migrate back toward Canada,” Joseph Stoner, a paleomagnetist at Oregon State University, said Thursday at an American Geophysical Union meeting.
Previous studies have shown that the strength of the Earth’s magnetic shield has decreased 10% over the past 150 years. During the same period, the north magnetic pole wandered about 685 miles out into the Arctic, according to a new analysis by Stoner.
The rate of the magnetic pole’s movement has increased in the last century compared to fairly steady movement in the previous four centuries, the Oregon researchers said.
At the present rate, the north magnetic pole could swing out of northern Canada into Siberia.
If that happens, Alaska could lose its Northern Lights, which occur when charged particles streaming away from the sun interact with different gases in Earth’s atmosphere.
The north magnetic pole was first discovered in 1831, and when it was revisited in 1904, explorers found that the pole had moved 31 miles.
For centuries, navigators using compasses had to learn to deal with the difference between magnetic and geographic north. A compass needle points to the north magnetic pole, not the geographic North Pole. For example, a compass reading of north in Oregon is about 17 degrees east of geographic north.
In the study, Stoner examined the sediment record from several Arctic lakes. Since the sediments record the Earth’s magnetic field at the time, scientists used carbon dating to track changes in the magnetic field.
They found that the north magnetic field shifted significantly in the last thousand years. It generally migrated between northern Canada and Siberia, but it sometimes moved in other directions, too.
For male bats, intelligence comes at a steep price. A new study found that bat species with large brains have smaller testicles.
The correlation is likely an evolutionary tradeoff between having to maintain a large brain and producing lots of sperm, said Scott Pitnick, a biologist at Syracuse University in New York who conducted the research.
“The male who ejaculates the greatest number of sperm may win at this game, and hence many bats have evolved outrageously big testes,” Pitnick said. “Because they live on an energetic knife-edge, bats may not be able to evolutionarily afford both big testes and big brains.”
Female bats in many species mate with more than just one male, and sperm can survive in the female’s body for long periods of time; this leads to fierce competition between sperm to fertilize the egg.
Pitnick suspects that the males with relatively large testes and small brains leave more offspring than larger-brained and less fertile competitors.
In the study, Pitnick and colleagues analyzed 334 species of bats and found that in species with promiscuous females, the males had evolved larger testes but had relatively small brains.
In species where the females were faithful to their mates, the correlation was reversed. The study also showed that male fidelity appeared to have no influence over testes or brain size.
In some bat species, the male’s testes can make up as much as 8.5% of body mass. Of all mammals, bats have the widest range of testes mass: between 0.12% and 8.5% of body mass.
As a comparison, testes mass in primates (including humans) varies between 0.02 and 0.75%.
The research was detailed in a recent issue of the journal Proceedings B of London, a biology journal of the United Kingdom’s Royal Society.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Scientists exploring an isolated jungle in one of Indonesia’s most remote provinces discovered dozens of new species of frogs, butterflies and plants — as well as mammals hunted to near-extinction elsewhere, members of the expedition said yesterday.
The team also found wildlife remarkably unafraid of humans during a rapid survey of the Foja Mountains, an area in eastern Indonesia’s Papua province with more than 2 million acres of old-growth tropical forest, said Bruce Beehler, a co-leader of the monthlong trip.
Two long-beaked echidnas, a primitive egg-laying mammal, simply allowed scientists to pick them up and bring them back to their camp to be studied, he said.
The December expedition to Papua on the western side of New Guinea island was organized by the U.S.-based environmental organization Conservation International and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.
“There was not a single trail, no sign of civilization, no sign of even local communities ever having been there,” said Mr. Beehler, adding that two headmen from the Kwerba and Papasena tribes, the customary landowners of the Foja Mountains, accompanied the expedition.
“They were as astounded as we were at how isolated it was,” he said in a telephone interview from Washington. “As far as they knew, neither of their clans had ever been to the area.”
Papua, the scene of a decades-long separatist rebellion that has killed an estimated 100,000 people, is one of Indonesia’s most remote provinces, geographically and politically, and access by foreigners is tightly restricted.
The 11-member team of U.S., Indonesian and Australian scientists needed six permits before they could legally fly by helicopter to an open, boggy lakebed surrounded by forests near the range’s western summit.
The scientists said they discovered 20 frog species — including a tiny microhylid frog less than a half-inch long — four new butterfly species and at least five new types of palms.
One of the most remarkable discoveries was the golden-mantled tree kangaroo, an arboreal jungle dweller new for Indonesia and previously thought to have been hunted to near-extinction, and a new honeyeater bird, which has a bright orange face patch with a pendant wattle under each eye, Mr. Beehler said.
The scientists also took the first known photographs of Berlepsch’s six-wired bird of paradise, a bird described by hunters in New Guinea in the 19th century and named for the wires that extend from its head in place of a crest.
Their findings, however, will have to be published and then reviewed by peers before being officially classified as new species, a process that could take six months to several years.
Because of the rich diversity in the forest, the group rarely had to stray more than a few miles from their base camp.
“We’ve only scratched the surface,” said Mr. Beehler, vice president of Conservation International’s Melanesia Center for Biodiversity Conservation. He hopes to return later this year with other scientists.
Scientists have found what might have been the ideal ancient vacation hot spot with a 74-degree Fahrenheit average temperature, alligator ancestors and palm trees. It’s smack in the middle of the Arctic.
First-of-its-kind core samples dug up from deep beneath the Arctic Ocean floor show that 55 million years ago an area near the North Pole was practically a subtropical paradise, three new studies show.
The scientists say their findings are a glimpse backward into a much warmer-than-thought polar region heated by greenhouse gases that came about naturally.
Skeptics of man-made causes of global warming have nothing to rejoice over, however. The researchers say their studies appearing in tomorrow’s issue of Nature also offer a peek at just how bad conditions can get.
“It probably was (a tropical paradise) but the mosquitoes were probably the size of your head,” said Yale geology professor Mark Pagani, a co-author of the study.
And what a watery, swampy world it must have been.
“Imagine a world where there are dense sequoia trees and cypress trees like in Florida that ring the Arctic Ocean,” said Mr. Pagani, a member of the multinational Arctic Coring Expedition that conducted the research.
Millions of years ago the Earth experienced an extended period of natural global warming. But about 55 million years ago there was a sudden supercharged spike of carbon dioxide that accelerated the greenhouse effect.
Scientists already knew this “thermal event” happened but are not sure what caused it. Perhaps massive releases of methane from the ocean, the continent-sized burning of trees, numerous volcanic eruptions.
Many specialists figured that while the rest of the world got really hot, the polar regions were still comfortably cooler, maybe about 52 degrees Fahrenheit.
“It’s the first time we’ve looked at the Arctic, and man, it was a big surprise to us,” said study co-author Kathryn Moran, an oceanographer at the University of Rhode Island. “It’s a new look to how the Earth can respond to these peaks in carbon dioxide.”
It’s enough to make Santa Claus break into a sweat.
The 74-degree temperature, based on core samples that act as a climatic time capsule, was probably the year-round average, but because data is so limited it also might be just the summertime average, researchers said.
What’s troubling is that this hints that future projections for warming, several degrees over the next century, may be on the low end, said the study’s lead author Appy Sluijs of the Institute of Environmental Biology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
Also it shows that what happened 55 million years ago was proof that too much carbon dioxide — more than four times current levels — can cause global warming, said another co-author Henk Brinkhuis at Utrecht University.
Purdue University atmospheric sciences professor Gabriel Bowen, who was not part of the team, praised the work and said it showed that “there are tipping points in our (climate) system that can throw us to these conditions.”
And the new research also gave scientists the idea that a simple fern may have helped pull Earth from a hothouse to an icehouse by sucking up massive amounts of carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, this natural solution to global warming was not exactly quick: It took about a million years.
With all that heat and massive freshwater lakes forming in the Arctic, a fern called Azolla started growing and growing. Azolla, still found in warm regions today, grew so deep, so wide that eventually it started sucking up carbon dioxide, Mr. Brinkhuis theorized. And that helped put the cool back in the Arctic.
Mr. Bowen said he has a hard time accepting that part of the research, but Mr. Brinkhuis said the studies show tons upon tons of thick mats of Azolla covered the Arctic and moved south.
“This could actually contribute to push the world to a cooling mode,” Mr. Brinkhuis said, but only after it got hotter first and then it would take at least 800,000 years to cool back down. It’s not something to look forward to, he said.
NEW ORLEANS — A new report by scientists studying Louisiana’s sinking coast says the land here is not just sinking, it’s sliding ever so slowly into the Gulf of Mexico.
The new findings may add a kink to plans being drawn up to build bigger and better levees to protect this historic city and Cajun bayou culture.
If the land is shifting — even slightly — engineers may need to take that into consideration as they build new levees and draw lines across the coast to identify areas that should and shouldn’t be protected.
Researchers have known for years that the swampy land under south Louisiana is sinking (potholed streets and wobbly porches and floors are visible evidence of that) but a lateral movement of the land into the Gulf enters largely unstudied terrain.
The report, which appeared in December’s Geophysical Research Letters, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Geophysical Union, says the bedrock under heavily populated southeast Louisiana is breaking away at a glacial speed — at the pace fingernails grow.
The southward movement, the study says, is triggered by deep underground faults slipping under the enormous weight of sediment dumped by the Mississippi River.
The slippage, though, is confined to a large egg-shaped area approximately 250 miles long and 180 miles wide that encompasses the delta of the Mississippi, which was built up by river deposits over the past 8,000 years, the report says.
The report was based on data collected between 1995 and 2006 by Global Positioning System stations installed in recent years to better understand the dynamic nature of this delta the French settled in 300 years ago.
“People should not be afraid that we’re going to fall into the Gulf. That’s not going to happen,” said Roy Dokka, lead researcher and executive director of the Center for GeoInformatics at Louisiana State University.
He described the slide into the Gulf as “a kind of avalanche of material, except that it is happening very slowly. It moved about the width of two credit cards this year.”
While that may seem trifling in the big picture, Dokka said engineers need to include this reality into their plans for levees, floodgates and other projects.
Windell Curole, a levee and hurricane expert who is on a state board developing a master protection plan, said the phenomenon of sinking, or subsidence, has not been “included in a big way” in the new plan but that planners are “aware of it.”
“As we understand it better, we will include it,” he said. “You have to be aware of the elevation issues and the rate — these things need to be in the equation.”
Flood protection planners have their work cut out for them as they choose between often competing theories about what is causing Louisiana to lose land at alarming rates. Since the 1930s, more than 2,000 square miles of coast sank or eroded.
Some scientists believe oil and natural gas extraction in the middle and late 20th century caused much of the sinking; others say the land is caving in because the Mississippi River and other waterways were straightjacketed by levees, which stopped floodwaters from replenishing the soil.
And some scientists have suggested the debate over subsidence is overstated.
Torbjorn Tornqvist, an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at Tulane University, found much of the region surprisingly stable and the rate of sinking to be at least 10 times less than previously reported.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A New Zealand fishing crew has caught an adult colossal squid, a sea creature with eyes as big as dinner plates and razor-sharp hooks on its tentacles, an official said Thursday.
New Zealand Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton said the squid, weighing an estimated 990 pounds, took two hours to land in Antarctic waters.
The fishermen were catching Patagonian toothfish south of New Zealand “and the squid was eating a hooked toothfish when it was hauled from the deep,” he said.
Colossal squid, known by the scientific name Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, are estimated to grow up to 46 feet long and have long been one of the most mysterious creatures of the deep ocean.
Experts have not yet examined the squid, but if original estimates are correct it is about 330 pounds heavier than the next biggest specimen ever found.
The first specimen of a colossal squid, a 330-pound immature female, was caught on the surface in the Ross Sea near the Antarctic coast in April 2004.
Steve O’Shea, a squid expert at the Auckland University of Technology, said the latest specimen eclipsed that find and scientists would be very excited.
“I can assure you that this is going to draw phenomenal interest. It is truly amazing,” he said.
If calamari rings were made from the squid they would be the size of tractor tires, he added.
The animal can move through the water to a depth of 6,500 feet and is extremely active and an aggressive killer, he said.
The frozen squid is to be transported to New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa, in the capital, Wellington, to be preserved for scientific study.
Marine scientists “will be very interested in this amazing creature as it adds immeasurably to our understanding of the marine environment,” Anderton said.
Colossal squid are found in Antarctic waters and are not related to giant squid (Architeuthis species) found around the coast of New Zealand. Giant squid grow up to 39 feet, but are not as heavy.
A book chronicling the life history of Albert Einsten will be released this week and will reveal the deep religiosity of one of history’s greatest minds.
Einstein: His Life and Universe, written by Walter Isaacson, records not only the science behind the genius, but also the humanistic aspects of him, including a deep belief in God. An excerpt from his book was recently published in a Time magazine article titled “Einstein & Faith,” which specifically looked at the famed scientist’s theory on a higher being.
“But the awe part comes in his 50s when he settled into a deism based on what he called the ‘spirit manifest in the laws of the universe,’” wrote Isaacson in the book, “and a sincere belief in a ‘God who reveals Himself in the harmony of all that exists.’”
Through his discoveries in physics and other sciences, Einstein felt that there was undoubtedly a force behind all existence that created all the laws that the world abides by. He even criticized atheists who he argued are missing on the very present link between science and faith.
“There are people who say there is no God,” the physicist told a friend, according to the biography. “But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views.”
In a later letter he wrote, “The fanatical atheists are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who – in their grudge against traditional religion as the ‘opium of the masses’ – cannot hear the music of the spheres.”
Einstein was by no means a Christian. He had grown up as a German Jew, later leaving that faith. He did not believe in the Judeo-Christian concept of free will, but rather, that people were predetermined to act a certain way.
Despite, he still felt that people should act as if there was free will.
“I am compelled to act as if free will existed, because if I wish to live in a civilized society I must act responsibly,” explained Einstein in Isaacson’s book. “I know that philosophically a murderer is not responsible for his crime, but I prefer not to take tea with him.”
In the biography, the author also shows how Einstein did feel compelled by the story of Jesus, seeing him as an integral part of history.
When asked whether he accepts the historical existence of Jesus, Einstein replied, “Unquestionably! No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus.
“His personality pulsates in every word,” he added. “No myth is filled with such life.”
Current scientists today are also bridging the gap that many see between science and religion.
In an Apr. 6 commentary featured in CNN, Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Human Genome Project, shared about his Christian faith. He is also coming out with his own book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, to show how the two are related.
“I had always assumed that faith was based on purely emotional and irrational arguments,” explained Collins in the commentary, “and was astounded to discover, initially in the writings of the Oxford scholar C.S. Lewis and subsequently from many other sources, that one could build a very strong case for the plausibility of the existence of God on purely rational grounds.”
In contrast to Einstein, however, the Human Genome director noted that reason alone is not enough to understand God or to prove his existence.
“Faith is reason plus revelation, and the revelation part requires one to think with the spirit as well as with the mind,” Collins wrote. “You have to hear the music, not just read the notes on the page. Ultimately, a leap of faith is required.”
When asked how he could both be a scientist as well as a Christian, Collins noted that the two are more than compatible with each other.
“Actually, I find no conflict here, and neither apparently do the 40% of working scientists who claim to be believers,” he explained. “I have found there is a wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith. The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome.”
WASHINGTON — It sounds like the plot for a scary B-movie: Germs go into space on a rocket and come back stronger and deadlier than ever. Except, it really happened.
The germ: Salmonella, best known as a culprit of food poisoning. The trip: Space Shuttle STS-115, September 2006. The reason: Scientists wanted to see how space travel affects germs, so they took some along — carefully wrapped — for the ride. The result: Mice fed the space germs were three times more likely to get sick and died quicker than others fed identical germs that had remained behind on Earth.
“Wherever humans go, microbes go, you can’t sterilize humans. Wherever we go, under the oceans or orbiting the earth, the microbes go with us, and it’s important that we understand ... how they’re going to change,” explained Cheryl Nickerson, an associate professor at the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at Arizona State University.
Nickerson added, in a telephone interview, that learning more about changes in germs has the potential to lead to novel new countermeasures for infectious disease.
She reports the results of the salmonella study in Tuesday’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers placed identical strains of salmonella in containers and sent one into space aboard the shuttle, while the second was kept on Earth, under similar temperature conditions to the one in space.
After the shuttle returned, mice were given varying oral doses of the salmonella and then were watched.
After 25 days, 40% of the mice given the Earth-bound salmonella were still alive, compared with just 10% of those dosed with the germs from space. And the researchers found it took about one-third as much of the space germs to kill half the mice, compared with the germs that had been on Earth.
The researchers found 167 genes had changed in the salmonella that went to space.
“That’s the 64 million dollar question,” Nickerson said. “We do not know with 100% certainty what the mechanism is of space flight that’s inducing these changes.”
However, they think it’s a force called fluid shear.
“Being cultured in microgravity means the force of the liquid passing over the cells is low.” The cells “are responding not to microgravity, but indirectly to microgravity in the low fluid shear effects.”
“There are areas in the body which are low shear, such as the gastrointestinal tract, where, obviously, salmonella finds itself,” she went on. “So, it’s clear this is an environment not just relevant to space flight, but to conditions here on Earth, including in the infected host.”
She said it is an example of a response to a changed environment.
“These bugs can sense where they are by changes in their environment. The minute they sense a different environment, they change their genetic machinery so they can survive,” she said.
The research was supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Louisiana Board of Regents, Arizona Proteomics Consortium, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center, National Institutes of Health and the University of Arizona.
A scientist who built a synthetic chromosome from laboratory chemicals is expected to announce the creation of a new species, the first new artificial life form on Earth, British newspaper The Guardian reported Sunday.
The new species is a form of bacteria, and the announcement, which could come as early as Monday, is expected to provoke a substantial ethical debate about the manufacturing of life forms in a test tube, as well the dangers posed by introducing a new species, The Guardian reported.
Craig Venter, the genetics specialist who spearheaded the landmark breakthrough and heads the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Md., where the research was conducted, said the new species could lead to new energy sources and new methods for combatting global warming.
“We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it,” Venter told The Guardian. “That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before,” he said.
For example, the bacteria could be capable of absorbing carbon monoxide, a possible solution to global warming, Venter said.
According to The Guardian, a team of 20 elite scientists assembled by Venter at his institute has already constructed a synthetic chromosome from lab chemicals—also a landmark acheivement. The man-made chromosome will be transplanted into an existing bacterial cell and is expected to take control of the cell. When the synthetic DNA takes over, the cell will be a new species.
While critics acknowledge that artificially manufactured life forms could lead to such positive developments as new drugs or treatments for disease, the potential dangers could be equally unlimited.
“It could be a contribution to humanity such as new drugs or a huge threat to humanity such as bio-weapons,” Pat Mooney, director of ETC Group, a Canadian bioethics organization, told The Guardian.
Venter has provoked additional controversy by applying for a patent for the synthetic bacterium, The Guardian reported.
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — The skeleton of what could be a new dinosaur species — a giant, Patagonian plant-eater — has been uncovered in Argentina.
At more than 105 feet, it is among the largest ever found, scientists said Monday.
Scientists from Argentina and Brazil said the Patagonian dinosaur appears to represent a previously unknown species because of the unique structure of its neck.
They named it Futalognkosaurus dukei after the Mapuche Indian words for “giant” and “chief,” and for Duke Energy Argentina, which helped fund the skeleton’s excavation.
“This is one of the biggest in the world and one of the most complete of these giants that exist,” said Jorge Calvo, director of paleontology center of National University of Comahue, Argentina, lead author of a study on the dinosaur published in the peer-reviewed Annals of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.
Scientists said the giant herbivore walked the Earth some 88 million years ago.
Since the first bones were found on the banks of Lake Barreales in the Argentine province of Neuquen in 2000, paleontologists have dug up the dinosaur’s neck, back region, hips and the first vertebra of its tail.
“I’m pretty certain it’s a new species,” agreed Peter Mackovicky, associate curator for dinosaurs at Chicago’s Field Museum, who was not involved with the discovery. “I’ve seen some of the remains of Futalognkosaurus and it is truly gigantic.”
Patagonia also was home to the other two largest dinosaur skeletons found to date — Argentinasaurus, at around 115 feet long, and Puertasaurus reuili, between 115 to 131 feet long.
Comparison between the three herbivores, however, is difficult because scientists have only found few vertebrae of Puertasaurus and while the skeleton of Futalognkosaurus is fairly complete, scientists have not uncovered any bones from its limbs.
The site where Futalognkosaurus was found has been a bonanza for paleontologists, yielding more than 1,000 specimens, including 240 fossil plants, 300 teeth and the remains of several other dinosaurs.
By Dinesh D’Souza
[KH: trying to defend the Catholic church]
Many people have uncritically accepted the idea that there is a longstanding war between science and religion. We find this war advertised in many of the leading atheist tracts such as those by Richard Dawkins, Victor Stenger, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. Every few months one of the leading newsweeklies does a story on this subject. Little do the peddlers of this paradigm realize that they are victims of nineteenth-century atheist propaganda.
About a hundred years ago, two anti-religious bigots named John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White wrote books promoting the idea of an irreconcilable conflict between science and God. The books were full of facts that have now been totally discredited by scholars. But the myths produced by Draper and Dickson continue to be recycled. They are believed by many who consider themselves educated, and they even find their way into the textbooks. In this article I expose several of these myths, focusing especially on the Galileo case, since Galileo is routinely portrayed as a victim of religious persecution and a martyr to the cause of science.
The Flat Earth Fallacy: According to the atheist narrative, the medieval Christians all believed that the earth was flat until the brilliant scientists showed up in the modern era to prove that it was round. In reality, educated people in the Middle Ages knew that the earth was round. In fact, the ancient Greeks in the fifth century B.C. knew the earth was a globe. They didn’t need modern science to point out the obvious. They could see that when a ship went over the horizon, the hull and the mast disappear at different times. Even more telling, during an eclipse they could see the earth’s shadow on the moon. Look fellas, it’s round!
Huxley’s Mythical Put-Down: We read in various books about the great debate between Darwin’s defender Thomas Henry Huxley and poor Bishop Wilberforce. As the story goes, Wilberforce inquired of Huxley whether he was descended from an ape on his father or mother’s side, and Huxley winningly responded that he would rather be descended from an ape than from an ignorant bishop who was misled people about the findings of science. A dramatic denouement, to be sure, but the only problem is that it never happened. There is no record of it in the proceedings of the society that held the debate, and Darwin’s friend Joseph Hooker who informed him about the debate said that Huxley made no rejoinder to Wilberforce’s arguments.
Darwin Against the Christians: As myth would have it, when Darwin’s published his Origin of Species, the scientists lined up on one side and the Christians lined up on the other side. In reality, there were good scientific arguments made both in favor of Darwin and against him. The British naturalist Richard Owen, the Harvard zoologist Louis Agassiz, and the renowned physicist Lord Kelvin all had serious reservations about Darwin’s theory. Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb points out that while some Christians found evolution inconsistent with the Bible, many Christians rallied to Darwin’s side. Typical was the influential Catholic journal Dublin Review which extravagantly praised Darwin’s book while registering only minor objections.
The Experiment Galileo Didn’t Do: We read in textbooks about how Galileo went to the Tower of Pisa and dropped light and heavy bodies to the ground. He discovered that they hit the ground at the same time, thus refuting centuries of idle medieval theorizing. Actually Galileo didn’t do any such experiments; one of his students did. The student discovered what we all can discover by doing similar experiments ourselves: the heavy bodies hit the ground first! As historian of science Thomas Kuhn points out, it is only in the absence of air resistance that all bodies hit the ground at the same time.
Galileo Was the First to Prove Heliocentrism: Actually, Copernicus advanced the heliocentric theory that the sun, not the earth, is at the center, and that the earth goes around the sun. He did this more than half a century before Galileo. But Copernicus had no direct evidence, and he admitted that there were serious obstacles from experience that told against his theory. For instance, if the earth is moving rapidly, why don’t objects thrown up into the air land a considerable distance away from their starting point? Galileo defended heliocentrism, but one of his most prominent arguments was wrong. Galileo argued that the earth’s regular motion sloshes around the water in the oceans and explains the tides. In reality, tides have more to do with the moon’s gravitational force acting upon the earth.
The Church Dogmatically Opposed the New Science: In reality, the Church was the leading sponsor of the new science and Galileo himself was funded by the church. The leading astronomers of the time were Jesuit priests. They were open to Galileo’s theory but told him the evidence for it was inconclusive. This was the view of the greatest astronomer of the age, Tyco Brahe. The Church’s view of heliocentrism was hardly a dogmatic one. When Cardinal Bellarmine met with Galileo he said, “While experience tells us plainly that the earth is standing still, if there were a real proof that the sun is in the center of the universe…and that the sun goes not go round the earth but the earth round the sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and rather admit that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true. But this is not a thing to be done in haste, and as for myself, I shall not believe that there are such proofs until they are shown to me.” Galileo had no such proofs.
Galileo Was A Victim of Torture and Abuse: This is perhaps the most recurring motif, and yet it is entirely untrue. Galileo was treated by the church as a celebrity. When summoned by the Inquisition, he was housed in the grand Medici Villa in Rome. He attended receptions with the Pope and leading cardinals. Even after he was found guilty, he was first housed in a magnificent Episcopal palace and then placed under “house arrest” although he was permitted to visit his daughters in a nearby convent and to continue publishing scientific papers.
The Church Was Wrong To Convict Galileo of Heresy: But Galileo was neither charged nor convicted of heresy. He was charged with teaching heliocentrism in specific contravention of his own pledge not to do so. This is a charge on which Galileo was guilty. He had assured Cardinal Bellarmine that given the sensitivity of the issue, he would not publicly promote heliocentrism. Yet when a new pope was named, Galileo decided on his own to go back on his word. Asked about this in court, he said his Dialogue on the Two World Systems did not advocate heliocentrism. This is a flat-out untruth as anyone who reads Galileo’s book can plainly see. Even Galileo’s supporters, and there were many, found it difficult to defend him at this point.
What can we conclude from all this? Galileo was right about heliocentrism, but we know that only in retrospect because of evidence that emerged after Galileo’s death. The Church should not have tried him at all, although Galileo’s reckless conduct contributed to his fate. Even so, his fate was not so terrible. Historian Gary Ferngren concludes that “the traditional picture of Galileo as a martyr to intellectual freedom and as a victim of the church’s opposition to science has been demonstrated to be little more than a caricature.” Remember this the next time you hear some half-educated atheist rambling on about “the war between religion and science.”
WASHINGTON — One of the most complete dinosaur mummies ever found is revealing secrets locked away for millions of years, bringing researchers as close as they will ever get to touching a live dino.
The fossilized duckbilled hadrosaur is so well preserved that scientists have been able to calculate its muscle mass and learn that it was more muscular than thought, probably giving it the ability to outrun predators such as Tyrannosaurus rex.
While they call it a mummy, the dinosaur is not really preserved as King Tut was. The dinosaur body has been fossilized into stone.
Unlike the collections of bones found in museums, this hadrosaur came complete with skin, ligaments, tendons and possibly some internal organs, according to researchers.
The study is not yet complete, but scientists have concluded that hadrosaurs were bigger — 3½ tons and up to 40 feet long — and stronger than had been known, were quick and flexible and had skin with scales that may have been striped.
“Oh, the skin is wonderful,” paleontologist Phillip Manning of Manchester University in England rhapsodized, admitting to a “glazed look in my eye.”
“It’s unbelievable when you look at it for the first time,” he said in a telephone interview. “There is depth and structure to the skin. The level of detail expressed in the skin is just breathtaking.”
Manning said there is a pattern of banding to the larger and smaller scales on the skin. Because it has been fossilized researchers do not know the skin color. Looking at it in monochrome shows a striped pattern.
He notes that in modern reptiles, such a pattern is often associated with color change.
The fossil was found in 1999 in North Dakota and now is nicknamed “Dakota.” It is being analyzed in the world’s largest CT scanner, operated by the Boeing Co. The machine usually is used for space shuttle engines and other large objects.
Researchers hope the technology will help them learn more about the fossilized insides of the creature.
“It’s a definite case of watch this space,” Manning said. “We are trying to be very conservative, very careful.”
But they have learned enough so far to produce two books and a television program. The TV special, “Dino Autopsy,” will air on the National Geographic channel Dec. 9. National Geographic Society partly funded the research.
A children’s book, “DinoMummy: The Life, Death, and Discovery of Dakota, a Dinosaur From Hell Creek,” goes on sale Tuesday and an adult book, “Grave Secrets of Dinosaurs: Soft Tissues and Hard Science,” will be available in January.
Soft parts of dead animals normally decompose rapidly after death. Because of chemical conditions where this animal died, fossilization — replacement of tissues by minerals — took place faster than the decomposition, leaving mineralized portions of the tissue.
That does not mean DNA, the building blocks of life, can be recovered, Manning said. Some has been recovered from frozen mammoths up to 1 million years old, he said.
At the age of this dinosaur, 65 million to 67 million years old, “the chance of finding DNA is remote,” he said.
A Manchester colleague, Roy Wogelius, who also worked on the dinosaur, said “one thing that we are very confident of is that we do have some organic molecular breakdown products present.”
That look at chemicals associated with the animal is still research in progress.
Matthew Carrano, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, said he could not comment in detail about the find because he had not seen the research.
But, he added, “Any time we can get a glimpse of the soft anatomy of a dinosaur, that’s significant.”
The findings from Dakota may cause museums to rethink their dinosaur displays.
Most dinosaur skeletons in museums, for example, show the vertebrae right next to one another. The researchers looking at Dakota found a gap of about a centimeter — about 0.4 inch — between each one.
That indicates there may have been a disk or other material between them, allowing more flexibility and meaning the animal was actually longer than what is shown in a museum. On large animals, adding the space could make them a yard longer or more, Manning said.
Because ligaments and tendons were preserved, as well as other parts of Dakota, researchers could to calculate its muscle mass, showing it was stronger and potentially faster than had been known.
They estimated the hadrosaur’s top speed at about 28 miles per hour, 10 mph faster than the giant T. Rex is thought to have been able to run.
“It’s very logical, though, that a hadrosaur could run faster than a T. rex. It’s a major prey animal and it doesn’t have big horns on its head like triceratops. Hadrosaurs didn’t have much in the way of defense systems, so they probably relied on fleet of foot,” Manning said.
Dakota was discovered by Tyler Lyson, then a teenager who liked hunting for fossils on his family ranch.
Lyson, who is currently working on his doctorate degree in paleontology at Yale University, founded the Marmarth Research Foundation, an organization dedicated to the excavation, preservation and study of dinosaurs.
About 100 woolly sheep formed a perfect ring while grazing in a field in England on Friday, baffling the farmer and other witnesses, the Daily Mail reports.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” said Russell Bird, who photographed the bizarre occurrence.
He continued: “I did see a dog worrying sheep nearby beforehand and the dog ran off round the hedge in a different field, so I don’t know if they were discussing that.”
As the farmer’s tractor approached, however, the sheep scattered, but another circle was formed three fields away. Both formations lasted about 10 minutes, the Daily Mail reports.
Farm manager at Herefordshire College of Technology, Dan Seaborne, said: “I just think they’ve been fed with dry feed in that shape; you can get snacker feeders now and you tow behind a quad and it drops pellets on the ground.”
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Scientists who conducted the most comprehensive survey to date of New Zealand’s Antarctic waters were surprised by the size of some specimens found, including jellyfish with 12-foot tentacles and 2-foot-wide starfish.
A 2,000-mile journey through the Ross Sea that ended Thursday has also potentially turned up several new species, including as many as eight new mollusks.
It’s “exciting when you come across a new species,” said Chris Jones, a fisheries scientist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “All the fish people go nuts about that — but you have to take it with a grain of salt.”
The finds must still be reviewed by experts to determine if they are in fact new, said Stu Hanchet, a fisheries scientist at New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.
But beyond the discovery of new species, scientists said the survey, the most comprehensive to date in the Ross Sea, turned up other surprises.
Hanchet singled out the discovery of “fields” of sea lilies that stretched for hundreds of yards across the ocean floor.
“Some of these big meadows of sea lilies I don’t think anybody has seen before,” Hanchet said.
Previously only small-scale scientific samplings have been staged in the Ross Sea.
The survey was part of the International Polar Year program involving 23 countries in 11 voyages to survey marine life and habitats around Antarctica. The program hopes to set benchmarks for determining the effects of global warming on Antarctica, researchers said.
Large sea spiders, jellyfish with 12-foot tentacles, huge sea snails and starfish the size of big food platters were found during a 50-day voyage, marine scientist Don Robertson said.
Cold temperatures, a small number of predators, high levels of oxygen in the sea water and even longevity could explain the size of some specimens, said Robertson, a scientist with NIWA.
Robertson added that of the 30,000 specimens collected, hundreds might turn out to be new species.
Stefano Schiaparelli, a mollusk specialist at Italy’s National Antarctic Museum in Genoa, said he thought the find would yield at least eight new mollusks.
“This is a new brick in the wall of Antarctic knowledge,” Schiaparelli said.
Stop the scientists before they destroy us all!
That’s what a Hawaii man with a background in nuclear physics is asking a court to do.
Walter F. Wagner and his colleague Luis Sancho have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to stop work on the Large Hadron Collider, a gigantic atom smasher on the Franco-Swiss border that’s set to start operations in May.
Physicists hope its incredible energies will form briefly-lived new particles that could shed light on the origins of the universe, among other marvels.
The plaintiffs’ concerns? That the LHC could accidentally create strange new particles that would instantly transform any matter they touched, engulfing the Earth, or, even worse, make a rapidly expanding black hole that could consume the entire planet.
“[T]he compression of the two atoms colliding together at nearly light speed will cause an irreversible implosion, forming a miniature version of a giant black hole,” reads the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.
“[A]ny matter coming into contact with it would fall into it and never be able to escape. Eventually, all of earth would fall into such growing micro-black-hole, converting earth into a medium-sized black hole, around which would continue to orbit the moon, satellites, the ISS, etc.”
Named as defendants are the U.S. Department of Energy, the venerable DOE-owned Fermilab particle-accelerator facility outside Chicago, the “Center for Nuclear Energy Research (CERN)” and the National Science Foundation.
(CERN’s full name is actually the European Organization for Nuclear Research; “CERN” is the French acronym for an earlier name.)
The lawsuit wants the LHC’s opening to be delayed for several months so that outside experts can read the facility’s internal safety review, which was to have been completed by Jan. 1 of this year but does not appear to have been released.
Wagner has even put up a Web site at http://www.lhcdefense.org/ detailing his concerns.
Not included among the documents is Wagner’s own indictment last month on identity-theft charges tied to an ongoing legal battle over a botanical garden on the Big Island of Hawaii, but you can read about that here.
Most physicists say Wagner’s worries are unfounded. Micro black holes would evaporate nearly instantly instead of combining to form larger ones, they say, and the “strangelet” particles he frets would freeze the world would in fact fall apart quickly.
Wagner’s own background is a bit fuzzy. He claims to have minored in physics at U.C. Berkeley, gone to law school, taught elementary-school science and worked in nuclear medicine at health facilities — but he doesn’t appear to have an advanced degree in science.
Sancho’s qualifications are even murkier, but the lawsuit identifies him as a Spanish citizen residing in the U.S., even if his presence makes the entire case a bit, um, quixotic.
Fears that atom smashers will destroy the world have been around for decades and seem to come to the fore every time a new well-publicized facility comes online.
But no particle accelerator has ever come close to the power of the Large Hadron Collider.
Half a century after the atomic blasts that devastated Bikini Atoll, vast expanses of corals in the area seem to be flourishing once again, much to the surprise of scientists.
American government scientists detonated a hydrogen bomb on the tiny island (a part of the Marshall Islands in the western Pacific) on March 1, 1954, and about 20 other nuclear tests were carried out on the atoll between 1946 and 1958.
Many of the natives were moved to Kili Island and today are compensated by the United States government.
Code-named Castle Bravo, the hydrogen bomb was the most powerful nuclear weapon ever exploded at the time at 15 megatons, making it 1,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in World War II.
The massive explosion vaporized everything on three islands in the atoll, raised water temperatures to 55,000 degrees and left a crater that was 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) wide and 240 feet (73 meters) deep.
A team of scientists recently led a diving expedition into Bravo Crater and found an unexpectedly thriving coral community.
“I didn’t know what to expect — some kind of moonscape perhaps. But it was incredible, huge matrices of branching Porites coral (up to 8 meters [25 feet] high) had established, creating a thriving coral reef habitat,” said study team member Zoe Richards of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.
“Throughout other parts of the lagoon it was awesome to see coral cover as high as 80% and large tree-like branching coral formations with trunks 30 centimeters [12 inches] thick.”
A nearby atoll is likely seeding the coral recovery, the scientists think, and because the island is rarely visited, the coral is left to recover.
Richards said that the healthy condition of the Bikini corals was a sign of the resilience of corals after a major disturbance, if left undisturbed to recuperate.
The news wasn’t all good however, as there was a disturbingly high level of loss of coral species from around the atoll.
Forty-two species of corals are missing compared to a study made before the atomic tests were carried out.
Though ambient radiation readings are fairly low at Bikini, radioactive material accumulates in the soil and in produce such as coconuts, making them unsafe to eat.
It is unlikely that the Bikini natives will be able to return to the atoll in the near future, the scientists said.
Firefighters arrive on the scene of the “hot spot” after reports of a blaze.
The ground is so hot in one part of Southern California it can melt the shoes right off your feet.
An unexplained “thermal anomaly” caused a patch of land in Ventura County to reach a temperature of over 800 degrees on Friday, baffling experts who have been monitoring the area for weeks.
The anomaly was discovered after the land got so hot, it started a brush fire and burned three acres last month. Firefighters were brought to the scene after reports of a blaze, but by the time they arrived only smoldering dirt and brush remained.
Firefighters took no chances with the smoking ground, clearing brush near the fumes and cutting a fire line around the area to prevent a blaze from igniting.
“We are a little perplexed at this point, to tell you the truth,” the Ventura County Star quoted geologist David Panaro as saying. “This is not your usual geological detective story.”
The area has recorded high temperatures at least five times since 1987, Allen King, a retired geologist with the U.S. Forest Service told the newspaper.
The hot spot is located in steep, rugged terrain a few miles north of the town of Fillmore on land owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and leased by Seneca Resources Corp.
Officials who are familiar with the patch of land, which is near the large Sespe Oil Field, have come up with a few theories as to why the ground soared to 812 degrees fahrenheit on August 1.
One theory is that natural hydrocarbons, such as oil or gas, are burning deep in the earth and seeping out through cracks in the area, causing the surface to rapidly heat and generate smoke.
According to the Star, Allen King, a former geologist with the U.S. Forest Service recently stuck a thermometer into the ground and got a reading of 550 degrees — so hot that it melted the glue holding the sole of his boots together.
“After that we were more cautious about standing in one place for too long,” he said.
Researchers, who have been waiting 14 years for the world’s largest particle collider, will have to wait another few months to see any results in the Big Bang experiment since the machine will be shut down for repairs.
Less than two weeks after scientists with The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) switched on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), Reuters reported that they found a major helium leak on Friday into the tunnel housing the colossal machine.
To fix the collider, located under the Swiss-French border, that section of the tunnel will have to be warmed up from minus 456.3 degrees Fahrenheit and later cooled down again. The process would take around two months, a CERN spokesperson told Reuters.
Since the laboratory shuts down in the winter, starting in mid-November, the experiment won’t resume until spring of 2009.
Scientists had planned on using the enormous linear machine to accelerate two beams of protons to near light speed around its 17-mile chamber and then smash the particles into each other in hopes of creating concentrations of energy which they believe would mimic the seconds after the Big Bang.
Additionally, scientists hope to find evidence of the Higgs boson, also known as the God Particle, believed to add mass to matter.
The announcement of the Big Bang experiment had caused a stir among scientists, some of whom were intrigued and a few who thought the experiment would bring the end of the world. One group of scientists even filed suit in an attempt to block the launch of the experiment, which they said would create black holes that could suck the Earth inside-out.
Among Christians, the experiment excited a debate about whether a belief in God contradicted a belief that the Big Bang jump-started the universe.
Christians from Answers in Genesis, a group of Young-Earth Creationists - the view that God created the earth as detailed by the literal account of Genesis – dismissed the hype associated with the experiment and said it was impossible to re-create the Big Bang even if such an occurrence existed.
Other Christians said they saw no incompatibility with the theory of the Big Bang and the Bible’s account of God as the creator of the life and the universe, noting that science and faith doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive.
According to the New York Times, CERN officials said glitches are expected in such a large and complicated machine, which cost $8 billion to build.
Scientists have for the first time recorded individual brain cells in the act of summoning a spontaneous memory, revealing not only where a remembered experience is registered but how the brain is able to re-create it.
The recordings, taken from the brains of epilepsy patients being prepared for surgery, demonstrate that these spontaneous memories reside in some of the very same neurons that fired most furiously when the recalled event was first experienced. Researchers had long theorized that this was the case but until now had only indirect evidence.
The new study, experts said, has all but closed the case: Remembering, for the brain, is a lot like doing.
The experiment, being reported Friday in the journal Science, moved beyond most earlier memory research in that it focused not on recognition of objects or recall of specific words or symbols but on free recall - whatever popped into people’s heads when, in this case, they were asked to recall a series of short film clips they had just seen. Such memory often deteriorates quickly in people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and it is critical to so-called episodic memory: the rich catalog of vignettes that together form our remembered past.
“This is what I would call a foundational finding,” said Michael Kahana, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. “I cannot think of any recent study that’s comparable. It’s an important step in helping us fill in the detail of what exactly is happening when the brain performs this mental time travel” when summoning past experiences.
In the study, a team of American and Israeli researchers threaded tiny electrodes into the brains of 13 people with severe epilepsy. The electrodes allow the doctors to pinpoint the location of the mini-storms of brain activity that cause epileptic seizures.
The patients watches a series 5- to 10-second film clips, some from popular TV shows like “Seinfeld,” others depicting animals or landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower. The researchers recorded the firing activity of about 100 neurons during the viewing of repeated series of videos; the cells were concentrated in and around the hippocampus, a sliver of tissue deep in the brain that is known to be critical to forming new memories.
In each individual, the researchers identified single cells that became highly active during some videos and quiet during others. About half the recorded cells hummed with activity in response to at least one film clip, and responded weakly to another.
After distracting the patients for a few minutes, the researchers then asked the subjects to think about the clips for a minute and report “what comes to mind.” The patients remembered almost all of the clips. And, sure enough, when they recalled a specific one - say, a clip of Homer Simpson - the same cells that had been active during the Homer clip reignited. In fact, the cells became active a second or two before people were conscious of the memory.
In effect, the scientists could identify the specific memory before the patients could.
“There were all these distractions, these people were on a noisy ward, there’s a whole lot happening all around them, but still you see this absolutely robust response in the individual neurons,” said the senior author, Dr. Itzhak Fried, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Tel Aviv. His co-authors were Hagar Gelbard-Sagiv, Michal Harel and Rafael Malach of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel; and Roy Mukamel, of UCLA.
The single neurons firing most furiously during the film clips are not acting on their own; they are part of a circuit responding to the videos, perhaps a million other cells that are not being recorded, Fried said in a phone interview. “But it’s an astounding to see this in a single trial; the phenomenon is strong, and we were listening in the right place,” he added.
Single-cell recordings cannot capture the entire array of circuitry involved in memory, which may be widely distributed beyond the hippocampus area, experts said. And as time passes, memories are consolidated, submerged, perhaps retooled, and entirely reshaped when retrieved much later.
“But the exciting thing about this study,” Kahana said, “is that is gives us direct biological evidence of what before was almost entirely theoretical.”
SYDNEY, Australia — Marine scientists have discovered hundreds of new animal species on reefs in Australian waters, including brilliant soft corals and tiny crustaceans, according to findings released Thursday.
The creatures were found during expeditions run by the Australian chapter of CReefs, a global census of coral reefs that is one of several projects of the Census of Marine Life, an international effort to catalog all life in the oceans.
“People have been working at these places for a long time and still there are literally hundreds and hundreds of new species that no one has ever collected or described,” said Julian Caley, a scientist from the Australian Institute of Marine Science who is helping to lead the research.
“So in that sense, it’s very significant in that if we don’t understand what biodiversity is out there, we don’t have much of a chance of protecting it,” he said.
Scientists at several Australian museums have begun the complex process of working with the samples for genetic barcoding and taxonomy, the formal system of naming living things. That work is expected to take years, Caley said.
Among the creatures researchers found were about 130 soft corals — also known as octocorals, for the eight tentacles that fringe each polyp — that have never been described in scientific literature, and scores of similarly undescribed crustaceans, including tiny shrimp-like animals with claws longer than their bodies.
The 10-year census, scheduled for final publication in 2010, is supported by governments, divisions of the United Nations and private conservation organizations.
The Australian researchers conducted three expeditions, one each in the waters off the Great Barrier Reef’s Lizard and Heron islands, and one in the Ningaloo Reef, on Australia’s northwest coast.
Thousands of samples were collected during the three-week research trips, which took place between April and September.
Researchers plan to explore the three sites annually for the next six years to learn more about soft corals, which are poorly understood, despite making up a large part of the Great Barrier Reef.
Scientists are also looking to catalog how many animal species live on Australia’s coral reefs, how many are unique to the reefs and how they respond to human disturbance.
Researchers also pegged 36 plastic house-like structures to the ocean floor in various locations around the three sites. Animals are likely to be attracted to the structures and make them their home.
Researchers will go back and study the life inside each house over the next few years. The structures will also be placed in reefs in other parts of the world, providing a standardized method for studying marine life internationally, Caley said.
The project marks the first time any group has made a concerted effort to understand the biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef, said Ron Johnstone, a marine science professor at the University of Queensland who is familiar with the research.
The scientists’ findings could have direct benefits for humans, Johnstone said. Marine life is used in medicines, and the creatures could also provide clues as to how they cope with climate change and pollution — issues people wrangle with as well.
“Some people say, ‘Going out and collecting samples — of what value is that?”‘ he said. “It’s a bit like saying we don’t know what we have in the shop so we don’t know what we can use to survive, and at the same time we don’t know what bits of the machine fit together to make it work.”
A plaque cast of the skeletons of two sinornithomimus dinosaurs; in their rib cages are stomach stones and the remains of their last meals.
A plaque cast of the skeletons of two sinornithomimus dinosaurs; in their rib cages are stomach stones and the remains of their last meals.
BEIJING - Left on their own by adults, the young dinosaurs sank into the mud beside a lake and died 90 million years ago in what would become the Gobi Desert.
The well-preserved fossils, excavated by a team of Chinese and American scientists, offer a rare bounty of clues about how this herd of ostrich-like sinornithomimus lived - and died.
Two life-sized models of the sinornithomimus were put on public display for the first time Monday in Hohhot, capital of north China’s Inner Mongolia region.
“This is a very exciting discovery, because 99.9 percent of the time, we find a group of skeletons that died at different periods due to unknown causes,” said Paul Sereno, a University of Chicago professor on the excavation team. “The other 0.1 percent of the time, scientists consider themselves lucky to find small herds that have been well-preserved after floods or volcanic eruptions, similar to that of Pompeii.”
Italy’s famous city of Pompeii was buried - its way of life frozen in time- in the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79.
Sereno, a paleontologist, helped lead the 2001 expedition that uncovered the fossilized remains of the 25 young sinornithomimus near Suhongtu, a tiny, remote village in the Gobi desert about 370 miles (600 kilometers) west of Hohhot.
The position of the dinosaur bones suggests they were looking for water on the edge of a lake, got stuck and died as the mud engulfed them, Sereno said in a telephone interview.
Their hip bones were found at odd angles, indicating scavengers tugged at their carcasses. Crablike organisms were also found surrounding the skeletons, a clue that tells scientists they were covered in water shortly after death, which helped preserve them.
Tan Xinwei, a paleontologist from the Inner Mongolia Department of Land and Resources who also worked on the expedition, said the findings tell researchers that “the youngsters were left to fend for themselves while the adults were preoccupied” with hatching eggs or building nests.
The two-legged, feathered dinosaurs reached about 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall as adults and scavenged for small plants by jutting out their long necks in an ostrich-like fashion, Sereno said.
Xu Xing, a professor at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, called the findings “an important discovery” that could only have happened under a unique set of circumstances.
“Without the correct environmental conditions, these fossils would not have been found in nearly pristine condition - uncrushed or worn down,” said Xu, who was not involved with the project.
The bones were spotted in 1978 by a Chinese geologist and first excavated by a Sino-Japanese team some 20 years later. That team named the dinosaurs sinornithomimus, or “Chinese bird mimic.”
It wasn’t until 2001 that researchers were able to unearth all 25 skeletons and examine their findings.
The sinornithomimus skeletons were brought to the University of Chicago for research and preservation but will return to China by the end of the year.
The 10-member expedition and research team included scientists from the University of Chicago, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Montana State University, the University of Michigan and Inner Mongolia’s Department of Land and Resources. It was financed by the National Geographic Society.
A MYSTERIOUS giant spiral of light that dominated the sky over Norway this morning has stunned experts — who believe the space spectacle is an entirely new astral phenomenon.
Thousands of awe-struck Norwegians bombarded the Meteorological Institute to ask what the incredible light — that could be seen in the pre-dawn sky for hundreds of miles — could possibly be.
The phenomenon has been dubbed ‘Star-Gate’ — as the world’s top scientists and the military lined up to admit they were baffled.
Theories ranging from a misfired Russian missile, meteor fireball, never-before-seen type of northern light, ‘black hole’ and even alien activity were all proposed.
Witnesses across Norway, who first glimpsed the space show at 8.45am, all described seeing a spinning ‘Catherine wheel-style’ spiral of white light, centred around a bright moon-like star.
A blue “streaming tail” appeared to anchor the spiral to earth, before the light “exploded” into a rotating ring of white fire.
The spiral spectacle — which lasted for two minutes — was seen by vast swathes of the Scandinavian country’s almost five million population, with sightings as far north as Finnmark to Trondelag in the south.
Totto Eriksen, from Tromso, in northern Norway, was one of the thousands who bombarded Norwegian newspapers with sightings — after nearly crashing his car on spotting the spiral overhead.
He said: “I was driving my daughter to school when this light spun and exploded in the sky.
“We saw it from the Inner Harbour in Tromso. It looked like a rocket that spun around and around - and then went diagonally across the heavens.
“It looked like the moon was coming over the mountain - but then turned into something totally different.
“People just stopped and stared on the pier - it was like something from a Hollywood movie.”
Axel Berg, from Alta, also in the north of the country, added: “It was like a giant spiral - a shooting star that spun around and around.
“I initially thought it was a projector but then the ‘tail light’ left and the spiral remained spinning still.”
Norway’s most celebrated astronomer, Knut Jorgen Roed Odegaard, said he had never seen anything like the spiral before.
He said: “This was seen over an exceptionally large area of the country - in all of north Norway and the Trondelag.
“My first thought was that it was a fireball meteor - but it lasted far too long.
“It may have been a missile from Russia - but I can’t guarantee that is the answer.
“I rang the Air Traffic Control tower in Tromse. They said it was over in two minutes. To me, that is far too long for this to be an astronomical phenomenon.
“This spiral shape is unique. It is definitely not a variation of the aurora borealis - northern lights.”
Chief Scientist Erik Tandberg, at the Norwegian Space Centre, said that he too was “totally amazed” by the spiral.
He agreed with many other experts that the spiral pattern could have been caused by a missile from Russia — something the Russian military have strongly denied.
Dr Tandberg said: “I agree with everyone in the science community that this light was the weirdest thing. I have never seen anything like this ever.
“It may have been anything from an exploding missile whose launch went wrong - to a comet or other celestial object that for some reason has been behaving strangely.
“If it was a missile - most likely from the launch base in Pletsevsk in Russia or one of the Russian submarines or even from the European Space Agency base in Kiruna - then we are talking about a rocket launch that has gone wrong.
“The spiral suggests the object came off course and balance and entered the spiral movement. Leaking rocket fuel could account for the blue light.
“But I know that the military have denied this explanation. So we could be looking at an entirely new natural phenomenon.”
Meanwhile, Nick Pope, former UFO analyst for the Ministry of Defence, yesterday added that the Norwegian sighting was a “real mystery”.
He said: “My first thought was this was a meteor, a fireball, or debris from an old satellite burning up in the earth’s atmosphere.
“But the spiral motion makes this unlikely. This is truly bizarre. It’s a real mystery.
“A meteor or a fireball would simply travel in a straight line but for something to spiral in this way appears to go against the laws of physics.
“Some may think it is the Northern Lights but they illuminate the sky with a green glow.
“This is completely different from any image of the Northern Lights that I have ever seen.
“It’s ironic that something like this should happen the very week after the MoD terminated its UFO project. It just goes to show how wrong that decision was.”
A strange light phenomenon is seen in the night sky above Skjervoy in northern Norway early Wednesday Dec. 9, 2009. According to some reports, the unexplained light may have been caused by the failure of a new Russian anti-submarine-based intercontinental missile which was being tested across the Norwegian-Russian border.
A spectacular spiral of light was seen over the north of the country on Wednesday, prompting theories it was caused by a meteor, the Northern Lights or even aliens.
But now Russia has revealed that its latest test-firing of its new intercontinental missile ended in failure — at the same time observers witnessed the early morning light show.
As well as signaling a major setback for the country’s armed forces, the revelation provided a possible explanation for the mysterious display in the skies.
Russia’s defense ministry refuses to confirme that the lights were caused by its Bulava missile, which can be equipped with up to 10 individually targeted nuclear warheads and has a maximum range of 5,000 miles.
But defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said the images seen over Norway were consistent with a missile failure.
“Such lights and clouds appear from time to time when a missile fails in the upper layers of the atmosphere and have been reported before,” he said. “At least this failed test made some nice fireworks for the Norwegians.”
The botched launch was the twelfth test of the Bulava and its eighth failure, which deals another blow to Kremlin’s hopes that the sea-based weapon would become a cornerstone of its nuclear arsenal.
“They will have to spend quite a long time trying to make it working,” said Alexander Konovalov, the head of the Moscow-based Institute of Strategic Assessment. “That is fraught with very negative consequences, up to the loss of the sea-based component of the Russian nuclear forces,” he said.
The ministry said that a government commission was looking into the possible reasons behind the test failure.
Technology Web site Gizmodo has created a computer simulation showing how a rocket spiralling out of control could create such a display.
Bloom Energy’s fuel cells are flat, solid ceramic squares made from a common sand-like “powder” and are painted with patented inks to create anode (green) and cathode (black) sides. Each fuel cell represents 25 watts of power or enough for one lightbulb.
At a press conference Wednesday, Silicon Valley startup Bloom Energy showed off its new, heavily hyped technology, which harnesses chemical reactions to create energy. The company’s mission: to revolutionize the world’s fuel sources.
Bloom’s main product is the Bloom Energy Server, a generator based around a smart new fuel cell technology. Fuel cells rely upon chemical reactions to generate energy rather than fossil fuels, and as such are considered cleaner, more affordable, and more reliable than the traditional energy sources.
Fuel cell technology has been under development for decades, primarily concentrating on chemical reactions using hydrogen — an element that can be volatile and difficult to store. Bloom’s fuel cell technology is fundamentally different, running on a wide range of renewable or traditional fuels.
The technology has roots in NASA’s Mars space program, where Dr. KR Sridhar, principal co-founder and CEO of Bloom Energy, was charged with building technology to help sustain life on Mars. His mandate: Use solar energy and water to produce air to breathe and fuel for transportation.
Sridhar’s invention converts air and nearly any fuel source — ranging from natural gas to a wide range of biogases — into electricity via a clean electrochemical process, rather than dirty combustion. Even running on a fossil fuel, the systems are approximately 67% cleaner than a typical coal-fired power plant, explains Bloom. When powered by a renewable fuel, the company’s Energy Server can be 100% cleaner. Each Energy Server consists of thousands of Bloom’s fuel cells, flat, solid ceramic squares made from a common sand-like “powder.”
Silicon Valley startup Bloom Energy just unveiled its new, heavily hyped technology, which harnesses chemical reactions to create energy. Here’s how it works
Bloom Energy Fuel Servers are shown installed at eBay’s headquarters.
Bloom Energy states that to date, Bloom Energy Servers, currently in deployment for several Fortune 500 companies, have produced more than 11 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity, with CO2 reductions estimated at 14 million pounds.
The technology industry breathlessly watched and waited for Wednesday’s unveiling. John Doerr, a partner at investment firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Bloom Energy board member, shared in the hype.
“For years, there have been promises of new energy solutions that are clean, distributed, affordable, and reliable; today we learn that Bloom, formerly in stealth, has actually delivered,” he said. “Americans want clean, affordable, energy, 24x7 — and all the jobs that go with it. Bloom’s boxes are a breakthrough, serving energy, serving demanding customers, and serving our country.”
The company’s customers seem to echo Doerr’s enthusiasm, many of which are leading businesses. Coca-Cola, Cox, eBay, FedEx, Google, Staples, and more have been running the Energy Servers.
Coke’s 500kW installation at its Odwalla plant in Dinuba, CA, will run on re-directed biogas and is expected to provide 30% of the plant’s power needs while reducing its carbon footprint by an estimated 35%.
“This new fuel cell technology has great promise and represents an important step for Coca-Cola in continuing to grow our business without growing the carbon footprint,” said Brian Kelley, President and General Manager, Coca-Cola North America. He noted that the Bloom Servers can help the company reduce carbon emissions while improving efficiency and using cleaner forms of energy.”
In a video shown at the event, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rogers, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others raved about the new innovation.
Mayor Bloomberg said he was excited from the first time he saw the technology in action: “My first reaction was this was a company guaranteed for greatness.”
“When we look at Bloom Energy,” he added, “we are looking at the future of business, at the future of the economy, at the future of America.”
It’s being touted as “a Genesis machine” – the Large Hadron Collider, which on Tuesday forced two proton beams to cross in an effort to bring scientists one “huge step” closer to seeing how the creation of the universe might have looked like.
“It’s a great day to be a particle physicist,” commented Rolf Heuer, director of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), which used the LHC’s powerful superconducting magnets to collide the two proton beams.
With the record-shattering collision energies created Tuesday, scientists say the hunt has officially begun for dark matter, new forces, new dimensions and the Higgs boson, a hypothetical particle — often called the God particle — that scientists theorize gives mass to other particles and thus to other objects and creatures in the universe.
They say results from Tuesday’s proton collisions by the world’s largest atom smasher and the upcoming lead-ion collisions later this year will give them new insights into the nature of the strong interaction and the evolution of matter in the early Universe.
“We’ll address soon some of the major puzzles of modern physics like the origin of mass, the grand unification of forces and the presence of abundant dark matter in the universe,” reported Guido Tonelli, spokesperson of the Compact Muon Solenoid(CMS) experiment, one LHC’s four major experiments. “I expect very exciting times in front of us.”
CERN scientists have tried twice before to get the LHC to begin colliding subatomic particles but had to postpone due to electrical failures.
For over 15 years, scientists have been looking forward to using the LHC to accelerate two beams of protons to near light speed around its 17-mile chamber and then smash the particles into each other in hopes of creating concentrations of energy which they believe would mimic the seconds after the Big Bang.
On Tuesday, protons were accelerated to more than 99% of the speed of light and to energy levels of 3.5 trillion electron volts apiece.
“A lot of people have waited a long time for this moment,” commented Heuer on Tuesday, “but their patience and dedication is starting to pay dividends.”
Over the next 18 to 24 months, CERN plans to run the LHC with the objective of delivering enough data to the experiments to make significant advances across a wide range of physics channels.
As soon as they have “re-discovered” the known Standard Model particles, a necessary precursor to looking for new physics, the LHC experiments will start the systematic search for the Higgs boson with the hope of gaining insights into the nature of the strong interaction and the evolution of matter in the early Universe.
“The LHC has a real chance over the next two years of discovering supersymmetric particles,” explained Heuer, “and possibly giving insights into the composition of about a quarter of the Universe.”
Headquartered in Geneva, CERN is the world’s leading laboratory for particle physics. At present, its member states are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
India, Israel, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, Turkey, the European Commission and UNESCO have observer status.
TORONTO (AP) — A Canadian-based ecologist said Friday that he has located the world’s largest beaver dam in northwestern Canada using Google satellite technology.
Ecologist Jean Thie located the 2,788-foot (850-meter) dam using Google Earth and NASA technology while researching the rate of melting permafrost in the country’s far north.
Situated in northern Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park, which straddles the Alberta-Northwest Territories border, the dam stretches more than eight football fields long, said Thie.
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw it — it’s a vast, vast area. There may be longer dams out there, but this, by far, is the largest I have seen so far. And, it would not have been possible to view it without something like Google Earth,” said Thie.
Thie told The Associated Press the detailed satellite program helped him conclude the dam was the work of beavers — which, incidentally, are the country’s national symbol.
Thie discovered the dam in 2007, but he said it only recently caught media attention after someone at a British paper spotted his findings on a blog and ran a story reiterating Thie’s claim that the dam is visible from space. Thie stakes that claim because he used satellite technology to detect the dam.
“It might be hard to believe, but there are a few things that are visible from space, and beaver dams are among the few animal-made structures that are,” said Thie.
Park spokesman Mike Keizer said the dam sits in a corner of a park “the size of Switzerland” in an area surrounded by heavily forested marshland.
Keizer flew over the beaver dam, but said there was no safe place to land anywhere nearby because it’s either overly boggy or the foliage is too dense.
Using past images and park aerial photography, Thie concluded that the eager beavers began their work in the 1970s and that generations of the rodents have worked on it since.
“This was the work of extended families,” said Thie, who is the president of EcoInformatics, a science research company.
WASHINGTON — Scientists announced a bold step Thursday in the enduring quest to create artificial life. They’ve produced a living cell powered by manmade DNA.
While such work can invoke images of Frankenstein-like scientific tinkering, it also is exciting hopes that it could eventually lead to new fuels, better ways to clean polluted water, faster vaccine production and more.
Is it really an artificial life form?
The inventors call it the world’s first synthetic cell, although this initial step is more a re-creation of existing life — changing one simple type of bacterium into another — than a built-from-scratch kind.
But Maryland genome-mapping pioneer J. Craig Venter said his team’s project paves the way for the ultimate, much harder goal: designing organisms that work differently from the way nature intended for a wide range of uses. Already he’s working with ExxonMobil in hopes of turning algae into fuel.
“This is the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer,” Venter told reporters.
And the report, being published Friday in the journal Science, is triggering excitement in this growing field of synthetic biology.
“It’s been a long time coming, and it was worth the wait,” said Dr. George Church, a Harvard Medical School genetics professor. “It’s a milestone that has potential practical applications.”
Scientists for years have moved single genes and even large chunks of DNA from one species to another. At his J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Md., and San Diego, Venter’s team aimed to go further. A few years ago, the researchers transplanted an entire natural genome — the genetic code — of one bacterium into another and watched it take over, turning a goat germ into a cattle germ.
Next, the researchers built from scratch another, smaller bacterium’s genome, using off-the-shelf laboratory-made DNA fragments.
Friday’s report combines those two achievements to test a big question: Could synthetic DNA really take over and drive a living cell? Somehow, it did.
“This is transforming life totally from one species into another by changing the software,” said Venter, using a computer analogy to explain the DNA’s role.
The researchers picked two species of a simple germ named Mycoplasma. First, they chemically synthesized the genome of M. mycoides, that goat germ, which with 1.1 million “letters” of DNA was twice as large as the germ genome they’d previously built.
Then they transplanted it into a living cell from a different Mycoplasma species, albeit a fairly close cousin.
At first, nothing happened. The team scrambled to find out why, creating a genetic version of a computer proofreading program to spell-check the DNA fragments they’d pieced together. They found that a typo in the genetic code was rendering the manmade DNA inactive, delaying the project three months to find and restore that bit.
“It shows you how accurate it has to be, one letter out of a million,” Venter said.
That fixed, the transplant worked. The recipient cell started out with synthetic DNA and its original cytoplasm, but the new genome “booted up” that cell to start producing only proteins that normally would be found in the copied goat germ. The researchers had tagged the synthetic DNA to be able to tell it apart, and checked as the modified cell reproduced to confirm that new cells really looked and behaved like M. mycoides.
“All elements in the cells after some amount of time can be traced to this initial artificial DNA. That’s a great accomplishment,” said biological engineer Ron Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Even while praising the accomplishment — “biomolecular engineering of the highest order,” declared David Deamer of the University of California, Santa Cruz — many specialists say the work hasn’t yet crossed the line of truly creating new life from scratch.
It’s partially synthetic, some said, because Venter’s team had to stick the manmade genetic code inside a living cell from a related species. That cell was more than just a container; it also contained its own cytoplasm — the liquid part.
In other words, the synthetic part was “running on the ‘hardware’ of the modern cell,” University of Southern Denmark physics professor Steen Rasmussen wrote in the journal Nature, which on Thursday released essays of both praise and caution from eight leaders in the field.
The environmental group Friends of the Earth said the new work took “genetic engineering to an extreme new level” and urged that Venter stop until government regulations are put in place to protect against these kind of engineered microbes escaping into the environment.
Venter said he removed 14 genes thought to make the germ dangerous to goats before doing the work, and had briefed government officials about the work over the course of several years — acknowledging that someone potentially could use this emerging field for harm instead of good.
But MIT’s Weiss said it would be far easier to use existing technologies to make bioweapons: “There’s a big gap between science fiction and what your imagination can do and the reality in research labs.”
Venter founded Synthetic Genomics Inc., a privately held company that funded the work, and his research institute has filed patents on it.
Research scientists announced on Monday they had identified the missing piece of a major puzzle involving the make-up of the universe by observing a neutrino particle change from one type to another.
The CERN physics research center near Geneva, relaying the announcement from the Gran Sasso laboratory in central Italy, said the breakthrough was a major boost for its own LHC particle collider program to unveil key secrets of the cosmos.
According to physicists at Gran Sasso, after three years of monitoring multiple billions of “muon” neutrinos beamed to them through the earth from CERN 456 miles away, they had spotted one that had turned into a “tau” neutrino.
Behind that scientific terminology lies the long-sought proof that the three varieties of neutrinos — sub-atomic particles that with others form the universe’s basic elements — can switch appearance, like the chameleon lizard.
The discovery is important, scientists say, because it helps explain why neutrinos arrive at earth from the sun in apparently far smaller numbers than they should under the Standard Model of physics that has held sway for some 80 years.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s largest scientific machine. Built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) at a cost of $10 billion the atom smasher, intended to enact the conditions of the “Big Bang,” has worked only nine days and has yet to smash an atom, but CERN plans to restart the collider in November in hopes of unlocking secrets of the universe.
The fact that neutrinos are now proven to switch identities — as posited by two Moscow scientists in the late 1960s based on earlier work by a U.S. physicist — suggests that other types of neutrinos could exist but slip detection.
LIGHT ON DARK MATTER
In its turn, specialists say, this could help shed light on what is the dark matter that makes up about a quarter of the universe alongside the some 5% that is observable and the remaining 70% invisible “dark energy.”
“This is really exciting because it shows that there are things beyond the Standard Model,” said James Gillies, spokesman for CERN — the European Organization for Nuclear Research on the border between Switzerland and France.
The search for concrete evidence of dark matter and of what it might be is part of the work of CERN’s LHC, or Large Hardon Collider, the world’s biggest scientific machine that began operation near full force at the end of March.
But the beaming of muon neutrinos to the Italian center is not part of the LHC experiment. The beam is directed south under the Alps from another, smaller, CERN particle accelerator.
CERN quoted Lucia Votano, director of the Gran Sasso laboratories near the town of L’Aquila 112 kms south of Rome that was hit by a devastating earthquake in April last year, as saying that its work had achieved its first goal.
Scientists there were confident that the detection in the centre’s OPERA experiment of a tau neutrino would be followed by others showing that neutrinos can change, she said.
Work on the behavior of neutrinos has already brought Nobel prizes to late U.S. scientist Ray Davies, who first recorded in the 1960s that fewer were coming from the sun than current theories of the universe predicted.
He shared the prize in 2002, at the age of 87 and 4 years before his death, with fellow U.S. researcher Ricardo Giacconi and Japanese physicist Masatoshi Koshiba for the contribution to astrophysics.
There’s something in the faces of brown-eyed white men that makes them come off as more dominant than their blue-eyed peers, a new study suggests. And it isn’t their eye color.
Czech researchers asked a group of 62 people to look at photos of 80 faces — 40 men and 40 women — and rate them for dominance. Then the investigators Photoshopped the faces so the brown eyes were replaced with blue ones and vice versa. A separate group of participants rated the altered images for dominance.
The results were the same in both cases: Faces of brown-eyed men were rated more dominant than those of blue-eyed men, even when their eyes weren’t brown.
The effect, which didn’t hold for female faces, may have something to do with the shape of brown-eyed men’s faces, said study researcher Karel Kleisner of Charles University in Prague. On average, brown-eyed men had broader chins and mouths, larger noses, more closely spaced eyes and larger eyebrows than blue-eyed men.
More mysterious is why eye color would be so closely associated with facial type, the researchers say.
“It’s really quite a surprising finding and certainly not one I would necessarily [have] expected,” said psychologist Benedict Jones of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, who was not involved in the study.
Jones said it would be important for other researchers to investigate the link to be sure it isn’t “an idiosyncrasy of this particular sample of face images.”
Researchers believe blue eyes didn’t exist until sometime between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago, when a genetic mutation emerged that reduced production of the brown pigment melanin in the iris. Before that, everyone had brown eyes.
There are now half a dozen different genes that influence whether someone will have blue or brown eyes. One possibility, according to the researchers, is that these same genes that confer eye color have other effects on the body or are in close proximity to other genes that do, such as those that regulate the production of testosterone. If two genes are close together on a chromosome, they are more likely to be found together in the same individual.
Kleiner said the “most elegant” explanation would be that children are treated differently depending on their eye color, and that this treatment leaves a lasting effect on their bodies.
“It is possible that subjects with blue eyes are treated as [small children] for a longer period than brown-eyed children,” he and his colleagues write in the July issue of the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
Previous studies have found that blue-eyed boys of preschool age were more inhibited than boys with brown eyes. Although the effect seemed to go away within a few years, a person’s social standing can alter their hormonal balance, which could have lasting effects on face shape, Kleisner said.
Kleisner said it’s conceivable that women’s sexual choices could be enhancing the link between eye color and face shape. He and his colleagues point to evidence that women have competing preferences for dominant males as sexual partners and less dominant males as mates. Men with intermediate features might get left out of the mating game.
Electric-car fever is rising again.
Battery-powered-sports-car maker Tesla Motors Inc. just launched one of the hottest initial public offerings in years. Nissan Motor Co.’s electric Leaf is generating buzz ahead of its scheduled December debut and has 16,000 advance orders. President Barack Obama plans to visit an electric car battery factory in Michigan Thursday to promote the government’s $2.4 billion program of grants to subsidize development of electric-vehicle technology.
And of course, the catastrophic Gulf oil spill is reviving anxiety over the national addiction to oil.
So, it’s all systems go for a future in which most of our driving doesn’t depend on fossil fuels, right?
Not so fast.
To appreciate the obstacles standing in the way of the electric-car dream, you don’t need to talk to electric-vehicle skeptics or hybrid haters. Instead, you can listen to the people who believe in electric vehicles, and are investing in those beliefs.
Proponents of the technology will tell you that anyone buying an electric vehicle will want to know at least two things: How far can I drive before I have to recharge? And, where can I go to recharge when I am on the road, far from home? Companies acknowledge that clear answers to those questions aren’t yet available—and may not be until a good while after the coming flock of electric cars has hit showrooms.
Tesla Motors outlines as part of its public-offering documents a lengthy recitation of risks to its business. It’s sobering reading for electric-vehicle enthusiasts. One of the concerns Tesla raises is that the Environmental Protection Agency is looking at new ways to measure how far electric cars can go before they need to be recharged. The aim is to make the advertised range figures better reflect how people drive their cars in the real world. Some of the new test methods the EPA is considering could require electric-vehicle companies to reduce the advertised range of their vehicles by as much as 30%.
The EPA won’t comment on its rule-making. Tesla currently tells people who buy its $101,500 Roadsters that they can expect to drive as many as 245 miles between charges, a figure company officials say is based on existing EPA tests. (Their reasoning is explained here: www.teslamotors.com/blog/roadster-efficiency-and-range.) Tesla has sold about 1,000 Roadsters since 2008.
Nissan has told prospective buyers of the Leaf that they can expect to drive up to 100 miles on a charge. “Up to” is a critical qualifier in the electric-vehicle business, given how cold temperatures, speed, the power drain from air conditioners and other factors can cut into battery life.
If electric-vehicle marketers are forced to scale back their advertised range figures, it could diminish the number of potential buyers. But large numbers of customers getting stuck by the side of the road with a dead battery because they believed exaggerated range claims would be worse.
The best solution would be a consistent, easy-to-understand federal standard that produces range figures that correspond with real-world experience. That could take a while for the EPA and industry to develop. So consumers who jump to buy a Tesla, Leaf or other electric models coming in the next couple of years will likely have to make purchase decisions without the comfort of a clear federal standard.
Then there’s the “where-to-charge” issue.
That’s a top-of-mind issue for Shai Agassi, a former software executive who founded Better Place, a Palo Alto, Calif., company that is best known for developing a system for rapidly swapping the batteries out of specially designed electric vehicles so that motorists can drive with fresh batteries while the old ones recharge. The system is designed to eliminate the need for vehicle owners on long trips to wait for hours while their batteries charge up.
Better Place also plans to offer recharging stations for electric vehicles that aren’t designed for the battery-swapping system. The company earlier this year secured a $350 million fresh round of funding from an investor group led by HSBC Holdings PLC. The company has charging stations in Israel and Denmark and in October 2008 announced a deal to build charging stations in Australia. The company also has agreements with Renault SA and Chinese auto maker Chery Automobile to develop cars that can use the company’s battery-swapping systems.
In the U.S., Better Place plans to develop a charging network in Hawaii. It also has announced a plan to develop a $1 billion network of charging stations in California. A company spokeswoman says the first of the charge stations could be up and running later this year.
Mr. Agassi says it would cost between $5 billion and $10 billion to outfit the major travel corridors of the U.S. with Better Place charging and battery-swap stations. That’s the equivalent of “one week’s worth of gasoline,” he says.
So why isn’t he doing it? Because when he talks to investors about bankrolling a big play in the U.S., they tell him, “let’s do Holland,” he says. That’s because gasoline in the home of the World Cup runner-up team is two to three times the price in the U.S., which makes the electric alternative more attractive.
“The only way to get off oil is with a system that’s cheaper than gasoline, and more convenient than gasoline,” he says. “I can’t raise the investment in the U.S. to put this (Better Place) on the ground.”
Auto makers have called on the government to make it easier for utilities and others to build public charging stations. A bill proposed by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D., N.D.) and others proposes spending $10 billion in federal money to boost electric-vehicle adoption, including offering subsidies for public charging stations and $2,000 tax credits for people who install in-home charging systems. In the current political climate, it’s not clear Congress will agree to spend taxpayers’ money to make it easier for electric-vehicle early adopters to charge their rides.
Stephen Hawking, the world’s most famous scientist, was welcomed on Sunday to a new research position in Waterloo marking a major push by the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics to establish itself as a leading global force in an arcane science.
Director Neil Turok’s hiring of Prof. Hawking from Cambridge last year, following his retirement as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, is the kind of move that university presidents dream about, and Prof. Hawking did not disappoint the palpably proud crowd in this university town.
He spoke of the value of an inspiring and free intellectual environment where top minds can pursue ambitious and timely research, leading to “magical progress.” He situated modern Waterloo in a historical tradition of great places in physics, comparable to Einstein’s Berlin in 1920, and Cambridge in the 1960s, when Prof. Hawking sketched the beginnings of the universe.
“I am hoping and expecting great things will happen here,” he said. He did not mention the recent public quarrels he has had with the British government over research funding cuts. His optimism about questions that now seem impossible —like how to unify gravity and quantum mechanics — underscored a banner day for science in Canada. Prof. Hawking’s arrival for the first of several research sessions is the revenge of the nerds on a cosmological scale, with a satellite uplink, three federal Cabinet ministers, a premier, and Kevin O’Leary from Dragon’s Den.
“Please turn off your Black-Berries,” said the emcee. In other theatres, they call them phones. But this was the Mike Lazaridis Theatre of Ideas, in the heart of BlackBerry country, and in the front row was Mr. Lazaridis himself, the Lenohaired RIM billionaire who founded Perimeter in 2000.
“You could say he is drawing a picture of god,” said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty in his introduction of Prof. Hawking. He compared him to Newton and Galileo as people who radicallymovedour understanding of the universe, and to Thomas More as “a man for all seasons.” Before Prof. Hawking’s lecture surveying his career in science, Mr. Lazaridis put a commercial spin on all the talk of high theory. He described Prof. Hawking as an “entrepreneur” in the tradition of Einstein, whose research unleashed a flood of “value creation.”
“We are at the point where new ideas are needed if we are to secure our future,” he said. Unable to move or speak due to the crippling effects of motor neurone disease, Prof. Hawking delivered his remarks using the talking computer designed for him by a Cambridge colleague.
He described his fateful decision as a young graduate to focus on cosmology and quantum mechanics, which were ripe for progress, rather than particle physics. “I am glad I did not go into elementary particle physics, because none of my work from that period would have survived,” he said.
He also said he was relieved in a way that he never got to study with his icon, the astronomer Fred Hoyle, famous for derisively coining the term Big Bang. It was just as well, he said, or else he would probably have had to defend Hoyle’s view of a steady state universe, without a beginning, which was disproved by the discovery of the microwave background radiation, the so called lingering flash of the Big Bang.
With his disease stable, the young Prof. Hawking ended up working with Roger Penrose, with whom he eventually shared the prestigious Wolf Prize for Physics for, as the citation said, “their brilliant development of the theory of general relativity, in which they have shown the necessity for cosmological singularities and have elucidated the physics of black holes. In this work they have greatly enlarged our understanding of the origin and possible fate of the Universe.”
“It was a glorious feeling to have the field all to ourselves, how unlike particle physics where people were falling all over themselves trying to latch on to the latest idea. They still are,” Prof. Hawking said.
Black holes are the result of matter being condensed by gravity to an infinitely hot and dense point called a singularity. To Prof. Hawking, they became a window on the universe at its most extreme, as it once was in the beginning, at the moment of the Big Bang. Before he was named the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, a chair once held by Isaac Newton, Prof. Hawking had a bumper sticker on his office door, “Black Holes are Out of Sight!” It is a sly joke, because black holes by definition emit no light at all, and swallow everything that comes their way. He also jokes that his gravestone will be marked with the black hole entropy formula, which he describes as an elegant arrangement of the speed of light, Planck’s constant and Newton’s constant.
What that means to science is that black holes leak radiation, and will eventually disappear. What it meant for the rest of humanity, was that science had described the beginning of the universe. In the years since, attention has shifted to theories according to which that beginning was neither the first nor the last, and the universe endlessly cycles between Big Bangs and Big Crunches.
Prof. Hawking has been in the news lately for arguing that mankind should not try to contact aliens because they are likely to be as dangerous to us as Europeans were to the indigenous peoples of pre-contact America, but he did not mention that on Sunday.
By R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
From time to time, a column in a newspaper is more revealing than its author probably intended it to be. That seems to be the case with “Myths Widen the Science-Religion Divide” by Elaine Howard Ecklund, published in the July 19, 2010 edition of USA Today. In her essay, Professor Ecklund suggests that science and religion can enter into a constructive dialogue. But a closer look at her essay reveals that this dialogue, at least as it involves most Christians, is a one-way street.
Elaine Howard Ecklund teaches sociology at Rice University and is the author of a recently-released book, Science vs Religion: What Scientists Really Think. In her USA Today column, Professor Ecklund argues, based on her extensive research, that “the conversation between science and religion is besieged by misunderstanding and myths on both sides.”
As she continues her argument:
Some of the assumptions of the present science-religion debates simply do not hold up under the weight of research data. Dispelling myths about religious and scientific communities could lay the groundwork for a new kind of dialogue - one based more on serious thinking and scholarship than caricature.
Any serious person will prefer serious thinking and scholarship to caricature, and Professor Ecklund has indeed provided much food for thought. Her column is interesting, but her book is far more important and substantial.
In USA Today, Professor Ecklund attempted to correct the view she says is held by many religious believers - that scientists are predominately secular and antagonistic to theistic faith. Many believers, she says, “hold scientists at arm’s length, believing that they are all atheists who are interested in attacking religion and the religious community.”
In conducting her research, Professor Ecklund surveyed 1,700 natural and social scientists and conducted interviews with 275 of them. Her research is most interesting as it focuses on “elite” scientists who have particular influence. In order to set the record straight, in her column she shared some of the data from her research. She reports that 30% of scientists are atheists. She concedes that this is “a much larger percentage than the general population.”
This is what we can only call a gross understatement. According to the authoritative study undertaken by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, about 5% of Americans report themselves as not believing in any deity, but only a quarter of those actually call themselves atheists. In other words, the scientists Professor Ecklund surveyed reported themselves to be atheists at a rate at least six times the national average - and perhaps at a rate even much higher than that.
She says that “fewer than 6% of atheist scientists are working against religion,” but the reader is left to wonder exactly what this is supposed to mean. Presumably it means that few elite scientists follow the model of Richard Dawkins in spending a great deal of their time attempting to argue against the danger of theism. That certainly does not leave the rest friendly to belief in God . . . or to believers.
Professor Ecklund reports that about half of all scientists report themselves to be religious in some sense, and some 20% are involved in some house of worship. “Top scientists are sitting in our country’s churches, temples, and mosques,” she asserts.
Well, a closer look at her research indicates that these “top scientists” are rather thin on the ground in more conservative sectors of Christianity. Consider her report that “there are 14 times more self-identified evangelicals in the general population than among the scientists at our nation’s top universities.”
In her book, Professor Ecklund provides a wealth of data and analysis that, in general, casts her column in a quite different light. For example, she reports that “scientists in general are much less likely than are members of the general population to identify as part of a traditional religion.” Fully 50% of the scientists she surveyed reported themselves as having no religious affiliation, compared to 16% of the general population.
Only about 2% of these scientists identified as evangelical Christians. Far more reported themselves as Jewish, but defined more by tradition than theistic belief.
“On the whole, scientists tend to view themselves as religiously liberal,” she acknowledges. And in another understated passage, she reports this: “When we hold this liberalism alongside the fact that scientists at elite U.S. research universities are the least likely to be evangelicals (at least to label themselves so), and that evangelicalism is heavily represented in the general population, we see that scientists who care about translating science to a general public might need a lot of help to do so effectively.” You think?
She writes that “it is virtually impossible to find a group of Americans who do not believe in God,” but she concedes that only 36% of these elite scientists “have some form of a belief in God.” That would seem to leave 64% without any such belief.
Scientists who do have some belief in God tend to have what Professor Ecklund describes as a “closeted faith.” She explains that “religious scientists generally tried to keep their faith to themselves because of the perception that other faculty in their departments think poorly of religious people and religious ideas.” The result is “a strong culture of suppression.”
Well, if Professor Ecklund was trying to counter the “myth” that science is basically secular and antagonistic to theistic belief, she had better hope that people read her USA Today article and not her book.
In the other angle of her argument, Professor Ecklund reports in her article that “scholars are also finding that evangelical Christianity is not as detrimental to acquiring scientific knowledge as they once thought.”
Really? In both the book and her article, this argument seems to come down to the fact that the price of being considered “not as detrimental to acquiring scientific knowledge as . . . once thought” is the embrace of evolution and the relinquishment of objections to human embryonic stem cell research.
When it comes to the big public battles over science and faith, this professor clearly sides with the scientists. In fact, both the book and her article are cast as an effort to help scientists make their arguments more plausible (and to protect their research funding) in the context of a nation with so many evangelical believers.
The great obstacle - evangelical parents. Professor Ecklund laments that “many young Americans may not be learning what they should about science because their religious upbringing poses a barrier.” In her book she argues that many younger Americans “are not learning what they should about science because their parents’ quarrels and impasses are holding them back from studying topics like evolution or from pursuing science careers (out of fear that such pursuits are incompatible with their religious beliefs).”
Once again, if Professor Ecklund hopes that younger Americans will think otherwise, she had better hope that these kids don’t read her book.
We are in debt to Professor Ecklund for her massive and persuasive research as documented and presented in her book, even if her USA Today article seems to be a deliberate attempt to tell only part of the story.
Her research leaves us with much to consider, but one big message comes through loud and clear - evangelical Christians who seek a better public conversation with elite science had better know in advance that it is a one-way street.
By Chuck Colson
Many of today’s most contentious issues are framed as conflicts between scientific objectivity on one side, and irrational belief on the other. Whether it’s embryonic stem-cell research, genetic engineering, or global warming, the argument is the same: People who raise objections are “anti-science,”driven by ideology, while those on the other side are disinterested seekers of truth.
Well, this is far from the truth, as the New York Times recently reminded us. Columnist Virginia Heffernan described the contents of a website that fancies itself as “the most influential science blogging network in the world.”
What she found was that instead of “graduate students, researchers, [and] doctors” going to science websites to “interpret data or review experiments,” they actually more often than not go to, as she says, “chip off one-liners, promote their books, and jeer at smokers, fat people, and churchgoers.”
Heffernan says that science writers often “play rough”: whether they dismiss their opponents as captives of religious ideology and “nonsense,” or portray religious leaders as idiots or worse. Such as the blogger who depicted Mohammed as a pig-cow hybrid. And even worse things for Christians.
But what bothered Heffernan more than the incivility was that it was all being done under the “banner of science.” Instead of “science by scientists,” she says some science writers are pursuing “agendas . . . charged with bigotry.” Even worse, these agendas are pursued “under [the] cover of intellectual rigor.” She calls it all “misleading.”
Heffernan shouldn’t be surprised. The entire “science versus religion” debate is misleading at its core, beginning with the contention that Christianity is “anti-science.” Nonsense!
Science, properly understood, is one of Christianity’s great gifts to the world. As writers like Rodney Stark have shown, it was Christians who believed they could understand and explore the universe, precisely because they believed it was created and its laws were ordered by a rational God.
Heffernan has learned what many Christians already knew: Much of what is framed as “science versus religion” is really a clash of world views. One of these world views is scientism, the idea all questions about human life, including ethics and morals, should be the domain of science.
In this worldview, “science” has nothing to learn from religion or philosophy – in fact, the opposite is true: theologians and philosophers are urged to incorporate the “insights” provided by the latest “scientific” research.
Thus, issues slike embryonic stem cell research and genetic engineering are purely scientific concerns. Introducing non-scientific considerations, like morality, “interferes” with “science.” Once “science” has spoken – our job is to obey and fund the research.
Yes, we Christians are jeered at because we insist that scientists’ actions should be constrained by moral considerations, and because we deny that scientific expertise alone qualifies people to answer the big question: “How now shall we live?”
But above all, maybe we are the object of scorn because we insist that just because we can do something is never a sufficient justification —whether it’s being done by a tyrant or a man in a lab coat.
Scientists have identified the mechanism that controls the internal 24-hour clock of all forms of life — from us to algae.
Researchers from Britain’s Cambridge and Edinburgh universities, whose work was published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, said their findings provide important insight into health-related problems linked to people such as nurses, pilots and other shift workers, whose body clocks are disrupted.
The studies also suggest that the 24-hour circadian clock found in human cells is the same as that found in algae, and dates back millions of years to early life on earth, they said.
In the first study, Cambridge scientists found for the first time that red blood cells have a 24-hour rhythm.
This is significant, they explained, because circadian rhythms have always been assumed to be linked to DNA and gene activity — but, unlike most other cells in the body, red blood cells do not have DNA.
“The implications of this for health are manifold. We already know that disrupted clocks...are associated with metabolic disorders such as diabetes, mental health problems and even cancer,” said Akhilesh Reddy, who led the study. “By furthering our knowledge of how the 24-hour clock in cells works, we hope that the links...will be made clearer.”
Many scientific studies have found links between working irregular hours and a greater likelihood of developing diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Sleep disruption is also associated with mental illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorder.
A team of scientists said last year they had used experimental drugs being developed by Pfizer to reset body clocks of mice in a lab — opening up the possibility that drugs might in future be developed to restore rhythms to people whose body clocks have been messed up.
In these new studies, Reddy’s team incubated purified red blood cells from healthy volunteers in the dark and at body temperature and sampled them regularly over several days.
They then examined the levels of certain biochemical markers — proteins called peroxiredoxins that are found in virtually all known organisms and are produced in high levels in blood. The results showed that there was a modification in these proteins in a pattern that went back and forth over 24 hours.
A further study found a similar 24-hour cycle in marine algae — suggesting that internal body clocks have always been important, even for ancient forms of life.
The researchers found those rhythms by sampling the peroxiredoxins in algae at regular intervals over several days. When the algae were kept in darkness, their DNA was no longer active, but the algae kept their circadian clocks ticking even without active genes.
Scientists had previously thought the circadian clock was driven by gene activity, but both the algae and the red blood cells kept time without it.
Andrew Millar of Edinburgh University, who led the second study, said it showed that body clocks are ancient mechanisms that have been around through a billion years of evolution.
“They must be far more important and sophisticated than we previously realized,” he said. He added that more research was now needed to determine how and why these clocks developed in people, and what role they play in controlling our bodies.
A recent brain image study found a curious link between the shrinking of the part of the brain responsible for memory and being a born-again Christian.
The study, titled “Religious Factors and Hippocampal Atrophy in Late Life,” from Duke University Medical Center analyzed high-resolution MRI data of participants’ hippocampal volumes and found that there was greater hippocampal atrophy in participants who were born-again Protestants, Catholics and those with no religious affiliation than people who are from Mainline Protestant churches.
In other words, non-born-again Christians had a bigger hippocampus than born-again Christians.
Wheaton College professor of psychology Dr. William Struthers described the study as interesting but called attention to what is missing.
“The covariates that they mention in the study – specifically age, depression status, and sex – are really missing and I would want to look at that data before I draw any additional conclusions from that,” said Struthers to The Christian Post on Thursday.
“My concern is how this data is utilized, and if it is used as a way to demean people of faith. Is it used as a way to make people feel as if they are stupid? That their brains are smaller because they are born-again Christians or they are born-again Christians because their brains are smaller,” he questioned. “[T]hat is a place that we want to be careful not to go.”
The shrinkage of the hippocampus has long been linked to depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Although researchers offered no definitive reason for hippocampal atrophy in born-again Christians, they suggested that cumulative stress on believers may be a reason.
“These findings may reflect potential cumulative stress associated with being a member of a religious minority,” the study states. “Though religious factors have been associated with positive mental health, studies have shown members of religious minority groups may also experience stressors related to these group affiliations.”
But David Roozen, sociologist of religion at Hartford Seminary, dismissed that explanation.
“There are probably more born-again Protestants than non-born-again Protestants, and just about as many Catholics as either born-again or non-born-again Protestants,” said Roozen to Religion News Service.
Researchers conducted the study on 268 men and women over the age of 58 to learn about the relationship between religious factors and structural neuroanatomy. The study was done over several years following the same batch of participants.
It was funded by the Templeton Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.