Monthly Archives: May 2013

Jim Graves Suspends Campaign for MN 6th (formerly against Bachmann)

Jim Graves, the candidate who almost beat Michele Bachmann in her bid for re-election to Congress last year, has suspended his campaign.

I do hope he re-enters the race when Bachmann changes her mind and decides to run again!

Here’s the letter from Graves:

This is the most difficult message I’ve ever had to write.

A year ago, we set out on a mission: To restore civility, functionality and honesty to Washington by removing Michele Bachmann from office. Her hateful rhetoric and dangerous policies fueled an extremist movement unlike anything we’d seen in a long time. The tone it created was a poison pill that crippled Congress, preventing government from performing its most basic duties, like passing a budget.

Over this past year, I’ve never been more inspired. Thousands and thousands and thousands of you stepped up to the plate and sacrificed – your time, your money, your energy – to make our country a better place. Your passion will be etched into my memory forever.

This week, we learned that we succeeded. We set out to defeat Rep. Bachmann, and that has been accomplished. You should feel incredibly proud. After all, it was the grassroots movement you built that kept the pressure on and forced Rep. Bachmann from her seat in Congress.

I’ll never be able to thank you enough for being part of this team. But after struggling with this decision – agonizing over it with my friends, supporters and family, I’ve decided to suspend my campaign indefinitely.

As I said, I’ve never faced a more difficult decision. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support and dedication.

Your friendship means the world to my family and me. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Jim

The Takedown Of A Novel’s Page By Facebook Bullies

A friend of mine, Gareth Renowden, wrote a novel called The Aviator (The Burning World). It is a post-climate change story, set in the future, and it is a good one. I highly recommend it. Gareth is also an activist who puts considerable effort into climate change. Some time in the last few hours, the Facebook page Gareth had created to promote his novel was taken down by Facebook. From Gareth’s blog post on the matter:

Yesterday The Aviator‘s Facebook page disappeared. When I logged in to check the page I was greeted by a message that said the page was being removed because it had been identified as carrying material related to bullying. There was a button labelled “appeal”, so I pressed it. That’s all. No contact information, no detail of the complaint. Nothing. Except that I was also prevented from posting or sharing anything on Facebook for 12 hours. The page no longer exists, and I am annoyed.

So: why did this happen?

Gareth is well known to the science denialist community, and I strongly suspect that climate change denialists are behind this. This is what they do. They bully people. There are a lot of bullies on the Internet and they know no constraint and have no sense of ethics or responsibility to the Internet community. An overlapping and similar set of bullies attacked my my book as well which was meant to be a fundraiser for the Secular Student Alliance. And, they were successful. The attacks on me and my book were not especially effective and the bullies did not accomplish anything, but the level of support I saw from my own secular community when I was under attack was anemic at best, and made me realize that being part of a community of activists who don’t know how to activate was a waste of time. (This is why I now spend most of my activist time in the climate science area, and regional progressive politics.)

Anyway, Gareth is not at all certain as to what really happened to his facebook page. He suggests it might be a matter of Facebook being bad at what it does, but leaves open the possibility that this was a coordinated (and apparently successful) attack by science deniers on a piece of literature … a sort of vigil ante book burning … using Facebook as an unwitting pawn.

If that is the case, there is a lesson here. Never give Facebook any money. If this is how a “client” (a free unpaid user) is treated, is there any guarantee that a paid user, someone who buys facebook ads, would be treated any differently? Once again, Facebook has shown itself to be ineffective at what it does. Effort spent on Facebook, and money spent on Facebook, is effort and money at risk of being tossed aside because Facebook is unable to tell the difference between a page promoting a novel and a page that bullies, when actual bullies come along and lie.

I’m not sure what can be done about this at the present time. If Gareth comes up with a strategy other than ignoring Facebook henceforth (which is what I would recommend) I’ll let you know. In the mean time, show the bullies who burned this particular book that they can’t win, and get yourself a copy of The Aviator! It really is a good book.

Also, in the mean time, I’ve got something else for you to read. I’m working on a piece of fiction that is set in a post-apocalyptic utopian world, in which everything is fine, and that’s a huge problem. It is a climate change novel, so if you are one of the denialist bullies, this will be a future target for you, piece of literature you can burn along with your precious fossil fuels. Below, I’ve got a passage from an early draft to give you a flavor and hopefully amuse you a little. The scene takes place about 150 miles north of what is now Laramie Wyoming, in the Spring, in the year 2546. Enjoy.


The group was easy to locate from some distance owing to the toddler who frequently cried or screamed, and otherwise, was very loud. If there was an animal out there that habitually ate people, all the people would be eaten, Bale thought, owing to these toddlers. Bale approached the group the long way, allowing her to put several patches of vegetation between them, and watched for a while. The toddler was being taken care of by an older brother, just a few years older but acting very responsibly and trying to keep the little one from harming himself more than necessary on sharp rocks and thorny bushes. Then there were three girls, one half way in age between the toddler an the toddler’s caretaker, one older, just coming of age, and one full grown but young woman, and that is who Bale had come for.

Bale placed one of her arrows across the bow, and pulled enough to test the string and determine that she could fire the arrow full strength. With the arrow half cocked in this manner, she moved from her hiding place behind some bushes to the next clump of vegetation, a small mound of soil with a cowlick of tall grass on top of it. In order to not be seen, Bale had to push herself into the dirt and line her body up to be invisible from the direction of the people. She watched for a full ten minutes, and again, tested her arrow against the bow.

At one unlikely moment, all five of the people she was watching were preoccupied, although each with totally different thing. The toddler was sitting on the ground screaming with his eyes closed. The boy was looking for something to amuse the toddler with, facing away form Bale. The younger girl kid was hiding her face as part of a game she was playing with the teenager who was now looking in the opposite direction, and the young woman was taking a nap half in the shade of a creosote bush. Bale took the moment to move like a snake to the next place where she had cover, and now there was one large clump of vegetation between her and the woman under the creosote bush. Again, she tested her bow and arrow. She looked at the young sleeping woman, and she looked at her arrow, and decided to change ammo. She slipped this arrow between her belt and the small of her back where it would be handy and drew a different arrow out of a quiver, and tried that one. Good. Straighter, the fletching was in better shape. She would not miss with this one.

Then, Bale aimed. She took a careful bead and drew the arrow as tightly as it could be drawn and then held perfectly steady. She waited a full minute to make sure that everything was lined up right, her body still invisible to the group, her arrow, her quarry. Then, without moving a muscle in her body she let out a very loud shout.

“Zeta!!!”

And this caused the young woman to suddenly sit up underneath the creosote bush, striking her head on the thorny branch and getting her hair stuck. Cursing, rare among Gem Deva, ensued, and she pounded the ground with her foot. Suddenly, owing to the loud raucous coming from the creosote bush, a young peccary that had been hiding in that last clump of vegetation started, and began to take flight. But just as quickly as the peccary stood to run, it was impaled by Bale’s first arrow, and just as the Peccary started to turn its direction out of fear, Bale’s second arrow had it in the throat and it went down in the dust.

Zeta, the girl in the bush, had extracted herself from the killer vegetation and sat, still somewhat stunned by hearing her name coming from a direction in which there seemed to be no person. At this point, Bale stood, and shouldered her bow. She walked briskly towards Zeta, and half way there bent down to pick up her prey by it’s hind feet, and dragged it the rest of the way to where Zeta sat. By this time the two of them were grinning from ear to ear.

“This is for your father,” Bale told the young woman. “I hope your siblings can carry it to his camp, so you and I can take a walk.”

In Gem Devan culture, “taking a walk” was a euphemism. In a society where everyone slept in a minimalistic hut within a few feet of the next hut, certain things were done not so much at home, but … well, while taking a walk.

The two boys and two girls were also grinning, and each of them came over to Bale and gave her a long and strong hug, and exchanged words of greeting. Except the toddler, he was busy eating some ants.

“I love you, brothers and sisters,” Bale told them, as they turned, sharing the job of carrying the peccary, to deliver the gift to Zeta’s father. She looked at Zeta. Like An Yon, Zeta was the same age as Bale. Unlike An Yon, she was Devan. In fact, the one time prior that Zeta accompanied Bale to West Village, she was mistaken for Bale a number of times. They were the same height, build, had the same overall looks, but really, Zeta was less muscular and had a thinner face and her hair was a shade darker. Or perhaps dirtier.

In fact, at the moment, Bale was the one that was inappropriately dressed and not properly adorned. She was wearing shorts, a skirt, a waistcoat and tunic, all made for her by Lizzie. She wore her old billed hat and googles and two belts, one low over her hips one tight on her waist. She also donned a bandoleer, a small backpack, and several utility satchels attached to these various leather straps and belts.

Zeta, on the other hand, was mostly just wearing her smile. Well, as modest as the next Devan, she wore a loin cloth. But she was covered by a layer of brown dirt and bear grease, which was mostly winter wear but these early summer days had been cool so many of the Deva were wearing the grease-dirt mixture. Underneath, her skin would be very light. Once summer got going, Deva browned nicely and never burned in the sun, and their skin was not affected by the ravages of sunlight as one might expect, considering that they were pale people who lived outdoors and wore little clothing. This could have been partly because the skies were usually cloudy in this region, and partly because of the bear grease and dirt, but was probably just because they had been living in this setting for enough generations to adjust.

Bale took Zeta’s hand and they took a walk. For real. Bale did not tell Zeta at this point what she had come for, but filled her in on the other important things in her life. Zeta did the same, enumerating which cousins were living in their camp now, and which cousins were staying elsewhere, relating who had died recently (no one Bale knew well) and listing off the new babies. The Gem Deva were thinly dispersed on the landscape and often on the move, but in fact, they used the same exact camping spots again and again, and every feature of the landscape they lived on had a name every one knew. So, as Zeta related the recent comings and goings, she referred repeatedly to places that Bale would know, and if a location was mentioned that did not seem familiar to Bale, Zeta would fill in the blank.

“Uncle’s rock? You know, that big rock sticking out of the ground where Zim, my mother’s sister’s son, left that mess after butchering the dead deer he found that nobody could eat because it was too rotten, about a half day’s walk beyond…”

“Oh, right, that rock, just south of Rattler’s Gully.”

“Right. Anyway, that’s were Cousin Zoe-Lan and her family are staying now…”

And so on and so forth for an hour until everybody was caught up with everything.

And by this time they had come to a place where they could sit and watch the sunset, and hold each other to stay warm against the chilling night air, and restore their intimacy. They had not seen each other in two years. They were not betrothed, or a couple in any way. They were just occasional lovers, and had been so since the very day they met many miles east of this spot when they ran into each other on a bounty hunt. Zeta, like Bale, was a hunter. In fact, there were many things they both liked. There were things they both liked to do, and there were things they both liked to have done. So as the red sun slid below the horizon, and the shadows lengthened and softened and finally became one with the night, they did. Those things. A few times.

The walk back to the camp was quiet and comfortable, and lit by a full moon two hours up. Their welcome by the cousins was warm and loving. The peccary was excellent, served with a half a dozen other food items brought into the camp during the day. This group had just moved to this camp, and Zeta should have built a hut for herself and her sister that afternoon, but distracted by Bale’s arrival she never did, so her sister stayed with the toddler and his mom, the toddler’s brother and his two friends who shared a young man’s hut went off to the bush to sleep under the stars, and so the cousins gave Bale and Zeta a hut to share, a fire already built at its entrance and a couple of blankets tossed inside.

“Tomorrow morning,” Bale said to Zeta before they fell asleep. “I’m going to ask you to do something you won’t want to do.”

“That’s OK, sister,” Zeta replied. This was actually a standard Devan way of saying good night, and Zeta gave the standard response. “I hope you let me touch you with my gift.”

“I hope so too,” Bale added, which was not part of the standard good night ritual. “Because I’m actually going to ask you to do something you won’t want to do.” But she said this too quietly for Zeta to hear. Really, she just said it in her own mind. But it was true.

What Will Michele Bachmann Do Next?

As you know, Michele Bachmann, Congressperson for Minnesota’s Sixth District, has announced that she will not seek re-election to her seat in Washington DC.

Bachmann almost lost her re-election to challenger Jim Graves last year. I’m convinced that had the election been held a few weeks later, Graves would have won. Recently, internal polling data from within Bachmann’s campaign became known, and showed that as of a couple of weeks ago Bachmann was actually behind Graves. Bachmann’s response to this polling was an ad buy; the Bachmann campaign started up early with local ads, clearly indicating one thing and strongly suggesting another. For one, Bachmann had decided to run for re-election as of several days ago. She bought campaign ads. That’s pretty clear. Two weeks ago or less, Michele Bachmann was a candidate for re-election to the sixth district and was spending money on that campaign. This is a fact that must be taken into account in figuring out what is going on. The second thing this indicated was that she was nervous about the polling data and felt compelled to start early.

Then, suddenly, she announced that she would not be running. You don’t decide to run for re-election and actually craft campaign ads and buy air time for the ads and put on the air if you are not running. “I’m Michele Bachmann and I approved this message” means, very clearly, that she was in fact running for re-election. Why, then, did she suddenly stop running for re-election? Even with poor polling numbers, this does not make sense. The polling numbers were not abysmal. She was about five points behind, very close to the margin of error. This is not a number that in and of itself would recommend abandoning a campaign. Also, the numbers were known to her campaign before the ad buy.

There are two other possible explanations for her withdraw, I think. One is that something bad is about to happen and she is bugging out before that occurs. The other is that she noticed that there was another office up for election and has decided to run for it. Let’s examine those two possible explanations.

The most likely explanation for her withdraw is probably that her recent attempts to negotiate away a law suit being filed against her failed and she’s about to be dragged into her own little Watergate, or other civil or criminal legal problems loom that her campaign knows more about than we do at present:

Someone from Michele Bachmann’s 2012 presidential campaign team stole an email list off of Barb Heki’s laptop. This list was from the evangelical home school organization for which Heki played a leadership role… She sued.

Today, the court scheduled the trial.

… and later that day Bachmann made her video bowing out of the campaign.

Is this what the "other shoe" that may or may not be about to drop looks like?
Is this what the “other shoe” that may or may not be about to drop looks like?
There are other problems. The FBI is looking into Bachmann’s campaign, for instance. So, it is reasonable to guess that another shoe … related to any one of the pending law suits or investigations … is about to drop, and it is not a dainty ballet slipper but rather one of those big-ass Mickey Mouse boots the Arctic division of the Airborne Army wears when they jump out of airplanes onto glaciers.

A second explanation is that Bachmann noticed that the Junior Senator from the State of Minnesota, Al Franken, is up for re-election and, at the time she made her plans to announce her withdraw, had no serious challengers. This is the preferred explanation among local Minnesota pundits. Why? Not because it is the best explanation, but because it is the coolest explanation. Al Franken only barely won his seat during the last election, but there are very specific reasons for that, and these reasons simply don’t apply today. Senator Franken went from never having held elected office to being one of the most respected and effective Senators in Washington. How did he do that? He is a) very sincere about his public service and b) very smart. Well, also, his hard work and the excellent support from his family and staff and all that too. Bottom line: The people of Minnesota understand that Al Franken is a great senator and he will be re-elected.

Al Franken isn’t just a great Senator, but he is also one of those guys we watch for the entertainment value, and I’m not referring here to his earlier career as a comedian satirist. Have you seen him in action? Here’s an example. I would not have wanted to have been a grasshopper living in Little Al Franken’s yard when he was a little boy in Ednia, Minnesota.

That was Subtle Al. Here’s another:

Here’s Al with a very smart witness trying to trip him up. Starts at about 1:27:

Not in chambers, about Fox, and reforming our Math education system at the same time:

And here is Al Franken eating a lawyer before lunch:

For comparison, here is Michele Bachmann:

Can you imagine it? A Franken-Bachmann campaign? Pure Political Squeee. Bwahahaha to the Nth power.

So, you can see that no matter how unlikely it may be that Michele Bachmann would actually have quit her seat in the house in order to run against Al Franken, we insist on keeping it on the table as a possibility because, well, it is something to live for.

There is a third possible explanation for Michele Bachmann’s withdraw; A better offer from Fox or some other corporation. This has been suggested by various commenters but I think it unlikely. Yes, expect such a thing to occur at some time in the future, but I believe that Bachmann truly sees herself as a savior of The Constitution and will generally act with that motivation before other considerations. Of course, the first and third explanations can be linked. If she is facing high costs from impending legal battles, bowing out and getting a nice contract with Faux News would be the thing to do.

Finally, I would like to express my great relief that Bachmann is bowing out. It has been a great burden to me … as the person who got her political career started, feeling responsible all these years for having created this particular horror. Now, finally, I’ll be able to sleep nights.

Stay tuned. And, beware of falling boots.

“I am forced to conclude that your work is bad science”

Elizabeth Chin has written an excellent scholarly takedown, in the form of a “letter from your thesis reader,” of Jason Richwine’s 2009 Harvard PhD dissertation, ” IQ and Immigration.”

I’ve not read Richwine’s thesis, though I probably will at some point. And you probably haven’t either. But, you’ll still find Chin’s post informative and compelling.

It is here: What Jason Richwine Should Have Heard from his PhD Committee

While you are on the subject have a look at this: Harvard Students Demand Investigation Into Jason Richwine’s Thesis On Hispanic IQ

Hat tip: Jennifer Raff.

How do snails coil?

Typically, snails coil as they grow. The exact shape and characteristics of the coil are known to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors, depending on the snail. There is an interesting story involving snails and the young Jean Piaget. Piaget is famous for his work in psychology, but before that, when he was quite young, he worked with birds and mollusks. His work was published and otherwise disseminated and experts in these areas, unaware that he was a teenager, assumed he was an adult expert on natural history. Anyway, Piaget studied, among other things, a group of snail species in the Alps that had a diverse range of shapes from roundish to more elongated. It appeared that these snails were well adapted to their environment. Elongated snails, which are more delicate than round ones, lived in low energy environments such as lakes, while the round ones were found in quickly running water, where being round gave more mechanical protection from getting bashed about.

As part of his research he collected specimens of these snails from lakes and various streams, and raised them in aquariums. When the snails of the various species grew up in the aquariums, they all looked like each other (they looked like the still water lake snails); the morphology that separated these different species in the wild vanished in the lab. It turned out that the snails differentiated via some sort of reaction to their environment. What seems to have been an excellent example of Darwinian adaptation was actually an excellent example of norm of reaction (the range of variation a given genotype produces in various environments).

Piaget also studied a group of plants in the same region that exhibited the same phenomenon; viny, bushy, tree-ish, etc. forms were the same species growing in different habitats. Between the snails and the plants, Piaget is said to have more or less given up on “Darwinism.” He was wrong, of course. Rejecting Darwinian concepts of evolution gave Piaget the chance to become a very famous psychologist but he lost the opportunity to explore and publish on a key feature in evolutionary biology, reaction norms.

ResearchBlogging.orgBut enough of reaction norms. Most of the morphological differences between snail species is probably more genetic than it is environmental, despite Piaget’s bad luck in choice of model species. Some years ago I had the pleasure of working with fresh water snail expert Pete Williamson, and from him I learned that one way to differentiate among species of snails was to develop a polynomial formula that described the shape of the coiled shell. One could then measure a number of individuals and assign variance terms to each element of the polynomial, and in this way test hypotheses about differences between species or subspecies, or evolutionary change over time. Pete’s work on African fresh water snails was one of the first examples of punctuated equilibrium to be worked out in a major taxon following Gould and Eldridge’s definition of that concept. He also was able to pin down various “turnover” events when a number of species went extinct and new ones arose that associated in time with key events in human evolution in East Africa. (I talk about Pete in some of my Congo Memoirs, starting with this one. He’s piloting the boat we were in that sank in Lake Edward.)

And all this leads us to a new paper, published in BioMed Central’s open access journal EvoDevo. The press release I received this morning seems quite good so I’ll just reproduce it below. The paper, being Open Access, is available here. (Let me know if that link does not work for you!)

Snail shell coiling programmed by protein patterning

Snail shells coil in response to an lopsided protein gradient across their shell mantles, finds research in BioMed Central’s open access journal EvoDevo. In contrast the shell mantle of limpets, whose shells do not coil, have a symmetrical pattern of the protein Decapentaplegic (Dpp).

There are many hundreds of different kinds of gastropods (slugs snail and limpets) – second only in number of species to insects. They have adapted to live on land as well as in fresh water and marine environments, and have altered their physiology to survive in different habitats and to exploit different niches. The ancestral snail is thought to have had a coiled shell but during evolution some snails have lost their shells to become slugs, and some, limpets and false limpets, have independently lost the ability to coil their shells.

In order to find out why some gastropods have straight and some have coiled shells researchers from the University of Tokyo looked at the pattern of Dpp during shell growth. Dpp was first identified in fruit flies where it is necessary for the correct development of limbs, wings and other organs – decapentaplegic describes the 15 things missing in the absence of the gene dpp. Dpp is also found in the shell gland of gastropods, an early structure which begins to form a developing shell. However its presence in the mantle, which takes over shell production as the animal develops, was unknown.

In all four animals tested, limpets Patella vulgata and Nipponacmea fuscoviridis, and the right-hand coiled pond snail Lymnaea stagnalis along with a sinistral coiled lab-developed snail, dpp expression matched shell shape. There was also a Dpp protein gradient spreading away from this which was also symmetrical in limpets but had left/right asymmetry for the pond snails, matching the handedness of shell coiling.

Keisuke Shimizu, who led this study, commented, “This molecular mechanism driving for shell coiling persists from early developmental stages though adult life as the shell is replaced. It also provides an explanation for how shell coiling has been lost several times during the evolution of gastropods by the relatively easy loss of asymmetric Dpp.”

Here’s a picture:

Snail Evolution
Snail Evolution

Shimizu, K., Iijima, M., Setiamarga, D., Sarashina, I., Kudoh, T., Asami, T., Gittenberger, E., & Endo, K. (2013). Left-right asymmetric expression of dpp in the mantle of gastropods correlates with asymmetric shell coiling EvoDevo, 4 (1) DOI: 10.1186/2041-9139-4-15

Michele Bachmann Will Not Run For Re-Election (Updated)

Michele Bachmann is currently serving her last term and will not seek re-election.

She claims to have suddenly grown the opinion that there should be term limits on Representatives in the House, but that is not very likely the reason. It could be that she is behind in the polls, and it could have something to do with the impending criminal and ethics investigations. If it the latter, perhaps we should be expecting some news in the near future regarding these investigations.

Either way,

Maybe she plans to run for Senator against Al Franken?

OH please, please, please, let it be so!

UPDATE: Here’s Michele Bachmann’s YouTub video explaining how wonderful she is and stating that she WILL run for public office if she decides it is necessary for her to save the United States of America from itself. She also states that it is necessary for her to save the United States of America from itself, so do indeed expect her to run:

Secular Woman Statement on Ron Lindsay’s WIS-2 Comments

Secular Woman is an organization I’m proud to be a member of. SW has released a statement responding to the latest dust up in the Secular-Atheist-Skeptical Community in which CFI leader Ron Lindsay somehow got assigned the job of giving the welcoming/opening talk to the second Women in Secularism Conference, and made a big mess of it.

Here’s the first part of the statement, click through to read the rest:

The Secular Woman Board of Directors, in consultation with our most active members and supporters, regrets having to express our organization’s deep concern over recent public statements from Dr. Ron Lindsay, Center for Inquiry (CFI) CEO, during and following that organization’s Women in Secularism (WiS) conference this past weekend.

Secular Woman promoted the WiS event heavily with our membership for months. During this period we raised $2190 that enabled seven women, relatively new to the secular movement, to experience an event they would not otherwise have had the means to attend. Based on member feedback, we estimate that another 25 of the reported 300 WiS attendees were at the conference because of Secular Woman’s encouragement. Additionally, 57% of our Board of Directors was present.

Through Secular Woman’s @AbortTheocracy campaign, thousands of our fans, followers and members have been made aware of CFI’s efforts in the area of reproductive rights. In fact, CFI is the only organization to have taken advantage of this service announced to secular leaders on an internal list-serv for leaders in the secular movement.

Given our support and the aims of WiS, we find it stunningly unacceptable that Dr. Lindsay chose to greet our members, our Board, and other attendees with his personal, ill-formed criticisms of feminism rather than welcoming us all to the conference we had promoted and paid to attend. Worse, he instead chose to personally welcome a man who has harassed and antagonized many of the speakers scheduled for the weekend, and who now has an interview about the conference on the front page of the website of A Voice for Men, which is monitored by the Southern Poverty Law Center for their misogynistic content.

We are incredulous that in a conference about women in the secular movement Dr. Lindsay was completely silent about the threats, harassment, and stalking that many atheist women have experienced at the hands of other atheists. Additionally, we are truly appalled by the tone and content of his blog post, “Watson’s World and Two Models of Communication,” in which he bizarrely compares Rebecca Watson’s writings to missives from North Korea, misuses a Secular Woman statement to his own purposes, and claims that those who are active feminists cannot be real reason-and-evidence based secularists.

Not having seen an apology, retraction, or other followup to these official communications, we are forced to arrive at several conclusions:

Click Through.

Cosmic Bombardment of the Earth ca 2.2 Million Years Ago?

There are bacteria that use Iron (and other elements) to make tiny magnets that they carry around so they don’t get lost. (I anthropomorphize slightly.) There are isotopes of Iron that are not of the Earth, but are found only elsewhere in the universe.

Suppose an event happened elsewhere and spewed some of that cosmic Iron isotope, say Fe-60, onto the earth, and the bacteria who were busy making their tiny compasses at that time used some of it. Then the bacteria died and were trapped inlayers in seafloor sediment and later examined by scientists looking for … well, looking for evidence of cosmic events trapped in bacterial compasses!

Well, that happened.

A bit of sea floor was found to have Iron-60 in it a few years back. Iron-60 is radioactive and decays into Cobalt-60, with a known (but only recently known as it turns out) decay rate. That bit of rock was taken as possible evidence of an ancient supernova. The event was tied, conjecturally, to human evolution as all things must be whenever even remotely possible:

Cosmic fallout from an exploding star dusted the Earth about 2.8 million years ago, and may have triggered a change in climate that affected the course of human evolution. The evidence comes from an unusual form of iron that was blasted through space by a supernova before eventually settling into the rocky crust beneath the Pacific Ocean.

The team has now analysed a … piece of ocean crust, where the supernova detritus is concentrated into a clear band of rock that can be accurately dated. The researchers found small but significant amounts of an isotope called iron-60 in the rock, which could only have come from a supernova.

“We’ve looked at all the possibilities and we can’t find anything else that could produce such quantities,” Korschinek says.

The human evolution impact idea comes from a possible cooling effect the exploding star would have had on the earth. Back in 2004 it was estimated that the earth would have been bathed in extra cosmic rays for about 100,000 years which would have, it was said, created condensation in the atmosphere which would have cooled the earth. There was a cooling event around that time (but quite possibly well after this date, so don’t hang any hats on this) so I suppose this could be. But, I’m not going to assume that the cooling effects of cosmic rays are a thing at this point. I do know that people have gotten the effects of upper level vapor wrong a few times so I’m going to avoid making any assumptions about that here.

Anyway, last April, a paper was given at the American Physical Society conference giving preliminary findings related to some follow up research. Shawn Bishop and his team obtained a core from the Pacific dating to between 1.7 and 3. 3 million years ago. They sampled it at 100K intervals and extracted and separated out Iron in a way that would show Iron-60 if there was any. And …

“It looks like there’s something there,” Bishop told reporters at the Denver meeting. The levels of iron-60 are minuscule, but the only place they seem to appear is in layers dated to around 2.2 million years ago.

And, the iron was concentrated in the target layers by the action of compass-using bacteria.

Notice the change in date from 2.8 to 2.2. This is, I think, because the half life of Iron-60 was refigured based on some intervening research. Now, the date is probably too late for a significant cooling event. But really, there were a whole bunch of cooling events from somewhere over 5 million years ago to about 2 point something million years ago, and there is a long list of candidates for what caused them, including numerous big volcanoes, continental movements, and now, a supernova.

I don’t think anyone is claiming to know what star exploded.


Photo Credit for picture of fancy science machine: Gottfried not Bouillon via Compfight cc