Archive for the ‘science’ Category

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Lumpers, Splitters and Noah’s Ark

19 August, 2010

One of my father’s frequent pithy comments, one of his stock phrases, was, “The world is made up of two kinds of people:  lumpers and splitters.”  And palaeontologists are no exception.  Actually, they may be the definition of lumpers and splitters.

Scientists in almost every discipline are, whether they choose to admit it or not, are natural splitters.  Every (well, almost every) budding palaeontologist is a splitter.  Why?  What better way to get one’s name noticed, to get that elusive grant or, even better, teaching position, than to have your very own genus chalked up on your wall of fame?  This means, of course, that species are sometimes described based upon flimsy evidence.  One of the most famous was Apatosaurus/Brontosaurus.  Othniel Marsh, one of the true giants of early palaeontology, described Apatosaurus ajax based on a very incomplete fossil in 1877.  Then, two years later, he described Brontosaurus excelsus  based on six skeletons and part of a skull.  A quarter century later, the species, which had been split, was lumped back together by Elmer Riggs.  Of course, Brontosaurus is such a beautiful name that we continue to use it, though it is a junior synonym. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Anti-American GOP

15 July, 2010

How’s that for an inflammatory title?  I think I can support it, though.

Democracy is the philosophy which holds the United States of America together.  The rules apply to all.  We all pay taxes1, taxes which we, through our elected representatives, have agreed to pay as an admission fee for a civilized country.  We all obey the same laws, laws which we, through our elected representatives, have agreed to obey to make our lives safer.  Yet one of our major political parties, the Grand Old Party, the Republican Party, is attempting to short circuit this grand experiment in self-government.   

Democracy cannot be enforced at the point of a bayonet2.  It is a social and governmental compact to which we, as citizens and residents, have agreed.  The idea that all men are created equal, that there are certain inalienable rights which apply to all, requires fealty to the idea that we all must follow the same rules, tolerate the same red tape, stand in the same lines.  We expect there to be no special privileges such as the hochadel of the 1600s enjoyed, such as the lords of England enjoyed, such as the party members of the USSR enjoyed.

But democracy also requires three basic conditions — literacy, free time, and wealth.  And, since the Reagan Revolution of the early 1980s, what has been under attack by the new conservatives?  Education and middle class wealth, and the free time that wealth created. Read the rest of this entry ?

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At Least Ussher Had An Excuse

26 May, 2009

Archbishop James Ussher was a  brilliant man.  He decided to figure out just how old the earthis and used both written history, astronomy, and the Old Testament of the Bible to do it.  And he arrived at the “entrance of the night preceding  the twenty-third day of October in the year of the Julian calendar 710.”  In other words, October 22, 4004 BC.  Despite slipshod calculations and a hefty helping of assumptions, this date is accepted by a remarkable number of Americans.  In the early 17th century, science was so limited, so primitive, so unrefined, that Ussher’s estimate was not bad.  Wrong, but, given the temporally necessary limitations, not bad.  He had an excuse.  He did not have to disbelieve almost everything in order to hang on to that date. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Faith over Fact Every Damn Time!

4 April, 2009

One of the aspects of our political system is the way it relishes expertise.  Our elected representatives, senators, governors, and President, are all of the highest caliber.  The best and the brightest. Experts in the art of governance. Honest men and women who always put the health of the country over the finances of their friends.  The witnesses called to testify before these august legislators, providing expert advice, aid immeasurably.  And, in the United States Congress, this process has been on display this week during testimony before the Committee on Energy and Commerce. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Abstinence Only Sex Education Does Not Work; Christian Right Says, “We Need More!”

25 March, 2009

Pete Seeger has little toleration for fools.  And, from his writings and his songs, his definition of fools includes those who feel that any problem, any war, any idea, can succeed if we only have enough determination.  One of the best was one called “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an anti-Vietnam War song as appropriate today as it was 45 years ago.  The most powerful verse?

Well, I’m not going to point any moral;
I’ll leave that for yourself
Maybe you’re still walking, you’re still talking
You’d like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We’re — waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.

Read the rest of this entry ?

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Cherry Picking

24 March, 2009

As I follow discussions on various blogs, I have noticed a certain, shall we say,  tendency among certain conservatives (Christian and Republican, religious and political) to cherry pick.  Yes, I know I am covering quite a few people with a very large blanket, but, bear with me.  I think it is a valid blanket statement.

This cherry picking can be seen on many levels.heigh-ho-cherry-oh Read the rest of this entry ?

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Happy Pi Day!

14 March, 2009

Happy Pi Day.  March 14.  3/14.

Of course, this means on Monday we have to put up with endless John Day:  3/16.

Odd that anytime non-Christians come up with a day to celebrate (Darwin Day, Pi Day) some Christians either get bent out of shape or coopt the celebration and religify it.  For people who know that they, and only they, have the Truth, they are damn insecure.