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Carl Sagan said this decades ago. I think my friend John Zande actually says it better. If the end of brain activity is the end of an individual’s life, then before there is coherent brain activity, individual life has not yet begun.
How can you “kill” something that cannot “die”?
This is arguably the most significant question in any discussion concerning the legality of abortion, and because facts matter, the following seventeen words are critical in understanding that before gestational week 25, although more accurately week 28, there is no ethical dilemma in terminating a pregnancy because nothing is being killed—or worse, to use the careless language of some, murdered.
At no stage does life magically appear in a zygote, a blastocyst, an embryo, or a foetus.
Life began on earth 3.8 billion years ago and has not been interrupted since. There is no ‘divine spark,’ no ensorcelled moment when the inanimate abruptly transforms into the animate. A foetus was never inorganic and suddenly becomes organic. The egg and the sperm are already parts of the living system—a 3.8 billion years old system driven by chemiosmosis, where the rechargeable…
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This is for a planned wide-audience writing project on evolution, in which I pre-empt (rather than respond to) creationists’ counter-arguments, such as their downplaying of historical science. I would greatly value comments on this approach.
There are sciences, such as physics and chemistry, where we can perform experiments. There are other sciences, such as the science of planetary motion (and astronomy in general) where we cannot do this, but we can still carry out repeated observations in well-controlled circumstances, and devise theories with whose help we can make definite predictions. All of these are what I will call rule-seeking sciences. At the other extreme, we have sciences such as palaeontology and much of geology, which one might call historical sciences.1 With these, the aim is not so much to establish general rules, as to unravel and explain the specifics of what happened in the past. It is usual to regard the rule-seeking sciences as the most rigorous, to which the others should defer. This shows a deep misunderstanding of how science works, and, time and time again, when historical and rule-seeking sciences have come into conflict, it is historical science that has triumphed.
So I opted out. But how I now appear to them still includes my device IP address, so I don’t know if that really achieved much.
The email led me to the revised terms of service for Yahoo mail,and much much more (see their illustration) now part of the conglomerate formerly known as AOL-Verizon:
“Hi, we’re Oath
Oath is home to the sites and apps you know and love, such as HuffPost, Tumblr, Yahoo Mail, TechCrunch and many more.
Our stories and services connect with 1 billion people around the world every day.
Our technologies make sure you have experiences that reflect your passions, interests and goals.
So you feel like one in a billion.”
Which is exactly how I do feel right now. One billion bought and sold.
Continuing on the Oath website,
“It takes a team
Sometimes it takes teamwork to bring you the experiences that you expect and want. We may provide information to our parent company Verizon, our partners and other parties for product improvements, research and analysis, and to help them provide you with more relevant experiences and ads.”
1: Transcript of discussion following Draper’s initial presentation, from Oxford Chronicle and Berks and Bucks Gazette, 21 July 1860, with Athenaeum account for comparison, as reported by Richard England, with my own paragraphing for ease of reading, and with the most relevant Athenaeum alternatives for comparison; 2: Full transcript of Athenaeum accounts of this meeting, including Prof. Draper’s presentation, preceded by its account of the meeting of 19th July, where Huxley had been goaded into participation by remarks from Richard Owen
1: Saturday session, Section D.—Zoology and botany, including physiology (Oxford Chronicle)
—Professor HUXLEY, being called upon by the chairman, declined entering into the subject, alleging the undesirability of contesting a scientific subject involving nice shades of idea before a general audience, who could not be supposed to judge upon its merits.
The discussion was then commenced by the Rev. R. GRESWELL, who denied Read the rest of this entry
The Grumpy Geophysicist is too kind. “It is hard not to look at these actions and them as ostrich-like in trying to avoid hearing things you don’t want to hear.” No; the target is not what they get to hear, so much as what we get to hear. they just don’t want scientific advances that generate news stories about inconvenient facts like global warming or pollution
Some time ago, GG suggested that what many were taking as a “war on science” was more a war on particular parts of science, that the offenders were in fact exploiting science where it was financially remunerative and opposing it where it wasn’t. But actions at the Environmental Protection Agency really look like outright war on science, period.
Consider these actions:
- Reconstituting science panels to only have “committee members [who] will be financially independent from the agency.” Um, so experts who are interested in pollution and are supported by…who is left? maybe industry? If this isn’t the fox watching the henhouse, GG doesn’t know what is. Why would the EPA not use the science that it has paid for, or trust the scientists that it funded? EPA grants are to determine if…
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Rocks! -a brief illustrated primer. A superb, richly illustrated, survey from geologictimepics with detailed inks to an extensive gallery of rock types and formations. And,of course, incidentally proof of the absurdity of Young Earth “geology”
click on any image to see a larger version
Seems like most people I know like rocks. They bring home unusual rocks from vacations; they admire beautiful facing stones on buildings; they frequently ask “What is this rock”? Considering that the type of rock you’re looking at reflects the processes that caused it to form, some basic rock identification skills can go a long way to understanding our planet!
Of course there are thousands of different rock types —But! they ALL fit into one of three categories: igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic. Here’s a brief, illustrated summary of each.
Igneous rocks are those that form by cooling and crystallization from a molten state. Consequently, they consist of crystals of various minerals that form an interlocking mosaic like the rock in…
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I just informed on myself to The Professor Watchlist. My US teaching colleagues, consider doing likewise
I just took action with the American Association of University Professors and if you are a Professor at a US University I think you should too. Read the rest of this entry
This is new. We know about simple intimidation, lying about voter eligibility, and Republican State administrations making it physically difficult for people in Democratic-leaning areas to cast their vote.
What is new is the production of false flag “Hillary” material, lying in order to put people off voting, or to make them imagine that they have voted when they haven’t. There is the scandal of the “Vote by text” ads; of course you can do no such thing, and if you do what the ad says you will end up not voting at all. Even more contemptible are the ads, hashtag #StopThePot, targeted at marijuana supporters, that pretend to be approved by Hillary, and in memorable soundbites completely mis-state her position.
How anyone with any decency can continue to support a campaign that uses such tactics is beyond me.
Evolution science in action
A question I’m always asked in popular lectures on evolution is this: “Are humans still evolving?” The answer I give is “Yes, but we have good evidence for such evolution in only a handful of traits: evolution of earlier reproductive maturity in females, later menopause, and selection for reduced blood pressure and a few other traits related to heart disease.” That is based on longitudinal studies of human health over decades, observing changes in these traits and presumed estimates of the genetic basis of their variation.
Now, however, we can, by DNA sequencing, look at DNA directly, and with some fancy statistical footwork, get an idea of which genes have changed in frequency so fast that they must have been due to positive natural selection. That’s the subject of a new paper in Science by Yair Field et al. (reference and free download below). The authors conclude that several…
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