March 30, 2011

Quacks and Quakes - Fox News Earthquake "Expert" Exposed as Crank


USGS Hourly Global Earthquake Tracker:  Click here


                                                                                                As of March 30, 2011

Quacks and Quakes by Donald Prothero, Skeptic, March 30, 2011.  Also see Prothero's Quakes and Fakes where he discusses the geophysical and gelogical details of the March 11 earthquake in Japan and the misinformation and myths about it, including that of the "end-of-the-world" doomsayers.

In "Quacks and Quakes" author and widely respected geologist and palaeontologist Donald R. Prothero exposes one of Fox News' "experts," Jim Berkland, and Berkland's pseudo-science for predicting earthquakes.  Berkland called for the "Big One" in California between March 19-26 during the "Supermoon".  Didn't happen.  Berkland hasn't been back on Fox.

Prothero's latest book, Catastrophes!:  Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tornadoes, and other Earth-Shattering Disasters, published earlier this month, presents the facts and science of these natural disasters.

With all the misinformation and pseudo-science being presented as fact regarding the March 11 disaster in Japan, it might be a good time to remind ourselves of why people seem so prone to believe such unreasonable claims.  Michael Shermer presents a pretty good take on the reasons in his book Why People Believe Weird Things:  Pseudoscience, Superstition and Other Confusions of our Time (2002).

NOTE:  I have referred to the work of Prothero in earlier posts for evidence supporting evolutionary theory:  Evolution:  What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, illustrated by Carl Buell (2007).

From Skeptic, March 30, 2011:  DR. DONALD R. PROTHERO is Professor of Geology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He earned M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees in geological sciences from Columbia University in 1982, and a B.A. in geology and biology (highest honors, Phi Beta Kappa) from the University of California, Riverside. He is currently the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of 25 books and over 250 scientific papers, including five leading geology textbooks and three trade books as well as edited symposium volumes and other technical works. He is on the editorial board of Skeptic magazine, and in the past has served as an associate or technical editor for Geology, Paleobiology and Journal of Paleontology. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, the Paleontological Society, and the Linnaean Society of London, and has also received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Science Foundation. He has served as the Vice President of the Pacific Section of SEPM (Society of Sedimentary Geology), and five years as the Program Chair for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. In 1991, he received the Schuchert Award of the Paleontological Society for the outstanding paleontologist under the age of 40. He has also been featured on several television documentaries, including episodes of Paleoworld (BBC), Prehistoric Monsters Revealed (History Channel), Entelodon and Hyaenodon (National Geographic Channel) and Walking with Prehistoric Beasts (BBC).

March 28, 2011

First Humans In The Americas 15,500BP - New Evidence

Some of the artifacts from the 15,500-year-old horizon - Michael R. Waters


Above map and following excerpt from The Oldest Americans - An Introduction by George Weber:

The (above) routes into America were available to the intrepid and hardy Pleistocene and early Holocene traveler. The routes were undoubtedly used (although we cannot be sure which ones and by whom) and that from as early as 30,000 years ago. The people who set up camp at Monte Verde in Chile, for example, had to enter America by one of the routes or a combination of them.

(a) Bering Straight route (blue)
The Bering Strait before 10,000 years ago was an icy and stormy waterway and something for only the most fearless boat crew to attempt. Every so often, as the climate became colder and sea levels fell, the Strait would turn into dry land and could be crossed on foot by people with a well-established tradition of arctic survival.

March 22, 2011

Libya Intervention: Are African Leaders' Objections Justified, Credible?

UPDATE 2 Jacob Zuma criticises military action in Libya, BBC, July 18, 2011  Though most of the article deals with UK PM David Cameron's visit to RSA and UK-RSA trade relations, the first few paragraphs addresses Zuma's position on the situation in Libya.  Specifically, RSA President Jacob Zuma is calling for a negotiated settlement of the crisis in Libya, including the future of Gadaffi.  I have little doubt that Gaddafi is only buying time to see if there is any way at all he can hang on to power, but his expressed interest in giving negotiations a chance should be honored despite the fact he refused to give Libyan opposition a chance to negotiate.

I disagree with Zuma's belief that the NATO bombings are not helping the political situation in Libya.  Surely he does not believe that stopping the bombing would encourage Gadaffi to take negotiations more seriously.  The current course is the best - keep providing military support to the revolutionaries while keeping the door open to and allowing negotiations to commence simultaneously.

UPDATE  Rwanda Backs US Strikes on Libya  Rwanda's president Paul Kagame supports coalition raids on Libya.  Cites the international community's failure to intervene to prevent the genocide that took place in his country in 1994.


Libya: Museveni, Mugabe and Zuma condemn air strikes
Museveni blasts West over Libya attack

Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe object to a multi-national force protecting civilians in Libya.  Libya's leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi threatens to go door to door and kill those who have participated in a call for government reform and democracy.  Museveni, Mugabe and other African leaders' objections pertain to what they see as a lack of fairness, disrespect for sovereignty and the malevolent ulterior motives of the intervening coalition.

Are their objections justified?  What moral high ground do they occupy, if any, from which to speak out about unfairness, disrespect and ulterior motivations?

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood - Honest Player Or Playing At Honesty To Buy Time? A Comment On "American Gullibility"

"Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest." - The Fool to Lear, King Lear, Act I, Scene iv

There is something peculiar about Western, and in particular American, approaches to international relations.  Our leaders have a tendency to trust first, then only change their mind if and only if they must.  This also a deeply ingrained belief among America's leaders that if a promise is in writing, such as a treaty or cease-fire or a non-aggression pact, and it has been signed, then it is binding and assumed that the signatories will comply with its terms.  Why is this?

March 20, 2011

Global Population 10.5 Billion By 2050 - Will Our Species' Primary Evolutionary Strategy, Cultural Adaptation, Succeed Against This Challenge?

UPDATE:  Census Update: What the World Will Look Like in 2050, Time Magazine, June 30, 2011
Now We Are Seven Billion, The Economist, October 22, 2011

The Answer:  We have no option but rely on it.  But what choices will it force us to make and who will make them?  No-one knows if our efforts will succeed.  For we humans, as individuals and as a species, live our lives forward into uncertainty based on what are most often good but always imperfect calculated risks.  Background:  Cultural Evolution, Phase II - Establishing A Unified Worldview  See also:  Earth's Senior Population Is Increasing - So What?

Clearly, the major choices and actions that must be taken are in the following areas:

An emerging global civilization and morality
The meaning and value we continue to place on human life
Addressing the unequal spread of Earth's wealth, power and privilege
Addressing global poverty
Protecting and preserving the biosphere

UPDATE - Population 7 Billion by End of 2011  Excerpts from the Update Link:

"'The exertions that men find it necessary to make, in order to support themselves or families, frequently awaken faculties that might otherwise have lain for ever dormant, and it has been commonly remarked that new and extraordinary situations generally create minds adequate to grapple with the difficulties in which they are involved.'" - Thomas Malthus

"... the problem that needs solving is poverty and lack of infrastructure, not overpopulation."  ...  "The central challenge for the future of people and the planet is how to raise more of us out of poverty—the slum dwellers in Delhi, the subsistence farmers in Rwanda—while reducing the impact each of us has on the planet."

March 19, 2011

Swaziland Dissent - What Would King Sobhuza II Do?

Swaziland: Government Coffers Are Running Dry, UN-IRIN Report, May 16, 2011
A King At Bay:  Africa's Last Absolute Monarchy May Be Falling Apart, The Economist, July 30, 2011

I lived and worked in the Kingdom of Swaziland, Southern Africa for three years in the early 1980s.  King Sobhuza II, who became Ngwenyama and ascended to the Swazi throne in 1921, was still king in 1980 when I arrived to teach science in a rural government high school.  This was a wonderful experience that greatly changed my life and for which I remain sincerely grateful.

King Sobhuza II (1899-1982)

I attended Sobhuza II's Diamond Jubilee in late 1981 at Somhlolo Stadium and joined all Swazis in mourning following his death on August 21, 1982.  Sobhuza II was a charismatic, beloved leader of his people and led them most ably through most of the 20th Century - the World Depression of the 1930s, World War II, and finally to independence from Britain in 1968.

His greatest strength was his personal leadership and the path of national development he set for Swaziland - adopt the best practices from the modern, Western world and retain the best of Swazi traditions and culture.  He took his stewardship of the nation, its people and Swazi culture seriously.  One result of this was his 1973 repeal of the constitution, dissolving of parliament and assumption of absolute power claiming that the balance between outside influences and Swazi traditions had tipped too far toward Westernization.  A new parliament was convened in 1979.

March 7, 2011

London Engineering Professor, Who's Also An Islamic Cleric, Threatened With Death For Supporting Evolution

UK Cleric Leaves Mosque Over Evolution by Andrew Carey, CNN, March 21, 2011

London Imam Subjected to Death Threats for Supporting Evolution and Women's Rights by Rowenna Davis, The Guardian, March 6, 2011.  Excerpts follow:

"Dr Usama Hasan, vice-chairman at Leyton mosque and a senior lecturer in engineering at Middlesex University, ceased delivering Friday prayers after 25 years of service when 50 Muslim protesters disrupted his lecture by handing out leaflets against him and shouting in the mosque for his execution."
"Harun Yahya, a popular Islamic creationist scholar from Turkey, begins a UK tour in London on Monday, adding to the debate. Last December Salir al-Sadlan, a senior Saudi-based scholar Salir al-Sadlan, said Muslims shouldn't pray behind someone who believed in evolution in a speech at Green Lanes mosque in Birmingham."
"An online petition against Hasan has apparently attracted 1,100 signatories, although they are not listed publicly. The petition says they are 'horrified' by his views on evolution and call for him to be removed before the mosque becomes a 'hotbed of modernist extremism'."
"Inayat Bunglawala, chair of Muslims4UK, a group promoting Muslim engagement in British society, said there was 'widespread ignorance' about evolution among the Muslim community. 'Many traditional imams are grounded in ancient books in Arabic but have very little grounding in science. I find it staggering how they can be so strongly opposed to evolution without reading about it. That seems to be opposite of the very first commandment of the Qur'an, which is to read,' Bunglawala said."

See also:  Scientist Imam Threatened Over Darwinist Views by Tom Peck and Jerome Taylor, The Independent, March 5, 2011.

COMMENT:  Many creationists want secularists to engage them in a civil discussion in the hope of allowing ample space among the public for a tolerance of both religious belief and scientific truth.  Many do not, as this article exemplifies.  Ever heard of a secularist calling for the death of someone because they supported creationism?  Neither have I....

March 5, 2011

Did Earliest Life Forms Arrive Here Via Meteorites? - An Example Of The Growth Of Scientific Knowledge

Quackery?  Maybe, maybe not.  This linked article is an example of how scientific/secular truth is initiated and responded to.  First, a discovery is given meaning - in this case, electromicroscopic findings inside meteorites are presented to support a conjecture or provisional scientific theory regarding the extra-terrestrial origin of life on Earth.  Such conjectures are presented to the scientific community for confirmation as truth.  Members of this community typically try to confirm or refute the conjecture by replicating its experimental or observational evidence and methods, and by testing the reasoning accompanying it.  The link at the bottom of this post is one effort to refute the evidence presented to support the conjecture of life's extra-terrestrial origins.

The strength of scientific truths vary in terms of how well or ill they withstand efforts to refute them.  The process of scientific conjecture and refutation continues regarding the theory of Life's origins, as it does with all theories that make up scientific knowledge.  So far, the supporting evidence and explanatory power of the theory of panspermia, that life first appeared extra-terrestrially, has not been sufficient to trump the evidence and explanatory power supporting other scientific explanations of the origin of life on Earth.  Foremost among competing scientific theories of life's origins on Earth is abiogenesis or biopoesis, that life on Earth arose from Earth's inorganic matter.

Counterpoint - Climate Models Are Unreliable Therefore Science Cannot Prove Human Activity Causes Global Warming

UPDATE:  A credible challenge to one of the provisional truths of science:

A Climate Of Belief - The Claim That Anthropogenic CO2 is Responsible for the Current Warming of Earth Climate is Scientifically Unsupportable Because Climate Models are Unreliable by Patrick Frank, Skeptic Vol 14(1), 2008.

More on global warming:  Scientists Did NOT Fudge Data To Prove Global Warming, February 24, 2011.  See also The Storms Over Climate Change.

March 4, 2011

Philosophy - Stephen Hawking And Robert Wright Say It's Useless. Is It?

The value of philosophy is to be sought largely in its very uncertainty.  He who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the cooperation or consent of his deliberate reason.  As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given.  Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubt which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom.  – Bertrand Russell

Is America Philosophical? by Carlo Romano, The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 20, 2012
Does Philosophy Matter? by Stanley Fish, The New York Times, The Opinion Pages, August 1, 2011
Does Philosophy Matter? (Part Two) by Stanley Fish, The New York Times, The Opinion Pages, August 8, 2010
Putting Philosophy to the Test:  A New Breed of Thinkers Takes the Search for Wisdom to the Streets by David Menconi, Standford Magazine, September/October 2011
A Survey and an Assertion: Twelve Potted Philosophers and A Theory fo Human Values by Carlin Romano, The American Scholar, Summer 2011
Freud as Philosopher by Gordon Marino, The New York Times, The Opinion Pages-Opinionator, October 9, 2011
The Islamic Scholar Who Gave Us Modern Philosophy by Robert Pasnau, Humanities, November/December 2011
Interview with Peter Boghossian by Paul Pardi, Philospophy News Service, December 5, 2011

Hawking Contra Philosophy (Jan/Feb 2011) by Christoper Norris in Philosophy Now:  A Magazine of Ideas

A good article worthy of more than the one read I've given it so far.  I took it to say:  Stephen:  Here are some good reasons to brush up your modern philosophy.  Mind that you don't speculate yourself into absolute falsity.

Then there's Robert Wright, author of a couple of good books - The Moral Animal and The Evolution of God:

Beyond Intellectualism (Feb 14, 2011) by Robert Wright  in The American Prospect:  Liberal Intelligence

Wright's view of philosophy seems a bit cocksure for my taste.  His strong adherence to "bedrock pragmatism" is a clear nod to his belief in the primacy of relativism and absolutism for solving problems. 

However, if we all only thought this way there would be little chance Humankind's morality would evolve and a good likelihood our primary evolutionary survival mechanism - cultural adaption via imagination, invention and innovation - would quickly stagnate, wither and be given up.  A fatal outcome for all of us.  We would quickly become dependent upon short-term, here-and-now solutions and the certainty of fixes that worked in yesterday's present.  When confronted with today's and tomorrow's novel challenges, personal or global, we would only be armed with short term fixes (relativism) or one-solution-fits-all dogma (absolutism).  The political conservatism so popular in the US currently is a good example of this approach to society.

It would be foolish to not be pragmatic and clobber many problems with the hammer of certainty when that solution is best.  Many of our problems, again personally and globally, seem fairly obviously suited to this approach.  But not all of them, and certainly not the most difficult problems of humankind and the biosphere. 

To dismiss the ceaseless, exploratory probing of philosophy as a useless waste of time is short-sighted and worse, a turning of a blind eye toward the very essence of Life, Nature and the Universe - change.  Relying exclusively on relative and absolute solutions for ever-evolving problems is foolish and can be fatal.  "Evolve or die," in the case of Humankind, refers to our use of successful solutions and responses for challenges, be they pragmatic or out-of-the-box.  We need both.

We all must at times be pragmatic.  But for most of my living and thinking I am fortunate to be able to prefer and use gray and other muted, nuanced tones when it comes to truth.  Such an approach makes things more difficult and time-consuming but my efforts and outcomes are more worthwhile and satisfying in that they are more truthful, reliable and useful.

What say you, valued reader?

March 3, 2011

Is There A Will To Believe? - Creationism's Challenge To Evolutionary Theory Outside The US

“Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones."
- Bertrand Russell

Photos by J. Lassiter, Timbuktu, Mali, 2006

Timbuktu Shrines Damaged By Mali Ansar Dine Islamists, BBC, June 30, 2012
Does Islam Stand Against Science?, The Chronicle Review, The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 19, 2011
In France, A Muslim Offensive Against Evolution, Time Magazine, June 2,2011
Islamist Student Group Said to Terrorize Pakistan Campuses, The Los Angeles Times, July 22, 2011
An Old Earth For All Muslims: But How Does Evolution Fit In? by Salman Hameed, Earth Magazine, October 21, 2011

Not only are many of us satisfied with bad grounds for belief in the absence or ignorance of good ones, many others continue to ignore or condemn the good grounds for disbelief that exsist.

Evolution Abroad: Creationism Evolves in Science Classrooms Around the Globe Scientific American March 3, 2011

Meanwhile back in the US:

New Challenges for Evolution Education (in the US) Scientific American February 28, 2011

Côte d'Ivoire - Is Current Crisis A Threat To West African Stability?

Though the problem is certainly harmful to in-country Ivorians, I am not convinced like the ICG that the crisis in Ivory Coast threatens the stability of the entire West African sub-region.

Clearly, Liberia and Sierra Leone do not have the economic clout of CI, the crises that they underwent in 1990s are the only real recent precedents to consider.  Both of these tragedies had important ramifications for neighboring countries in the sub-region but they led to nothing close to widespread instability.

A blow to CI's economic power and central government stability would no doubt negatively effect the large number of expatriate farm laborers in CI.  However, there is little to support a view that it would have a destabilizing impact on the surrounding nations and beyond in the sub-region.

In the ICG's report are we once again seeing an NGO exaggerate in order to draw attention to a crisis in order to provoke greater international action, or, again, an unjustified Western view of Africa as a country - the United States of Africa - that links and minimizes the importance of each African nation-state?

Still, the ICG's recommendations for resolving the crisis in CI are on target....

Côte d'Ivoire: Is War the Only Option? a report by the International Crisis Group (ICG).  [Begun in 1996 and based in Brussels, the ICG describes itself as "an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to preventing and revolving deadly conflict."]

March 2, 2011

Creationism vs. Evolution - An Update

 "On Evolution, Can Religion Evolve?," The Washington Post, On Faith, August 23, 2011

Polling Creationism and Evolution Around the World:

"A new poll conducted by Ipsos for Reuters News in twenty-four countries found that 41% of respondents identified themselves as "evolutionists" and 28% as "creationists," with 31% indicating that they "simply don't know what to believe," according to a press release issued by Ipsos on April 25, 2011."
"The "evolutionist" view was most popular in Sweden (68%), Germany (65%), and China (64%), with the United States ranking 18th (28%), between Mexico (34%) and Russia (26%); the "creationist" view was most popular in Saudi Arabia (75%), Turkey (60%), and Indonesia (57%), with the United States ranking 6th (40%), between Brazil (47%) and Russia (34%)."
"Consistently with previous polls, in the United States, acceptance of evolution was higher among respondents who were younger, with a higher level of household income, and with a higher level of education. Gender was not particularly important, however: the difference between male and female respondents in the United States was no more than 2%."

Supreme Being(s), the Afterlife and Evolution:
"Half of global citizens (51%) surveyed believe there is some form of ‘divine entity’: either a 'God or Supreme Being' (45%) or 'many Gods or Supreme Beings' (6%). This compares with two in ten (18%) who 'don’t believe in God/Gods/Supreme Being/Beings' and another three in ten (30%) who are 'undecided' of which 17% say 'sometimes I believe, but sometimes I don’t' and another 13% say 'I’m not sure if I believe'."
"Just over half of global citizens (51%) say they believe in some form of afterlife: one quarter (23%) believe in an afterlife 'but not specifically in a heaven or hell', two in ten (19%) believe 'you go to heaven or hell', another 7% believe 'you are ultimately reincarnated' and 2% believe in 'heaven but not hell'. Alternatively, one quarter (23%) say 'you simply cease to exist' whereas another quarter (26%) say they 'don’t know what happens'."

Human Evolution
Much debate has focused on whether humans were the products of either a spiritual force creation or the force of nature by way of a gradual evolution.
  • Four in ten (41%) identify as “as 'evolutionist's' and believe that human beings were in fact created over a long period of time of evolution growing into fully formed human beings they are today from lower species such as apes.” Those most likely to believe in this are from Sweden (68%), Germany (65%), China (64%), Belgium (61%) and Japan (60%).
  • Three in ten (28%) global citizens refer to themselves as “creationists and believe that human beings were in fact created by a spiritual force such as the God they believe in and do not believe that the origin of man came from evolving from other species such as apes” led by those from Saudi Arabia (75%), Turkey (60%), Indonesia (57%), South Africa (56%) and Brazil (47%).
  • Almost one third (31%) of the global population indicate they “simply don't know what to believe and sometimes agree or disagree with theories and ideas put forward by both creationists and evolutionists”. Those from Russia (40%) are most likely to be unsure followed by those from Italy (39%), Argentina (38%), Poland (37%), Spain (37%) and France (36%).

This non-issue will likely be with us for quite some time.  Creationists say the theory of evolution is "flawed," is "only a theory," does not "disprove" creationism.  Evolutionists say the evidence overwhelmingly justifies acceptance of the theory of evolution when compared to the evidence and reasoning of religion; statements like "only a theory" show an ignorance of scientific "theory."

Science does not claim or attempt to disprove creationism.  The onus of proof rests with the proponents of creationism, not those who refuse to accept it because it lacks a well-reasoned argument or convincing evidence.  It is nonsense to require others to disprove something you have not proven in the first place but have merely asserted to be true.

From Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller

Science supports explanatory models that provide reasonably accurate accounts of evidence, observations and experiments.  Scientific models produce a truth that is far more useful for providing for humankind's basic needs, including solving the problems of living and of the biosphere, compared to models based on belief, faith and religious tradition.

Nevertheless, creationists in the US ceaselessly try to discredit evolutionary theory, the bedrock of biological sciences, and insist that religious faith in creationism (currently under the guise of "intelligent design") be taught in science classrooms.

Regrettably, this will be a long drawn out struggle over a non-issue.  It will continue to turn otherwise good young minds away from science and distract scientific efforts at solving the technological, medical and other challenges of modern life.  Equally ominous, it will keep our leaders (politicians), who control our vast weapons arsenals and treasure, praying to deities for guidance on secular problems and courting the votes of the religious.

From Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller

Stay informed and speak up for the teaching of evolutionary theory in science classrooms.  Religion has no place in the science classroom.  Here is some good material from Scientific American for understanding the problem:

Creationism vs. Evolution: The controversy over evolution rages on. Win all your debates against creationists with the science in our special report.  Scientific American, September 10, 2008

Creationism Controversy: State by State Interactive Map (Updated)  Scientific American, March 2, 2011

Can religious teachings prove evolution to be true?, BBC, July 5, 2011

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