NASA’s Cassini Sees Forces Controlling Enceladus Jets

The intensity of jets of water ice and organic particles that shoot out from Enceladus depends on the moon’s proximity to Saturn, according to NASA’s Cassini spacecraft data.


This set of images from NASA's Cassini mission shows how the gravitational pull of Saturn affects the amount of spray coming from jets at the active moon Enceladus

The intensity of jets of water ice and organic particles that shoot out from Enceladus depends on the moon’s proximity to Saturn, according to NASA’s Cassini spacecraft data.


How did life on Earth get started?

July 30, 2013 How did life on Earth get started? Three new papers co-authored by Mike Russell, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., strengthen the case that Earth’s first life began at alkaline hydrothermal vents at the bottom of oceans. Scientists are interested in understanding early life on Earth because if […]

July 30, 2013

How did life on Earth get started? Three new papers co-authored by Mike Russell, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., strengthen the case that Earth’s first life began at alkaline hydrothermal vents at the bottom of oceans. Scientists are interested in understanding early life on Earth because if we ever hope to find life on other worlds — especially icy worlds with subsurface oceans such as Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s Enceladus — we need to know what chemical signatures to look for.

Two papers published recently in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B provide more detail on the chemical and precursor metabolic reactions that have to take place to pave the pathway for life. Russell and his co-authors describe how the interactions between the earliest oceans and alkaline hydrothermal fluids likely produced acetate (comparable to vinegar). The acetate is a product of methane and hydrogen from the alkaline hydrothermal vents and carbon dioxide dissolved in the surrounding ocean. Once this early chemical pathway was forged, acetate could become the basis of other biological molecules. They also describe how two kinds of “nano-engines” that create organic carbon and polymers — energy currency of the first cells — could have been assembled from inorganic minerals.

A paper published in the journal Biochimica et Biophysica Acta analyzes the structural similarity between the most ancient enzymes of life and minerals precipitated at these alkaline vents, an indication that the first life didn’t have to invent its first catalysts and engines.

“Our work on alkaline hot springs on the ocean floor makes what we believe is the most plausible case for the origin of the life’s building blocks and its energy supply,” Russell said. “Our hypothesis is testable, has the right assortment of ingredients and obeys the laws of thermodynamics.”

Russell’s work was funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute through the Icy Worlds team based at JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. The NASA Astrobiology Institute, based at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., is a partnership among NASA, 15 U.S. teams and 13 international consortia. The Institute is part of NASA’s astrobiology program, which supports research into the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life on Earth and the potential for life elsewhere.

Jia-Rui C. Cook 818-354-0850
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
jccook@jpl.nasa.gov

Saudi human trafficking

The case of Saudi Princess Meshael Alayban, accused of human trafficking in the U.S., has caused a stir throughout the world. But do you know how the story was uncovered?
A few weeks ago, the victim, identified as ‘Jane Doe,’ escaped Alayban’s home where she alleges she was forced to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week; her passport held by Alayban to prevent escape. Jane Doe then flagged down a bus, explained her situation to another passenger who helped her phone police. When the police went to investigate, they found four other women at the home claiming to be in the same situation1.
Modern slavery is a crime that survives hidden from the view of the public, but occasionally, it’s there, right in front of us. It could happen overtly – a woman escaping a home in which she was trapped or a boy summoning the courage to trust a stranger – or a more subtle scene in an airport where something just doesn’t look right. The bottom line is, at any moment, a person trapped in the nightmare of modern slavery could be trying to get our attention and we all need to be ready to help.
Hours ago, Princess Alayban was supposed to face charges of human trafficking in a California court but didn’t show up. Annoyed, the judge moved her court date.

Send a message of solidarity that we all stand with the passenger on the bus who took action to protect another by ensuring millions of people know how to spot a problem AND what to do.

The case of Saudi Princess Meshael Alayban, accused of human trafficking in the U.S., has caused a stir throughout the world. But do you know how the story was uncovered?
A few weeks ago, the victim, identified as ‘Jane Doe,’ escaped Alayban’s home where she alleges she was forced to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week; her passport held by Alayban to prevent escape. Jane Doe then flagged down a bus, explained her situation to another passenger who helped her phone police. When the police went to investigate, they found four other women at the home claiming to be in the same situation1.
Modern slavery is a crime that survives hidden from the view of the public, but occasionally, it’s there, right in front of us. It could happen overtly – a woman escaping a home in which she was trapped or a boy summoning the courage to trust a stranger – or a more subtle scene in an airport where something just doesn’t look right. The bottom line is, at any moment, a person trapped in the nightmare of modern slavery could be trying to get our attention and we all need to be ready to help.
Hours ago, Princess Alayban was supposed to face charges of human trafficking in a California court but didn’t show up. Annoyed, the judge moved her court date.

Send a message of solidarity that we all stand with the passenger on the bus who took action to protect another by ensuring millions of people know how to spot a problem AND what to do.

In the belly of the beast

Mathematician Jason Rosenhouse hangs out with the creationists, and reveals how they think

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A Review of Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Lines,

by Jason Rosenhouse

(Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2012, 256 pp.)

I’ve spent over 40 years of my life wrestling with the problem of creationism, while trying to maintain my research career, keep up with book deadlines, teach my classes, and take care of my family. As I described in my 2007 book Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, battling the evolution deniers seems to be a thankless, never-ending task because no amount of effort in science education or good science in the media seems to make any difference. Their numbers (around 40% of Americans) have remained constant in the polls over many decades, no matter what approaches are tried. This is an endless source of frustration for many of us, since creationism is like the many-headed Hydra in the labors of Hercules: every time you cut off one head, it grows back two more. Science never seems to make any progress in blunting their efforts to contaminate schools with their religious dogma. At the end of my 2007 book, I tried my best to delve into the psychology and motivation of creationists, and to understand why they can deny obvious reality and tell outright lies over and over again without any guilt or self-awareness.

But I rarely spend much of my precious time reading their literature any more (I’ve read much of it over 40 years, and it never changes), let alone paying my hard-earned money to hear them speak day after day. Listening to the way they lie and distort the facts, and call professional scientists evil, is too much for me to sit through without getting upset. But Jason Rosenhouse has a much stronger stomach for their garbage than I. He attended one creation conference after another, calmly listening to their preaching and talking to the attendees while maintaining his cool. For that alone, I am in awe of him.

Rosenhouse is Associate Professor of Mathematics at James Madison University in Virginia, having previously taught at Kansas State University, so he is close to the epicenters of much of the creationist movement in this country. He regularly discusses the topic on his EvolutionBlog. As he describes, he is culturally Jewish but became an atheist, yet he has the patience of Job to sit through days and days of creationist drivel and read their atrocious books without getting angry. He is genuinely interested in understanding who they are and what motivates them, and why they can shut themselves out of so much of scientific reality and believe so much that is patently false.


Rosenhouse’s approach in this book is to recount vignettes and anecdotes of his experiences at various creationist conferences and venues, intermingled with his dispassionate and extremely lucid dissection of the logical, philosophical, and scientific issues raised by creationism. He went, among other places, to the Creation Mega-Conference at Liberty University, the Darwin vs. Design Conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. He’s a mathematician by training, so he is personally offended when he hears creationists abuse math or statistics, just as I am when they lie about paleontology and fossils. In his words, “I am not saying that creationists had interesting points to make, but had misunderstood some difficult, technical detail. I am talking instead about errors indicative of a total incomprehension of the subject.” For a mathematician, his level of philosophical sophistication is very advanced. In chapter after chapter, he runs circles around many of the specious arguments used by creationists and theistic evolutionists who try to squirm out of the problem with special pleading. It comes as no surprise that he is also a ranked chess champion as well—he sounds like someone who is brilliant, cool, analytical, and dispassionate. Through all of his sacrifices spending time listening to the creationists, he is still honestly seeking answers to who these people are and what motivates them.

I found the motivation part of the book particularly revealing, because he has the patience to listen to them carefully, and analyze how their thinking works. It turns out that the answer in pretty clear and something we’ve known for a long time: creationists place their religious beliefs first, and anything else that science or culture tells them must conform or be twisted to fit their worldview. These beliefs include the idea that God watches over them, that there is a heaven, that humans are the purpose and goal of the universe, and that their religion provides the only source of meaning and morality in life. With such a strong belief filter in place, it’s no wonder that science such a threat to their worldview. They reject not only the idea that humans are related to the rest of the animal kingdom, but any science (geochronology, cosmology) which places humans at the very end of billions of years geologic history or away from the center of the universe. As they say over and over again, they view “Darwinism” as “reducing us to animals,” in their minds denying our “special relation to God” as well as “reducing morality to survival of the fittest” (the common confusion between evolutionary biology and social Darwinism). No wonder they reject not only the biological and paleontological evidence of our evolutionary relationships with other organisms, but also most of astronomy, geology, anthropology, and any other field that does not conform to this narrow but comforting perspective.

Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi, in his book The Great Derangement (2009), describes going undercover in an evangelical church for many months. He found that creationists live in a very cloistered cultish subculture, where they read only what their church elders tell them to read, attend many church meetings and intensive weekend retreats to receive constant reinforcement, and avoid listening to or reading any outside sources that might challenge their worldview. No wonder they never bother to learn about the actual facts of science or evolution, but instead they get a distorted view of science from their creationist leaders. Such cult-like isolation from the real world explains why no amount of presenting science to them in an appealing manner will ever reach them. As long as the conclusions of science threaten their cherished worldview, they are not going to change their minds or learn to distinguish real science from creationist bunk. Instead, as Rosenhouse details again and again, they are easily swayed by shallow intuitive arguments that sound good when you don’t think hard about them. But for a true skeptic like Rosenhouse, these arguments are very simplistic and unsatisfying, since he weighs evidence and looks at the totality of the argument from a much broader, less dogmatic perspective than do the creationists.

Among the Creationists is a very insightful book that allows the skeptic and scientist alike to better appreciate the forces that we are up against in the United States. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the creation-evolution wars as a valuable resource for dealing with the never-ending battle with the forces that deny science.

Tuitea por los derechos humanos

La libertad de expresión es un derecho humano y no dejaremos que nos lo quiten.

En México como en otros países, la libertad de expresión está en riesgo. Periodistas y usuarios de redes sociales se enfrentan frecuentemente a amenazas ya sea desde los gobiernos o grupos criminales.

¿Utilizas Twitter? Súmate a nuestro proyecto “Tuitea por los derechos humanos” y contribuye así a defender la libertad de expresión. Súmate en: www.amnistia.org.mx/twitteros

La libertad de expresión es un derecho humano y no dejaremos que nos lo quiten.

En México como en otros países, la libertad de expresión está en riesgo. Periodistas y usuarios de redes sociales se enfrentan frecuentemente a amenazas ya sea desde los gobiernos o grupos criminales.

¿Utilizas Twitter? Súmate a nuestro proyecto “Tuitea por los derechos humanos” y contribuye así a defender la libertad de expresión. Súmate en: www.amnistia.org.mx/twitteros

una corrida de toros

Uploaded on Jan 13, 2012 Entrevista con don Álvaro Múnera Builes. Reportaje de la la emisión «Testigo Directo» de la televisión colombiana.

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¿Sabes que mientras los mexicanos carecemos de escuelas, de hospitales, de educación media y superior, de seguridad pública, y día con día perdemos nuestros empleos y compatriotas hambrientos por miles en el exilio mientras

Uploaded on Jan 13, 2012 Entrevista con don Álvaro Múnera Builes. Reportaje de la la emisión «Testigo Directo» de la televisión colombiana.

*** ** ***

¿Sabes que mientras los mexicanos carecemos de escuelas, de hospitales, de educación media y superior, de seguridad pública, y día con día perdemos nuestros empleos y compatriotas hambrientos por miles en el exilio mientras

Legal Courts And Science

Facebook is like a graveyard in a zombie movie, where old news items rise from the dead to have a second life. I am often asked about news items that are burning up Facebook, only to find that they are years old, but never-the-less they have to be addressed all over again. ] One such […]

Facebook is like a graveyard in a zombie movie, where old news items rise from the dead to have a second life. I am often asked about news items that are burning up Facebook, only to find that they are years old, but never-the-less they have to be addressed all over again. ]

One such item (actually a few items) is a 2012 news report about the Italian courts awarding money to the Bocca family a large reward because it concluded their 9-year-old son acquired autism from the MMR vaccine.

History here is a useful guide. The courts have historically often been out-of-step with the science, tending to err on the side of awarding compensation for possible harm. For example, until about the 1920s it was thought that physical trauma could cause cancer. Animal studies and epidemiological evidence, however, showed that there was no causal connection. Recall bias and increased surveillance were likely the cause of the apparent association.

However, this did not stop the courts from awarding damages to individuals based upon the notion that minor trauma caused their cancer – even decades after the scientific community rejected this notion. A legal paper on this topic demonstrates the difference in approach:

The author feels that the legal concept of causation is best satisfied by the sequence of events test, which results in a shifting of the burden of proof to the defendant.

In other words – if the cancer happened after the trauma it is reasonable for legal purposes to assume that the trauma caused the cancer (the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy), and then to shift the burden of proof to the defendant so that they now have to prove that the trauma did not cause the cancer.

Another example is that of silicone breast implants and autoimmune disease. A series of class-action suits were brought against Dow Chemical and Dow Corning  for cases of lupus and other autoimmune disease  alleged caused by ruptured implants. Many multi-million dollar judgments were made against the companies, and Dow Corning filed for bankruptcy to protect itself against the slew of suits.

This was not based on any solid scientific evidence that breast implants actually caused autoimmune disease, but rather on the difficulty in ruling out that it did. Even completely negative studies do not rule out a connection – the more data we have, rather, the smaller a possible risk can be. We can never, however, rule out a tiny risk or a rare reaction. This, of course, opens the door for legal cases claiming to be that one rare case.

The most recent review of the epidemiological evidence I can find is from 2004, and they conclude that there is no evidence linking silicone breast implants and autoimmune disease.

These historical cases, and others, demonstrate that the legal standard for concluding a causal connection to harm is different than the scientific standard – it is lower, and errs on the side of concluding that harm did occur. This is deliberate, the philosophy being that the courts do not want possible victims to go uncompensated just because the science is unsettled. However, this keeps the door perpetually open for claims of rare cases, because scientific data will never be sufficient to rule out rare causal events.

For antivaccinationists who do not want to give up on their claim that vaccines cause autism, court rulings provide the occasional propaganda boon. They use the courts as a proxy because they have lost their case in the scientific arena.

I have discussed the evidence for vaccines and autism many times, and a fairly thorough reference of that evidence can be found here. The MMR vaccine is not causally linked to autism, and neither is thimerosal or vaccines in general.

Ironically, when the vaccine court in the US was asked to directly address this question they concluded that MMR and thimerosal, separately or in combination, do not cause autism. However, in individual cases in which neurological injury is alleged the courts do sometimes conclude that “compensation is appropriate.” The word choice is also deliberate – they are not making scientific conclusions, only saying that by the rules of the court the family should be compensated, acknowledging that those rules set the bar much lower than scientific consensus.

Also, in many of these cases the courts are not finding that the vaccines caused autism, but neurological injury that may have some autistic features. This is not a quibble – the idea is that vaccines can rarely cause encephalitis – swelling of the brain – which can cause brain damage. When encephalitis occurs after a vaccine, that is a table injury, meaning that the mere association is sufficient to justify compensation (in line with the legal standard recommended above). Having encephalitis that causes brain damage which produces some features that resemble autism is not the same thing as having autism. It is therefore not legitimate to conclude from these cases that vaccines cause autism.

This doesn’t stop the antivaccinationists from doing just that.

Conclusion

The scientific data is largely in – to a high degree of confidence we can conclude that vaccines do not cause autism. The data can never demonstrate that the risk is zero, but if it does exist it is very small. It is tiny enough that the benefits of getting vaccinated vastly outweigh the possible risks.

The courts have the burden of deciding in individual cases whether a potential victim should be compensated. They have to deal with often conflicting or inconclusive science, or the residue of rare but possible risk that can never be eliminated. The courts tend to err on the side of victims. Such decisions, however, do not trump the scientific evidence. They are grist, however, for the antivaccine propaganda mill.

morfología griega interactiva

Una morfología griega interactiva que permite conjugar y declinar términos en griego clásico así como buscar palabras por su enunciado o significado en español.

Una morfología griega interactiva que permite conjugar y declinar términos en griego clásico así como buscar palabras por su enunciado o significado en español.

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