Remember when life was simple for Alexander Douglas Smith? All he had to worry about was the notoriety of being taken with the first pick in the 2005 NFL draft by a 49ers team in the midst of eight consecutive losing seasons. And being paired with novice head coach Mike Nolan whose expertise lay on the defensive side of the ball. And then being passed off to Mike Singletary, another head coaching novice whose expertise consisted of knocking quarterbacks down, not building them up.Related …
How much can you say about nothing? Some people can say quite a lot. One astrobiologist just wrote a large book about it: Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life by David Grinspoon (Harper Collins, 2003). Larry R. Nittler reviewed this new book in the March 12 issue of Science.1 Nittler describes how interest in alien life fell into the “scientific sub-basements of ‘exobiology’ and radio searches for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI)” after pictures of Mars in 1965 revealed disappointing deserts of lifelessness. But thirty years later, three developments led to a resurgence of interest in alien life: (1) the discovery of extrasolar planets (see 07/21/2003 headline), (2) evidence for probable oceans under the ice of Europa (see 02/11/2002 headline), and (3) claims of fossil bacteria in a Martian meteorite (see 03/18/2002 and 05/15/2002 headlines). NASA launched its Astrobiology Institute in 1998 (see 08/23/2001 headline), imbuing new respectability into the study of alien life. Nittler explains, however, why astrobiology is essentially the science of nothing:Given the current surge in scientific attention to alien life, it is easy to think that recent developments constitute a revolution of sorts. However, our actual knowledge of alien life remains the same as it has been for centuries and can be summarized by a single word: nothing. Nonetheless, in Lonely Planets David Grinspoon provides a masterful synthesis of the history, science, philosophy, and even theological implications of extraterrestrial life.So what can be said about nothing to fill 460 pages? Grinspoon divided the nothingness into three sections: history, science, and belief. In the history section, he examined beliefs about alien life from Kepler to the present. Nittler’s review points out that pessimism about alien life has been rare. Up until the 1960s, for instance, most people believed the dark patches on Mars were signs of vegetation. In the science section, Grinspoon “weaves a tale of cosmic evolution from the Big Bang through the formation of the solar system and the evolution of life on Earth,” Nittler says (see 07/15/2002 headline for more on Grinspoon’s beliefs). The author “strenuously argues against” the Rare Earth hypothesis of Peter Ward and Robert Brownlee (see 12/19/2000 and 01/14/2003 headlines), preferring to trust in “the adaptability of life to different environments and especially the role life has played in shaping Earth’s unusual characteristics.” As to this role, and its meaning for the definition of life,Grinspoon uses the Gaia hypothesis (that Earth can in some sense be considered a “super-organism” of interconnected biogeochemical feedback mechanisms) and complexity theory to argue for a more generous definition of habitable worlds. He holds that a key characteristic of “living worlds” should be chemical disequilibrium, with large flows of energy and/or matter. By these criteria , he suggests, we should also be searching for cloud creatures on Venus and sulfur-based critters on the volcanic Jovian moon Io.(For more on Gaia, see 12/18/2003 headline.)The third section of the book deals with beliefs about aliens, from UFOs to SETI to politics. There is the ubiquitous Drake equation, speculation about the future of human evolution, and much more. Given that most evolutionists dismiss claims of UFO abductions and conspiracy theories, Grinspoon is surprisingly open-minded about the nothing we know. But the reviewer detects a little hypocrisy:His emphasis continues to be on keeping an open mind. SETI assumes that aliens would continuously broadcast radio transmissions for thousands of years. Anti-UFO skeptics argue that UFOs are not alien spacecraft, because “aliens just wouldn’t act that way.” But both assumptions are based on preconceived notions of alien behavior , about which we actually know nothing. (Grinspoon falls into his own trap as well, dismissing popular ideas about UFOs basically because they are so “B-movie.”)Grinspoon doesn’t think humans are intelligent yet. He seems to measure intelligence in global terms, and so does Nittler. Here is where politics enters the discussion about nothing, where it is difficult for either of them to know where rational discussion ends and wild speculation begins:The book becomes increasingly personal in the final chapters as Grinspoon delves deeper into more speculative ideas regarding spirituality and the nature of intelligence. He muses that humans are not yet truly intelligent and that to become so will require much better collective behavior as a species. He seems overly pessimistic in his assessment of our likelihood of becoming such a species, based on our propensity for perpetrating violence on one another. I would argue that such developments as the global eradication of certain diseases and the advent of international courts to try war criminals paint a more optimistic picture than the examples he gives of SETI@home and world music. The author closes with even wilder speculation regarding species immortality and machine civilizations.Nittler sees the author as a product of the 70s, considering Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan were “family friends” of the Grinspoons. “This background clearly colors his thinking about his subject,” Nittler says, “and his optimism about the existence of alien life sometimes comes off as wishful thinking informed by too many Star Trek episodes.” But overall, he compliments the book for its writing style, and the fact that Grinspoon tries to be clear about where the science leaves off and the “intellectually squishy natural philosophy” begins. “In the end,” Nittler concludes on a happy note, “Lonely Planets is an entertaining and thought-provoking book about a great deal more than nothing.”1Narry R. Nittler, “Astrobiology: Looking for Life in Far Distant Places,” Science Volume 303, Number 5664, Issue of 12 Mar 2004, p. 1614.We didn’t say the book was about nothing: he did. We didn’t say the book contained wild speculation: he did. We didn’t say the author was selectively open-minded: he did. We didn’t call it a “tale” of cosmic evolution: he did. We didn’t use the phrases “intellectually squishy” and “wishful thinking” to describe Grinspoon’s ideas: he did. Cloud creatures on Venus, sulfur critters on volcanic Io, machine civilizations, international courts as a measure of intelligence… good grief. Yet Nittler calls this book a “masterful synthesis” of ideas on – well, nothing. That makes Nittler a co-conspirator, an accessory to the crime of allowing stupid ideas to get good press in America’s premiere science journal. If a creationist made claims on this level, they wouldn’t get past the National Enquirer. The code of silence in the Darwin Party requires that none of the brethren are to be publicly humiliated. Even if lightly tapped with padded gloves, they must be praised as defenders of the “tale of cosmic evolution.” Don’t be fooled by the talk about “spirituality” and “theological implications” of finding alien life. We know what they mean, and it’s not asking “what must I do to be saved?” (see 03/11/2004 headline). Both men unfairly attack Kepler (see our online biography). Nittler lets him get away with libel: “Grinspoon reminds us that Johannes Kepler was a “philosopher/freak who walked the fine line between genius and delusion.” Speak for yourselves. Both of you would do well to read the life and writings of the father of planetary science, and learn to respect his integrity and intelligence. His wildest speculations were tame compared to these.(Visited 10 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0
One of our readers uncovered an amicus brief from the American Psychological Association (q.v. on American Bar Association website) encouraging the Supreme Court to overturn capital punishment for minors (see 03/04/2005 entry). One of the key arguments in the brief is that “Neuropsychological research demonstrates that the adolescent brain has not reached adult maturity.” Zeroing in on scientific evidence, the brief claimed “Of particular interest with regard to decision-making and criminal culpability is the development of the frontal lobes of the brain.” (Emphasis added in all quotes.) For support, the brief cited a 2004 paper by Gogtay et al. from PNAS,1 describing results of MRI scans of 13 young individuals undergoing various activities; the team concluded that juvenile frontal lobes were not as well developed as those of adults. Yet this team’s conclusions leaned heavily on evolutionary assumptions, particularly those of Ernst Haeckel, author of the now-defunct “recapitulation theory” (often stated in its pretentious prose, “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” meaning, the development of the embryo imitates its evolutionary history). The paper contains subtle references to recapitulation theory in making the claim that teenagers are too immature for responsible behavior:The superior temporal cortex, which contains association areas that integrate information from several sensory modalities, matured last. Furthermore, the maturation of the cortex also appeared to follow the evolutionary sequence in which these regions were created.In mammals, the inferior temporal cortex, along with parts of the STG, posterior parietal cortex, and prefrontal cortex, are high-order association areas, which are also most recent evolutionarily. Our observation of these areas appearing to mature later may suggest that the cortical development follows the evolutionary sequence to some degree.Similarly, gender differences in brain maturation could not be explored, because there are only six males and seven females in the sample. However, our findings uncover key information on the maturational sequence of early brain development and its relation to functional and evolutionary milestones.Phylogenetically, some of the oldest cortical regions lie on the inferior brain surface in the medial aspect of the temporal lobe… The maturation process in the vicinity of these areas appeared to have started early (ontogenetically) already by the age of 4 years… (Bullets added.)In The Mismeasure of Man (W. W. Norton, 1981), Stephen Jay Gould catalogued the history of the recapitulation theory, which “By 1920… had collapsed.” He says that it “ranks among the most influential ideas of late nineteenth-century science” and gives examples of its abuse to justify racism and sexism. Gould claims that the scientific evidence actually supports the opposite conclusion: the young and the embryo are more advanced than the adult, a concept termed neoteny. If so, this turns the racist and sexist interpretations of the recapitulation theory upside down:Under recapitulation, adults of inferior races are like children of superior races. But neoteny reverses the argument. In the context of neoteny, it is “good”—that is, advanced or superior—to retain the traits of childhood, to develop more slowly. Thus, superior groups retain their childlike characters as adults, while inferior groups pass through the higher phase of childhood and then degenerate toward apishness. Now consider the conventional prejudice of white scientists: whites are superior, blacks inferior. Under recapitulation, black adults should be like white children. But under neoteny, white adults should be like black children.This demonstrates how a misguided scientific claim can have profound cultural effects, sometimes polar opposites from the same data.1Gogtay et al., “Dynamic mapping of human cortical development during childhood through early adulthood,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences PNAS 101: 8174-8179; published online before print as 10.1073/pnas.0402680101.This is scandalous. If the Supreme Court was snookered by baloney offered up by the pseudoscientific APA in making its decision, then every family member of every victim murdered by juveniles, every suffering witness to Columbine High School’s mass murder spree, should point an angry, accusing finger at Ernst Haeckel, and Pope Charlie who encouraged him, and all the current charlatans who still invoke Haeckel’s phony “biogenetic law” of recapitulation, and accuse them all of co-conspiracy to divert attention from the Constitution and onto pseudoscience. (Read the 03/04/2005 entry and commentary also.) No other society has deemed teenagers as incapable of morally responsible behavior; on the contrary, good societies have stressed the importance of moral training early in life, and the need to correct misbehavior from childhood. MRI scans have nothing to say about the moral character of minors, much less so whether the development of their frontal lobes is recapping some presumed animal ancestry. Read Gould’s steaming indictment of recapitulation theory and its promoter, the fraud Ernst Haeckel, who practically worshipped the ground Father Charlie walked on. Folks, you have just seen Darwinian mythology sway the highest court in the land on a matter of life and death. What are you going to do about it?(Visited 58 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0
4 March 2014South Africa’s Stellenbosch Wine Routes will be making its debut at the 2014 International Tourism Bourse (ITB) Berlin on Wednesday as part of the global launch of its wine tourism marketing campaign, the “Stellenbosch Experience”.Stellenbosch Wine Routes will join forces with South African Tourism, Western Cape tourism and investment agency Wesgro, and Tripadvisor in showcasing wine tourism in Stellenbosch and the broader Western Cape.“The potential of wine tourism in South Africa is huge, and Stellenbosch and the Western Cape at large are perfectly placed to attract more wine tourists to our country, but then a far greater and more aligned effort is needed on a global scale,” Stellenbosch Wine Routes CEO Annareth Bolton said in a statement last week.The Stellenbosch Wine Experience campaign is a partnership between Stellenbosch Wine Routes and Stellenbosch 360, a cultural tourist route encompassing Stellenbosch, Dwarsrivier and Franschhoek. By launching at the ITB, the campaign aims to expand the region’s wine tourism footprint abroad.“We are thrilled about this collaboration and cannot wait to introduce Stellenbosch as the ultimate wine tourism destination in terms of quality, authenticity and value-for-money experiences to the world,” Bolton said.“With this campaign, we aim for maximum international recognition, making use of primarily digital marketing to showcase the wealth of our wine tourism offering and our passion and pride to the world. ITB offers the perfect platform for us to share just why Stellenbosch is South Africa’s wine tourism capital and benefit from the leading think-tank of the global tourism industry.“Recent research by Tourism New Zealand found that 13% of all international travellers visit wineries and embark on wine tourism related activities annually. These travellers spend more on average than other leisure travellers and stay longer,” Bolton said, adding: “It is no wonder that destinations like New Zealand are focusing a lot more on wine tourism promotions.”Other campaign elements include an enhanced digital presence across all social media networks and an innovative wine tourism blogger campaign with top international and national travel, lifestyle and food bloggers, between April and September.Stellenbosch Wine Routes, a co-ordinated network of wineries in the Stellenbosch area, was established in 1971, making it the oldest wine route in the country.SAinfo reporter
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The police have arrested a Group D staffer of the Tripura Raj Bhavan on the charge of raping a minor girl. An officer of the West Agartala women police station said they had arrested Dilip Kumar Das, 50, on the basis of a complaint lodged by a woman, who alleged that Das had raped her 8-year-old daughter.
After the National Green Tribunal ordered an immediate closure of all illegally operating polluting stone crushers in Mahendergarh district of Haryana, political party Swaraj India on Saturday hit out at the BJP government, saying the nexus between officials and those involved in running the crushers had been exposed. “This order of the NGT exposes the collusion between the owners of the illegal crushers and the government machinery,” said party president Yogendra Yadav. “We should hope that now the State government and the local administration will respect the order and spirit of the NGT, take strict action against erring officials and others.”The NGT had on July 24 also directed the Deputy Commissioner of Mahendergarh to ensure immediate initiation of action by way of prosecution and recovery of compensation which must be deterrent and relatable to the cost of restoration so that the illegal activity was not profitable. The orders came on the petition of Mahender Singh and Tejpal Yadav, who made a submission that the location of the crushers was close to the plantation, reserved forest and an educational institution. Besides, the area is over exploited in terms of the ground water resulting in scarcity of water even for drinking purposes.The NGT, which had sought factual and action taken report from a joint committee comprising representatives of the Deputy Commissioner Mahendergarh, district Town and Country Planning, Haryana Pollution Control Board and the Divisional Forest Officer, pointed out in its order that two reports earlier submitted were found without application of mind and were rejected. The third report had been submitted which was also inadequate to deal with the matter.The NGT observed, “The report shows the State administration in poor light. There is no explanation how potable water has been continued to be drawn without any restriction by the State administration though the area is critical in terms of ground water and in spite of such illegality brought to notice. It is also not clear how blatant violation of air quality norms is being allowed for permitting operation of the units at the cost of public health and environment. The report does not clarify how many stone crushers, if any, are legitimate which do not conflict with the environment. It appears that the State administration has not cared to fully verify the compliance of environment norms while permitting continuation of the stone crushers, even after proceedings before this Tribunal.”The order also added that the Haryana Chief Secretary may look into the conduct of the officers, who gave the earlier reports, in withholding the information which had now been given.