Should be easy for technical remote viewers, psychics etc. Show us what you can do. Post the answers to the comments section of Rockstar’s blog. Details here.
Should be easy for technical remote viewers, psychics etc. Show us what you can do. Post the answers to the comments section of Rockstar’s blog. Details here.
Fifty years ago the hydrogen bond angle in water was 108° and you rarely heard of anyone with cancer. Today, it's only 104° and, as a result, cancer is an epidemic!! By using our machine you can increase the bond angle to 114° and, unlike any other water, doctors can see an immediate change in the red blood cells under a microscope! It's truly amazing!!
Yes, it is truly amazing that they could print such nonsense. In reality:
The size and shape of the H2O molecule is governed entirely by the balance of forces between the ten nuclear charges and the ten electrons in the molecule. There is no evidence for the changes claimed.
Still, why spoil a good story with scientific facts, when there is so much water cluster quackery to go round. And unverifiable and highly unlikely anecdotes such as these from Facts About H2O:
Herman has grown 18 foot corn, gigantic vegetables etc. and one major university, after turning a well pump off and pouring this amazing water down a well (pump off 4 hrs.) was AMAZED to find BACTERIA had gone from SKY HIGH to ZERO!
He grew a university?! Wow, that must be some special brand of bullshit he’s using there. And all by treating tap water with a device that merely:
…employs a 1500-watt heating element which boils water and then recondenses it, producing what is in effect distilled water.
The manufacturer and promoters of this device embellish the above mundane facts with variety of statements that are scientifically absurd and would likely be considered laughable by anyone who has recently passed a high-school chemistry course. Unfortunately, this group excludes most of the potential buyers of this device, who are not equipped to critically examine these claims and are thus more likely to be taken in by them.
To the tune of $1,500. Or $1,700 for one “with levels 15 times higher”.
Hat tip to Wildcat at the JREF Forum.
› Man, wastes $1,500 on useless device
Scientists are investigating why crocodiles seem to heal quickly from injuries, to see if anything can be learned that could be applied to human illnesses:
It has been known for some time that these animals heal serious injuries rapidly and almost without infection.
More recently, tests showed alligator blood has strong antibacterial powers.
Of course, it’s not easy: even if they isolate something in the crocodile blood that helps crocodiles, it can’t be directly used in humans. Consequently the scientists don’t yet have much to sink their teeth into:
"But there is really no clinical utility because I can't isolate them from alligators and inject them into your veins because your body would recognise that it was not human."
Instead, he hopes to be able find something in the crocodile and alligator blood that can be mimicked in a drug, and has begun to look at white blood cells - the cells that flock to fight invading pathogens.
White blood cells make and release tiny proteins to fight the infection and Dr Merchant believes that, if he can isolate these from the animals, it might point a way to making new antibiotics and antiviral drugs for humans.
Still, that is how real science works – evidence based, step by step, all driven by knowledge of how the body actually works.
Compare that with the “Antidote” product that I still get junk emails about. Standard pseudoscience: a lot of impressive-sounding language coupled with extraordinary claims for the product, none of which is backed by any evidence.
You can now expect these “Antidote” people (and no-doubt numerous other quacks), to latch on to this to get a free ride. The real scientists, naturally, are not amused. One of the scientists in the study, Adam Britton, snaps:
A recent spate of spam mails advertising a product called "The Antidote" has people contacting me asking whether it's genuine. The manufacturers claim that it is based on the "crocodillin" antibiotic that I helped discover in 1998 and strongly imply that we endorse their product. This is not true. I would like to clarify that "The Antidote" is not associated with our "crocodillin" research and at no time have I endorsed such a product. I understand that the BBC are considering legal action, which should tell you everything you need to know.
Any real antidote, if there is one to be had, will come from the work of real scientists like Britton and Merchant, not from the quacks at crocinamillion. Accept no substitutes.
One more bad pun and that arm's coming off.
This little device can make literally thousands of different vibrational remedies from names of substances or descriptions spoken into it, which may include Homeopathic Remedies, Flower and Gem Remedies, even descriptions of illness symptoms, each device making the equivalent of at least $40,000 worth of Remedies, and this includes medications which would be impossible to obtain anywhere else!
Wow, think of the savings! It works like this:
…the device is fitted with a special kind of microphone which converts speech into subtle vibrations. These are then stored in a temporary memory inside the device, and then amplified and fed to a tiny "Well" that is fitted in the instrument, in which the bottle of blank unpotentised tablets are placed.
In use, the device is held close to the mouth, a button on the side of the Remedy Maker is pressed in, and you speak the name of a Remedy you want immediately followed by the Potency (if any). The button is then released and a "beep" sound is heard confirming that a remedy has been recorded and stored. Then the device is placed on a table or flat surface and a small bottle of tablets, or even just one or two tablets can be placed in the small 30.3mm ( 1. 3/16" ) diameter Stainless Steel Well that is fitted in the device. A switch next to the Well is operated and held down for about 3 seconds, and then released, and the device again beeps to confirm that your remedy has been made.
Skeptical? No problem. The product information page states:
None of our devices depend on your healing ability or belief to make them operate, they will work fine even if you think they don't!
That’s a relief. It continues:
We beleive (sic) that the most important thing is that you can afford to buy our equipment, and we do not beleive (sic) in excessive profit making.
Or in spell checkers, apparently.
Masses of other dubious products on sale including these dowsing pendulums.
Hum, vibrational energies used to potentize homeopathic remedies. This sounds a little like Jacques Benveniste’s later experiments where he claimed that water exposed to electromagnetic radiation at roughly 22KHz becomes “informed water” that is biologically active. He claimed the homeopathic signal can be digitized and sent by email if necessary, and then inserted into a clean water sample to make a new homeopathic solution. Unfortunately, independent testers found the recorded signal of the homeopathic solution was 100% identical to the pure water control solution. Still, that never stopped Benveniste (pictured on the right with test tubes of magic water) – why should it stop these people?
To be fair though, they do say the device makes homeopathic remedies, and since homeopathic remedies contain nothing anyway (they’re just water or sugar pills), they’re probably not lying. Whether the placebo effect from the potentized pills will be as strong as conventional homeopathic remedies though, is unknown.
Hat tip to Diamond at the JREF Forum.
Yes, you too can learn Remote Viewing from PsiTech - the people who told us where to find Elizabeth Smart’s dead body! Yes, never mind that she was found alive, months later. Don’t let that put you off, join their on-line tutorial webcast at 7pm Pacific Time today (Wednesday):
PSI TECH Presents Live Remote Viewing Tutoring by Online Webcast!
Featuring interactive instruction by our own President & Director of Training at Technical Remote Viewing University, long time Remote Viewer, Joni Dourif.
The first in this series will begin this Wednesday, August 24, 2005, online at: http://www.trvuniversity.com/laboratory/trv101-livetutoring-free.html
PSI TECH's TRV tape Trainees and all interested Remote Viewers are Welcome!
The session will begin at 7PM PST, and will last approximately 45 minutes. The topic for this session is "How to make your Blind Target Pool & Targets & Cues." There will be a 20 minute Q&A period. If you have questions about these subjects please have them ready and we will try to get to as many as possible. You can also send questions in advance to email@example.com.
To join the session, visit http://www.trvuniversity.com/laboratory/trv101-livetutoring-free.html
Note that the video has changed to Windows Media format, so you'll want to make sure you have Windows Media 9+ installed and working with your browser. (See www.windowsmedia.com for more information on installing the player.)
See you there!
Yes never mind that PsiTech are unable to find Natalee Holloway or any other missing girls. Never mind the government abandoned remote viewing after spending millions on it, because it doesn’t work. Never mind PsiTech will not take a simple test to win Randi’s million dollars, or that their CEO Dane Spotts publishes the usual bunch of excuses for this (plus out-of-context quotes), on their website (all debunked by Randi). Remote viewing is real. Try it out.
Seriously, try it out. Tell us about your experiences in the comments section below.
I take quotes out of context and am afraid to take Randi’s test
- Dane Spotts.
And a deserved one! How PZ has the time or patience I just don’t know, but he takes apart Chopra’s drivel tonight on Larry King Live so that the rest of us don’t have to.
Interestingly, my first post on Skeptico was in response to an email I received from someone about Chopra’s so-called “profound” statements on the tsunami. I called it Drivel from Chopra – a title PZ could just have easily used today.
(Or not – you decide.)
According to reports, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has ordered his followers to stop teaching his advanced meditation and levitation techniques in Britain, and is leaving the country:
Disgusted at Tony Blair's support for the US in the Iraq war and the British electorate's failure to unseat the prime minister at the general election, the 95-year-old guru says there is no point continuing to waste the "beautiful nectar" of TM on a "scorpion" nation.
"The good effects of transcendental meditation - increased creativity and long life - should not be given to a dangerous country that is constantly busy destroying the world," said the maharishi, speaking at one his regular press conferences in the Netherlands. "TM is a gift from me to those who want to create peace and harmony in the world."
…he ordered his followers at Skelmersdale, Lancashire - the site of an ideal maharishi village complete with a gold meditation dome - to beam peace-loving thoughts to the British electorate with the aim of overtuning the Labour government.
It was the failure of that thought experiment that prompted the maharishi to withdraw from Britain, a decision first communicated to his followers in a conference call from Holland the day after the general election.
Funny, he’s pulling out of the UK but not the US – a country I’d have thought even more associated with aggressive warlike behavior. And the US reelected George Bush – why is that better than the Brits reelecting Blair? Also you would think a country that supports war would be more in need of the Maharishi’s influence, not less. Why doesn’t he stay to try to improve things?
…Oh I get it – rather than admit that it doesn’t work he’s taking his bat and ball and going home. Boo hoo.
We shouldn’t be surprised it didn’t work though – the “Maharishi effect” is an absurd idea that has never worked, despite claims to the contrary. (Although admittedly it did win an Ig Nobel Peace Prize.)
I did note one interesting quote:
Mike Owen, a psychotherapist with Sunabitur Healthcare, who has recommended TM to many of his patients, said that, for many, flying overseas was both impractical and prohibitively expensive.
Flying was both impractical and prohibitively expensive? Is this finally an admission that yogic flying is just hopping on mattresses? Or that the Maharishi charges too much for the lessons? I think we should be told.
Are we in Holland yet?
I’m sure by now everyone has heard a 10th planet has been discovered. Actually, there is a dispute over if this really is a planet or a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO). Personally I think it makes more sense to call it a KBO, Pluto too, but what do I know? (I’m sure The Bad Astronomer has an opinion.) It is being tentatively called a planet, though:
The planet's temporary name is 2003 UB313. A permanent name has been proposed by the discoverers to the International Astronomical Union, and they are awaiting the decision of this body before announcing the name.
Of course, the obvious question is: how does this effect astrology? (It doesn’t – it’s still crap. Bear with me.)
For an idea of what we might expect to hear from astrologers, we should look to what happened after the KBO Sedna was discovered last year. From karmastrology.com we learn that Sedna, because it is named after an Inuit sea goddess, “is the Goddess of the Victim”. The detailed interpretation of what this means in your horoscope ends with:
So the rule of thumb is the affairs of the house in which natal Sedna is located are where a person either suffers victimization, or simply does not allow victimization if that lesson has been learned in this or a previous life.
Get that? Because Sedna was arbitrarily named after a mythical Goddess of the victim, its placement on your chart determines your real-life experiences regarding your own victimhood (or lack thereof).
Alternatively, Astrology.co.uk states that Sedna might manifest family rifts:
Another possible manifestation of Sedna is tragic family rifts (especially father/daughter) over marriage.
The common theme is that the meaning of this KBO in your horoscope is tied to the name it was given.
Just think about that for a minute. Sedna was named in 2004 by the California Institute of Technology scientists who discovered it. They thought it “was appropriate to give a frozen planet a name from people who inhabit the Arctic Circle”. But this is pretty arbitrary. All KBOs (including this new “planet”) could fit this description; it just happens Sedna was discovered before the latest one and before the rest of the estimated 35,000 other Kuiper objects. Plus, I’m sure there are many other “Arctic” names available. So it was basically random. And the object wasn’t given this name until 2004. And yet the name this object was assigned in 2004, according to these astrologers, affected your horoscope and therefore your personality at the time you were born: 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 80 years ago, whenever. Your personality, formed at the time of your birth, was affected by the name this lump of rock and ice was randomly given many years later. And presumably this is true of the horoscopes of all people born throughout history. For example, Newton’s horoscope and personality were affected at his birth in 1642 by a name assigned over 360 years later. If you ever needed proof that astrology was a bunch of made-up nonsense, this must be it.
Anyway, what does this mean for this new KBO / planet? Well, “2003 UB313 in the seventh” house clearly doesn’t inspire much in the way of mysticism. Its discoverer Michael Brown has named it “Xena” after the TV heroine. This clearly tells us more about Brown than it does about either astrology or the new planet, but that hasn’t stopped astrologers from speculating what it means:
But one conclusion may certainly be drawn right away. If the name Xena sticks, then this new planet will represent the female archetype of sacred warrior. Chiron represents the male archetype of sacred warrior. Both archetypes are now discovered in the cosmos and are available to each person on this planet. This would be a call to each of us to balance the yin and yang, male and female within. The era of matriarchal or patriarchal dominance is over. We enter a period where both are celebrated together, and not one at the expense of the other.
Because of her slow orbit, everyone alive today has Xena in either Pisces or Aries. Thus her house placement rather than sign placement will be the significant factor in determining Xena's meaning in a natal chart. In addition I expect any aspecting between Xena and Chiron will be significant, although it may be generational rather than individual.
Of course, the name may change, in which case presumably all our horoscopes (and our personalities and fortunes), will change too (backdated to our time of birth, of course). Not that this will make any difference: one arbitrarily made-up set of rules will just be replaced with another arbitrarily made-up set of rules. It’ll be equally accurate (ie it’ll still be crap). But whatever it is eventually arbitrarily named, you can expect astrologers to blather excitedly about how important and exciting its name is. I just hope they call it something uninspiring like Bob. I’d like to see the astrologers make something of that.
My house placement is a significant factor.
God must be really confused. Either that or the faithful have done very little good in their lives. (Or maybe both.)
Filming of the “Da Vinci Code” has started at Lincoln Cathedral, but it apparently has attracted protesters who worry that the film calls into question many of the tenets of Christianity. A noted protester was Sister Mary Michael, a nun who prayed in protest for 12 hours. She is quoted saying:
"When I die," Sister Mary Michael said, "and I have to stand before almighty God — as everyone else will, whether they believe it or not — and he says to me, 'What have you done to defend me?' I can say, 'Well, I tried to come forward at Lincoln Cathedral.' "
Is that really the best thing she can thing of that she’s done in her life? No helping the poor or the sick? She protested a film – one based on a book that is now known to have been at least partly hoaxed. That’s it? Sounds pretty lame to me.
More to the point, what’s the deal praying to defend God? Surely God knows about this film? Why does he need someone to pray about it before he realizes it’s a problem? (For 12 hours – is God deaf or just a little slow?) Or is God just confused about whether this is a problem and needs 12 hours with a nun to be convinced? And if this film still gets made (which it will), is this just more evidence that prayer doesn’t work? Inquiring minds want to know.
Have you finished that book yet? My arms are getting tired.
The Loom is the blog of Carl Zimmer, the well known and truly excellent science writer. He wrote the article describing the Avida program that proves irreducible complexity can evolve (that I commented on here), and his blog is always a good read. Today he does a search to look for any peer reviewed papers supporting Intelligent Design, and (unsurprisingly) finds very little: in fact nothing involving any actual, you know, experiments or anything like that.
Perhaps the other prominent fellows of the Discovery Institute (Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, and William Dembski) have published scientific papers that have a bearing on intelligent design, without identifying their affiliation. Aside from a couple letters to the editor, the databases yielded only one paper, in which Behe offers a simple model of gene duplication and expresses doubt that new genes could evolve by this process. Given that other scientists have published 2266 papers exploring gene duplication's role in evolution, it's safe to say that his is not a view held by most experts.
For the full article, read The Big Picture.
Well OK he didn’t actually say that. He actually said:
I think today a pluralistic society should have access to a broad range of fact, of science, including faith
He believes in a pluralistic society. Pluralism is:
The belief that no single explanatory system or view of reality can account for all the phenomena of life.
Get that? No single explanation can explain life. So all creation myths should be taught. OK, here’s a list to be getting on with. I don’t actually see the Flying Spaghetti Monster listed, but I presume that is merely an oversight. I also don’t see Scientology’s Xenu (that’s the souls of aliens killed by Xenu, the ruler of the universe) listed – presumably Frist believes that should be taught too.
Those kids are going to be busy with all those stories to learn.
First, the Mystic Ball will read your mind. Think of a number between 0 and 99 – somehow the mystic ball seems to know the number you chose.
Second, pick one card out of six and somehow the Amazing Garfield knows which one you picked.
How do they do it? Try and figure it out – it’s not that hard.
Scientists from 10 countries have decoded the rice genome following a seven year project, according to a new report in Nature. The project was a multi-national one led by Japan with teams from the US, the UK, China, India, Thailand, Brazil and France.
The rice genome can be used as a base for genomic studies of other crops: rice is genetically similar to maize, wheat, barley, rye, sorghum and sugarcane. The BBC reports this genetic similarity has already helped researchers identify genes responsible for resistance to powdery mildew and stem rust in barley. And genes that confer certain traits – such as yield - have also been identified.
This is good news because:
The blueprint will speed up the hunt for genes that improve productivity and guard against disease and pests.
In order to avoid shortages, rice yields must increase by 30% over the next 20 years, researchers say.
"Rice is a critically important crop, and this finished sequence represents a major milestone," said Robin Buell of The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR). "We know the scientific community can use these data to develop new varieties of rice that deliver increased yields and grow in harsher conditions."
Here’s the reason genetically modified foods should continue to be developed and cultivated. The world's population is forecast to rise to 8 billion by 2025. One challenge will be to feed these extra 2 billion people. But that's really only part of the story. The real challenge will be to feed these extra 2 billion people without destroying forests and wildlands to make way for additional farming land. That is the real environmental challenge.
Most usable land is already under cultivation and global urbanization is taking some back. We have to find ways to increase yields further and to use land currently not suitable for farming. The reason is simple: every acre that (say) doubles its yield is one acre of rainforest that does not have to be chopped down, or one acre of wild land that does not have to be cultivated to grow food. The same is true for an acre of unusable land that is recovered for farming. So how do we do that? We must increase global yields, and to do this we must use all available tools, including genetic modification.
The threat is not only to forests and wildlands. We are probably going to have to grow this additional food with less water:
In addition, global warming may mean that rice is required to be more robust in the face of droughts.
Of course, the anti-GM protesters in rich countries like the US won’t be the ones who will go to bed hungry if yields are not increased, so maybe they think they can afford to call for a global moratorium on genetically engineered foods and crops. Ironically they’re missing the real environmental challenge: to preserve the existing wildlands and forests for all of us. For this we need to employ all the tools available.
Robert Kennedy has been Huffington Posting again, this time suggesting that we study the Amish to see if vaccines are a cause of autism:
If Dr. Fineberg genuinely wants to test his assertions about Thimerosal safety with epidemiological data, he should commission a study comparing American children who were exposed to vaccines to (sic) the Amish, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists or others, who, for religious reasons, did not receive Thimerosal-laced vaccines.
A recent survey by United Press found that autism is virtually unknown among Pennsylvania's large Amish populations -- a strong indication that vaccines are indeed a principal culprit of the epidemic. Despite the repeated urgings of independent scientists and the families of autistic children, the federal agencies involved have refused to commission such a study and have closed federal vaccine files in order to derail the creation of those studies by outside scientists.
It was encouraging to note that many people in the comments could immediately see the flaws in Kennedy’s reasoning. I’ll repeat a few of them below.
First, a “survey by United Press” is hardly solid evidence that there is virtually no autism in the Amish. Maybe it is true, I don’t know, but it sure can’t be taken as a given, and I’m not going to take Kennedy’s word for it.
Secondly, even if true, it is absolutely not “a strong indication” that vaccines are responsible for Autism. In fact, it means virtually nothing: there are many other confounding factors that could contribute towards this supposed piece of data.
The first obvious confounding factor would be genetics: the Amish are largely an inbred community with many genetic diseases. They could easily have a genetic immunity to autism.
Other confounding factors would be the Amish’s many lifestyle differences. For example, they shun much else of modern medicine (not just vaccines), such as ultrasound tests. Additionally, they have a diet of home grown organic un-pasteurized food with no hormones. Theirs is also a typical pre-World War II rural diet: meat, potatoes, gravy, eggs, vegetables, bread, pies, cakes, with no fast food. I’m not saying any of these things are what gives them protection. I am saying that these (and no doubt numerous other lifestyle differences) are confounding factors that would mean the simple “no autistic Amish = vaccinations are to blame” conclusion that Kennedy appears to be suggesting, is absurd.
One interesting comment referred to a recent article suggesting that Autism might be the product of both parents being systems-type thinkers, rather than empathizers:
One needs to be extremely careful in advancing a cause for autism, because this field is rife with theories that have collapsed under empirical scrutiny. Nonetheless, my hypothesis is that autism is the genetic result of "assortative mating" between parents who are both strong systemizers. Assortative mating is the term we use when like is attracted to like, and there are four significant reasons to believe it is happening here.
FIRST, both mothers and fathers of children with autism complete the embedded figures test faster than men and women in the general population.
Second, both mothers and fathers of children with autism are more likely to have fathers who are talented systemizers (engineers, for example).
Third, when we look at brain activity with magnetic resonance imaging, males and females on average show different patterns while performing empathizing or systemizing tasks. But both mothers and fathers of children with autism show strong male patterns of brain activity.
Fourth, both mothers and fathers of children with autism score above average on a questionnaire that measures how many autistic traits an individual has. These results suggest a genetic cause of autism, with both parents contributing genes that ultimately relate to a similar kind of mind: one with an affinity for thinking systematically.
This sort of thinker – scientifically inclined rather than emotional and with social sensitivity – would probably be unlikely to join / more likely to leave the highly regimented and religious Amish. Consequently the “systems thinker” trait would be rare in Amish – and very rare in both parents.
Of course, if the Amish really do have no autism, then a study into the reasons would be extremely useful. It’s just that the rather childish study Kennedy appears to be suggesting would be a waste of time. I don’t know if a study of the Amish could be designed that would reveal anything useful regarding autism. I just know Kennedy’s idea is absurd.
GM crops have incurred many criticisms, especially from groups who wish to see GM cultivation stopped completely. One of these criticisms is that the engineered traits might cross over to wild plants growing nearby. The worry is that plants engineered to be resistant to herbicides such as Roundup (glyphosate), might transfer their herbicide resistance causing a “superweed”, incapable of being controlled.
There has been some dispute as to whether this type of hybridization would actually occur in the wild or that if it did, whether the resultant strain would be able to survive. It always seemed to me that some hybridization was bound to occur; the only question was, “how much?” According to a Guardian article dramatically entitled GM crops created superweed, a recent cross fertilization with a GM crop has produced a herbicide resistant weed:
Modified genes from crops in a GM crop trial have transferred into local wild plants, creating a form of herbicide-resistant "superweed", the Guardian can reveal.
The new form of charlock was growing among many others in a field which had been used to grow GM rape. When scientists treated it with lethal herbicide it showed no ill-effects.
OK, let’s examine this. First, it is not totally clear even from the full study whether the herbicide resistance had transferred from the GM crop or if it had evolved independently due to selective pressure. They did perform a PCR to check if the resistance was due to the same gene as in the rapeseed, but it isn’t clear if the gene could be distinguished from a naturally evolved resistance gene. In any case, it is known that selective pressure can cause resistant plants to evolve naturally, so this is not necessarily a problem confined to GM crops. (For example, read how Roundup-Ready cocaine plants evolved naturally in Colombia.) As the head of the land management technologies group at English Nature said:
The glufosinate-ammonium herbicide used in this case put "huge selective pressure likely to cause rapid evolution of resistance".
Still, it is possible that the GM crop could provide an additional route for the resistant weed to develop.
Let’s suppose the resistance did transfer from the GM crop. We know from the full study that out of over 95,000 seedlings of wild relatives collected and grown by the researchers, only two grew into plants with the herbicide resistance: that’s only 0.002%. From a less hyperbolic article on this study from the BBC entitled Scientists play down superweed:
DNA analysis on a leaf sample confirmed the gene trait from the engineered oilseed rape was present, but when the researchers returned the following year to the same field they could find no herbicide tolerance in seedlings of the charlocks growing there.
The herbicide tolerant charlock growing in the field did not reproduce and so was non-existent the following year. So even if a hybrid did once exist it has disappeared. This shouldn’t be too surprising since distant crosses usually result in sterile plants.
But supposing the herbicide resistant weeds were able to reproduce? The solution always seemed to be that you would just spray the field from time to time with another herbicide, and that would kill the so-called superweed. However, according to the Guardian article, even that option would be in doubt, since multiple resistances have been known to arise:
The new plants were dubbed superweeds because they proved resistant to three herbicides while the crops they were growing among had been genetically engineered to be resistant to only one.
Experiments in Germany have shown sugar beets genetically modified to resist one herbicide accidentally acquired the genes to resist another - so called "gene stacking", which has also been observed in oilseed rape grown in Canada.
Gene stacking is where cross-pollination results in genes from different crops occurring together in one individual “volunteer” plant. From this, it is clear that this multiple resistance would only be passed from GM crops if multiple GM plants all with different resistances were all grown nearby. In fact, we know the Canadian example arose from cross pollination of two GM and one conventional crop, each resistant to a different herbicide. Although this is a concern, it should be possible to prevent this happening in future, and farmers still have other herbicides they can use. The problem would be worse if a farmer grew crops resistant to the same herbicide year after year, but this can be avoided if they follow the good practice of crop rotation: in other words, it too can be managed.
As for whether herbicide resistant crops could become weeds in the general environment: crop plants need careful nurturing – they don't survive well in the wild. For example, a 10 year study published in the journal Nature in 2001 showed that nearly all the crops looked at (conventional and GM), died out after four years when not cultivated. And the herbicide tolerance gives no survival advantage unless the plants are regularly sprayed with the herbicide in question, so there is no reason why GM varieties should survive better as weeds in the wild, than conventional varieties.
To quote the reviewer’s comment at the beginning of the study:
Although this study identified hybridisation between oil seed rape and Sinapis arvensis, such a finding needs to be interpreted with caution. The frequency of such an event in the field is likely to be very low, as highlighted by the fact it has never been detected in numerous previous assessments. Furthermore, the conditions where the hybrid was found appear to be quite unusual, restricted as it was to a case where Sinapis was sufficiently abundant in a crop to act as a significant conspecific pollen donor. The consequences of the transfer of the herbicide tolerance trait on the fitness and persistence of Sinapis arvensis were not assessed in this study but are presumed to be negligible. Nevertheless, this unusual occurrence merits further study in order to adequately assess any potential risk of gene transfer.
Of course, this merits further study. But it is still not a reason to stop GM cultivation. The risk appears relatively small, and it can be managed with better separation of different GM crops, use of best practice such as crop rotation, and other herbicides. The risk is clearly not limited to GM crops anyway – resistant strains arise naturally due to competitive pressure. You wouldn’t know this though from articles such as the Guardian, copied verbatim and uncritically here, here, here, here and at numerous other anti-GM sites. Note that article’s provocative and barely true headline GM crops created superweed compared with the much less hysterical BBC’s Scientists play down superweed that has not been reproduced anywhere that I can find.
As usual with anything GM, the facts count less than the conclusion already reached by the anti-GM crowd.
You couldn’t make this up. A psychic in Edinburgh placed his crystal ball on the windowsill of his apartment, and while he was out the light from the Sun, magnified by the crystal ball, set fire to and destroyed his own and two other apartments:
The student, who uses the ball for psychic purposes, suffered blistering to his hand when he burst into his burning top-floor flat in the city’s Marchmont area in an effort to rescue his university course work. He was removed from the building by some of the 35 firefighters who had arrived to tackle the unforeseen inferno.
Strange he didn’t see this coming. Never mind, his awesome psychic powers belatedly detected the source of the fire – a faulty computer plug:
M Vandrot, released from hospital after a night having his hand treated, denied that his crystal ball had been the cause of the blaze. “I don’t think it is capable of doing that. I think it was an electrical fault; the plug of my computer was melted.”
The Scots firefighters visualized a different reason:
Edinburgh’s firefighters disagreed, and roundly blamed the ball. “Strong sunlight through glass, particularly if the glass is filled with liquid like a goldfish bowl, concentrates the sun’s rays and acts like a magnifying glass,” a spokesman said. The fire had been started by the ball concentrating a ray of sunshine on a pile of washing, he said.
Either way, this is one psychic who won’t be doing much business for a while. In future, perhaps he should stick to something safer. Like astrology.
Today, CNN’s Anderson Cooper had a segment on Scientology. He interviewed two former long-term Scientologists, Michael Pattinson and Tory Christman. Christman is a former member of Scientology’s “Sea Org” – the elite top level of the cult.
Pattinson started off the interview by explaining he’d joined Scientology because they’d told him they could “cure” him of being gay. (He didn’t say if they had but it I assume they didn’t.) However the eye-popping part was how much money Scientology had cost these two people. From the transcript:
CHRISTMAN: In Scientology, you have to pay for just about everything. They have a few free things to try to rope people in, but basically you pay for everything. It starts very inexpensive and builds rapidly into thousands, hundreds-of-thousands of dollars.
COOPER: Michael, you say you've spent, what? How much money?
PATTINSON: Approximately half-a-million dollars.
CHRISTMAN: Well, I know -- Yes, I would say $200,000, at least, was our inheritance we spent and more.
As I have explained before, Scientology is a bait and switch cult designed solely to take your money: after each stage you are told that your problems are still not over but that they can be cured with more Scientology. These additional courses cost more and more money. Both these people showed how devastating that can be as they eventually gave their life savings over to the cult.
Interestingly, Cooper had unwittingly picked up a bit of Scientology jargon and used it in one of his questions:
COOPER: As you know, both of you, Scientology says you are disgruntled members, you couldn't live up to the high ethical standards of the organization, and that's why you're speaking out.
In Scientology, the word “ethics” has a specific meaning:
"Ethics" is redefined by Scientology in such a way that to be ethical is to be a better Scientologist and obey the "church". Young people, not yet made cynical through the machinations of life and politics, are very keen to contribute to the world and to be ethical. So the "ethics" trick works easily into persuading them to join the "church".
In a superb piece of circular reasoning (today it would be called “framing”) anyone who disagrees with any of Scientology’s dogma is guilty of an “ethics” offence. I found it interesting that Cooper had inadvertently picked up this piece of Scientology mind-control jargon. Overall, it wasn’t a bad piece though.
The Bad Astronomer sent me a link to an article claiming Intelligent Design is sorely misunderstood. In brief, the author claims that (1) there is real scientific evidence for Intelligent Design (it’s not religiously inspired, oh no), and (2) Intelligent Design’s proponents are not crusading to have it taught in schools:
The first misunderstanding is that intelligent design is based on religion rather than science. Design theory is a scientific inference based on empirical evidence, not religious texts. [Snip] Although controversial, design theory is supported by a growing number of scientists in scientific journals, conference proceedings and books. While intelligent design may have religious implications (just like Darwin's theory), it does not start from religious premises. A second misunderstanding is that proponents of intelligent design theory are crusading to have it required in public schools. In fact, they are doing the opposite.
(Rather strangely, the author thinks there are three points here.)
Saying there is no attempt to mandate the teaching of ID is disingenuous at best. ID proponents present their “teach the controversy” argument purely because Intelligent Design is not an explanation in its own right, it is merely a series of criticisms of evolution. All they have is the controversy they have manufactured; even if their criticisms of evolution are true (they’re not), they still wouldn’t have a scientific theory to teach. Teaching the so-called “holes” in evolution is teaching ID.
More importantly, the two supposed misunderstandings the author raises are connected. You see, if there really was scientific evidence to support Intelligent Design, as he says, they would submit it for peer review at scientific journals to convince their peers of the validity of their ideas. In other words they would be doing science. But the IDers aren’t interested in science: they have already made their minds up, regardless of the evidence.
An example from a different area illustrates the case. When the theory of continental drift was first introduced, it was treated with enormous skepticism. But those who supported the idea didn’t write articles in newspapers entitled “Continental drift is sorely misunderstood”. They did what real scientist do: they looked for evidence and presented it to their peers. Eventually continental drift (in the form of plate tectonics) became widely accepted and today it is found in most high school science texts, not because the President had said in an interview that alternatives to conventional geology should be taught, but because the weight of evidence convinced the scientific community that it was correct.
If Intelligent Design proponents followed and passed this peer review process, ID would be taught in schools as science the way plate tectonics is taught now (despite the claim in this article that this is not their objective). Intelligent Design should not be taught in science classes precisely because its proponents have not followed this process.
Post something on "Intelligent Design" … which links to the authoritative statement by the National Center for Science Education, which I've linked to here by way of illustration. This way when those genuinely seeking information start Googling, they'll get to the right place.
If you’ve never heard of this, the Google bomb is (in this case) an attempt to place the National Center for Science Education’s excellent "Intelligent Design" Not Accepted by Most Scientists page at the top of any Google searches for the phrase “Intelligent Design”. If you have a blog or other web site, what you need to do is use the phrase “Intelligent Design” as a hyperlink to the NCSE’s paper the way I have. If enough people do this, because of the way its algorithms work, Google will return the NCSE’s paper at the top.
There is an interesting article in today’s Slate Magazine covering the thimerosal issue and Robert F. Kennedy Jr’s involvement. It points out some of the flaws in the Geiers’ work:
The main Geier approach is to mine data from a CDC reporting system that contains a mishmash of real and garbage vaccine-injury allegations, according to the vast majority of the scientists who work in this area. The Geiers have found a sixfold increase in autism in children who got thimerosal-containing vaccines. But nearly all the reports of autism they tallied came after allegations of the vaccine link had been publicized in the newspapers. In other words, the Geiers report the public's response to a scare as if it were meaningful data.
And it talks about other possible reasons for the supposed increases in autism:
A far more obvious explanation for the increase in autism rates in California was the one that mainstream autism experts expounded: diagnostic changes, new laws that expanded federal payments to care for autistics, and greater parental awareness of these resources. In 1990, Congress made autism one of the disabilities that qualified for federal funding. Thereafter, states were obliged to report all cases of autism. In a Minnesota study, to take one example, admissions of autistic children to developmental programs jumped starting in the 1991 school year and continued to do so for a decade. Often these increases occurred within the same grade. For example, 13 autism cases were reported per 10,000 Minnesota 6-year-olds in the 1995-96 school year—that is, among children born roughly in 1989. Five years later, the prevalence rate for this cohort was reported at 33 per 10,000. These were the same kids. Between the ages of 6 and 11, they'd suddenly "become" nearly three times as autistic—or rather, doctors, parents, and school counselors were enrolling them in programs more aggressively.
The author concludes he doubts vaccines are the cause of autism.
Science update. From the Times Online I learn Prince Charles is experimenting with planting crops according to the phases of the Moon and astrological signs:
He has adopted some of the principles of biodynamics, a form of farming in which livestock are treated with homeopathic remedies rather than antibiotics, and astronomical calendars and signs of the zodiac play a role in determining when to sow and harvest crops.
Wow, that makes sense! Biodynamic.org states that biodynamic agriculture “is founded on a holistic and spiritual understanding of nature and the human being”. Holistic and spiritual.
And get a load of this:
Under the Steiner system each crop type is linked to one of the four traditional elements: earth, water, wind and fire. Root crops such as carrots are seen as earth plants while fruits such as apples are linked with fire. Leaf crops, including lettuce, are associated with water.
Each crop type must then be planted on a day when the moon is in a sign of the zodiac associated with that element. Fruit, for example, might be planted when the moon is associated with Leo, a fire sign.
Now I suppose it could be possible that the phase of the Moon might influence crop growth. I’m skeptical, but it wouldn’t be totally ridiculous. I would, of course, need some evidence that it does actually make a measurable difference in the way claimed. However, planting crops when the Moon is in the zodiac sign associated with the crop’s traditional “element”? This really seems doubtful, although they do claim to have some studies to back it up. Perhaps someone with a better knowledge of statistics that I have could give an opinion. Although as the subject is farming perhaps it’s unsurprising that I can smell…
Funny thing, Skeptico was recently offered a bottle of biodynamics wine at a San Francisco restaurant. This was the first time I had heard of anything like this, although I turned it down as the waiter was unable to offer any explanation except that it was something to do with planting vines according to the phase of the Moon, and that the bottle was more expensive than the other stuff. (She had no idea if it would taste better.) I guess some people must go for this (especially in San Francisco): remember the Penn & Teller Bullshit program on fancy bottled waters? (They were all filled from the same garden hose!) Perhaps I have found the real reason for promoting this method – they can charge more! Hey, perhaps Prince Charles is smarter than he looks. (Don’t – it’s too easy.)
Anyway the biodynamics system was apparently developed by Rudolf Steiner – whose knowledge of biology was hampered by, among other things, a lack of belief in evolution. Still, perhaps the scientific benefits will soon be proven. After all, with Brian on the job now, we’ll soon be assured of hard science to back up this revolutionary farming method. I wonder which he will demonstrate first: proof homeopathic antibiotics work, or that traditional element sign astrology does? Watch this space.