Monthly Archives: June 2011

Is the origin of life different from evolution?

I heard it said recently that “Evolution” and “Origin of life” are two separate issues. I know that this is a falsehood, and I’ll discuss in a moment how and why it is not true. But first, I checked around with a few people that I know and love, and found out that some of them assumed this was true. I think it is something that has been said enough times that if you are not personally engaged in the research or just don’t think about it enough, you can easily assume that this is what the experts say. But they don’t.
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Michele Bachmann promises to be a clown and kill teenagers

… And she still doesn’t know where anything is …

Michele Bachmann promised, in an interview associated with her announcement to run for President of the United States (POTUS) and Effective Leader of the Free World (ELFW), that she would become a professional clown and murder dozens of teenage boys and young men.

Or, perhaps, she is just confused …
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A Vote for Moffett is a Vote for Ants

My old friend Mark Moffett is one of the pioneers of high canopy research, dragging his cameras into the upper reached of the rain forest to learn amazing new things and take some amazing photographs. He’s also spent considerable time on and beneath the forest floor studying ants. You know those research projects where they excavate an entire leaf cutter ant colony in order to understand how their underground labyrinths are laid out and function as a sort of earth-encrusted organism? That was Mark. Well, others have done it but he was a pioneer in that research.

I met Mark when he was in the next building over working with E.O. Wilson, and I’ve followed his activities and career as he’s published a number of interesting books and continued to bring attention to the scientific interest and environmental concerns of the world’s rain forests (from The High Frontier: Exploring the Tropical Rainforest CanopyRain Forests Books) to Adventures Among Ants: A Global Safari with a Cast of TrillionsInsect & Spider Books)). And ants.

Bug Girl just let me know that Mark is now up for a Labby award. You can go here and vote for him. He’s the weaver ant.

Talk Origins wants to buy Expelled. Can you help them?

Apparently, when you make a movie, there’s this box of stuff left over that someone has to own. It can include things like the original unedited film/video, from which the director and editors selected/cherry picked what they wanted to include, as well as various correspondences and documents and stuff.

The company that produced that horrid piece of drek known as “Expelled! No Intelligence Allowed” has gone out of business (a little Darwinian process at work, may we assume?) and the box of stuff that resulted from that film is now on the auction block. The auctioneer’s gavel will strike this Tuesday (June 28th).

And, Talk Origins, the original intertubual entity on the science side of the evolution-creationism debate (or at least the earliest one that is still going strong) is trying to buy it.

Wesley Elsberry at Panda’s Thumb has the details here. It is a little complicated. But for you, simple: Just click the paypal button and give them some money, then wait. They can use your help and you can be part of an historic moment.

My new blogging project: Darwin and Birds

For the next several weeks, I’ll be contributing a weekly post at The informal title of this series of posts is Darwin’s Other Birds. The idea is to identify particularly interesting passages from Darwin’s writings and put them in an appropriate context. This week’s post is an introduction to the series. Thanks to Gunnar for the interesting introduction to the Birdingblgos community!

I hope you enjoy the series, which will run every Friday. Next Friday, Darwin and the Andean Condor.

Japan Nuclear Disaster Update 29: Indecent Exposure

Much of the current news is about exposure and fallout.

As a point of information, the Sievert is a unit of “dose equivliant” from exposure to ionizing radiation. It was designed to indicate relative levels of biological effects on living organisms. This measurement technique attempts to take into account the fact that radiation is absorbed differently by different tissues. Usually we speak in terms of humans unless otherwise specified. There are one thousand millisieverts in a sievert (mSv). Zero to 0.25 Sv in a day is considered to have no effect. At up to one Sv people feel sick and more susceptible tissues are damaged. 10 Sv in a day is deadly. As one goes from 1 to 10 Sv in a day things get worse. If a person is esposed to about 6 Sv in a day or more, they won’t die that day. But later, they probably will. Some of the numbers are given in microsieverts, one thousand times less than a millisievert.

In practice, it is common to measure the effects of radiation exposure accumulated over longer time periods. For example, one measures the maximum dose allowed for US radiation-related workers at 50 mSv per year. When mSv is being discussed in most of the text in Ana’s feed (below) you should assume “per year” is meant if not stated, unless otherwise indicated, although in some cases it seems that the measure being used is accumulated to date, which is closer to one fourth of a year.

The question has been raised; Are increased radiation levels across North America sufficient to explain a jump in infant mortality seen since Fukushima, or is that a coincidence? These deaths are concentrated in the region that would have a larger increase of exposure (the west coast). Probably not. Fukushima is so far away. Babies are so … tough and able to withstand toxic insults. And you can’t see radiation, so how bad can it be? Anyway, it ends up that this is probably some very creative data cooking.

One of the main problems at Fukushima at present is the highly radioactive water flooding the structures’ basements. As this water is being pumped around a certain unspecified (probably unknown) amount of radioactive material is being removed from it. In theory, it is possible to remove most of the raidioisotope from the water, but then one is stuck with a pile of radioactive carbon filtering material. An unknown amount of water is leaking from the plant before being contaminated. Efforts to decrease the amount of water being pumped into the plant, and thus becoming contaminated, were tried but resulted in increasing heat in a reactor core.

The other main, continuing story is the growing understanding of how poorly prepared TEPCO was for any sort of disaster at the plant, and how much sweeping under the rug was going on after the earthquake and tsunami.

Meanwhile, efforts continue to reinforce the Number 4 reactor spent fuel rod containment pool which is thought to be too weak to sustain a serious earthquake. Reinforcement is in fact being put in place but it will be several more weeks before that job is done. The water in the containment pool is still quite hot.

Enigmatically, even though the situation at Fukushima improves only very slowly and radiation continues to spew from the plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency no longer sees it as the top story, and it is now supplanted by various IAEA activities and an FAQ about nuclear safety, relegated to page two, as it were, of their web site. The latest update is still JUne 2nd.

Ana’s Feed

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