October 21, 2008

From Gordon Kaswell:

Re: “Other half” of Darwin’s theory passes test (Oct. 13): My first thought is on the general description of evolution as a gradual process wherein mutations slowly spread through a given species, transforming it. It’s the gradualism that bothers me. It seems to be in conflict with the saltational (abrupt shift) pattern observed in the fossil record. Stephen Jay Gould, as I’m sure you know, referred to this saltational pattern as Punctuated Equilibrium. I’m a musician, not a biologist, so it may be that I simply lack the background to resolve the apparent conflict, but I’ve yet to hear of an explanation that makes sense to me. If you can refer me to an article or two, preferably online, that resolve(s) the discrepancy, I’d greatly appreciate it.

My next thought is in regards to the discussion of the trade-offs on attractive characteristics such as a peacock’s tail, vs. such characteristics’ potential detriment in terms of general survival. The whole concept seems to me rather post-hoc. The peacock’s tail provided a good survival “strategy” -- one worth the risk for the peacock, but for the males of other bird species it obviously did not. How do we know this? Because most other male birds don’t have such extravagant plumage. But this isn’t science. It reminds me of the astrologer who says something like “Normally, your Jupiter being in Aquarius would give you such-and-such a trait, but because Mars conjuncts Neptune, the exact opposite happened.” Such post-hoc pronouncements in astrology are utter nonsense, of course. But I fail to see how the Darwinian rhetoric is intrinsically any different.

Finally, I think it’s quite a leap to go from demonstrating the function of simple biochemical atractants produced by single-celled yeasts, to the inference that sexual selection as a driving force in the evolution of complex, warm-blooded, multicellular organisms has been demonstrated.

I would be grateful for any comments from you or your readers.

Gordon Kaswell

October 15, 2008

From David Ewing:

Re: “Other half” of Darwin’s theory passes test (Oct. 13): Are we seeing natural selection only through the eyes of the peacock, and ignoring the peahen? “Sexual selection” seems to provide only half an explanation for physical traits and behaviors. It makes sense from the suitor’s point of view. An investment in otherwise burdensome and danger-attracting paraphenalia attracts mates and causes the suitor’s genes to be spread, or at least passed along. But the advantage to the object of these displays is less obvious. Why is it advantageous to the peahen to fall for the gaudy, predator-attracting plumage of the peacock? It doesn’t sound as though this would contribute to the survivability of her genes - other than by steering predators away from the brood and toward the flashy dresser.

David Ewing
Venice, CA

From Laura Gray:

Re: Why some kids suffer chronic bullying (Oct. 8): You referred to bullied children tending to use “alcohol and/or drugs”.

I believe what you meant was alcohol and/or other drugs. It may seem a small point, but a) one wants to be accurate, and b) the constantly seen implication that alcohol is not a drug can lead to the assumption that it is less dangerous than the outlawed drugs, and that can and does have severe consequences.

From Christopher L. Wood:

Re: Why some kids suffer chronic bullying (Oct. 8): I found this article interesting, but did the researchers consider that the parental evaluations may have been biased? Overly repressive parents may be more inclined to interpret their infant’s actions as “aggressive” and in turn harshly punish them. These infants then experience punishment for simply acting normally, and this learn to react passively, or to expect punishment. More study needs to be done, with objective observers.

From fhva ndrie m (at) dds. nl:

Re: Why some kids suffer chronic bullying (Oct. 8): I am very surprised by this article. It hardly rings true with my personal experience. I was bullied for the entire time that I was in grade- and highschool. I come from a well-to-do family and had an even-handed upbringing. My family has always told stories of how easy and cooperative I was as a child. The reason I was bullied was becasuse I was a sissy. I didn’t like or know how to play sports. As a result I was mercilessly bullied for over 12 years. The victims of the bullying I personally witnessed were others boys who showed effeminate traits or boys and girls who were less attractive or less assertive than the average. It was in fact the most aggressive ones from poorer backgrounds with stricter parenting that were the instigators! In short, my experience supports a view that the easier targets are the most likely victims. The ones who stand out by being somehow different or show less desireable characteristics.

From Catherine Greenup:

Re: Religion can spur goodness-but it depends (Oct. 2): I think in a world that can be so cruel; its vital that we have something that reminds us its part of our ability to survive as human individuals to be actively good towards others. How can you get help when you need it most if you won’t help others, they wouldn’t gain anything by your company so why should they help you? Men were not meant to live alone and I believe do badly mentally and physically if they do live alone. Civilisations or ideas that create cruelty never seem to last long anyway because we natually know goodness shared, creates a safer life for family and a more positive secure future for all. Its more profitable for the whole to share.

Why do this study? Its seems quite natural to me. At the most basic level, we learn to live together with compassion and tollerance towards others because if we don’t we suffer some form of pain and loneliness. Our reward for being good to others is a feeling to belonging and being cared for in a safer environment in return. Positive results and comfort instead of pain and missfortune. Co operation keeps the wolf from the door.

May be our whole human civilization has survived this long because of our most basic need to be safe and loved. Together we stand, divided we fall might ultimately be a very powerful saying.

I am religious I have to admit being a Christian Spiritualist. But you don’t have to believe in any kind of God, all you need to believe in is your family and friends and in their safety and yours.

From Satya (yas atya20 02@yah oo.com):

Re: Religion can spur goodness-but it depends (Oct. 2): It is quite shocking to realise that that the article did not know that religion always brings humans together. It is the lust of power and greed for wealth that twists the practice of religion into what it is. Same goes for nuclear power. The world is ruled more in fear of nuclear power in war than the generation of electricity.

In conclusion, it is not the religions which are the badies but the humans who are still very primitive. Give the humans any good thing and they will misuse it against each other.

October 02, 2008

From Frank Lee:

Re: “Extreme” rain follows global warming (Aug. 7): The article claims “Heavy rain is coming more of­ten”.

The article also claims “global warming continues”.

Scientific measurements show that CO2 is increasing over continents.

Scientific measurements also show that global temperature has cooled since 1998 and is now the same as it was in 1980.

Scientific analysis shows that for 4 billion years global temperature corresponds to solar activity and not CO2 levels any way. This is especially evident in the last 800 years. The recent decline in solar activity corresponds to the recent decline in global temperature.

I suggest you replace your indoctrinated Columbia Journalism School PHD with a real scientist.

Doesn’t any editor read your stuff before it is published?

From Warren Harding:

Re: Musical genes may be coming to light (April 30): Your article on genetic research into genes linked to musical talent caught my attention.

I’ve read about other research in this area notably in Oliver Sacks’ book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” wherein, it was noted that Tourettes Syndrome also has a link to musicians and this was noted in a Tourettes sfferer penned “Witty Ticcy Ray” (see here.) I have 5 siblings and of the 6 of us, 3 have a condition related to Tourettes which manifests itself in motor twitches and compulsive behaviour. I’ve been told by psychiatrists that they believe our affliction is a mild form of Tourettes but lacks the severity to label it as such.

Interestingly, the 3 of us with this condition are ALL professional musicians. My sister has put out two albums and my brother and I have both been on stage all of our adult lives.

Warren Harding
New Zealand

From Barrie (bar gel l@ao l.co m):

Re: Something beyond visible universe detected? (Sept. 23): Perhaps what is behind the “dark flow” is some sort of consciousness--the area most left out of scientific studies--quantum, classic & astro.

From Robert F. Beck:

Re: Something beyond visible universe detected? (Sept. 23): In my book The Special Theory of Reality, I demonstrate in Appendix 6 (freely available on my website here) that even without inflation, in an expanding universe only part of it is visible and we see nothing where it is.

The same applies in a rotating universe. All is illusion in both cases. Which is very dodgy ground for insisting that big bang theory is right!

From Betty J.Rodman:

Re: Researchers explore amnesia, sex link (Sept. 29): My comments are actually questions. Are we talking about illicit sex?. Could guilt be a factor? Perhaps, these people may have had some deep-seated traumas, or repressed memories from childhood having to do with sex? If it is physical, maybe sex triggered a micro-mini-stroke in their brain.

Betty J.Rodman H.H.C..P.,M.I.N.D.S. consultant,
Holistic Counseling (mind, body, spirit and soul)
7582 Pleasantville Way
Grovetown, GA 30813

From Anne Hillebrand:

Re: Researchers explore amnesia, sex link (Sept. 29): I believe that their research will eventually find that the connection between sexual activity and temporary cognitive problems is caused by the same thing that causes the symptoms of Fibromyalgia: Systemic Serous Hypoperfusion.

Serous Fluid (all the clear fluid in the body) is the end product of blood. It is what feeds, rinses and lubricates all the cells.

“Brainfog” and other symptoms of FMS are caused by this critical fluid being a little too thick. It cannot reach all the intricate pathways, and it cannot flow sufficiently.

During sexual activity, body fluid moves to different parts of the body. Reproductive organs become enlarged, and the mouth becomes dry.

This temporary redistribution of fluid may be leaving the brain a little undersupplied.

In 2000 I discovered Systemic Serous Hypoperfusion. It will be interesting to see what answers these researchers eventually discover.

Anne Hillebrand
Orlando, FL

From James Beals:

Re: One more terror for ancient ocean fish: monster ducks (Sept. 26): I find it amazing that you can decide the length and width of an animal simply by studying the skull. How do you even disqualify that this animal was terrestrial. Tell me what airplane has only a 15 foot wing span. If you meant a model airplane then you should have indicated that.

James Beals

(Editors' note: According to the nonprofit website aerospaceweb.org, the smallest functioning, piloted airplane in history was “called the Stits Junior... [it] was around 11 ft (3.4 m) in length and had a wingspan that varied between 8.8 and 9.3 ft (2.7 to 2.8 m) over the course of three different modifications.”)

From Kermit Rose:

Re: A surprising new way to discourage risky behaviors? (Aug. 25): “De­ci­sions are not only based on risks and ben­e­fits, but al­so the ident­ity that a giv­en choice com­mu­ni­cates to oth­ers,” Berger and Rand wrote. Thus “shift­ing per­cep­tions of the ident­ity associa­ted with a risky be­hav­ior can help make bet­ter health a real­ity.” ...

How do these researchers know that the change in the student’s behavior is not because of some other reason, like not wanting to be predictable?