Saturday, 20 September 2014
New research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the decision to let Terri Schiavo starve to death in 2005 was ethically questionable and all too hasty. Individuals characterised as vegetative might not be so vegetative after all.
According to Nature news, “A dozen volunteers watched Alfred Hitchcock for science while lying motionless in a magnetic-resonance scanner. Another participant, a man who has lived in a vegetative state for 16 years, showed brain activity remarkably similar to that of the healthy volunteers — suggesting that plot structure had an impact on him.”
Previously, doctors often used the term permanent vegetative state (PVS) of patients who have been in a vegetative state for about a year. However, the new research suggests that this might be premature:
“The film, an 1961 episode of the TV show Alfred Hitchcock Presents that had been condensed down to 8 minutes, is a study in suspense. In it, a 5-year-old totes a partially loaded revolver — which she thinks is a toy — around her suburban neighbourhood, shouting ‘bang’ each time she aims at someone and squeezes the trigger.
While the study participants watched the film, researchers monitored their brain activity by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). All 12 healthy participants showed similar patterns of activity, particularly in parts of the brain that have been linked to higher cognition (frontal and parietal regions) as well as in regions involved in processing sensory information (auditory and visual cortices).
… a 34-year-old man who has been in a vegetative state since he was 18, had patterns of brain activity in the executive and sensory brain areas, similarly to that of the healthy subjects.”
Adrian Owen, a neuroscientist at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, says that the patient’s brain activity was “indistinguishable from a healthy participant watching the movie.”
Nature news also mentions the 2006 case of a 23-year-old woman: “When the researchers asked her to imagine playing tennis while she was in an fMRI machine, motor areas of her brain lit up in much the same way they do in healthy people.”
Incredible things do happen. In 2009, the media reported on a Belgian man who recovered consciousness after being in a coma for 23 years.
We could call them miracles.
Callaway, Ewen. 2014. Hitchcock thriller reveals busy mind in 'vegetative' man. Nature news (15 September).
Thursday, 18 September 2014
Neil deGrasse Tyson of Cosmos fame might be an excellent communicator but sticking to facts might not be his cup of tea.
Sceptics like to overuse the word denialist of those who refuse to accept the view that the natural realm is the only one that is.
In actual fact, however, they are the real denialists.
They often see Neil deGrasse Tyson as being on their side. That is obviously true, but his version of history relies to a great extent on fabricating past events and getting the details all wrong.
He seems to have a tendency to invent facts. What is more, few people have managed to fabricate as many quotes as Tyson.
Recently, Sean Davis wrote in The Federalist:
“Neil deGrasse Tyson may be a fabulous scientist, and a consummate showman, but he's downright terrible at accurately quoting people. Or, if you're a ‘glass half full’ kind of person, you might say that Neil deGrasse Tyson is pretty amazing at needlessly fabricating quotes and scenarios to showcase his own brilliance.
We've already established that a newspaper headline touted for years by Tyson likely doesn't exist. We've also established that the exact quote he uses to bash members of Congress as being stupid also doesn't exist. And then we established that the details within one of Tyson's favorite anecdotes -- a story of how he bravely confronted a judge about his mathematical illiteracy while serving on jury duty -- seem to change every time Tyson tells the story.”
Davis, Sean. 2014. Another Day, Another Quote Fabricated By Neil deGrasse Tyson. The Federalist (16 September).
Tuesday, 16 September 2014
Bernard Wood has an interesting article in September’s Scientific American. He seems to suggest that each new discovery makes it even more difficult to decipher our past history.
Both the title (The Latest Fossil Finds Make the Puzzle of Human Evolution Harder Than Ever to Solve) and the subtitle (The latest molecular analyses and fossil finds suggest that the story of human evolution is far more complex—and more interesting—than anyone imagined) suggest that he does not regard human origins as a very exact science.
In a field characterised by fragments of old bones, it is difficult to make far-reaching conclusions. Fossils don’t speak for themselves. The evidence has to be interpreted.
Misinterpretations are not unheard of.
Wood discusses the discoveries made by Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
In 2010 Science published a report on bones found in a cave in Malapa, South Africa. They made headlines around the world. Berger became a household name, and Australopithecus sediba joined the “hominid” family.
Later, however, critical researchers took Au. sediba down a notch or two (or perhaps five), and more recent evaluations have hardly been favourable to the find.
It seems that the basic problem with (assumed) human evolution is that it relies more on worldview than on evidence. In other words, the tail wags the dog instead of the dog doing something with his tail.
Wood, Bernard. 2014. The Latest Fossil Finds Make the Puzzle of Human Evolution Harder Than Ever to Solve. Scientific American 311(3) (September 2014).
Sunday, 14 September 2014
According to the evolutionary worldview, early man was not supposed to be able to build impressive monuments. However, archaeology has time and again shown that he was anything but primitive.
The latest discovery features Stonehenge. According to a report published by the British Science Festival:
“Seventeen new extant monuments and many lesser structures all dating from around 3100 BC or earlier, have been found around the site, implying that Stonehenge was not the only ritually important site in the area.”
While the date might be off by a few hundred years or so (due to the effect of Noah’s Flood, which very likely changed the atmospheric carbon-14 levels), the discovery nonetheless shows that people could build sophisticated structures much earlier than previously thought.
The report goes on to say:
“All of these new finds have been located under the grassy fields of Stonehenge and have been viewed using specially developed instrumentation and software by the University of Birmingham and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute it was announced at the British Science Festival today.”
We should not be surprised that archaeology is revealing a trend seen in Genesis. The early chapters of the Bible indicate that already at the dawn of history, humans were able to smelt and refine metals (Genesis 4:22), just a few generations after creation.
Karim, Nishad and Aditee Mitra. 2014. Unravelling the mysteries of Stonehenge. The British Science Festival.
Friday, 12 September 2014
Atheists might claim that they do not believe in the existence of any supernatural beings. However, the Bible shows unambiguously that all people believe. Some don’t want to acknowledge this, though.
Jason Lisle, who has a Ph.D. in astrophysics and now serves as the Director of Research for the Institute for Creation Research, wrote
“The Bible teaches that atheists are not really atheists. That is, those who profess to be atheists do ultimately believe in God in their heart-of-hearts. The Bible teaches that everyone knows God, because God has revealed Himself to all (Romans 1:19). In fact, the Bible tells us that God’s existence is so obvious that anyone who suppresses this truth is ‘without excuse’ (Romans 1:20). The atheist denies with his lips what he knows in his heart.”
Dr. Lisle goes on to say:
“Because an atheist does believe in God, but does not believe that he believes in God, he is simply a walking bundle of inconsistencies.”
As a result, the atheist suffers from cognitive dissonance.
The only antidote to this syndrome is to accept a more honest approach to reality. It would involve taking the claims of the Man who said "I AM the Truth" at face value and turning to Him.
Lisle, Jason. 2010. What Is the Best Argument for the Existence of God? In The New Answers Book 3. ed. Ken Ham. Green Forest, AR: Master Books.
Wednesday, 10 September 2014
Caenorhabditis elegans is a tiny worm, but it can disclose big truths. Researchers John Calarco and Adam Norris at Harvard University published a paper on how alternative splicing works in C. elegans.
A report on their research in the Harvard Gazette compared alternative splicing to the work of a film editor:
“Film editors play a critical role by helping shape raw footage into a narrative. Part of the challenge is that their work can have a profound impact on the finished product — with just a few cuts in the wrong places, comedy can become tragedy, or vice versa.
A similar process, ‘alternative splicing,’ is at work inside the bodies of billions of creatures — including humans. Just as a film editor can change the story with a few cuts, alternative splicing allows cells to stitch genetic information into different formations, enabling a single gene to produce up to thousands of different proteins.”
A previous study showed that even bacteria are full of molecular machines.
It is now obvious that tiny living creatures have very complex nervous systems:
“ ‘There are a finite number of genes in the genome, and changing which of those gets turned on or off gives you a certain level of complexity,’ Calarco said. ‘What alternative splicing does is add another layer of complexity, allowing an organism to diversify a cell type even more — we think this contributes a great deal to an organism’s ability to diversify its cellular function and cellular architecture.’ ”
Moreover, it is a huge leap from a worm to a man:
“ ‘We know the human nervous system is very complex,’ said Norris. ‘I think this is one explanation for how that complexity is encoded. We’ve got on the order of billions of neurons, but we’ve only got on the order of thousands of genes. How can you create a complex, billion-neuron network with different capacities for each cell? This gives us one explanation for how an organism can do that.’ ”
Looks like intelligent design.
This kind of research shows that living beings – and especially humans – are fearfully and wonderfully made, as the ancient psalmist put it.
Reuell, Peter. 2014. Neurons at work: Research provides a clearer view of ‘alternative splicing’. Harvard Gazette (August 11).
Monday, 8 September 2014
British author Rudyard Kipling popularised the idea of the just so story. 1909 his collection Just So Stories for Little Children included tales like How the Leopard Got His Spots and How the Camel Got His Hump.
The paucity of fossils has prompted evolutionist to speculate on the arrival of countless features in the animal kingdom. A common denominator in these stories is that it would be difficult if not impossible to provide any real evidence for them.
They might be loosely built on discoveries, but often speculation takes over when facts end.
The title of a recent report by on researchers at the Max Planck Institute already suggests the genre of the story: How the zebrafish gets its stripes.
Scientists led by Nobel laureate Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard discovered that it takes three major pigment cell types (black cells, reflective silvery cells, and yellow cells) to give zebrafish their characteristic colour and pattern:
“While it was known that all three cell types have to interact to form proper stripes, the embryonic origin of the pigment cells that develop the stripes of the adult fish has remained a mystery up to now. Scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen have now discovered how these cells arise and behave to form the ‘zebra’ pattern.”
So far, they conducted good operational science. However, then the report deteriorated into speculations:
“Their work may help to understand the development and evolution of the great diversity of striking patterns in the animal world.”
From zebra fish they first go on to extrapolate to other fish and then to other animals that likewise have spectacular patterns on their feathers or skin.
“The authors speculate that variations on these cell behaviours could be at play in generating the great diversity of colour patterns in fish. ‘These findings inform our way of thinking about colour pattern formation in other fish, but also in animals which are not accessible to direct observation during development such as peacocks, tigers and zebras’, says Nüsslein-Volhard – wondering how her cats got their stripes.”
Compared to the real issue of the origin of zebrafish, tigers and zebras, this kind of speculation is rather trite.
How the zebrafish gets its stripes. Max Planck Gesellschaft. August 28, 2014.