Sunday, October 28, 2012

Viruses within Viruses & the politics of Anti-Science

One of the more amazing discoveries of late are the giant viruses (first identified in 2003)(for more details, read reviews here and here).  These miniviruses have been found to infect various types of amoeba.  

More amazing still, these giant viruses have their own parasites [read general description here and a scientific description here.]   Cells infected with the giant virus are infected with a second type of virus, known as a virophage, which replicates only in virus infected cells.  Another example of how ecological niches, no matter how small or obscure, can be populated by replicating entities.  

On another, less intellectually entertainingly front, it is increasingly amazing how both scientific denialism and active anti-scientific posturing and policies are coming to dominate American political discourse, particularly in situations where they are seen to threaten fundamentalist religious doctrine (or in Boulder, CO, self-centered ignorance, as illustrated by the anti-vaccine and anti-GMO movements)[check out the panic virus blog].  

This recent article Shawn Otto in Scientific American (Antiscience beliefs jeopardize U.S. democracy) is particularly cogent.  In part scientific denialism may arise from the naive view that science equals truth, and so poses a direct threat to belief and in part from a failure of our education system to help students understand the process by which science accumulates and integrates useful knowledge into a coherent world view. Perhaps more emphasis on critical analysis and less on often superficial "inquiry" would help here.  

In any case, it is scary to see the US return (at least in certain regions) to medieval patterns of thought -- I wonder when witch burning will become part of a political party's platform.  Probably not long, given political positions that explicitly deny global warming [read more here].   

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Is embryology a lie "straight from the pit of hell"?

Two remarkable stories from today's paper, one about a Republican Georgia representative  Paul Broun who appears to believe that, 

"All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and
Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. "
What is truly bizarre is that this person on the House Science, Space and Technology committee.    I am particularly confused by, and would love to understand the logic behind, the  relationship between embryology and hell.  

The second is a quote from an Arkansas state representative John Hubbard that slavery was a blessing in disguise and that all Muslims should be deported, similar views appear to be held by Republican state house candidate Charlie Fuqua.  Their views on Mormons, Jews, atheists, and perhaps all Democrats, etc, are not recorded, but Fuqua claims that 

"I think my views are fairly well-accepted by most people".  

Also finished an interesting book that is relevant, "The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood" by D.R. Montgomery.