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House Science Committee Full of Anti-science Members

August 26, 2012
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“As a citizen of the world, I do not want the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet in the hands of a nation of people who vote for men like Akin.”-from comments on an article regarding Congressman Todd Akin’s view of the unlikelihood of pregnancy from rape.

The problem here, of course, is that Akin is basing his beliefs on wishful thinking rather than scientific evidence.  This would  be less of a problem, except that Akin is a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology committee.  Unfortunately, Akin is not an anomaly. Other members of the committee, mostly republicans, express similar attitudes which show their scientific ignorance.

Chairperson Ralph Hall, for example, doesn’t think global warming could be man-made because, “I don’t think we can control what God controls.”  Not much scientific evidence in that notion.  Mo Brooks still communicates the false fact that a scientific consensus existed in the 1970’s regarding “global cooling.”  Dana Rohrbacher, another member, believes that cutting down trees has no effect on the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  Dan Benishek, a republican from Michigan, thinks all the global warming evidence is “just some scheme” for scientists to get funding.  Paul Broun from Georgia thinks it’s socialistic for the government to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption.  (Information in this paragraph is taken from an article in Wired Science).

These are individuals who make decisions about funding for scientific projects, yet appear to base most of their beliefs on fundamentalist religious notions or social darwinism.  They also would have something to say about the space program and the use of nuclear weapons.  If that’s not scary, I don’t know what is.


Donate to Space Research–Go Uwingu

August 18, 2012
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A new for-profit start-up company called Uwingu is in operation with its primary goal being to raise funding for space research.  Uwingu means “sky” in Swahili.  By first accepting donations to get started, the company plans to make items that can be sold with the profits being donated to various worthy space programs.  It’s organizers, made up mostly of working scientists, are hoping to reduce the impact of the reductions in funding that NASA has experienced in the last few years.  A more complete description of this new venture is available at: http://cosmiclog.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/08/15/13299431-whats-uwingu-space-funding-venture-isnt-just-for-space-fans?lite

If you might donate, go to:

http://www.indiegogo.com/p/180221


Ignorance Reigns Among Some Southern Lawmakers

August 18, 2012
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GOP lawmakers in Kentucky have urged including the teaching of young Earth creationism along with evolution in science classrooms in conversations with the ACT educational testing service.  This at a time when scientists have put car-sized robotic vehicles on Mars, and legislators can’t accomplish anything useful.

Doubtful Newsblog quotes Rep. Ben Waide, a republican from Madisonville, as saying, “The theory of Evolution is theory and essentially the theory of evolution is not science–Darwin made it up.  My objection is they should ensure whatever scientific material is being put forth as a standard should at least stand up to the scientific method.  Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny.”

How sadly misinformed can one person be?  Actually, it would be comparatively simple to turn his comments into accurate scientific statements.  Just substitute “creationism” for “evolution.”:  “The theory of creationism is theory and essentially, the theory of creationism is not science–Religionists made it up.  My objection is they should ensure whatever scientific material is being put forth as a standard should at least stand up to the scientific method.  Under the most rudimentary, basic, scientific examination, the theory of creationism has never stood up to scientific scrutiny.”   Now we have a statement that stands up to scientific scrutiny.

These lawmakers don’t seem to realize that you can’t legislate what is and isn’t scientific fact.  Changing the laws of society can’t change the laws of the universe, and it is the laws of the universe that children should know.

Meanwhile in Tennessee, a law implying that creationism may be taught in public schools, despite court rulings against religious indoctrination, has passed both houses and was allowed to become law by the governor.  The law, of course doesn’t specifically address creationism, it just states that specific weaknesses in evolutionary science can be addressed, but there is not much doubt about its aim.  Of course, if the law is used to teach specific weaknesses in creationism, as it could be, there will be an uproar against the godless liberals who populate “our schools.”

Meanwhile in Missouri, the “show me” state, voters gave themselves a right they already had.  Their “Right to Pray” law seems pretty harmless and also unnecessary, but it contains an amendment which could be used to give students the right to skip any assignment or presentation in school which would violate their religious beliefs.  This would be an incredible convenience for anyone who doesn’t want their followers exposed to ideas that would conflict with what they want them to believe.  And, of course, it could be used in biology classes to avoid learning anything about evolution.   Interestingly, it appears it could also be used by students who just don’t want to do the work.

All of these happenings are back door attempts to promote the dissemination of anti-science religious ideas backed by a couple of organizations which produce “creationist” material and distribute it to churches of various denominations across the country.  This material is full of pseudo-scientific claims that purport to prove that the earth is only 6000 or so years old, and that the earth and all us creatures on it were just popped into existence by an all-powerful creator.  Unwary parishoners, whose knowledge of science is limited fall for the nonsense being preached. Some of them become state legislators.

But science stops and so does progress when all explanations end with the statement “God did it” without proceeding to the next logical question, “How did he do it?”


NASA’s Greatest Achievement?

August 12, 2012
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The very complicated and successful placement of the car-sized rover Curiosity on the surface of Mars within a crater that probably contains liquid water and possibly signs of past Martian life may  actually be NASA’s greatest achievement to date.  There were no redundencies built into the Curiosity mission.  Everything had to work, from the heat shield to the huge parachute deployment to the aero-braking unit to the sky crane, for the landing to come off at all.  Critics of the $2.5 billion cost need to realize that the money came from a number of years of NASA funding, and that the difficulties that had to be overcome in the design and execution of this mission were  greater than any other space mission undertaken by any nation so far.  A thin Martian atmosphere (about like Earth’s at 100,000 feet) made the combination aero-braking, parachute, sky crane landing necessary and underscores the difficulties NASA will face in getting human habitation modules to the surface.

But along with the repairs of the Hubble space telescope, this may be NASA’s biggest achievement so far.  Finding any signs of past Martian life, no matter how small, will give scientists a good indication of how prevalent life might be in the cosmos.


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New Economic Bill of Rights Needed

August 12, 2012
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I will briefly depart from this blog’s mission of promoting space exploration and instead promote more immediate human well being with a nod to space science at the end.

A book by John DeCraal and David K. Balker entitled What’s the Economy for Anyway?  provides a blueprint for national happiness which we shouldn’t ignore.  Nor should any nation.  As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

The authors present an economic “Bill of Rights” that the country should consider.  Among them are: Provide at least three weeks of vacation each year for all workers prorated for part-timers, and the use of work sharing systems to reduce unemployment without increasing working hours. Provide prenatal and other care for all parents-to-be.  Provide single-payer health care to all Americans with private insurance for additional coverage.  Offer tax incentives for healthy behavior and raise taxes on unhealthy foods and activities.  Ban TV advertising aimed at children under 12. Create a more progressive tax structure with fewer loopholes for the wealthy and big corporations, increasing the marginal tax rate to 45% and setting the capital gains rate to the same as earnings from actual work.  End the income limit for social security taxation and tax breaks for private pensions.

Adopt physical sustainability rules to inform decision making for air, water, land, and climate resources. Remove taxes on “goods” with positive social benefits and place more taxes on “bads” that put costs on individuals, communities, and the environment.  Cancel subsidies on nonrenewable resources and move them to renewable resources that don’t change climate. Break up the largest banks and investment firms. Promote energy efficiency with low-interest financing to improve infrastructure.

Ban corporate campaign contributions by amending the U.S. constitution. Put taxes on sprawl and excessive home sizes, but provide incentives for green building, smaller homes, public transportation etc.

What the authors significantly leave out is any direct statement of funding for future research and development.  Funding and incentives for space exploration in particular would end up providing advances in many of the areas mentioned as well as providing a major source of the jobs that the authors say every American is entitled to.

A complete list of the authors’ ideas for achieving prosperity and happiness can be found at: http://www.fastcoexist.com/1680286/a-new-economic-bill-of-rights-to-create-national-happiness

 

 

 


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Curiosity To Mars Touchdown Aug. 6

August 4, 2012
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NASA’s latest Mars rover, nicknamed Curiosity, and about the size of a compact car, is scheduled to touchdown on the red planet this Monday, August 6.  The landing will be the most complicated ever attempted, using a combination of aero-braking, parachute, and retro-rocket firing.  Everything has to work perfectly or Curiosity will end up being a useless pile of expensive rubble.  Curiosity is equipped to find out whether life might have once existed on Mars.  A full-sized replica of Curiosity is on display at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.  Visit www.exploratorium.edu/mars for more information.

 


Detecting Alien Life Not Easy

August 4, 2012
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Excitement generated by the detection of hundreds of exo-palnets–that is, planets around other stars– has led to the desire to find Earthlike bodies in the so-called “goldilocks” zone of these stars. That is the area around a star at which water could remain liquid, thus increasing the chances for life to exist.  Last December, Kepler 22b, a planet in just such a location was discovered.  Kepler 22b is only 2.4 times Earth size.  The next logical step for NASA was to look for signs of life by examining the atmospheres of these “goldilocks” planets.  So the Terrestial Planet Finder was conceived, but due to ever increasing budget cuts at NASA, the Terrestial Planet Finder Project has been cancelled, along with other life-seeking endeavors.

Scientists believe it is likely that tens of billions of planets exist in our galaxy alone that have the right temperature for liquid water.  Telescopes. combined with spectroscopic analysis could detect life by examining atmospheres for molecules like water vapor, oxygen, carbon monoxide, and methane.

So, barring large budgets, some astronomers are finding what ways they can to discover life.  Two projects, one called Fast Infrared Exoplanet Spectroscopy Explorer (Finesse) would use a 30 inch space telescope which could survey only planets around nearby stars (about 200 of them) for signs of life.  Another group at MIT proposes a spacecraft containing a telescope array that would survey the entire sky, looking for “goldilocks” planets, then turn the job of spectroscopic analysis over to big telescopes like Hubble.  NASA has given each group $one million in start-up costs.

Both plans are less likely to succeed than NASA’s original Planet Finder, but each would cost less, which seems to be the main driving force behind any government-sponsored project today.  NASA has already experienced several failures in robotic missions which could probably be attributed to lack of adequate funding

Hopefully, one or the other of these projects will work.  The idea that life definitely exists on another planet around a distant star system would be extremely exciting, and change some viewpoints about the nature of the universe.  It might even spur further space exploration which, in the end, would be a long range boost to the world economy as I’ve detailed before in other blog entries here.

 


Scientist Notes Several Proofs for the ‘Big Bang’

August 1, 2012
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“Only in the first seconds of a hot Big Bang, …would nuclear reactions occur that could produce precisely the abundance of light elements, hydrogen and deuterium, helium and lithium, that we infer to have comprised the basic building blocks of the stars that now fill the night sky.”
It seems that, “..only a malicious…God would have conspired to have created a universe that so unambiguously points to a Big Bang origin without its having occurred.”
At present , only about 15% of all the observed helium in the universe could have been produced by stars since the Big Bang. The rest was produced in that original primordial explosion which began the expansion of reality.
–Taken from Lawerance M. Krauss’s latest book, A Universe from Nothing.