October 26, 2010

From Joseph Spenner:

Re: Neanderthals had feelings too, researchers say (Oct. 5): I read the article "Neanderthals had feelings too, researchers say:" and have often wondered the same thing. Additionally, I am curious what type of "sense of humor" did ancients have. I mean, sorry to be blunt/crude, but did the males find farts funny? Did the women throw them out of the cave if the males farted? Did they laugh if someone fell in the mud? It would be interesting to find artifacts indicating a sense of humor. Perhaps paintings of someone being chased by an angry buffalo while the other guys watched and laughed.

From Stephen Mikesell:

Re: Societies evolve a bit like organisms, study finds (Oct. 13): there might be a problem that creatures may not evolve solely according to this model of incremental development, which some might say has a bit of a neo-Darwinian bias.

Incremental evolution only reflects one side of evolution. On the other side has been various forms of symbiosis, pursued in studies by Lynn Margulis beginning some 40 years ago, in which genetic material combine from different cells and organisms to introduce new forms of dynamism and radical divergences into evolutionary development. In the genetic record most of the existing phyla may have emerged in this way. The biologists Smith and Szatmary have extended these insights into the realm of social development.

Anthropologists have attempted to explain such change in terms of concepts such as cultural diffusion. The anthropologist Aidan Southall, working from a more dialectical as opposed to functionalist perspective in his "Cities in Time and Space," identified a process in the development of urban civilization in which new urban cultural forms emerged at the edges of old civilizations as outside cultures and ideas merged to introduce new forces of dynamism.

Not knowing better, perhaps focus on Oceanic cultures, with more uniform kinds of adaptation and less cultural inter-mixing as opposed to continental intermixing of highly divergent adaptations and cultures, might over-exaggerate a neo-Darwinian view, just when in biology neo Darwinians are being forced to begrudgingly accept the role of symbiosis in introducing sudden changes into evolutionary development.

From Rich Garratt:

Re: Lagging U.S. life expectancy ranking blamed on health system (Oct. 9): I found the conclusions of the scientists strange because within the Wellness industry in the Western Hemisphere, the S. A. D. (Standard American Diet) is used as an almost benchmark for how to kill yourself via sickness, regardless of your body fat percentage. As well as that, ethically reprehensible activities of the FDA and AMA are renowned for killing Americans before their time. (I am not saying that all doctors are evil. Please do not take that message from this email. ) Some levels of the United States Government may be elected by the people, but there are many documented cases of "leaders" and amply funded organizations working against the wellbeing of the general population. It is sad, because whatever we do affects every other person, even if we don't get to see the affects, directly, so the people in positions of political or wealth grounded authority, when driven by their own greed or their own fear of losing (or not gaining) perceived power, have often sentenced their own descendants to a less then ideal lifestyle. Although the article was somewhat interesting, due to their being no mention of environmental toxicity that has increased over years of ecologically negligent and even destructive policies; no mention of the increased use of drugs per capita; and no mention of other similar concepts that I am sure seem obvious to thousands of Americans; I wonder if the Commonwealth Fund have censored some of the scientists' work.

From Charles F. Barth:

Re: Lagging U.S. life expectancy ranking blamed on health system (Oct. 9): Have the authors considered the outrageously high costs of health care in the U. S. as a direct cause of the lagging life expectancies? Some of the root causes may involve; the FDA's cumbersome process of drug approvals limiting development of effective drugs and inflating the cost of medications, health insurers routinely denying coverage in about half the submitted claims, HMO's in particular limit time spent between doctors and patients, doctors requiring many additional tests to protect them from malpractice suits, and people themselves following very unhealthy lifestyles.

From William M Montante:

Re: Societies evolve a bit like organisms, study finds (Oct. 13): This makes perfect sense if you understand the science of Complexity and evolution.

Complexity is scale-free. It fits to the molecular/ cellular level as well as societal. Just degrees of difference along the same pattern…. small incremental changes over long periods of relative stasis, with that equilibrium infrequently "punctuated" here and there by upheaval (e. g. revolution). Societies, like all organisms and organizations, are complex adaptive systems.

From Joanne Scutero:

Re: It seems we're all more human than average (March 14 ): One sentence towards the end of the piece really struck me:

"The self-enhancement ef­fect was stronger than the self hu­manizing ef­fect in four na­tions, but self-hu­manizing was stronger in Ger­ma­ny and Ja­pan."

These are the two countries who were the main aggressors in World War 2, and I can't help wondering if the results of this survey reflect that people in those two countries still dealing with the psychological aftermath of that war (and the attitude of other cultures towards the Germans and the Japanese as a result of what those two countries did).

Perhaps it's the other way around, and this tendency in the Germans and Japanese was one of numerous factors that led them into war in the first place.

October 11, 2010

From Alice McRae:

Re: Ocean covered a third of Mars, study concludes (June 13, 2010): IMO there is another, equally plausible hypothesis relating to a giant Mars impact which suggests that axial displacement did indeed taken place following a huge impact event. Observational techniques were used to identify the location of the impact site that caused the axial displacement, and the geology of Mars is used to substantiate this.

More can be found here: www.theimpactandexitevent.com.

From Bryn Duffy:

Re: Did volcanoes wipe out Neanderthals? (Oct. 1): Would it be too much to ask that you do the politically incorrect, but honest, thing and reference the the Max Planke Institute Genetics discovery?

I mean really! Your a neanderthal, I'm a neanderthal... they didn't "die out", they got absorbed and we are them. Time to move on with the new truths and get over the old bull shit. Have a great day! Have you considered switching to Geico?

(Editor's note: Studies purporting to demonstrate human-Neanderthal interbreeding go back many years and we have reported on them more than once, for example here.)

From Bernard Sunderland:

Re: Over a fifth of plant species may face extinction threat (Sept. 28): It has long been my opinion that global population control is the only solution to all ecological and sociological problems. Conversely, I believe it can be taken for granted that lack of control of the human population guarantees doom for this planet as we know it.

From Rick Osmon:

Re: Candidate "habitable" planet called most promising yet (Sept. 29): In reading the story about the "habitable planet" around the star Gliese 581, the question of it's being tidally locked to the star seems unsupported, at least within the story. Do you have any further information on how they arrived at this or could you possibly provide direct contact info to the researchers?

(Editor's note: according to astronomers, tidal locking occurs when two orbiting bodies are so close that their gravitational forces create substantial friction within one or both objects. The rotation of an affected body then slows down until the time it takes to rotate once, equals the time it takes to orbit once. As a result this object will always show the same face to the other one, i.e. it is tidally locked. Scientists can estimate the likelihood that a planet is tidally locked to its host star based on its distance therefrom, its mass and other factors. The original paper on Gliese 581g in PDF form may be found here; see also e.g. here or here for futher details on tidal locking in general.)

From Tibor Machan:

Re: Just bad boys, or malfunctioning brains? (Sept. 26): The title suggests either/or but both could be right. Being a bad boy could have its corollary brain state. By cultivating bad behavioral habits one could well shape one's brain in certain ways without the brain being the cause of the emerging bad character. This is a kind of chicken and egg question and the big point at issue is whether developing young people have a capacity for self development which they could fail to exercise, thus ending up out of (self) control. The sweeping implications of denying self-control should suggest that it is not sensible to take it as the norm for anyone. Or, in other words, use it or lose it.

From Brent Heid:

Re: Origin of brain lies in a worm, scientists say (April 23, 2007):Just read article about nervous systems (brains) of Humans developing (evolving) from that of worms--seems like a stretch. Probably more integrous to accept that we are created in the image of the Living God----its not that hard, really. It takes a little intellectual honesty and openness to all possibilities. Just a step easier than the worm-to-man theory.

From William Treurniet:

Re: Physicists claim first true random number generation (Sept. 13): It would be nice if the authors explained how the random numbers generated by their new process have a randomness different from those obtained using radioactive decay or quantum tunneling in diodes. Devices based on the latter have been around for more than 30 years. The new process is an interesting way to generate true random numbers, but the author appears to be wrong in saying that "This year, for the first time, scientists have built devices that ex­ploit quan­tum phys­ics to gen­er­ate what they say are real ran­dom num­bers".

(Editor's note: the above statement may indeed be wrong, as we have not investigated these earlier reports. We do often (admittedly) base our statements on the opinion of scientists. In the present case, the article title may have been more accurate a summary of the situation than the statement cited by Mr. Treurniet. We have modified the questionable statement to clarify that this is based on the claims of the scientists in the latest studies).

From Tibor R. Machan:

Re: Money CAN buy happiness, within limits: study (Sept. 8): I believe this study is misleading. They are talking about satisfaction, not happiness. Sure with more money people get more of what they want and need, which gives them satisfaction (as opposed to the dissatisfaction of being thwarted in their goals). But this is obvious, so how much money was spent on this study and who paid for it (was it paid out of taxes, mostly, in part)?

Tibor R. Machan
R. C. Hoiles Chair in Business Ethics and Free Enterprise
Argyros School
Chapman University
Orange, Calif.

From Lugo Teehalt:

Re: World Science (Sept. 20): I find this article odd.

'"HIV is the odd man out," be­cause most oth­er vi­ruses of its type, called im­mun­od­e­fi­cien­cy vi­ruses, "im­pose a much low­er mor­tal­ity, "' -- It certainly is, it kills essentially everyone infected, this is completely unheard of. Odd a journalist does not make this dramatic point. There is no serious evidence for these assertions. Incidentally no other retrovirus cause illness, or even kill cells in vivo.

'Worobey then com­pared DNA se­quences of the vi­ruses' -- they are retroviruses, RNA viruses.

'short-term changes of vi­ruses like the flu or HIV, ' -- all flu and HIV have in common is the word virus: you might as well talk about mammals and bacteria in the same breath.

The tea party lot: do I take it we must assume that all AIDS 'denialists' are similarly unhinged.

From Gita Dunbar:

Re: "Psychedelics" could find new lease on life-in the d (Aug. 18): Everything old is new again! 'An ar­ti­cle in the Aug. 20 is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Na­ture Re­views in Neu­ro­sci­ence pro­poses that "psych­e­del­ics" might be use­ful in low doses as a treat­ment for psy­chi­at­ric dis­or­ders such as de­pres­si­on, anx­i­e­ty and obsessive-compulsive dis­or­ders. '

I'm Australian. I'm now 70.

In 1966 I was given injections of psilocybin by a psychiatrist whom I consulted for severe post natal depression. 5 sessions with chat in between.

It worked a treat! Until one of my kids was killed by a car in 1969, then depression returned, albeit not so severe as before.

However, parents then dying, a son diagnosed as terminal, husband dying, son eventually dying, mother-in-law dying, sent me into the arms of anti-depressants in 1975. A couple of years as a zombie, I then chucked it in favour of naturopathic stuff, but still needed some help.

Do you know the work of Dr. Stanislav Grof? Born in 1931 in Prague, he received an M. D. from Charles University and a Ph. D. (Doctor of Philosophy in Medicine) from the Czechoslovakian Academy of Sciences. Between 1960 and 1967, he was Principal Investigator in a psychedelic research program at the Psychiatric Research Institute in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

In the United States, Dr. Grof served as Chief of Psychiatric Research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD. He was also Scholar-in-Residence at Esalen Institute. He has written heaps of books. I participated in lots of his groups, both in Australia and at Esalen, and found his model so extremely helpful. He used non-drug techniques which gave the effect of a psychelitic (sp?) rather than psychedelic dose of LSD. I've never had to use antidepressants since that first lot despite sliding back a bit... thyroid deficiency for which, once diagnosed, I got effective treatnent.

Currently, Dr. Grof is Professor of Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in the Department of Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness, and teaches at the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA Perhaps I'm biased, but I reckon Stan is the best person to talk to about this subject...

From Barbara Jackson:

Re: Dummy pill may improve women's sex life (Sept. 17): This behavior has been known for many many years. It is called the Hawthorne Effect.

From Laurel Kornfeld:

Re: Solar system’s distant ice-rocks come into focus (Sept. 14, 2010): I am a writer, amateur astronomer, and astronomy graduate student writing in response to your article “Solar System’s Distant Ice Rocks Come Into Focus.” Specifically, I am writing to object to your listing of Neptune as the solar system’s most distant planet and description of Pluto as a former planet. This represents only one point of view in an ongoing debate. Only four percent of the IAU voted on the controversial demotion, and most are not planetary scientists. Their decision was immediately opposed in a formal petition by hundreds of professional astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. One reason the IAU definition makes no sense is it says dwarf planets are not planets at all! That is like saying a grizzly bear is not a bear, and it is inconsistent with the use of the term “dwarf” in astronomy, where dwarf stars are still stars, and dwarf galaxies are still galaxies. Also, the IAU definition classifies objects solely by where they are while ignoring what they are. If Earth were in Pluto’s orbit, according to the IAU definition, it would not be a planet either. A definition that takes the same object and makes it a planet in one location and not a planet in another is essentially useless. Pluto is a planet because it is spherical, meaning it is large enough to be pulled into a round shape by its own gravity--a state known as hydrostatic equilibrium and characteristic of planets, not of shapeless asteroids held together by chemical bonds. These reasons are why many astronomers, lay people, and educators are either ignoring the demotion entirely

In writing about the outer solar system, I urge you to, rather than portray one view of the debate as gospel truth, note that the status of Pluto and of all dwarf planets remains a matter of contention on which there is no consensus among astronomers.

The following links should be of assistance in demonstrating this:

Petition of professional astronomers who opposed IAU decision:

The Great Planet Debate, held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in August 2008 in response to the IAU decision:
http://gpd. jhuapl. edu/

My four-year-old blog advocating the planetary status of Pluto and all dwarf planets and chronicling worldwide efforts toward that end:
http://laurele. livejournal.com
-Laurel Kornfeld
Highland Park, NJ
Graduate student in astronomy, Swinburne University Astronomy Online program

From David Mulligan:

Re: Money CAN buy happiness, within limits: study (Sept. 8): This piece is neither new nor well researched. The study is comprised of only US citizens. The US is characterised by a high-level of inequality of income and as such has a large amount of conspicious consumption. In more unequal societies purchasing goods as status symbols is the method to achieve high social status. From high social status comes high respect and happiness. If this study was to be carried out on an international scale and in countries with much higher levels of income equality (eg. the Scandanavian trio) then I would expect to see a much flatter curve with increasing income providing much less marginal happiness. A much more full answer is to be found in the book 'The Spirit Level' which covers this in great detail and encompasses many studies. Also I'd like to say how much I like this site as it allows me to keep in touch with areas of science that I wouldn't be researching myself.

From D. Hutzler:

Re: Do cleaning products cause breast cancer? (July 20): You should target specific job groups of women for your survey like women who do cleaning, production line work, secretaries, doctors, etc. Then find the groups with the highest rate of breast cancer and see if there is a correlation in their environment. Of course the home environment, which you attempted to study, will cloud the study as does the genetic factor.

From David Hop:

Re: Claims of a watery moon in question (Aug. 6): "Recent studies reporting that the Moon has unexpectedly high amounts of water seem to be wrong, a group of sci­entists says."


While Sharp questions the presence of water in lunar magma, none of the water detected by M3, MIP, and Mini-SAR is thought to originate from lunar magma.

The water detected by M3 in the lower latitudes as well as water moleucules MIP detected above the moon is thought to come from solar protons interacting with oxygen rich minerals. (A solar proton is another word for a hydrogen ion from the sun. The moon receives a stream of them).

The frozen ice from the poles that mini-SAR detected is thought to come from the occasional comet impact, as well as the steady stream of water detected by M3.

Is the person who wrote that article a high school graduate?

From Pierre-François Puech:

Re: Oldest evidence of tool use, meat eating identified among human ancestors (Aug. 11): Paleo Anthropology, specialy in analysing V-shaped grooves on bone surface, must not confuse component of prove with a definite prove. In order to reconstruct past hominid activity at a site it is crucially important to have a context.

From Catherine Scott:

Re: Women attracted to men in red, research finds (Aug. 2): When are we going to stop the knee-jerk pseudo scientific rubbish that attempts to explain the preferences of the supremely cultural animal, the human being, by references to what turns female baboons on?

This bowdlerised Darwinist nonsense, with its one factor explanation for human behaviour '- 'The savannah! The savannah!' - is preventing an intelligent engagement with a properly scientific search for the origins of human action.

Pulling out Occam's razor and getting to work with it suggests a more parsimonious explanation: see red on lots of high status people, come to associate red with status. No need to twist oneself into a foolish shape trying to prove via a series of untested assumptions that it's all down to mandrills' mating practices.

Dr Catherine Scott
Senior Research Fellow
Teaching, Learning and Leadership Program
Australian Council for Educational Research

From Charles F. Barth:

Re: Robots designed to develop emotions through rel ationships (Aug. 10): The article describing emotional responses by robots to actions of their human caregivers is exciting! These initial results represent a major step towards development of sentinent machines. Such machines, when adequately developed, would eventually be ideal candidates for space exploration and avoid the myriad challenges of long travel times and exposure to damaging radiation in space.

Dr. Charles F. Barth