April 11, 2006

Iran's Enrichment in Context

Iran is starting to reprocess its 110 tons of uranium hexafluoride (HF6). So assuming they're keeping everything metric, That translates into a potential of 782.1 kg of U235F6. With Flourine having an atomic weight of about 19 the molecule would have an atomic weight of 349, 114 or 32.67% of which is fluorine which means that after you get rid of the flourine, you're left with ~525kg of U235.

Depending on design you can make a nuclear bomb from as little as 15kg of uranium with the use of neutron reflectors to 56kg if you go for the simple bare sphere approach. This means that once the 110 tons of UF6 is processed fully, Iran will have sufficient U235 to make somewhere between 9 and 35 small nuclear weapons.

Pleasant dreams.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:45 PM

February 28, 2006

Safely Examining Gender Differences in Intelligence

While reading about Larry Summers' defenestration from Harvard it occurred to me that one of his cardinal sins, bringing up the possibility that there are gender differences in the distribution of intelligence, could have been examined safely had it been presented differently.

The Summers proposition was that men and women had the same average intelligence overall but that men had thicker "tails", ie more genius and more idiocy resides in the male sex than in the female. He viewed this as a possible explanation of some of the difference in elite academic faculty appointments for women v men. This launched a buzz saw of hate and invective.

But what if Summers had looked at why there are so many males of low intelligence or even better why so few women are extraordinarily dumb, it's hard to imagine that the same controversy would erupt. And if the idea is correct and study is permitted even in an atmosphere of stultifying gender political correctness, there is hope that once the twin realities of more male dummies and equal average intelligence across the sexes are well established even the most fearful will follow through to to the obvious conclusion, that the rightward (smart) tail is also thicker for men.

It's a pity that there doesn't seem to be much enthusiasm for a gender study of idiocy. The results might prove fascinating.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:19 PM

November 30, 2005

The Paralyzed May Walk Without Embryonic Stem Cells

One of the great tragedies of embryonic stem cell research may end up being that we will get our miracle cures after all but embryonic Stem Cell (ESC) research may slow them down by drawing funding into experimental techniques that never actually pay off. That outcome is drawing nearer with the announcement of approaching human trials to reverse spinal cord injuries using adult stem cells (ASC) from the patient's nose.

Famously, allowing Chris Reeve to walk again via stem cell research was a rallying cry at at least one of Sen. Edwards campaign speeches in 2004 and the reluctance to support ESC was and is a major charge in the bill of indictment that the GOP is anti-science.

The ASC human trials keep on coming, the actual ASC cures keep on coming, yet somehow it is ESC that gains all the attention and is preferentially favored by so many in political circles. The nose cell nerve regeneration human trials, for example, await further funding (they're 1M british pounds short). The nose cell studies are exactly the sort of work that is difficult to fund commercially because there's little money to be made in it. Nothing's patentable about it. Once the technique is perfected, most reasonably equipped hospital can use the technique. It's always difficult to raise money for less trendy research and the left has made sure that ASC research is as untrendy as possible. Pity.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:22 PM

November 29, 2005

Hwang Scandal Not Overblown

Glenn Reynolds is wrong when he says:

THIS SCANDAL over Korean cloning expert Dr. Hwang Woo Suk and his lab seems like pretty small beer to me. Yes, you don't want egg donations to be coerced, but the fact that junior researchers donated eggs doesn't demonstrate coercion to me. There's a long tradition of scientists participating in their own experiments, and I wonder if there isn't a trace of sexism in the notion that junior female researchers must have been coerced.

The worst of the scandal isn't that the junior female researchers must have been coerced. I could be persuaded either way. The problem is that when Dr. Hwang found out about what happened he did not tell the truth. He lied about what happened. When you lie about any aspect of your research protocols, there is a natural question what else you might have found embarrassing and inconvenient enough to lie about. Your research becomes suspect and must be approached with greater caution by others in the field.

Dr. Hwang rightly resigned over his lies. If he had told the truth, he might have escaped that. It's a pity that Glenn Reynolds can't see the real ethical problem.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:49 PM

November 20, 2005

Intelligent Design - A Pox on Both Houses

Glenn Reynolds' recent linkagery and Michael Williams' criticism of Rev. Coyne's theology (Coyne being head of the Vatican Observatory) has led me back into the swamp of Intelligent Design.

In short, I think that ID is wrong. I think it's wrong as a matter of faith. I also think that the large majority of its detractors (Glenn Reynolds included but not Michael Williams) are doing science a disservice by replacing pseudo-science with a differing pseudo-science. The popular tack of saying that ID can't be tested will merely morph and refine ID down to irreducible complexity, something that can be tested. And then where are you? Back at square one with nothing accomplished but improving ID theory.

Now an improved ID theory that is testable would seem, to some, to better the current state of affairs but the problem is that it is not clear that the other side would accept that ID was testable under any circumstances. Several advocacy organizations have staked out the territory that ID can never be tested under any circumstances. This is pseudo-science because irreducible complexity self-evidently can be disproven for any particular system and thus, repeating across an entire creature's genome, you can demonstrate that a species does not require ID to have come into existence.

The scary part is that the reputable science organizations who should be saying a pox on both your houses to pseudo-science in whatever form it pops up in are simply not doing so. Oh, sure, individual scientists will concede in private that it's not helpful for false statements to be made on their own side but it's certainly not a flag they're going to stake their reputations on.

This leaves us in a very bad state.

Posted by TMLutas at 04:41 PM

August 17, 2005

Science in jeapordy

One of the worst things you can do as an authority as play favorites with rule breakers. If Johnny nerd is late for class, he should get the same punishment as Jimmy football star does and vice versa. When you raise up favored classes who are not held to account the same way, you breed contempt across the entire system. If you do it long enough, the system will fail.

Science is undergoing exactly this sort of trouble. Health promotion experts play fast and loose with the rules and it's out and out tolerated by the scientific establishment. Compare and contrast with the debate over ID, abstinence education, and global warming skepticism where you have to be very careful to document and prove your every statement lest you ruin your career and even when you're credentialed and you're adhering to the method, the accusations of quackery still fly fast and furious.

The same passion and fire should erupt from the defenders of the scientific method wherever the scientific method is not adhered to either strictly or at all. Irrespective of the actual truth of any of these propositions in the real world, the gatekeepers of science do the field (and all of us) a grave disservice by playing favorites. Shame on them.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:46 PM

July 31, 2005

Stem Cell Facts

I've thought that it would make a devastating case to lay out the many treatments in active use derived from adult stem cells versus the zero treatments available from embryonic stem cells. I've not got off my lazy butt to do it but others have and the current count seems to be 65 adult stem cell treatments to 0 embryonic stem cell treatments. Where would you like to put the next marginal federal research dollar?

Posted by TMLutas at 03:37 PM

March 19, 2005

Logical Fallacies in the Origin of Life

Russ Nelson works to take apart a logical fallacy that creationists are using "Borel's law" to argue that evolution cannot be true. Thus far, all well and good, sloppy argument has no place on either side and should be thoroughly put down. Unfortunately, he slips in his own logical fallacy in his otherwise fine refutation.

The creationists are trying to argue that something which manifestly happened -- abiogenesis -- could not have happened because it was too improbable.
cut for space and cogency [read the original to check for fairness]
The creationist would say "No, no, that's not our argument at all. Only one particular combination of coins will result in life." So what? Obviously, we are having this discussion; we are alive; the past event, however improbable, occurred.

Did you catch it? He misstates the nature of creationism to claim that abiogenesis is not part of creationism. This is manifestly untrue, at least for biblical creationists, the usual suspects in these debates. A quick reading of Genesis 2:7 shows that abiogenesis is part and parcel of the creation story. The dispute between creationists and those evolutionists who deny God is whether it is guided or unguided abiogenesis, in essence, the cause of abiogenesis instead of the fact of it.

Science is about evidence, not word games. Until we find an awful lot more evidence about the origin of life and how evolution works, its extremely premature to make any scientific conclusions about whether abiogenesis is guided or unguided.

Scripture, on the other hand, is revelatory, not scientific. Revelation is evidence but not scientific evidence. It is akin to eyewitness testimony or confession by someone in the witness box. It's God saying "I did this" and his words being taken down by a stenographer of some sort.

Evidence obtained scientifically can impeach revelation or confirm it and there is a cottage industry of scientists trying to debunk christianity this way and theologians on the other side working to leave enough play so that their theology is not debunked. So far, the theologians are winning but it's a hard game for them as they play exclusively on defense.

The origin of the universe in a Big Bang sounds an awful lot like religious creation stories to a great many people and some scientists have resisted the Big Bang because it sounded too much like Genesis, most famously the astronomer Fred Hoyle. When they do so, they become pseudo-scientific practitioners, trading on their real scientific reputations to advance their philosophical preferences without actual scientific evidence.

Unfortunately, Russ Nelson does his own version here of pseudo-science. His closing statement "Don't try to rewrite history with some entity capable of violating the physical laws of the universe" ignores the fact that long before there was any science worth speaking of there was revelatory evidence about the creation of the universe, the world. Like all testimony, it can be impeached by scientific evidence but it's a gross misread of history to try to portray science as coming first. It is scientific cosmology that is the new kid on the block that is rewriting history. Sometimes revisionists get closer to the truth than the early historians and sometimes not but let's keep things on the basis of facts, shall we?

Posted by TMLutas at 09:12 AM

January 30, 2005

Shroud of Turin Update

Maybe it's not a medieval fake after all. According to a new peer reviewed study, the shroud has been cunningly repaired during the Middle Ages and the 1988 radiocarbon dating experiment disproving its age took a sample of the shroud from a Middle Ages added patch put to repair old damage. It was well done too, apparently only differing in chemical composition as the (relatively) new cloth was dyed to match the older material.

This doesn't prove things one way or another as far as ultimate authenticity is concerned but it does seem to reopen the door that the Shroud is genuine.

Posted by TMLutas at 08:19 PM

Modernist Witch Hunts

Modernist witch hunts, that is to say witch hunts by modernists, seem to be underway at the Smithsonian. I can't believe that a peer reviewed article led to the following questions:
Was the editor who allowed publication a religious fundamentalist
Was the editor who allowed publication a member of a religious organization
Was the editor who allowed publication politically conservative

This is the sort of stuff that scientists should never allow. The Zoology department head who asked this should resign. If you challenge the science, fine. It's either right or wrong, peer review procedures were either followed properly or not. Article subject procedures were either properly followed or not. Certainly junk science published in a peer reviewed journal deserves a firing over the affair. But that's not what happened. What happened was that extraneous subjects were brought into the mix that have no place in judging scientific merit or journal policy.

Now the article itself, I find interesting but not entirely convincing. The problem of there not being enough time can, at least partially, be overcome by positing that fossils are actually much rarer than we think and that the number of mutating creatures was a few orders of magnitude larger than we currently imagine leading up to the Cambrian explosion. Those scientists who believe in evolution could and probably have come up with counters to the objection of not enough time available but they aren't entirely convincing either.

The battle rages on but, please, no witch hunts!

Posted by TMLutas at 06:52 PM

October 20, 2004

Honest Science

Can't sleep, so what to do? Blog! I recently wrote about the collapse of the hockey stick, how a central bit of evidence to support global warming has gone belly up, exposed as mathematically fraudulent. Here's another good article, this time by Crumbtrail that outlines the scientific concerns from honest global warming advocates who want to prove their theories but are sane enough to recognize that bad science does them no favors. It rejects science that is agenda driven from any direction, calling on scientists to leave the spin and the advocacy to the politicians.

Hear, hear.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:21 PM

October 16, 2004

I'm floored

I'll be posting more on this as I absorb the implications, but it appears that one of the great central bits of evidence for man made global warming has been debunked.

So where does that leave global warming theorists? Where does that leave scientific review? You would think that complex statistical evidence would be pored over very carefully when it's going to influence the economic future of the entire world and the price for error is paid in death and destruction. Yet the original paper was published in Nature in 1998 and it's been 5-6 years for the holes in the evidence to be uncovered.

Prior debunkings seem to have simply assumed that there were no errors in calculation, but that the proxies used to create the hockey stick graphs were too weak and were just not picking up reality. The interesting part about this new paper is that it does not argue over whether one set of data is better than another but rather just looks at the source data and finds relatively simple cheats, data transcription errors, biased samples, and other rather mundane errors that should have disqualified the original Mann paper from ever being published.

Since the original Mann paper has been formally challenged, errors have been admitted, data corrected, so this isn't just a couple of crackpots out to stir up trouble. There are real problems here. But where do we go from here on the scientific front and what do we do about the great leap into economic restrictionism to fix an environmental problem that may not actually be there?

Posted by TMLutas at 02:09 AM

July 28, 2004

Iron Blog Subjects: Animal Research

Going through the Iron Blog topic list:

Either a new product is safe or it is not safe. Anybody who wants to introduce something like a medical device, a new operation, a drug, is faced with the dilemma that they think it's safe but nobody knows until it is tried many times. So who goes first?

You can do all the computer modeling you want. While the models may be very good at predictions, they are not complete models of all processes and interactions that happen in real life. Inventors regularly get surprised by results in real people that weren't caught in computer modeling. This isn't to say that computer modeling is useless. It's a cheap, efficient, and very fast way of going through an awful lot of possibilities and throws out a lot of bad ideas cheaply.

But if you don't have animal based research, you end up having to validate your computer model testing directly against human beings. Let's be honest and admit that doing this will result in a lot of injuries and deaths that would otherwise be avoided by animal testing.

But excess human injuries only matter if human beings are intrinsically worth more than animals. You have to buy into the concept that even the most vile human being is worth more than your average dog, cat, or even higher primate. To do otherwise is to concede that Mengele's human experimentation methods are salvageable, all that is needed is a revised list of unworthy humans who do not deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Posted by TMLutas at 05:59 PM

April 17, 2004

Evolution as Cargo Cult

Over at Matthew Yglesias' blog I've been commenting on my beef with evolution. I worry about the state of science because I find people using evolution as something as a cargo cult in their war on religion. They don't want to actually go through the hard work of proving their theories scientifically so they use rhetoric, disdain, and propaganda as substitutes. This upsets me because it is a very high form of hypocrisy and ultimately damaging to science. The truth is that evolution is probably right but before we cast out people to the outer darkness for questioning the new holy writ, we really ought to go through the tedious procedure of proving the darn thing is true.

I think that, ultimately, the ID folks are tilting at windmills but if they get people to pay attention and actually do the work of proving evolution up and down the scale from biochemical processes to gross structures and entire species, they've done as much of a service to science as the anti-federalists did to the creation of the US Constitution.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:56 PM

July 21, 2003

UK report out on GM agriculture

The UK's GM Science Review panel has just come out with their first report today. For a government report covering such a technical subject, it's actually not that hard to read, remarkably it seems to try its best to use english and not some jargon loaded bureaucratese, though clearly some boilerplate had been mandated from the start.

One little section in the report jumped out at me. 3rd world urbanization and attendant rising standards of living there are likely over the next two decades to double the worldwide meat requirement (Section 5.5.2 in the report). Since mad cow disease has led to the banning of animal feed containing animal protein over much of the world, this leaves GM needing to play a significant role in enabling that projected worldwide rise in meat consumption.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:58 PM