Science Archives

No, Bush did not ban embryonic stem cell research.  Never mind what left-wing talk radio host Ed Schultz keeps saying.  Like the House Republicans, perhaps you, too, should listen to Rush Limbaugh.  Perhaps Ed should, as well, to get his demagoguery straight.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

"Restoring Science"

President Obama took a jab at former President Bush with this phrase from his inaugural speech; "We will restore science to its rightful place….".  This implies that science has been taken down off of some pillar that it should reside on.

Science is important in the betterment of humankind, but science must be tempered by morality (as must all things).  Dubya, for example, kept federal funding for embryonic stem cell research for those cell lines already existing at the time, but his moral concerns over the issue prevented his allowing it unhindered.  (Private funding is still available and, indeed, the research is continuing.)  Is Obama suggesting he’ll place science above morality?  Is submitting science to the scrutiny of morality robbing the former of it’s "rightful place"?  Is this his worldview?

Two Fewer Reasons to Use Embryonic Stem Cells

FuturePundit reports on two more papers that show we can take adult stem cells and turn them in pluripotent stem cells; those just as useful and flexible as embryonic stem cells.  Since there are absolutely no ethical issues with the use of adult stem cells, the question then has to be; why don’t we funnel the research dollars going into embryonic stem cells into this instead?  You would think there’s some ulterior motive or something.

Global Warming Update

With a hat tip to NewsBusters, a report on polar ice from this past June:

It seems unthinkable, but for the first time in human history, ice is on course to disappear entirely from the North Pole this year.

The disappearance of the Arctic sea ice, making it possible to reach the Pole sailing in a boat through open water, would be one of the most dramatic – and worrying – examples of the impact of global warming on the planet. Scientists say the ice at 90 degrees north may well have melted away by the summer.

"From the viewpoint of science, the North Pole is just another point on the globe, but symbolically it is hugely important. There is supposed to be ice at the North Pole, not open water," said Mark Serreze of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado.

That was then.  This is now.

Thanks to a rapid rebound in recent months, global sea ice levels now equal those seen 29 years ago, when the year 1979 also drew to a close.

Ice levels had been tracking lower throughout much of 2008, but rapidly recovered in the last quarter. In fact, the rate of increase from September onward is the fastest rate of change on record, either upwards or downwards.

(That rapid recovery in the last quarter is what we in the northern hemisphere call "winter".)

So all the experts and nifty computer models were absolutely wrong.  We’re not sailing ships through Santa’s workshop; instead we’re seeing ice levels we haven’t seen for 30 years.  Why were predictions so wrong?  The article explains:

Researchers had expected the newer sea ice, which is thinner, to be less resilient and melt easier. Instead, the thinner ice had less snow cover to insulate it from the bitterly cold air, and therefore grew much faster than expected, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Maybe, just maybe, the earth has cycles and this icing is just one of them.  Cycles like this are one of the reasons that the Huffington Post — no member of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy they — are now preemptively accepting Al Gore’s apology for the lies he’s been telling us.

Mr. Gore has stated, regarding climate change, that "the science is in." Well, he is absolutely right about that, except for one tiny thing. It is the biggest whopper ever sold to the public in the history of humankind.

What is wrong with the statement? A brief list:

Harold Ambler tics off the top 4 reasons to not believe "the science is in".  He mentions the vast changes in climate we’ve seen over the centuries, the data showing that rises in temperature precede rises in CO2 levels, the changing stories we get from the Gore camp, and that the alleged mechanism by which CO2 warms the earth has never been shown to exist.  He covers this last point in greater detail, including talk of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the issue of sunspots, which have more to do with global temperatures than any trace atmospheric gas (like, say, CO2).  Oh, and he also bring up sea ice in a postscript. 

And for doing his research, other HuffPo writers retaliated with a simple link-fest and an ad hominem attack.  Speaking truth to power?  Heh, more like speaking names to data.

In the personal attack, Kevin Grandia appeals to data from NASA, but it appears that some people there have their own agendas and don’t look at the data with a critical eye.  Wes Pruden explains:

This is similar to the science practiced by Dr. James Hansen at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the source of much of the voodoo that Al Gore has been peddling since the doctor showed up at a Senate hearing in 1988 and told ghost stories that Al swallowed whole. Only last month Dr. Hansen’s institute announced that October was the hottest on record, and then said "uh, never mind." The London Daily Telegraph calls this "a surreal blunder [that] raised a huge question mark about the temperature records that underpin the worldwide alarm over global warming."

In this account, the institute had to make the humiliating climb-down after two leading skeptics of the global-warming scam, Anthony Watts, an American meteorologist, and Steve McIntyre, a Canadian computer analyst, discovered that temperature readings from September had been carried over and repeated for October.

We should sigh, shrug and give the scientists at NASA the benefit of the doubt that this was a mistake and not a deliberate howl at the moon. A spokesman for the institute explains that readings borrowed from Russia, which had been described as 10 degrees higher than normal for October, distorted the figures but, after all, the data had been obtained from others. So we should blame someone else.

This is the science we’re expected to take on faith. The false figures – we must be generous and not say "faked" – were supplied by the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change. These are the most widely quoted readings, and consistently show higher temperatures than other "data sets." Would the United Nations lie? (No giggling, please.)

Wes notes that Hansen has done this more than once.  Fool me twice, and all that.

The globe is currently cooler than when George W. Bush took office.  No, really.  But frankly I don’t credit him with it, because the planet’s climate is such a vast and complex system that, as has been shown, we simply don’t understand it all.  Climate models have been overestimating the affect of particulate carbon in the atmosphere.  We’re having some of the coldest temperatures in decades all over the world.

And lost in all this is the sense of deja vu we should be having.  Read this report:

The Arctic ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot, according to a report to the Commerce Department yesterday from US Consul Ifft, at Bergen, Norway. Reports from fishermen, seal hunters and explorers, he declared, all point to a radical change in climate conditions and hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone.

Exploration expeditions report that scarcely any ice has been met with as far north as 81 degrees 29 minutes. Soundings to a depth of 3,100 meters showed the gulf stream still very warm. Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones, the report continued, while at many points well-known glaciers have entirely disappeared. Very few seals and no white fish are found in the eastern Arctic, while vast shoals of herring and smelts, which have never before ventured so far north, are being encountered in the old seal fishing grounds.

United Nations from July, 2008?  No, US Weather Service from 1922

The idea that man is destroying the global climate is not something that should be driving governmental policy.  The science is not in by a long shot.

Less and Less of a Need For Embryonic Stem Cells

The latest advancement in stem cells is that it’s getting safer to convert adult stem cells to "induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells" (basically what embryonic stems cells are).  Adult stem cells are already curing loads of diseases, without the need for destroying embryos.  This is just one less reason to want to rely on the ethically murky embryonic ones.

There’s No Place Like Home

Used to be that scientists thought that our solar system was pretty normal, and that there were plenty just like it out there.  TV shows like Star Trek and Stargate:SG1, among many others, traded on that to create unlimited worlds to explore.

On top of that, the idea that man is special in the universe, as suggested by the Bible, was taken down a few notches by that assertion.  If there are so many systems that would support life as we know it, the idea that God created just us seems a quaint anachronism. 

Well, as it turns out, our solar system is "pretty special", according to the headline in ScienceDaily last week.  Remember the old analogy of monkey’s typing on a jillion typewriters just waiting for a Shakespeare sonnet to come out, and its parallel to evolutionist theory about random chemicals banging together to create life?  Well, time to add a few jillion barrels of monkeys to the mix.  Apparently, coming up with a solar system like ours ain’t that easy.

Prevailing theoretical models attempting to explain the formation of the solar system have assumed it to be average in every way. Now a new study by Northwestern University astronomers, using recent data from the 300 exoplanets discovered orbiting other stars, turns that view on its head.

The solar system, it turns out, is pretty special indeed. The study illustrates that if early conditions had been just slightly different, very unpleasant things could have happened — like planets being thrown into the sun or jettisoned into deep space.

So what did they find out?

Before the discovery in the early 1990s of the first planets outside the solar system, our system’s nine (now eight) planets were the only ones known to us. This limited the planetary formation models, and astronomers had no reason to think the solar system unusual.

"But we now know that these other planetary systems don’t look like the solar system at all," said Frederic A. Rasio, a theoretical astrophysicist and professor of physics and astronomy in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. He is senior author of the Science paper.

"The shapes of the exoplanets’ orbits are elongated, not nice and circular. Planets are not where we expect them to be. Many giant planets similar to Jupiter, known as ‘hot Jupiters,’ are so close to the star they have orbits of mere days. Clearly we needed to start fresh in explaining planetary formation and this greater variety of planets we now see."

The more we find out, the more we see that we really got "lucky" (in scientific parlance) to have such a nice place to call home.

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Christianity and Global Warming

I’ve recommended audio from the Acton Institute before, and they just keep cranking out great commentary. Today’s recommendation is for Jay Richard’s “Is it Hot In Here? What Should Christians Think About Global Warming?” At an hour and 20 minutes, it’s a bit to take in, but it goes in depth into 4 questions that Jay considers the main issues.

  1. Is the globe warming?
  2. Is man causing it?
  3. Is it a bad thing?
  4. What can / should government do about it?

You’ll find that Jay does believe that we’re in a warming trend if you only look back to the mid-1800s, but there have been times when the Earth has been much warmer, and Jay mentions something I’ve touched on before; that Greenland used to be farmland before SUVs, and yet the polar bears survived.

He’s clear about what is his opinion and what is fact, so I think this is a balanced assessment of the situation.

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Global Warming Update

It’s snowing. No, I mean really snowing.

Snow cover over North America and much of Siberia, Mongolia and China is greater than at any time since 1966.

The U.S. National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) reported that many American cities and towns suffered record cold temperatures in January and early February. According to the NCDC, the average temperature in January “was -0.3 F cooler than the 1901-2000 (20th century) average.”

In just the first two weeks of February, Toronto received 70 cm of snow, smashing the record of 66.6 cm for the entire month set back in the pre-SUV, pre-Kyoto, pre-carbon footprint days of 1950.

And remember the Arctic Sea ice? The ice we were told so hysterically last fall had melted to its “lowest levels on record? Never mind that those records only date back as far as 1972 and that there is anthropological and geological evidence of much greater melts in the past.

The ice is back.

Gilles Langis, a senior forecaster with the Canadian Ice Service in Ottawa, says the Arctic winter has been so severe the ice has not only recovered, it is actually 10 to 20 cm thicker in many places than at this time last year.

Granted, as the article goes on to day, “one winter does not a climate make”. But you just know that if the numbers were in the other direction this would be trumpeted by Al Gore and his shills in the media. You just know it because, well, they have.

This has got some climatologists rethinking things.

According to Robert Toggweiler of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University and Joellen Russell, assistant professor of biogeochemical dynamics at the University of Arizona — two prominent climate modellers — the computer models that show polar ice-melt cooling the oceans, stopping the circulation of warm equatorial water to northern latitudes and triggering another Ice Age (a la the movie The Day After Tomorrow) are all wrong.

“We missed what was right in front of our eyes,” says Prof. Russell. It’s not ice melt but rather wind circulation that drives ocean currents northward from the tropics. Climate models until now have not properly accounted for the wind’s effects on ocean circulation, so researchers have compensated by over-emphasizing the role of manmade warming on polar ice melt.

But when Profs. Toggweiler and Russell rejigged their model to include the 40-year cycle of winds away from the equator (then back towards it again), the role of ocean currents bringing warm southern waters to the north was obvious in the current Arctic warming.

And then there’s always that major source of global warming, the Sun.

Kenneth Tapping of our own National Research Council, who oversees a giant radio telescope focused on the sun, is convinced we are in for a long period of severely cold weather if sunspot activity does not pick up soon.

The last time the sun was this inactive, Earth suffered the Little Ice Age that lasted about five centuries and ended in 1850. Crops failed through killer frosts and drought. Famine, plague and war were widespread. Harbours froze, so did rivers, and trade ceased.

Again, as the article says, while it’s way too early to start predicting a new Ice Age, it’s also way too early to be predicting catastrophic warming as well. Thus it’s also way too early to make huge economic and policy changes based on what could very well be a flawed premise.

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The Hydrocarbon Mother Lode

Scientists have discovered a hydrocarbon reserve larger than all of our current oil and gas reserves. Hydrocarbons, as you know, are those dregs of ancient dinosaurs and plants that we mine for energy. So then, where is this incredible field?

Oh, about 750 million miles away.

Before we get too excited here, let’s remember. There’s still an energy problem. Global warming, too. Nobody’s going to be importing oil substitutes from Titan anytime soon.

That said, data from the Cassini probe orbiting Saturn has shown that the ringed planet’s moon has “hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth,” according to research reported in the Geophysical Research Letters. The stuff is literally falling from the sky.

Lakes are scattered across the moon, with each of several dozen holding more hydrocarbon liquid – largely in the form of methane and ethane — than all of Earth’s oil and gas reserves.

OK, so it’s technically not the “mother lode” since it’s not physically connected to the oil and gas here. And it’s technically not biological in nature, since (and we’re pretty sure about this) dinosaurs and plants have never existed on Titan.

Which begs the question: Where did it come from, and are the same processes happening here on Earth? If so, perhaps oil isn’t from dead dinos. Worth looking into.

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Stem Cell Miracles

Again we find that stem cells could be the cure for things that had been incurable.

Heart attacks occur when the heart muscle is starved of oxygen, usually because the arteries that supply it with blood become blocked with fatty deposits. A bypass operation restores this blood supply, but the lack of oxygen leads to permanent scarring of the heart muscle.

Even after the operation the heart’s activity does not return to normal. "If you have a large heart attack like this and you are lucky and are referred for a bypass operation, your quality of life will be permanently affected because the pumping function of your heart is reduced," said Raimondo Ascione, the surgeon who is leading the research. "Your tolerance to exercise is reduced so you can’t really enjoy your life."

The trial will involve patients with the worst prognosis, those who have scarring on at least half of the left ventricular wall. "It’s the worst heart attack you can have. Most patients just die," said Ascione.

The team will extract bone marrow from all 60 patients and separate out a class of stem cells that makes up 1% of the tissue. Previous studies have suggested that this cell type is able to regenerate heart muscle cells and blood vessels. By using the patient’s own cells there will be no problems with tissue rejection.

But again, as well, is a missing word in the article.  It’s implied in that last quoted paragraph, but it’s not said by name.  These are adult stem cells, from the patient.  Very little these days is said about adult stem cells, because of the agenda of folks who want embryonic stem cell research to get federal funding. 

The question isn’t whether or not embryonic stem cells would be useful.  The real question is; if adult stem cells have such wide, varied uses, and have been proven to work time after time, why do we want to step into the ethical quagmire of using embryos?

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