Sunday, 6 March 2016

Entertainment stuff from the week 29/2 - 6/3/16

Hi Darwinists,

Creationist Pseudoscience shitstorm of the week:

'Paper on PLOS ONE creates a firestorm by referencing "the Creator"'

A Paper, published in journal PLOS ONE, has called into question the quality of vetting procedures by the journal's editors.

The Paper's abstract includes the words " the proper design by the Creator..." which is, of course, superstitious mumbo-jumbo, that has no place in a scientific journal.

The god-botherers, Bob Yirka apparently as an example, have decided not to applaud the journal for its retraction of the article, but instead to condemn it for daring to imply that Religionist superstition maybe isn't valid!

No, Bob, they're right to retract it - the only way to make fundamental changes to a paper, is to take the old one down, and replace it with a new, corrected file. Peer reviewers agreed that it was not just the abstract that was at fault.

Even if, as you say, the wording were "nothing more than a language problem—the authors and editors of the paper are all native Chinese speakers" retraction would still be the right thing to do.

A fuller excerpt of the extract goes like this:

"...the biomechanical characteristic of tendinous connective architecture between muscles and articulations is the proper design by the Creator to perform a multitude of daily tasks in a comfortable way."

Does that seem, to you, to be the phraseology of an author with a tenuous grasp on the English language? It certainly doesn't, to me.

Pseudoscientists are wiley bullshitters, so it's important to be on guard against it. You can see my case study of Homeopathy for that - 19 articles claimed to support magic water superstition; none of them really do!

PLOS ONE, having retracted the article, have done well at guarding academia against it, by the way - they've adequately defended their reputation as a quality journal.

'The Darwin Day Lecture 2016, with Jerry Coyne | Evolution and atheism: best friends forever?'

In other news:

A Berlin regional court ruled in February, that Facebook had failed to comply with an order to amend its terms of service, to respect users' intellectual property rights, and fined the company
100,000. In a statement through a public relations firm, Facebook has said the terms of service have been updated, and that it would pay the fine. Germany's market competition watchdog has also had a go at Facebook, declaring that it has opened an investigation into Facebook USA, Facebook Ireland and Facebook Germany, for abuse of market position, through its user terms. As if to really rub it in, Facebook looks like it will be paying more tax, in years to come, with the promise that it will shift its official presence from Eire to the UK. Facebook paid just £4,327 in corporation tax, in 2014 - a figure that Nerd³ said he paid more than, on his own! In an ideal world, the tax would be paid according to the location of the transactions it relates to - not to the tax-avoiding whim of the execs.

The EU's introduction of air pollution regulations, and support for introduction of new technologies, spares 80,000 lives from premature mortality, every year, according to an air pollution study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The EU's policies have led to a 35% reduction of fine particles in the atmosphere, over the period 1970-2010, which has been the mechanism behind improved public health across Europe. Of course, due to the shared nature of the Earth's atmosphere, this human advance has helped people of non-EU countries too; despite the efforts of EU-phobes in countries like the UK, where air pollution warnings are issued every year, in London, due to slack government.

The EU's history with internet security has been good, too. This report regards the progress on an international agreement between the EU and the USA, to protect rights to private data. You might remember that the EU had the assertiveness to fix 'net neutrality' long before the USA's government had made up its mind. President Barack Obama has promised to contribute a limit on the use of bulk-collected intelligence, and a US Ombudsman to deal with complaints by European citizens, and fines for firms that do not comply - up to €20 million or 4% of international turnover. This legislation has not been passed, however, as it currently contains too many large loopholes. Watch this space.

And in contrast, the national pollies provide us with pits of unending despair. Despite the huge unpopularity, pseudoscientific nature, and farcical requirements of the Tory government's 'Snoopers Charter' (Investigatory Powers Bill) the current government seems intent on making their totalitarian paranoia-inspired legislation a reality. Home Terrorist Theresa May has lied that they are "not seeking sweeping new powers" while insisting that web-based companies keep 'records' to help snoops with their investigations. These records don't, and won't exist, as demanded. What the hell do they think they're going to be working with? Anything they can get their hands on, by the sounds of it; hence the accusation of paranoia. The motive for the legislation is supposedly to protect people... by undermining encryption, and centralising vast catalogues of personal information, so that anyone can steal it. All they have done is to demonstrate that they are the real threat.

Fossilisation is a rare occurence. It takes a highly congenial environment, at the death of the organism, and an uninterrupted process of preservation, for paleontologists to be able to dig anything up, millions of years in the future. For this reason, hard skeletons are most likely to be preserved - they are the most robust parts of bodies, left behind. Fortunately, there have been quadrillions of animals, living and dying over the last half a billion years, around the planet, so although the proportion of specimens fossilised is low, there are still lots of fossils to be found. Soft tissue preservation in fossils is even rarer than hard tissue preservation, but this find sets a new record - a 500 million year old body, bearing extensive evidence of a central nervous system! The animal, called Chengjiangocaris kunmingensis, was an early ancestor of modern arthropods - the diverse group that includes insects, spiders and crustaceans. The exoskeletal nature of these animals probably helps, in the preservation of their soft insides. Brains have been found before, but not with connected ganglia - the arthropod equivalent of the spinal cord. Like with modern arthropods, C. kunmingensis' ganglia are situated between every pair of legs. Close analysis has showed that the ganglia were made of dozens of nervous fibres, measuring ~0.005 mm in length.

From a 500-million-year-old sea dweller, to one of the earliest land-dwellers - a 440 million-year-old fungus. Tortotubus, the fungus in question, is the oldest fossil of any land organism ever found, and would likely have contributed, the way modern fungi do, to changing the exo-marine environment into something more congenial to plants and animals, by producing the planet's first soils. Only mosses and lichens could have lived on land, without something to produce the fertile soils that provide minerals to plants, and then to the animals that eat them, permitting them to grow into much more complex lifeforms. Fungi are still hugely important, today, for fixing nitrogen, into a form that can be used by plants. Only legumes can do this without fungi. Tortotubus shows evidence of a root system, that would have been key to keeping soils in place, allowing them to collect, and to develop the relatively resource-rich environment that humans love to plunder, half a billion years later.

Supplement pseudoscience is not limited to humans, it seems. Humans who keep horses for dressage and eventing, frequently give them supplements, through the belief that they will improve their health - specifically, 'joints and mobility', 'lameness' and 'energy/behaviour' problems. This sounds very similar to the motives with which humans give supplements to themselves - aches and pains, and lethargy. Neither of which are treatable with supplements; at least as far as we can know, by evidence. The primary contribution of supplements, in healthy animals, is to slowly poison them, by giving their livers extra work to do. Horses don't live as long as humans, though, so maybe they're at less of a risk from accumulated supplementation poisoning, over their lifetimes.

Big Pharma just got fined $646 million for corrupting medicine! Well, actually it was Big Photography. Olympus is most well known for making cameras, but it also makes specialised equipment for hospitals. The US Justice Department has revealed that Olympus (the USA branch) has handed out free trips to Japan, to doctors who got their hospitals to buy Olympus equipment; given a financial grant to another hospital in exchange for a sale; and blocked a grant to another hospital, until it agreed to buy Olympus equipment.
The US Justice Department said the kickback practices between 2006 and 2011 helped the company obtain more than $600 million in sales and $230 million in profits. Unfortunately, this kind of corruption of medicine is very much the norm, with Pharma companies devoting more money to manipulating medical decisions (marketing), than to the actual development of medicines. It's not soylent green, but it's a travesty to me.

NASA research, using tree ring measurements and geographical analysis of drought extremity distribution, has found that the recent drought in the Mediterranean and Levant, that began in 1998, and has contributed to the motive for large numbers of people to leave the area for northern Europe, is likely to have been the worst drought in the area for 900 years. Droughts show up in tree ring data, with severely reduced growth, so by using the tree ring data that go back a millennium, climatologists can calibrate their computational models, to enhance predictive power of how the climate is going to change, in the future. That is what this research was originally all about. Droughts are expected to worsen, as the current era of human-caused climatic change progresses.

From the world of categorisation errors, comes the revelation that some viruses have immune systems that are comparable to bacteria's. Is it alive; is it not? The categorisation discussion continues. The mimiviruses of this study are physically huge - bigger even, than some bacterial cells - so although they don't function in a way that many would call them 'alive' they do have plenty of room inside them, for proteinous machinery. The immune systems of viruses and bacteria, of course, are barely comparable to the adaptive immune systems of large eukaryotes, like us, who have leukocytes and T-cells and things, specifically adapted for hunting down rogue cells and destroying them. The mimiviruses in question have been found to contain enzymes, that digest foreign DNA; in this case, the DNA of a virophage called 'Zamilon'. Zamilon is a virus, that invades other viruses, to reproduce. So yes, viruses can catch diseases and get sick. Bacteria have a similar system - CRISPR (most famous for genetic engineering) in order to protect themselves from bacteriophages - viruses that digest bacteria, in order to reproduce. The research group has dubbed the new type of immune system in mimiviruses, MIMIVIRE.

Homosex in male beetles, it seems, reduces incidence of physical aggression. Research into male broad-horned flour beetles (Gnatocerus cornutus) has found that, when pairs of males engage in "SSB" (same sex behaviour) they are both less aggressive than pairs that don't do SSB at all, and pairs that don't decide on 'top' and 'bottom' roles. Also observed, was that the 'top' achieved more with the females, than did the submissive sexual partner. Many species, humans included, have ways of figuring out power hierarchies, that prevent physical conflict. Showing off a bright patch of feathers, or standing the tallest, for example, is less likely to waste the resources that went into achieving sexual maturity in the first place. Evolutionarily, a dominance display increases species resourcefulness, and thereby success. In humans, of course, it's usually more about convivial hanky-panky than demonstrations of dominance. Not that the homophobes will accept that, of course.

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'Ghostbusters (GIRL POWER version) EPIC FAIL!'
When your claim to diversity, is that your film production employs zero men, you shouldn't expect good reviews!

'CRAZY SJW lecturer threatens student... BACKFIRES SPECTACULARLY!'

'If God Became an SJW'

'Australian Lightning DOUBLE DEBUNK'

'James Hansen on Ice Sheets - 2016'

'Zebra vs Horses (Americapox Part 2)'

'There is only One True Parabola'

'SFN #155: Hubble Sees New Distant Galaxy; LIGO & Gamma Rays; Get Ready for ESA'S EXOMARS!'

'NASA's Juno Mission to Jupiter: Investigating a Colossus'

'ScienceCasts: Close Encounters with Jupiter'

'New ghostly deep-sea octopus filmed at record depth'

'Japanese pygmy squid shoot ink to hunt for prey'

'New Zealand Pigeon'

'Mindstorms Solar Tracker'

'Burning Ping Pong Balls - Periodic Table of Videos'

'Dissolve Gold with Poison'

'MAVEN observes Mars moon Phobos in the mid- and far-ultraviolet'

'Image: Aeolis Mensae on Mars shows evidence of past tectonic activity'

'Image: Tethys and Janus captured against Saturn's rings'

'The frozen canyons of Pluto's north pole'

'Image: Hubble's blue bubble'

'The Bible in the Fire'

'Cassetteboy vs The Apprentice - Donald Trump Edition'

'"I Think About Donald Trump" by Roy Zimmerman'

'"MY SEX DREAMS" Tales Of Mere Existence'

'10 Amazing Paper Stunts'

'Inside TfL's Lost Property Office'

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: prate -- to talk foolishly or at tedious length about something (verb)

Fact Of The Week: The vultures in Disney's film of 'The Jungle Book' were originally intended to be voiced by The Beatles. That is why they are depicted with mop-top haircuts and scouse accents. Due to scheduling conflicts, however, the parts had to be played by professional voice actors instead.

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

'Crabby Swordfight'

'Dave Allen - The Horror Story'

'Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast - with Ross Noble #31'

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