Monday, August 28, 2006

We Now Return to the Rant in Progress

Anyway, August issue of Scientific American had a very good article, "The Real Life of Pseudogenes". Seemingly they are a sizable part of our "junk" DNA. Points of interest:
  • Genes have a couple of ways of making copies of themselves in the genome, and probably happy to get away with it -- it's all about replication, yes? Various copies undergo bad mutations (imperfect replication) to where they can no longer produce their protein. But, they stay in the genome, happily replicating themselves.
  • One gene has 140 bad copies of itself in the genome. I guess it took the "intelligent designer" a few tries to get that one right.
  • Most mammals have about 1000 genes that produce receptors for different smells. Smell perception is very much lock and key, one gene per receptor per smell. Primates (including us) have only about 500 of these still working -- the rest are still there as broken pseudogenes. Apparently as we were making our transition to the highly vision oriented perception we use now (90% of our bitrate), there was no loss in survivability from the loss of the smell receptors. Crazy, with genetic engineering you could probably change just a few base pairs and get this back.
  • Most mammals can synthesize vitamin C. Around 40 million years ago, primates had a mutation that turned a gene required to make a protein in one of the last steps in the synthesis into an inoperative pseudogene. Again, apparently our ancestors were eating a lot of citrus fruits at the time for this not to have affected survivability.
  • Both these last two seem to suggest to me that we have definitely come through some narrow evolutionary windows. I guess like in the Stephen Baxter book "Evolution" blogged earlier, throughout most of our evolutionary history there was one individual who wound up being the parent of us all -- that's really counterintuitive to me.
I have noticed I have a definite hot button -- that is, questioning science. To me, science is the only system of knowledge in the history of our race that has proven to be able to produce describable, consistently reproducable results. I loved the junior year physics lab at MIT. For two semesters, we made the equipment (I remember turning pipe on a lathe to make a vacuum chamber) and performed some of the great experiments of physics: the Michelson-Morley experiment that shows that there's no luminiferous ether (no prefered frame of reference in the universe); the Milliken oil drop experiment that shows the quantization of charge; the Rutherford scattering experiment that shows the existence of atomic nuclei.

It is hard to choose favorites, but "The Republican War on Science" is yet another reason to despise the neocons. You wonder how many of these guys, in between attending prayer meetings, got modern liberal educations and were taught by fucking deconstructionists that science is "just a paternalistic, destructive way of looking at the world", no more valid than shamanism say. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Like the proposal to let non-evolution-believing people have their TB treated with the antibiotics of 40 years ago, which modern evolved (oops) TB bacilli eat like candy. Or like taking your car to a faith-healing mechanic. An airplane designed and flown by a shaman might be an interesting flight, but I don't think it would get you from New York to Paris.

I have recently flamed a sibling and a friend re their reports of Michael Crighton's latest novel where he "debunks" global warming. 15 years ago there was contention in the scientific ranks on global warming, it's been gone for around 10 years. But, I'm sure Crighton's data is as good as the Republicans -- i.e., nonexistant. How in the fuck did we wind up getting governed by Peter Pan and Tinkerbell -- "think happy thoughts, Iraqis will embrace democracy and global warming will go away"????

Last months Technology Review had an excellent article about "the most respected climate scientist in the world" and the Bush administration's attempts to muzzle him. He's been saying "global warming" since 1988. Note particularly the chart on p2, "C02 and the 'Ornery Climate Beast,'" PDF, 631 KB). The chart shows CO2 levels, ocean levels and global temperatures going pretty much in lockstep for the last 400,000 years. When I looked at it in the magazine, I thought, well, looks like we're at a natural maximum -- but then when I looked at the PDF online and blew it up, I noticed that the current CO2 level of 377 ppm is off the top of the chart (300 ppm). Pretty damn scary.

Now for some levity. My friend Patrick posted this hilarious link to the KASE forum:

Tinfoil Hat of Credulity sold separately.

He had a nice aphorism too:

"Give a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a night. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life."

Nice ...

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