Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sometimes the Comments Section in Internet Stories are Totally Worth it

Usually, the stuff you read in comment sections is totally useless. Emotional venting and/or the lowest type of antagonism..."trolling," I think they call it.

DNA's survival of space travel hit the news this week.

DNA in Spaaaaaaaaaace!
My initial thoughts were sort of, "so DNA can survive entry into Earth's atmosphere...its totally feasible I suppose that life on earth originated from aliens from another galaxy, just like Battlestar Galactica.
Of course that still leaves the problem of origin with regards to that life, but I guess this at least kicks the can down the road a bit, huh?" 

Not even.

"sonofEinstein" has a great reply to Scientific American's story on "DNA Surviving Entry from Space.

"What a piece of nonsense "science". This from a mere 13 minutes in flight?? The problem is that 98% of all of the meteors that have hit Earth, according to NASA have originated in the asteroid belt and are of the original materials that built the Earth. At the average speed of a meteor, it would take about a year to reach Earth. This would mean traveling through space where the temperature is about 10 degrees Kelvin. Since all life has to have carbon and oxygen to survive, this would mean it would be frozen before it reached the atmosphere of Earth. That is when it hits the Van Allen Belts where the temperatures rise rapidly to 1,923 degrees Kelvin. So could DNA have survived THESE temperatures? Not like! Finally it would have had to survive the impact of actually crashing onto the surface of Earth, whether land or sea doesn't make a difference to the impact. Finally, we have NEVER found ANY evidence of life anywhere on any of the asteroids, including Vesta from which most of the meteors have come, and has been visited by the Dawn space probe in July 2011. For Life to have come on a comet, it would have to have been from the asteroid belt, which means that there would have to have been Life there some 4.54 billion years ago when they were formed at the same time as Earth. That leaves the prospect of DNA or some form of Life coming on board a meteor from further away, meaning somewhere else in our solar system - though we have no evidence of it from Voyager and other space probes, and since Life has been on Earth since 3.6 billion years, it would have LONGER to develop on one of those planets/moons - yet no sign yet either. That means if Life was a hitchhiker, it would have come from even further away, and only 2% of meteors on Earth came from this far away. But that would mean "life" would have had to travel 1,000 years before reaching Earth, all through dark space where the temperature is a mere 2.7 degrees Kelvin. So this "experiment" replicates NOTHING and is scientifically useless in the reality of our solar system!"

Good job Son of Einstein!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why Does the Catholic Church Hate/Worship Women/Woman?

I remember when I was getting ready to convert to the Catholic Church being told the following (literally in the same week):
1.) I shouldn't become Catholic because the Catholic Church worships a woman, namely Mary. (this from a "conservative" Protestant).
2.) I shouldn't become Catholic because the Catholic Church hates women because, male priesthood, (this from a "liberal" Protestant).
After 10 years in the Church I've seen first hand that neither is true. Seems to me that both of these readings of the Church's ecclessiology are entirely extrinsic and utterly foreign to the actual sacramental reality of the life of the Catholic Church. Perhaps it is not about sexism and power plays or paganism and goddess worship and we ought to look more deeply into the Catholic understanding of what it means to be man and woman.

As to the specifics of Cardinal O'Malley's comments on 60 Minutes concerning the male priesthood, (pre and post edit), he was attempting to give a thorough, fair and reasoned answer while also anticipating the heart of the question for moderns which might be "why does the Church not trust women as priests?"
Clearly, he is on board with the teachings of the Church. I just can't get the partisanship and the almost gleeful trigger response of getting upset among some folks who seem to prize their status as conservative and faithful. I suppose it's a bit easier to understand if folks outside the Church can't understand the reasons for the male priesthood. However, its not like the Church does not have a well developed theology for this and its not like the Church isn't open about sharing that theology in great detail. It seems to me you have to be trying kind of hard to get upset if this is scandalizing for you. 

Gender equality just is not the primary theme here.
Look closer.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On Three Parent Embryos

It's also called Mitochondrial Donation.
The donors typically aren't asked so the donation is presumed and the takers just take.
In the US, the FDA said "NO"
Or at least "not yet." The FDA isn't so backwards as to prevent science from doing what science must do on moral grounds. 

The US believes in science too...as good westerners of course we subscribe to that creed.
We're just a bit slower sometimes. These sticky morality discussions take some time to ignore. Sometimes it takes a little bit of work for us to isolate these moral concerns and cram them into the category of "moral" so we can move forward with the separated category of "science" as the unrelated and more pragmatic, (and therefore more real), objective. 
At the FDA, they can only dispassionately weigh all empirical categories of "science."
Science is a public concern. 
Moral is for the religious and is only a private concern.
So what does science say?
Science says that Mitochondrial Donation is still not very safe.
Darn. Not safe for who?

Well, before answering that, can we ask why "safety" is even a problem for science in the first place? I mean, it is beyond me as to why science should care one bit about safety. That sounds too much like something that would fall under the moral category. Science ought to  just be neatly concerned with the category of "results" and not the category of "moral." At least that always seems to be the line given if anyone voices an objection to an effort deemed scientific.
Is safety only good because it pertains to results or is treating people in an unsafe manner also not a morally problematic?

In any case, does Mitochondrial Donation work?
So what does science care if there is a high risk of complication for the people involved.
Care for people is a moral issue.
So to keep up the confusion of issues...some science concerns itself about some health results for some humans and some science does not concern itself with health results for some humans. When the latter happens it is no longer deemed a scientific concern even if the science is right smack dab in the middle of whatever is going on.
Well, at least, the contradiction seems apparent to me.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

Vaginorm - Brought to You by Some Mystified Dudes Who Know How to Turn a Profit

Man, the stuff I run across in my research. It's a few years old, but Phil Smits, some guy who used to head up Bayer's Women's Healthcare was getting pretty excited about the prospects for this drug called...Vaginorm. Vaginorm. That is your go-to-market branding? So is this stuff supposed to make vaginas normal? Or perhaps it helps returns one's vagina to normalcy?

“Vaginorm is an important late stage addition to our Gynecological Therapy R&D pipeline. We are pleased to work with EndoCeutics towards bringing a new treatment alternative for vaginal atrophy and female sexual dysfunction to an area of high unmet medical need,” said Phil Smits, M.D., Head of Women’s Healthcare at Bayer Schering Pharma. “Gynecological Therapies are a new growth area adding to our contraception business. Our research, in-licensing and innovation efforts are all geared towards this strategic goal.” 

Oh. Well...there you go. So its a drug for vagina normalization! Hmm. I think I see.
Uh...is that sort of like Spanish Fly in BIG PHARMA-speak?

OK, I'm not an expert on menopause. Please, don't think I'm saying that it is not a real health concern with potential complications. But this is the same guy who had his Division turning revenues at $16B annually, (of which women's contraception drove 45)%. This same organization by the way, also currently has tallies of over $1B in legal settlements for health complications, (some as serious as death), for the marketing of it contraceptive Yaz. So pardon me for being a little skeptical that he's got women's health in mind.
"You know I don't know what all is happening there for you ma'am but  I'll do my best to get it functionally sexy."

Mr. Smits has now moved on to running Bayer's Business in the Middle East in which he now has the pleasure of turning down requests for affordable pharmaceuticals to women in India. 
Well, who am I to throw stones?
I used to be a minor war-profiteer myself.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

In Distrust of Movements

Wendell Berry's 2001 essay "In Distrust of Movements" Passed along from the Orion Magazine...

The movements which deal with single issues or single solutions are bound to fail because they cannot control effects while leaving causes in place.

I have had with my friend Wes Jackson a number of useful conversations about the necessity of getting out of movements - even movements that have seemed necessary and dear to us -when they have lapsed into self-righteousness and self betrayal, as movements seem almost invariably to do. People in movements too readily learn to deny to others the rights and privileges they demand for themselves. They too easily become unable to mean their own language, as when a “peace movement” becomes violent. They often become too specialized, as if finally they cannot help taking refuge in the pinhole vision of the institutional intellectuals. They almost always fail to be radical enough, dealing finally in effects rather than causes. Or they deal with single issues or single solutions, as if to assure themselves that they will not be radical enough.

Read the rest here.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Who Wants to Live Forever?

Whew...a very long article on anti-aging technologies which actually seem to be pretty far out. A few observations the article makes: 
“For millennia, if not for eons—anthropology continuously pushes backward the time of human origin—life expectancy was short. The few people who grew old were assumed, because of their years, to have won the favor of the gods. The typical person was fortunate to reach 40.”
Hey, wait a second here...seems to me we have some sort of historical records from at least 2500 years ago in which ancient thinkers ponders the shortness of a normative 70ish year lifespan. Like for example this observation that was recorded a few years back
“As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away.”  – Psalm 90:10
Also Plato, that guy was around 80 when he died.
Oh yeah, also what about the dude in The Highlander? He was pretty old. Yeah anyway...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fairly Benign Article This Week

In fact she calls for almost universal cancer screening for women over 30. It is the "we can-so we must" argument. Except that it's not quite so simple as saying that the BRCA1 mutation is "exactly a cancer-causing genetic mutation." There are a few difficulties here. 
  • As the article notes there is controversy, (of course there is), as the evidence that women with BRCA1 mutations but no family history of breast cancer are at great risk is scant
  • First BRCA1 and BRCA2 have well over a hundred variations and only a few of these are associated with cancer and tumors. 
  • Also, there is the fact that 90% of women with breast cancer do not fall into the category of testing positive for BRCA1 mutations and coming from families with histories of breast cancer 
  •  On the other hand we are told that women who test positive for the BRCA1 mutations have a 85% lifetime risk of developing cancer.
  I pulled the data from these last 3 bullets from an excerpt in Robert Kolb’s book “The Ethics of Genetic Commerce.”

In any case, Dr. King has certainly mastered the language of rights-speak snippets:
“Why should women be protected from information that will empower them and allow them to control their lives? We don’t need that kind of protection.”
She added, though, that women should not be told about other rare mutations whose significance is unknown.

So then, we ought to take from Dr. King that women should be protected from some inconclusive information about mutations and it ought to be mandated that they are provided information about some other inconclusive information regarding mutations...or something, I guess. It’s all a matter of dictating by degrees it seems.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Because This Always Turns Out So Well in the Movies

So, how is it that humans think?
Wouldn’t Google need to need to have a really good grasp of human thought in order to mimic it? Not only how humans think, but what human thought is? More than just looking at the processes, but dealing with the question: “what is it that humans are doing when they are thinking different types of thoughts?”
For example, how is wisdom different from empiricism? 
I don't mean, what parts of the brain handle wisdom and which parts handle empiricism.
I mean what is wisdom and what is empiricism.
Does Google have a department of researchers who have delved into the mysteries of “epistem√©” or a “Division of Epistemology” perhaps?
WOWEE!!! It's a human soul...Nope, never mind. It's just a bunch of servers in a datacenter. 
 eWeek has a little more detail on this story and cites a blog post from Hartmut Neven, director of engineering for the Google Research group who writes the following:
 “If we want to cure diseases, we need better models of how they develop. If we want to create effective environmental policies, we need better models of what's happening to our climate. And if we want to build a more useful search engine, we need to better understand spoken questions and what's on the Web so you get the best answer."
Hmmm. So we’ve just got to do this or we won’t be able to cure diseases…or find really cute pictures of kittens on the internet.

But really the eWeek story is a bit less sensational while the Yahoo! bit seems like a headline to get clicks. All we can garner from any of this is that Google is really just about building systems that have the capacity to churn more data. I can’t really see how this is anything new from what computers already do. It’s just bigger, faster capacities and more simultaneous operations.

All a computer can do is operate a bunch of commands…essentially a pattern of “if-then” executions. This is not how human’s think.

As Jaron Lanier writes “You can't tell if a machine has gotten smarter or if you've just lowered your own standards of intelligence to such a degree that the machine seems smart. If you can have a conversation with a simulated person presented by an AI program, can you tell how far you've let your sense of personhood degrade in order to make the illusion work for you?”