April 30, 2007

From Peter Millington:

Re: Clues to language origins seen in ape gestures (April 30): Along the same subject, I noticed years ago that cats and dogs when they want something from a human seem to raise their vocals at the end of their “statement” (for lack of a better word) in the same way humans do with a question. Even a complaint comes out as a whine, again which humans also do when complaining. Has any research been done along these lines? Do other animals do the same thing or is the whole thing a form of mimicry? If it is mimicry then it seems to be pretty clever and right on the button.

From William F. Maddock:

Re: Distant planet judged possibly habitable (April 23, 2007): Contrary to what Xa­vi­er Delfosse claims, this find is not tempting at all. Where are the gas giants that are needed to protect the system’s small planets from being blasted by comets and other debris? Where is the large moon that is needed to stabilize the rotation of the planet and to stir up the proposed oceans? At the reported distance from the star, the planet is likely to be orbitally locked, facing one side constantly toward the star with the other side constantly in night. Simply because a planet’s worldwide average temperature falls within an acceptable range does not mean the place is at all hospitable to life. There are many factors against this being exciting at all as regards a haven for life.

From Viktoras D.:

Re: Ethanol vehicles pose health risk, study finds (April 18): Rudolf Diesel’s first engines were built to run on pure vegetable oil for the parts of World that at that time had no petrochemicals industry. Note this as one more green alternative especially keeping in mind the related prices and terms of transition to other alternatives mentioned in the article. In fact nearly any existing diesel engine can be converted to run on vegetable oil. Even running ordinary diesel engines on biodysel (mixture of ordinary diesel and vegetable oil) substantially reduces harmful emissions. Actually there are companies (I know few in Europe) that can tweak your ordinary diesel car so it runs on vegetable oil. There are also companies selling biodysel too. So what are we waiting for ?. .

From Marc Weinzweig:

Re: Grow a garden to fire kids’ veggie-ardor (April 18): We have brought our children (male and female twins) up to understand the need for good food and they are now at university where they regularly cook food which is quite unusual for a UK university student. They both enjoy good food and social eating. My son is an elite athlete and he cooks very well. They both also complain that they cannot get food at shops as good as that grown at home so they do notice the difference. We have now set them up with plants that grow well in pots so they can have some fresh food. In the UK there is a growing drive to SLOW eating where people sit around a table and NOT a television and they talk and eat. It is good to hear that good food eating getting mentioned more often in the press.

From Edward Mahoney:

Re: Grow a garden to fire kids’ veggie-ardor (April 18): I have been trying to promote gardening at our school. Thank you very much for much needed back up.

From Carol Lee Myers:

Re: Grow a garden to fire kids’ veggie-ardor (April 18): There’s a good reason why kids prefer the taste of homegrown fruits and vegetables to other foods. Kid’s who DON’T eat homegrown foods have never actually eaten real food. the “fresh food” that comes from grocery shelves is raised from varieties that have been bred to have uniform ripening time for ease in picking, tough skins for long-distance shipping, and long shelf lives. Flavor is not one of their strong points.

From Harry Clift:

Re: Ethanol vehicles pose health risk, study finds (April 18): Widespread use of Ethanol saves human lives, protects the environment and prevents property damage as compared to the EV alternative by methods delineated below. Annually electricity contributes 30-50 tons pollution per person, West coast to East coast data. www.cal.gov, www.epa.gov. The environmental damage of electrical pollution is well documented. Good clean electricity is produced by dirty ole power plants and/or EV IC engines. Three power companies contribute more pollution annually in America than all other sources combined: AEP, The Southern Company, AEP. www.epa.gov

With the exception of Exide employees, Mr. Jacobson stands alone with the perception that batteries are a clean energy source. Less than 1% of electricity is cleanly produced by hydro, pumped storage, wind, and solar. Not a single EV is powered by hydro, solar, wind. Some laboratory test and competition vehicles are powered with solar, wind, or hydro. Not to ignore falsely fabricated EPA mileage ratings for EV’s but rather to consider actual vehicle performance reported by real owners, a high powered corvette is less pollutant per mile than any of the available EVs on the public market.

Electrical house fires alone destroy 300, 000 homes annually in the US resulting in 3000 deaths each year. Katrina and Rita did less damage and are not repeated annually. www.nfpa.org

States like Mississippi and Tennessee report the annual death rate and cost of electrical “accidents” second only to auto accidents. Data for each year varies slightly by state. The damage is consistently repeatable when state totals are summed.

Totally discredit is due the absent minded Jacobson. The public and government (words of Mr. Ali Gore) anticipated this type misleading dis-information and are rather dismayed at release delay. Self-proclaimed and grossely over-educated atmos­pher­ic sci­ent­ist Mark Z. Ja­cob­son of Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty in Stan­ford, Calif. was grosely inaccurate and less than thorough to conclude, “There are al­ter­na­tives, such as battery-electric, plug-in-hybrid and hydrogen-fu­el cell ve­hi­cles, whose en­er­gy can be de­rived from wind or so­lar pow­er,” he added. “These ve­hi­cles pro­duce vir­tu­al­ly no tox­ic emis­sions or green­house gas­es and cause very lit­tle dis­rup­tion to the land.”

Stanford University receives massive grants annually from OPEC countries, Saudi & Kuwait. US import tariffs on Brazilian ethanol subsidize OPEC oil at $0. 46 per gallon.

Harry Clift
Bristol, Tennessee

From D. K. Khurana:

Re: “Stolen” memories investigated (Jan. 21, 2006): Often I have observed this phenomemon among friends also. But more often with talkative friend who are either weak in IQ or strong in IQ rather than with average IQ people. The more the talkative a person, more tendency of his is to stole this memory. But often these are the bad or good memories I can’t say, but quite often these are the memories which have been repeatedly told over time at the time of its happening or later, so that their registry level is repeted rather than occuring only once.

D. K. Khurana
Senior Scientist/Professor (Forestry)
Secretary - Indian Society of Tree Scientists
Chief Editor - Journal of Tree Sciences
Dept. of Tree Improvement,College of Forestry,
Dr. Y. S. Parmar University of Horticulture & Forestry,
Nauni (Solan)-173 230, H.P., India

April 21, 2007

From Charles F. Barth:

Re: Ethanol vehicles pose health risk, study finds (April 18): No one had critically examined the toxicity of ethanol fuels before rushing headlong into production of ethanol. I lament that situation, but I wish to also make some comments regarding the recommendations at the bottom of the article.

While hydrogen-based fuel cells or hydrogen fueled engines offer pollution-free operation, battery powered vehicles merely move the pollution from the tailpipe to the (largely) coal fired generating plants. It appears there is a better solution but the near-hysterical opposition to electricity generation by nuclear plants has essentially stalled these efforts. Modern nuclear plants can be designed and built that produce little to no radioactive wastes. The resulting electricity can be used to retire the fossil-fueled generating plants, providing safe, clean power. The issue of carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effects would ameliorate quickly. Further, the electricity could also be used to dissociate water into hydrogen and oxygen for fuels as well.

Dr. Charles F. Barth, retired scientist

April 16, 2007

From Michael Ricciardi:

Re: Hexagon on Saturn mystifies astronomers (March 27): It is curious, that the researchers quoted in the article do mention convection cells, but then refer to these cells (on Saturn) as being “circle-like”, and further, that “this was the last place we expected to see a hexagon”. . . Hasn’t anyone on the Cassini team ever boiled rice in an uncovered pot? After the water is mostly convected away (via rising steam), what results in the pot of cooked rice are numerous, hexagonal ‘cells’. This is a mundane example of ‘higher order re-organization’, or dissipation, brought about by the continuous flow of heat energy upward through the rice--from the bottom to the top. . . its a great example of “order out of chaos” (see Prigogine; ‘supra-molecular organization’), and I suspect that a similar activity is going on with Saturn’s polar region. It is likely that this gaseous planet IS so due to an active, high energy core that continuously (or over extended periods) produces excess heat, which, due to structural asymmetries in the outer regions, is convected via the one pole.

April 12, 2007

From Uzi Kafkafi:

Re: Human evolution, radically reappraised (March 26): It is amazing that such effort is made based on such a small number of skulls found in archeological excavations. This is a very speculative work. They should compare the variability in archeological excavation with skulls of all tribes of white and black people, people in Oceania, china, and the arctics and monitor their variability before making farfetched extrapolation based on so small data sources contaminated with soil and fossils.

Uzi Kafkafi
Prof. Emeritus, The Hebrew university of Jerusalem
faculty of Agriculture
POBox 12 Rehovot, Israel

From Chris Kirtley:

Re: Hexagon on Saturn mystifies astronomers (March 27): By an interesting coincidence I was walking at Burleigh Heads yesterday, where there is a great example of six-sided volcanic basalt. I wonder if a similar mechanism might be responsible for the Saturn phonomenon?


Chris Kirtley MB ChB, PhD
Kangaroo Point
Queensland, Australia

From David Isakson:

Re: Catching suicide bombers and Plague as a Weapon (April 10): I just want to object to the first two stories today about war related technology. For example, the lead story about the use of well known technology to reveal concealed explosives is just that- technology, and not about a scientific process. The second article is also about war related technology rather than scientifically based. I very much appreciate and enjoy your work, but the internet is already bursting with war related stories. Thanks again though. I’ve found a lot of interesting information in your email magazine and hope to see more.

From Alberto Portugheis:

Re: Catching suicide bombers (April 10): These will increase the use of more powerful bombs that can be sent from a distance, without being detected and without the bomber having to die. Why don’t you propose scientists invent bombs of all sizes, shapes and colours, that NEVER explode? and guns that do not allow bullets to come out? better still, couldn’t scientists invent a method of education that creates politicians and masters (Churches, Banks, Industries, Press, etc), who see that wars, revolutions, violence, terrorism, hunger, injustice, etc, lead nowhere? (except to deepen the pockets of the filthy rich)

From Jim Bier:

Re: Hexagon on Saturn mystifies astronomers (March 27): I have observed a similar hexagon in an ordinary coffee cup in the top surfce on occasion. I just related it to hexagonal convection cell, presumably falling around the outside, and being replenished from the inside. Why a hexagonal shape to the cell??? Beats me. But if it can occcur in the fluid of a coffee cup, it apparenly can occur in the fluid of a mostly dense gaseous planet.

Jim Bier
Professor of Chemistry
Ferrum College
Ferrum, VA

From C. Paull (cyn p aul @co mcast.net):

Re: Human evolution, radically reappraised (March 26): I don’t know if it’s the fault of the people conducting the study themselves, or your editors, but your article reeked of scientific ignorance, dishonesty, and outright idiocy. Your article made rings and rounds among far right and racist/racialist blogs and websites- do you think this is good? At all? I’ll just point them out.

“The pro­pos­al is “truly fas­ci­nat­ing,” wrote Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go ge­net­i­cist Bruce Lahn in an e­mail. He was­n’t in­volved in the work, though he did con­duct ear­li­er re­search find­ing that ev­o­lu­tion may still be on­go­ing in the brain.”

Lahn’s “research” has actually been shown to be outright wrong:


Aside from the fact that it exhibited substantial lack of knowledge- although this being little known, and I’ll detail it later- about the dynamics of the human brain, it didn’t make any sense to begin with. How could such minute alleles be involved with things like agriculture and art? What diffrentiated this from early exhibitions of abstract though? It even showed large disparities among ethnic groups where it was found in high frequencies, and some of the genes were completely absent in Vietnamese and Cambodians, yet having their highest frequencies in native americans and papuans.

This is where the outright bullsh*t comes in.

“Hawks and Cochran an­a­lyzed mea­sure­ments of skulls from Eu­rope, Jor­dan, Nu­bia, South Af­ri­ca, and Chi­na in the past 10, 000 years, a pe­ri­od known as the Hol­o­cene era. They al­so stud­ied Eu­ro­pean and West Asian skulls from the end of the Pleis­to­cene era, which lasted from two mil­lion years ago un­til the Hol­o­cene. “A con­stel­la­tion of fea­tures” changed across the board, Hawks and Cochran wrote in their pres­en­ta­tion. “Hol­o­cene changes were si­m­i­lar in pat­tern and. . . faster than those at the archaic-mod­ern tran­si­tion,” the time when so-called mod­ern hu­mans ap­peared. But these changes “them­selves were rap­id com­pared to ear­li­er hom­i­nid ev­o­lu­tion.” Ho­mi­n­ids are a fam­i­ly of pri­mates that in­cludes hu­mans and their ex­tinct, more ape-like though up­right-walk­ing an­ces­tors and rel­a­tives.”

The person who wrote this article didn’t even clarify what “features” Hawks and Cochran were reffering to- but if it’s that of skull features, so what? When one looks into the heritability of various physical and biochemical variables of the human body, you’ll realize something- there’s really few fixed physical differences that exist among human ethnic groups. How is a rapid change in cranial features an example of accelerating human evolution? All this is saying is that the genetic structures that control for these features changed quickly- which isn’t uncommon, at all, in humans.

It’s been observed among native americans, it’s been observed among australian aborigines- they’re southeast asians, the single most divergent human ethnic group on Earth, yet they carry many physical features common to archaic humans and extinct hominids. Is this just one of the many examples of Hawks and Cochran’s ignorance?

Hawks and Cochran al­so ana­lyzed past ge­net­ic stud­ies to es­ti­mate the rate of prod­uction of genes that un­der­go pos­i­tive se­lec­tion-that is, genes that spread be­cause they are ben­e­fi­cial. “The rate of gene­ration of pos­i­tively se­lected genes has in­creased as much as a hun­dred­fold dur­ing the past 40,000 years,” they wrote.

Um. So this is their big proof? This has been known for a very long time, and it says nothing of the big question which all of this vexes on- the idea that some human ethnic groups could have fixed, differing brain structure. Racial differences. This is just saying that the frequency of phenotypes and selective genes has increased in frequencies, but what does this even prove? It’s a fact, a blatant one, that major structural differences in the brains of primates- hominids especially- take the onset of 1 million years or more. Atleast from what we can interpret from the archaeological data. Then you have to take into account the exertion of phenotypic pressures upon particular traits, and well. . . . Our species has been transisting constantly for such a short period of time. The time we’ve been migrating out of africa is minute.

A “thing that should prob­a­bly wor­ry peo­ple is that brains have been get­ting smaller for 20,000 to 30,000 years,” said Coch­ran. But brain size and in­tel­li­gence aren’t tightly linked, he added. Also, growth in more ad­vanced brain ar­eas might have made up for the shrinkage, Coch­ran said; he spec­u­lated that an al­most break­neck ev­o­lu­tion of high­er fore­heads in some peo­ples may re­flect this. A study in the Jan. 14 Brit­ish Den­tal Jour­nal found such a trend vis­i­ble in Eng­land in just the past mil­len­ni­um, he noted, a mere eye­blink in ev­o­lu­tionary time.

And here’s the biggest idiocy, and while I guess Hawks and Cochran can be exscused, here it is:


Fun fact: Brain size varies substantially within ethnic groups, it correlates only by. 20 with IQ (in men), and gains in IQ would invariably result in gains in brain growth- this being well established by the effects of omega-3 and breastfeeding on brain development, along with that of malnutrition and proper nutrition, and the fact that the heritability of IQ rises with age- basically saying that environmental effects on IQ become lessened as someone’s brain matures.

So Hawks and Cochran commit insane levels of scientific ignorance with this. If the distribution of mental faculties involved with intelligence somehow changed so radically in the span of a few thousand years- which is outright impossible- wouldn’t this be blatantly apparent in some sort of correlationary study? BTW, I’ve known of these prehistoric populations- they’ve been observed all over the globe. They were found in early archaic humans, along with Homo Sapiens Idaltu, both having cranial capacities in the mid 1, 500’s. In fact, such populations have been observed at high frequencies among Papuan tribal peoples (just look at photos- some of them have strikingly large heads) and a few isolated regions of Australia. Nobody knows for sure what causes this. This stupidity also reminds me of a study that came out amidst the controversy over Lahn’s work- some people hypothesized that the APSM genes came from interbreeding with neanderthals. I’ll say it- that idea is completely retarded. Humans exceeding neanderthal brain size are very common, and neanderthals are definately a distinct species- and don’t they see anything unethical about basically saying that europeans, north africans, middle easterners, and indians aren’t fully human?

Cochran... spec­u­lated that an al­most break­neck ev­o­lu­tion of high­er fore­heads in some peo­ples may re­flect this. A study in the Jan. 14 Brit­ish Den­tal Jour­nal found such a trend vis­i­ble in Eng­land in just the past mil­len­ni­um, he noted, a mere eye­blink in ev­o­lu­tionary time. . . . .

Oh god. How can this have even been published via peer review? High foreheads aren’t anywhere near of an indicator of evolutionary status. This feature varies profoundly within ethnic groups, and orangutans have surprisingly high foreheads despite being a “lower” species of ape. The brain basically molds to fit into the way the skull grows, so no, people with lower foreheads aren’t less intelligent.

What­ever the imp­li­ca­tions of the recent findings, McKee added, they high­light a ubiq­ui­tous point about ev­o­lu­tion: “every spe­cies is a tran­si­tion­al spe­cies.”

Yes- these changes they found say nothing about rapid human evolution. And again, what does rapid physical changes prove? I’m very, very sorry if I came off as rude- but I’m just appalled at how poor this study and article were, and how it was so quickly abused by far right groups. Is there anyway to even contact Cochran and Hawks?