30 September 2009
25 September 2009
Sept 23, 2009 — Imagine never having to wash your windows again. That would be a huge boon not only for window washers on skyscrapers, but for astronauts on the space shuttle or space station. It may become a reality, thanks to the lotus plant.
Science Daily reported on work by a company in Atlanta that has developed a transparent coating for glass that renders it impervious to dirt and water. The secret: imitating the surface of a lotus leaf, which “contains innumerable tiny spikes that greatly reduce the area on which water and dirt can attach.”
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is taking a keen interest in this technology, because it can “prevent dirt from accumulating on the surfaces of spacesuits, scientific instruments, robotic rovers, solar array panels and other hardware used to gather scientific data or carry out exploratory activities on other objects in the solar system.” The latest work seeks to manufacture the material such that it can withstand the harsh space environment.
For us earthlings, the applications of lotus-leaf surface coatings to everyday objects – eyeglasses, windshields, camera lenses and windows – promises a low-maintenance, clear view through the looking glass. And there’s an extra benefit. The material also repels bacteria. Think of how hospitals could stay more hygienic with lotus-like surfaces on walls, windows and equipment.
For previous stories on the properties of the lotus leaf, see 10/17/2006, 01/18/2005 and 10/27/2004. This all began when someone looked at lotus leaves in the rain and noticed how the water beads up and runs off, leaving a clean surface. Look around at nature and notice what other technologies have already been designed and could be applied to human needs. (You may want to get an early start if you manufacture windshield wipers.) There’s a bright future in biomimetics, no thanks to Darwin.
This all began when someone looked at lotus leaves in the rain and noticed how the water beads up and runs off, leaving a clean surface. Look around at nature and notice what other technologies have already been designed and could be applied to human needs. (You may want to get an early start if you manufacture windshield wipers.) There’s a bright future in biomimetics, no thanks to Darwin.
23 September 2009
Recently a paper appeared online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, entitled "The reducible complexity of a mitochondrial Molecular machine" As you might expect, I was very interested in reading what the authors had to say. Unfortunately, as is all too common on this topic, the claims made in the paper far surpassed the data, and distinctions between such basic ideas as “reducible” versus “irreducible” and “Darwinian” versus “non-Darwinian” were pretty much ignored.
Since PNAS publishes letters to the editor on its website, I wrote in. Alas, it seems that polite comments by a person whose work is the clear target of the paper are not as welcome as one might suppose from reading the journal’s letters-policy announcement (“We wish to provide readers with an opportunity to constructively address a difference of opinion with authors of recent papers. Readers are encouraged to point out potential flaws or discrepancies or to comment on exceptional studies published in the journal. Replication and refutation are cornerstones of scientific progress, and we welcome your comments.”) My letter received a brusque rejection. Below I reproduce the letter for anyone interested in my reaction to the paper. (By the way, it’s not just me. Other scientists whose work is targeted sometimes get the run around on letters to the editor, too. For an amusing / astounding example, see here.)
Call me paranoid, but it seems to me that some top-notch journals are real anxious to be rid of the idea of irreducible complexity. Recall that last year Genetics published a paper purportedly refuting the difficulty of getting multiple required mutations by showing it’s quick and easy in a computer - if one of the mutations is neutral (rather than harmful) and first spreads in the population. Not long before that, PNAS published a paper supposedly refuting irreducible complexity by postulating that the entire flagellum could evolve from a single remarkable prodigy-gene. Not long before that, Science published a paper allegedly refuting irreducible complexity by showing that if an investigator altered a couple amino acid residues in a steroid hormone receptor, the receptor would bind steroids more weakly than the unmutated form. (That one also made the New York Times!) For my responses, see here, here, here, and here. So, arguably picayune, question-begging, and just plain wrong results disputing IC find their way into front-line journals with surprising frequency. Meanwhile, in actual laboratory evolution experiments, genes are broken right and left as bacteria try to outgrow each other.
Well, at least it’s nice to know that my work gives some authors a hook on which to hang results that otherwise would be publishable only in journals with impact factors of -3 or less. But if these are the best “refutations” that leading journals such as PNAS and Science can produce in more than a decade, then the concept of irreducible complexity is in very fine shape indeed.
When I saw the post at LGF 1.0, the first thing I did was to go to PNAS’ website and print off the actual paper, figuring that the claims being made were not supported by the actual data. I was not disappointed. The data in Lithgow et al. does NOT support the wild-eyed ravings about refuting irreducible complexity. Not even close. I was going to go through the actual science involved and provide a precise demonstration of why the paper in question is scientific junk, but I just noticed that Casey Luskin at the Discovery Institute already did so. Go there and read the details. When I call Lithgow et al. “scientific junk,” I’m not just being pejorative. It actually IS junk. The whole paper is full of speculation, argument from (loose) analogy, and argument using assertions that have not been proven (and hence cannot, by the strict rules of logic, be used as support for their arguments) but are merely assumed a priori. At one point, the authors even say that they are engaging in speculation (their word, not mine) about a key point needed to sustain their argument.
As an aside, I also appreciate the point that Luskin makes that the authors of this paper are forced, once again, to rely upon the use of teleological language in their discussion. No matter how hard evolutionists try to get around it, it seems as if purpose and design keep intruding. This is a point I’ve consistently made for quite a while now – evolutionism can’t get anywhere without making evolution (a process) act teleologically (which presumes an intelligence directing the process to a definite, purposeful end). You see it all the time when evolutionists talk about evolution “designing more complex eyes” and whatnot.
Anywise, back to the article. Essentially, the logic behind this paper can be boiled down to a four-point syllogism:
1) The molecular machines that transport proteins through the mitochondrial membranes are made up of one complex of proteins.
2) In certain species of alpha-proteobacteria (which are assumed, but never demonstrated, to be evolutionary precursors to mitochondria, which were then "captured" by other cells, and became mitochondria), there are proteins with similar structures.
3) The genome that codes for these proteins could possibly have mutated to start coding for the proteins we see in mitochondria, which then could have adopted a new function (i.e. the mitochondrial transmembrane protein transport).
4) Therefore, they did.
That’s it. Behe and Luskin are right – the logic is spurious, and so is the PNAS article. There’s no demonstration that any of the presumptions in the article actually happened. No exhibition of data or evidence that would suggest that these speculations were anything more than that – mere speculations. Similarity of protein structure, I hate to tell them, does not prove, or even necessarily suggest, common descent or origin. They certainly haven’t provided anything to suggest otherwise in this case.
21 September 2009
19 September 2009
As some of you may have noticed, I delinked Little Green Footballs from Joshuapundit about a week and a half ago. This has been coming for awhile, but it's the only time I've ever purposely delinked a live blog from my list.It's entirely due to the behavior of the self-styled Lizard King, Charles Johnson. And I should have done it a long time ago.
I simply don't like cowards who engage in character assassination, lies and innuendo for their own twisted purposes, especially when in every case, they've been the aggressors.
This started a couple of years ago, when Charles got his panties in a knot and started banning 'fascists' - you know, people like my friends Pam Geller at Atlas and Dymphna and the Baron over at Gates of Vienna who haven't got a fascist bone in their bodies but do take the menace of Islamist jihad seriously. Robert Spencer, the brilliant author and proprietor of JihadWatch was next and it continued from there.
I didn't get very involved back then. Like I said,I'm not a fan of blog wars and Spencer, the Baron and Dymphna and especially Pam ( they have her picture in the dictionary next to the word 'courage') could take care of themselves perfectly well, believe me. So I simply continued to link to and communicate with all the parties. I probably should have dumped Charles back then, but Charles had been helpful to me back when I was starting out, throwing me traffic and I had a lot of respect for his past work. I naively thought that this was simply a personal snit between a few essentially decent people and that it would eventually resolve itself. After all, we were all on the same side, weren't we?
In my naivete, I even went to the trouble of politely e-mailing Charles, expounding on this point of view and suggesting it was time for everybody to talk to one another, iron out the differences and get back to some serious work. I even offered to help as a go-between.
He didn't bother to reply, but knowing what I know now I'm surprised I wasn't his next target.
As time went on, what used to be an important place on the net deteriorated into a fetid swamp with pretty much three creatures inhabiting it - the Lizard King's increasingly vicious attacks on his ever increasing list of personal 'enemies', Christians and 'creationists', links posted by the chosen Lizardoids on the site and Charles' occasional music videos.
Meanwhile , the body count continued - Andrew Bostom, Ann Coulter, David Littman, FOX News, Debbie Schlussel, Diane West, Melanie Phillips, Michele Malkin, Richard Miniter,Rush Limbaugh, Vodkapundit, Israel Matsav, Glenn Beck, Sigmund, Alfred and Carl, Geert Wilders, the Brussells Journal,Snapped Shot, Dr. Rusty at The Jawa report, Tundra Tabloids, Yid With Lid..hell, probably two thirds of the people I link to, any of whom could write and think circles around CJ and eat his intellectual lunch in a New York minute.
They were all smeared as racists and fascists and attacked by The Lizard King with classic leftist tactics - guilt by association, quotes taken out of context, innuendo and when nothing else would serve, outright falsehood. Daily Kos has nothing on Charles in that department.
I'm not sure exactly when I wound up on the enemies list or why, but it doesn't really matter. I'd stopped hanging out there in any serious way a long time ago. My reasoning was that it's his site and if he chooses to turn it into a echo chamber and a place for his personal vendettas, he had that right. I simply moved on.
Last week though, Charles finally crossed the line and went certifiable .
He started out by attacking Pajamas media for headlining a story by Robert Stacy McCain at The Other McCain, calling him a racist and white supremacist and smearing Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit as - wait for it - ' a borderline illiterate bigot'.
I don't know either of these gentlemen personally except by repute and by what they've written, but I have a pretty good nose for bigots and if I had any doubts on that score, they wouldn't be on my blogroll. Also, I knew that it was Charles talking, I'd seen how he operated in the past and having looked at his 'evidence' on McCain ( and no, I won't link to it) it's the usual rancid melange of lame, nudge nudge wink wink garbage, guilt by association and 'have you stopped luring children into your gingerbread house' nonsense.Frankly, it's embarrassing that anyone would expect it to be taken seriously.
Aside from that, my old pal and Council mate Jimmie Bise Jr. vouches for McCain and that's more than good enough for me.
And Jim Hoft, 'a borderline illiterate bigot'? Was Lizard Boy even in his right mind when he wrote that? Hoft has more class and brilliance in one hand than Charles has in his whole body.
Hoft mostly chose to ignore Johnson. McCain mounted a superb defense in three separate parts that reminded me of nothing so much as Bruce Caton's account of Stonewall Jackson drawing in and humiliating the hapless General Pope at Second Manassas, and I suppose he had to, but frankly he gave this garbage far too much of his valuable attention when there are bigger and more important battles to be fought.
We do, after all, have a country to save.
The rest of the conservative blogosphere proceeded to either delink or be delinked by the Lizard Kingdom, and that's pretty much where things stand.
So why did a once important conservative blog burn all those bridges so gleefully? I have a theory.
Working on the Left side of the street is fairly easy money, especially if you have creds as a past 'conservative' who's Seen The Light. David Brooks,Kathleen Parker, Andrew Sullivan and a number of others come to mind. Blogs like Atrios, Daily Kos and Firedog Lake coordinate their sites with the White House on a daily basis and are essentially paid advertisers.
So I'm pretty much convinced that this was a calculated move by Johnson, although there was certainly a lot of rage and what he perceived as score settling in his mind. He's offended so many people with his anti-Christian rants and vicious behavior that his traffic is down,and his advertising isn't doing as well as it once did. So he's looking for some new sponsors on the Left.
He might just be successful at that, at least in the short run.
Or maybe not.
It's a funny thing...when you turn mad dog on your allies the way Charles has, you may get some short term props from your new friends, but they know you're not really to be trusted and you find yourself having to turn ever more outrageous tricks and become ever more obsequious in order to 'prove' your loyalty. That's not exactly a prescription for self-respect or happiness.
And there's another thing. Charles may have made the ultimate mistake of a wanna be turncoat...bad timing.
If I'm right, the Obama wave has crested and Americans have had a bellyful of what seems to be their flirtation with radicalism every thirty years or so. As they regurgitate it, a certain Mr.Lizard may find himself getting shut out by his new friends as they compete for a much smaller audience and unable to work his way back across the bridges he spitefully burned.
Stacy McCain wrote that Charles would regret what he'd pulled only once, but it would be for the rest of his life.I think that's an extremely astute judgment.
When the Master of the Hermit Kingdom reads this,I'm certain he'll turn purple and dub me a Nazi and racist as well. Yawn.
But I remember what Charles and LGF used to be like a few years ago and overall, it's too bad. He could have been a contender.
But as the Ancient Greeks used to like to say, character is destiny.
18 September 2009
ScienceNOW Daily News
17 September 2009
Biologists and engineers have long known that insect wings are more complex than just flat, rigid flapping plates. But most models of insect flight have treated them this way because scientists needed to simplify their calculations and lacked a detailed picture of how the wings actually work.
To produce a better model, biomechanicist Adrian Thomas of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and colleagues came up with a new way to capture wing-shape changes during flight. The team set up four high-speed video cameras around a desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) and recorded its flapping. Each camera followed more than 100 dots marked on the bug's wings during each stroke. The researchers then used data on how those points moved to create a three-dimensional computer model of the locust. Simulations with the virtual insect closely matched experimental data on real locust wing air flow and forces.
With a validated model, Thomas's team members started erasing wing details. In one simulation, they smoothed out the virtual wings' ridges and camber--the curve from the front of the wing to the back. In a second, they removed the wing's ability to twist as it flaps, effectively making it flat and rigid. These two models were less-efficient fliers than real locusts: The curved, twisting wings of real bugs were about 10% more efficient in producing lift than the camberless wings, and they were 50% more efficient than the flat, rigid model.
In the models of the nontwisting wings, the air flow separates from the wings into vortices that create drag. Locusts avoid these vortices by keeping the angle between the wing and air flow constant. Conserving power by minimizing drag is crucial for desert locusts that sometimes must fly 300 kilometers at a time--orders of magnitude farther than small, battery-powered helicopters can, Thomas says. Engineers trying to design tiny aircrafts "drool" at the insect's endurance, he says.
Previous research has focused more on the forces insect wings produce, says biologist Douglas Altshuler of the University of California, Riverside. "Considering how wing shape affects power cost of flight is really valuable and a good way to focus future research."
17 September 2009
"After all, who cares about basic fact checking when there’s an ideology to be promoted?"
Oh, I forgot. That can't be done in such cases because there's an ideology to be promoted.
The "right wing blogosphere" has noticed. See: