23 December, 2009

Evolution of the Immune System

One of the major arguments of Michael Behe in the Dover trial, in which intelligent design creationism was shown up to be the vacuous nonsense that it is, was that the immune system is too complex to have evolved through purely natural processes. I think its reasonable to assume that for someone to make such a wide, sweeping claim they must be up to date with the literature...

Not Behe.

In fact, when presented with a stack of thick textbooks, all of which included chapters on the evolution of the immune system, Behe had to admit that he hadn't read any of them. Not one!

Let's just say that his honour, Judge Jones, was not amused. And, of course, the rest is history.

Well in the January edition of Nature Reviews Immunology, there is an interesting commentary on the very subject that Behe knows nothing about, and yet feels qualified enough to dismiss - evolution of the immune system.

How did our complex immune system evolve?

Max Cooper and Brantley Herrin discuss the evolution of innate and alternative adaptive immune systems for defence purposes and conclude that successful vaccines and other therapeutic manipulations of the immune system will require a composite strategy.

The immune system basically consists of two arms, innate and adaptive immunity (although, as ever, this is an oversimplified account).

Innate immunity works tirelessly to keep you free from infection every second of every day. If you need any evidence of this, think of how quickly an unrefridgerated body can decompose following death. And innate immunity isn't picky; it will protect you against anything it recognises as foreign. If you've heard of interluekin, interferon, TNF, macrophages, neutrophils, Toll-like receptors or complement, you've heard of innate immunity.

In comparison, the adaptive immune system is only called upon when innate immunity fails to eliminate a microscopic invader. But let me tell you, that little bug is in for a whole lot of trouble, because the adaptive immune system will target it specifically and mount a massive immune response to attack it. If innate immunity is like low level police constantly patrolling the streets, adaptive immunity is more like an elite squad of detectives and sharpshooters out to get their man. Common players in adaptive immunity include T cells, B cells and antibodies.

However, the benefits of adaptive immunity are only enjoyed by higher eukaryotes, including me, you and anything with a backbone. Organisms 'below' this in the evolutionary tree make do with innate immunity alone - indicative of the power and efficiency of the innate immune system. We share many innate immune components with mice, chickens, fish, fruit flies and even plants (in fact, in the same issue of Nature Reviews Immunology there is a whole review dedicated to a comparison of our innate immune system with that of the worm). And as one would expect if the immune system evolved, the closer we are to another species in the evolutionary tree, the more sequence similarity we find in the genes encoding these common proteins.

How does Behe explain this?... Well who knows, but my guess would be that he'd trolley out the usual creationist line that similar sequence could simply mean similar designer. Of course, the existence of endogenous retroviruses easily refutes this argument, but that is something for another day (but if you want to know more right now, click here).

As mentioned, the adaptive immune system is found exclusively in vertebrates. Cooper and Herrin discuss recent work that has cast new light on the evolution of adaptive immunity. It turns out that jawless vertebrates (hagfish and lamprey) have an adaptive immune system that functions slightly differently - in fact, the preliminary work on this was published in 2004, you know, before Dover. Specifically, hagfish and lamprey use entirely different types of antigen recognition receptor, meaning they use different proteins than we do to identify foreign pathogens. However, despite this difference, following recognition we all use similar mechanisms to direct our immune response to eliminate the invader.

Now the exact step-by-step evolutionary pathway that created these two different adaptive immune systems isn't known. Of course it isn't. It's completely unreasonable to expect that level of detail to be discovered, and Behe knows this. That's the reason he uses this type of argument - it's classic God-of-the-gaps drivel. However, based on current knowledge the authors sum up the probable evolutionary mechanisms involved:

The evolution of alternative adaptive immune systems was facilitated by two rounds of whole genome duplication, which enabled the original function of a gene to be maintained while allowing evolutionary selection of modifications of additional gene copies for new purposes. The common ancestor of lamprey and hagfish probably emerged between the first and second rounds of genome duplication, as amphioxus and tunicates have single gene copies, lamprey have two gene copies and jawed vertebrates typically have four copies of retained genes.

And of course, as usual with real science, this work leads to more questions:

Such convergent evolution of mechanisms for the generation of diverse antigen receptors after the split in jawless and jawed vertebrate ancestry raises the question of whether the two pathways of lymphocyte differentiation arose in a common vertebrate ancestor.

It's nice to know that people are working on this stuff, as opposed to others who try to stifle science with fanciful stories about mousetraps and magic.


10 December, 2009


We shall never forget...

Also, what the hell was McShane doing?


01 December, 2009

Poetry Corner

Sorry I haven't been posting lately but this is due to a combination of moving to a new city, starting a new job and no internet access at home. I'm getting hooked up to broadband in a few weeks time so hopefully I'll be back then.

Oh and I've had to turn off anonymous commenting due to a recent spate of spam comments. Maybe they are hitting back....

In the mean time, here is a poem to keep you amused:

Iggy Wiggy was a worm
A lovely worm was he
One day upon the railway track
A train he did not see


14 November, 2009

The Most Important Thing In The World...

That's right. Football.

C'mon Ireland!!!!!!

For those who don't know, Ireland are in a two-leg playoff with France to reach the World Cup Finals in South Africa next summer. France are 25 places ahead of Ireland in the world rankings (9th vs 34th) but I still think we can do it. The French public (and some of the players) can't stand their manager, Raymond Domenech. He has neglected to pick players before based on their star sign!!! And he even got booed by the crowd at the French masters last week. Look at the players laughing as the crowd boo him!! - video is of poor quality

Edit: We played quite well but lost 1-0 thanks to a deflected shot........ Gutted!


06 November, 2009

Goodbye Ireland, Hello England

As the title suggests, yesterday I packed my bags and moved to England. North London to be precise. I start work on Monday as an associate editor at a major scientific publishing company. I am ten parts excited to one part nervous.

Today will be spent apartment hunting and doing a few bits and pieces to prepare. I'm not sure how much time I'll have to post here in the near future as I'm sure it'll be a hectic first few weeks but I will do my best to continue this blog as time allows.

Roll on Monday...!!


03 November, 2009

Size Matters

Checkout this page from the University of Utah website. It compares the size of various items, starting with a coffee bean, ending up with microscopic items, such as an E. coli bacterium, an antibody and even a carbon atom.

Simply scroll right to reduce the scale.

(hat tip: Froggie @ SMRT)


21 October, 2009

Human Chromosome 2 Fusion

This topic has been discussed many times over on the interwebz, but I thought I'd just add my own explanation of it anyway...

A valid question one might ask about the evolutionary relationship between humans and chimpanzees is this - why do the human and chimpanzee genomes have different numbers of chromosomes when evolutionary theory insists that we are so closely related?

The story of how this apparent stumbling block was resolved is one of the greatest triumphs for evolutionary theory over ID/creationism.

The Great Apes, as in chimps, gorillas and orangutans, have 24 pairs of chromosomes compared to 23 pairs in humans. This has been known to be the case since the 1970s. Back then, it was a potential problem for evolutionary theory, because it had to be explained how there was a difference between these related species.

Creationists, of course, were happy that the numbers were different. This confirmed for them that humans are unique and were designed with 23 pairs of chromosomes. Evolutionists, on the other hand, came up with a testable hypothesis (real science) to explain the differences...

One initial possibility was that humans may have lost a pair of chromosomes following divergence from the rest of the Great Apes, but this was widely ruled out as loss of whole chromosomes would almost certainly be fatal. So the generally accepted hypothesis was that two chromosomes must have fused together to form a new longer chromosome, thus reducing the number of pairs from 24 to 23. The implication of this, of course, was that if no evidence of a fusion event could be found, then evolutionary theory would be in big trouble.

Decades later, when the technology allowed for it, an undeniable fusion event was found on human chromosome 2 (the second longest in our genome). Look at the picture below. Every human chromosome (left-hand side) lines up with the corresponding chimpanzee chromosome (right-hand side) with a fairly high degree of similarity - except for chromosome 2. Here, we can see that there are two shorter chromosomes in the chimpanzee genome, which line up quite nicely with the single longer human chromosome 2. In fact, it is known that the genes on these two shorter chimpanzee chromosomes match the genes found on human chromosome 2, effectively putting the fusion hypothesis beyond all reasonable doubt.

But........just in case you're not convinced by all that, there's even more evidence to back it up......

Imagine a chromosome as being a shoelace. The plastic bits at the end of the shoelace keep the material which makes up the shoelace from unravelling. Chromosomes have similar 'plastic bits' at each end called telomeres. They protect the ends of the chromosome from degradation. In fact, the scientists who discovered this were recently awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Now imagine that a shoelace also has another plastic bit in the middle, and through this you can connect a pair of shoelaces together for storage. This is called a centromere on a chromosome, and it is where the chromosome pairs connect.

So all chromosomes have a centromere in the middle and two telomeres, one at each end.

However, when scientists looked at human chromosome 2, they found that it has not one but two centromeres. Not only that, but they also found remnants of two extra telomeres in between the two centromeres. This is indicative of a linear connection between two chromosomes and is exactly what would be expected if a fusion event had occurred. So at some stage in the evolution of humans, a fusion event occurred producing human chromosome 2 and leaving us with 23 pairs of chromosomes. This means that our ancestors had 24 pairs of chromosomes, just like the rest of the Great Apes.

Now, don't forget, a lack of this fusion evidence would have [Edit: been a major setback for the theory that humans shared an ancestor with apes], but it was found. The design hypothesis is essentially debunked, because it can't explain the presence of the two extra telomeres and one extra centromere. Why would an intelligent designer make human chromosome 2 with unnecessary extra telomeres and centromeres? That's just bad design, which certainly wouldn't happen with an intelligent designer.

ID creationists sometimes argue that this fusion event is unlikely, as the DI lawyer Casey Luskin does here, because the individual it occurred in would be unable to mate successfully due to different chromosome numbers. But this is completely false. The following comment from this post at Panda's Thumb sums it up nicely:

Reply Edit

Wild Horses 66, Domestic Horses 64, and Donkeys 62 Chromosomes

When I confront creationists on the issue of Human/Ape chromosome numbers, I use all the science mentioned in this blog, plus I add information from the genus Equus.

I first ask creationists if Horses, Donkeys, and Zebras are related. They often reply “yes, they are of the same created kind”, often noting that Horses, Zebras, and Donkeys can breed with each other and that they are all descendants of the 2 horses on Noah’s ark 4000 years ago. Then I reveal their chromosome numbers.

Wild Horses (Equus ferus przewalskii) have 66 chromosomes. Domestic horses (Equus caballus) have 64 chromosomes, and Donkeys have 62 chromosomes. The cross of a domestic horse and a donkey produces a mule or hinney with 63 chromosomes. Crossing a wild horse with a domestic horse produces a horse with 65 chromosomes.

If Equus species that range in chromosome number from 62 to 66 can all descend from a common ancestor, why can’t apes (48 chromosomes) and humans (46 chromosomes) descend from a common ancestor?

I also ask them if any humans have more than 46 chromosomes. Every time but once, they have said no. Then I inform them that people with Down’s Syndrom have 47 (due to 3 copies of chromosome 21).

Successful reproduction in individuals with different chromosome numbers is also known to occur in humans, as is seen with individuals with a Robertsonian translocation (a disorder where a full or partial chromosome fuses to another). More than 1 in 1000 people have Robertsonian translocations and can still reproduce successfully. Not all of their offspring will survive, but some will, which is all that matters. I'm not going to get into the Mendelian genetics of it, but its roughly a 1 in 4 survival chance. Now, the offspring with the same fusion (it will be passed on to 50% of the viable offspring) will have the same fertility as the parent, so will also be able to reproduce with a 1 in 4 chance. And so on...

Here comes the amazing bit...

Think back to our ancestor who had the original fusion event. Following generations of reproduction, the individuals with the fusion event would slowly accumulate in a population, although still be a minority. When two individuals with the fusion event mate, because they have identical chromosome numbers, they will have 100% fertility. This 4-fold increase in fertility will cause the population with the fusion event to continue to mate with each other. Similarly, the larger population without the fusion event will prefer to mate with each other, and not the new population.

As I hope you can see, this would potentially contribute to reproductive isolation and the beginnings of speciation...!

So the fact that we have different chromosome numbers to the Great Apes has been lucidly and elegantly explained by evolutionary theory. This was done by making a testable hypothesis and then doing the research. Contrast that to the complete lack of an explanation or research from ID creationism. Fusion events have also been observed in the genomes of other mammals, and always verify expected lineages. An excellent additional bonus is that it provides us with a potential reproductive explanation for speciation.




20 October, 2009

An Hour In The Darwin Centre

Not too long ago, I reported that the Natural History Museum in London had opened a new permanent section called the Darwin Centre. Well, I was in London a few weeks ago for an interview, so I popped in to have a look. Unfortunately I only had about an hour to spare so I wasn't able to really get stuck into each exhibit but on the whole, although a little light on all things Darwin, it is very impressive.

When I say it was a little light on Darwin, I mean it was not what I expected. I presumed there would be whole sections on Darwin the man, Darwin the ecologist, Darwin the author, etc......

.......but no, the whole Darwin Centre is actually more an explanation of the scientific method than anything to specifically do with Darwin. Not that that's a bad thing. It's actually a very good thing. As a scientist, I perhaps take for granted the processes which we undergo when we set up experiments, observe and record the results and then come to scientific conclusions. But the non-scientific public may not necessarily understand these processes and hence may harbour concerns about some of the more seemingly outlandish and far-fetched claims made by science.

Here at the Darwin Centre, the scientific method is broken down into multiple hi-tech stations with an abundance of information available through an impressive display of LCD touchscreen monitors. The visitor interacts with cyber scientists to learn how an experiment is done and how to analyze results.

For example, the image below show visitors extracting DNA from plant samples and running agarose gels to separate the DNA based on size. In this way it's possible to look for genetic polymorphisms between different samples and examine their frequencies in different populations.

And here onlookers learn about microscopy

Budding young minds can see what a science lab is like firsthand, although having said that there weren't actually any scientists in the labs when I visited.

Oh and another thing... it's free!

In fact both the Natural History Museum and the neighbouring Science Museum are totally free (with occasional exceptions for certain exhibits). There really has been no expense spared and I wish I could have stayed for longer, but I'm moving to London in a few weeks time so I'll be able to visit it again. You should too!


08 October, 2009

Saturn's New Ring

I don't have the words to do this justice, so all I'm gonna say is...


(story here)

(original paper here)


05 October, 2009

Do you want the good news or the bad news...?

OK lets start with the bad news...

I injured the medial colateral ligament in my right knee (grade I-II) playing 5-a-side football (soccer for our American friends) last week. It hurt for a while but over the weekend it improved, so much so that I walked confidently into my appointment with the consultant this morning expecting to be sent on my merry way with the all clear.

My confidence was misplaced.

I was told that my knee joint is still 'open' and I have to wear a brace for the next 4-6 weeks. It looks a bit like the picture shown above. I also need to use crutches so I've been restricted to hobbling around asking people to do this, that and the other for me.

So it's safe to say my day started off pretty badly.


When I arrived in work and logged into my computer I was greeted by a very nice email. I traveled to London last weekend for an interview at a leading scientific publishing company and, low and behold, turns out I only went and got the job!



24 September, 2009

Ronnie Wood at lunch time!!

I found out earlier today that Ronnie Wood (from the Rolling Stones, kids) was planning to play in a shopfront on Grafton Street. It's part of the Arthur's Day, which is being celebrated all over Ireland today. 'Arthur' being Arthur Guinness, and 'Day' being Guinness' 250 anniversary.

I work at the top of Grafton Street, so I called over to have a look see.......oh yeah!!!!


17 September, 2009

Interview with an Event Horizon

In the recent edition of Nature there is a rather odd interview. Not wanting to be outdone by Oprah and Ellen, they have gone for an extreme A-list guest. None other than...

...an Event Horizon!!

This should be interesting.

When asked about the origin of life, the Event Horizon answers:

Biological life as you know it originated in your universe 13½ billion years ago in the heart of heated comets. Heat and cosmic radiation bombarded the carbon dioxide, methanol and ammonia they carried. As they neared their star during their elliptical orbits, the comets' frozen cores thawed, allowing those chemicals to interact in a semi-liquid medium and form rudimentary organic compounds — proteins and amino acids, the building blocks of life. Streaking past the six worlds of this solar system, they rained down those organic compounds in dust that settled in the planet's atmosphere and, eventually, onto its surface. On those planets with a heat source and a liquid medium, these compounds formed lipid membranes that facilitated the formation of self-replicating cells. These evolved into bacteria that over eons developed into simple bio-organisms, the first step in the slow, inexorable climb towards complexity. This process has repeated itself countless times throughout the cosmos over billions of years. This is why your universe teems with biological life.

Non-biological life incubates in the cool ether of dark matter shaped by processes beyond your current level of understanding. However, if our experience is any indication, in time you will come to know such life forms and recognize them as your brothers. In every universe we've explored, biological and non-biological life forms inevitably join together and lift each other to magnificent new heights.

OK, sounds reasonable-ish.

But when asked if God exists, the Event Horizon has this to say:

Everything in existence has a creator, ad infinitum. Before the Big Bang there was neither time nor space nor matter, but consciousness. Formless. Eternal. Contemplating its creator. And contemplating others like itself that might exist across the infinite bubbles of reality. As time did not exist, we cannot say whether this omni-consciousness existed for a millisecond, a millennium or an eternity. But it jabbed with its thoughts at the weathered fabric between realities and poked an infinitesimal hole. And the entirety of a neighbouring universe — endless space and matter — flooded through that pinhole in a spectacular cosmic eruption. The omni-consciousness found that matter, gave it form, and it revelled in its multitudinous shapes. It discovered that matter — moulded by the flame of time and the winds of evolution — could eventually give rise to its own self-aware components, part of the omni-consciousness, yet separate from it. It delighted in each of the quadrillions of consciousnesses that flickered into and out of existence. It no longer knew loneliness. Time, space and matter continued to expand — prodded into acceleration by the omni-consciousness — hoping in vain to fill every crevice of infinity. This has happened in every bubble of the transreality-froth we've explored.

Hmmm, if you listen hard enough you can hear the gerbil at the Discovery Institute frothing at the mouth as he turns on his laptop...

Of course, this interview is just a bit of a joke.

The 'interviewer' is a chap named Mercurio Rivera, a science fiction writer. The reason Nature have published this is to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the inaugural publication of SETI, entitled "Searching for Interstellar Communication". They have also published an article by Fred Kaplan reflecting on the origins, impacts and legacy of this paper and of SETI itself.

Happy birthday!!


16 September, 2009

Snake foot - or just dinner fighting back?

Snakes are great!

They seem to regularly provide us with a lot of excellent examples of evolution. A few weeks ago it was the fact that they can lose and re-gain the ability to lay eggs.

Now one has been found in China with a freakin leg!

What we probably see here is an example of a suppressed gene function becoming reactivated.

Now some have legitimately expressed concerns that this is simply a swallowed lizard which has punched it's way through the snake, hence the protruding leg. If this is the case, fair enough. Let's wait and see. But snakes have been found in the past with legs or leg-like protrusions, so if it is an actual snake leg, it isn't an isolated incident.

The main point is that the genes for leg growth are clearly present in the genome. Snakes evolved from limbed ancestors and then lost the gene function, but not the gene, that controls limb growth and development.

(From Pharyngula)


15 September, 2009

Presuppositionalist Nonsense Part III

I put forward the argument in Presuppositionalist Nonsense Part I and Part II that the law of non-contradiction is not necessarily universal, thus refuting the position of presuppers who claim, without proof, that the laws of logic are abstract, universal and invariant. This also invalidates their claim that God's nature is universal, since the laws of logic are apparently a reflection of his nature.

So, the presuppositionalist worldview is defunct.

But why leave it at that?

The non-universality of the law of non-contradiction is only one reason why presuppositionalism is wrong. By exploring the claims of its followers it quickly becomes obvious that they are riddled with self-refuting statements. For instance, the presupper claims that their foremost presupposition is that God exists and is the source of truth, knowledge, logic, etc...But where does the presupper get this claim from? How can they account for it?

In order to make such a claim, the presupper must first presuppose the existence of the very same things that God is supposedly the source of - truth, knowledge and logic

- The presupper presupposes truth as they already accept their claim to be true.

- The presupper presupposes knowledge as the very act of making the claim is itself a knowledge claim.

- The presupper presupposes logic as they use logic to arrive at their claim.

So the original presuppositions being made are actually that truth, knowledge and logic exist. Therefore it isn't necessary to claim that a magical being accounts for these concepts, since they are already being presupposed in order to make such a claim. Essentially, if a presupper is honest they would be forced to admit that they are in the same position as any other person with regards the origin of concepts such as truth, knowledge and logic - they don't know. I would posit that there is no exact origin of these things since they are axiomatic. They are just abstract concepts that describe reality.

Another self-refuting position that the presupper holds is the claim that an omniscient omnipotent being can reveal things to a human in such a way that they know them to be certain (Sye repeats this ad nauseum - see answer no 9 and 18 here). Now this may or may not be possible, but if it is possible then one would also have to concede that it would be equally as possible for an omniscient omnipotent being to reveal things to a human in such a way that they simply think they know them to be certain, when in fact they are not (Sye eventually admitted that this was a possibility here and later here).

The fact that the revealed truth could simply be a trick cancels out the claims of certainty in the presupper's original statement. How could they actually be 100% certain of the truth if the devious omniscient omnipotent being is just fooling them to think they have been revealed the truth. Since in both scenarios they would be absolutely convinced that they know the truth with complete certainty, there would be no way for them to distinguish between the two.

Now the presupper will try to discredit this by saying that they do not simply think they know something for certain - oh no - they actually know it for certain. If you suggest that many people claim the same thing (e.g. Mormons, Scientologists, etc), they will respond by indicating that in your examples the people simply believe they know something, but they do not actually know anything...


Bwahahahahaha!!! :-D

Yeah right!

We are supposed to believe that presuppers know the truth simply because they say so, yet subscribers to all other religions only believe they know the truth....

Eh, no.

There is one way and one way only to know 100% that you are correct. That is to have absolute knowledge (omniscience). Since no human has omniscience any claims to certainty are bogus, because it would be impossible to verify these claims unless the recipient was also omniscient and thus could know for certain that the revelation was not simply a trick. Certainty is impossible without omniscience so revelation is moot.

Is there another way to verify that the revelations are in fact certain?

Well, one place to start would be to find out how God is supposedly revealing these things for certain. Thus I posed the question to Sye over at SMRT:

Could you do us all a favour and ask God to reveal to you how he does this?

To which Sye answered:

I could, but I won't.

He later went on to admit that even if God explained to him how he reveals things for certain, he wouldn't understand the explanation. Well, this simply means that Sye is taking it on faith that things are being revealed for certain. He does not KNOW anything, he BELIEVES it. His claims to certainty are refuted... again.

So the presupper's position is clearly based on faith, not certainty.

But the idiocy doesn't stop there folks. Here's another dishonest approach used by presuppers:

When you ask them a question which they know they cannot answer, they will do everything they can to deflect the attention back on you. They will revert to their 'how can you know anything' or 'how do you account for the logic you are using to ask that' response. The point they are trying to make is that one needs to be able to account for logic in order to use it so they need not answer your question until you account for the logic you will use to evaluate their answers.

Talk about a cowardly response!

Of course, it is completely irrelevant for the discussion as one does not need to know how one knows things in order to know things. If this was a requirement, how would you know it? Also one does not need to account for logic in order to use it just as one does not need to know exactly how a car works in order to drive one.

Finally, I read another interesting article which refutes an aspect of presuppositionalism over at Incinerating Presuppositionalism, which is an excellent resource. Here Dawson Bethrick argues that a core principle of presuppositionalism - the revealed knowledge of the uniformity of nature - is inconsistent with the idea of an omniscient omnipotent being capable of performing miracles.

Because Christians affirm belief in an omnipotent supernatural being which can do what Van Til claims here, they cannot bank on any fact with any certainty, for unless they are themselves omniscient (which would make them “God,” and there can be only one “God”), they cannot know if or when their god might take any fact and “set it into new relation to created law.” The believer's god is supposed to have a will of its own, independent of the believer's own will. So how can the believer know if or when his god is going to cause another miracle to take place, especially if he relies on "divine revelation" (i.e., information which his god chooses to distribute to the believer) for all his knowledge?

Think about it.

If someone accepts that God can turn water into wine, then he/she can never be sure that the water they are about to drink will remain water, as it could possibly become wine at the whim of God. Similarly, any seemingly uniform aspect of nature could be altered as part of a miracle, meaning that a presupper has no basis for assuming the uniformity of nature.

So another certainty claim bites the dust...

But why do presuppers continue to spout their nonsense in the face of such transparent inconsistencies?

My take on it is that Sye and other presuppers are run-of-the-mill Christians but with one significant difference - they know that simply 'having faith' is a silly justification for their beliefs. So they desperately try to justify or account for their worldview in terms of logic. I think that deep deep down they know their argument is flawed but, crucially, they still believe it anyway, probably because they are willing to ignore a few anomalies and inconsistencies for the 'greater good'.

That's presuppositionalism folks. It is fundamentalist faith, pure and simple. Mix in a heavy helping of tirelessly regurgitated loaded questions and a pinch of non-answers, simmer at a circular heat and serve with a side of smugness.

Bon appetit!


09 September, 2009

Darwin Centre Unveiled

From The Guardian:

The Natural History Museum today unveiled its new £78m Darwin Centre, which shelters millions of plant and animal specimens within a giant concrete blob.

Among the previously hidden gems to go on display will be the centre's scientists, who will work in full view of the public when the attraction is opened next week.

Many of the experts said they were relishing the chance to perform in glass-fronted laboratories, some linked by intercom so visitors can ask about the work they are doing.

Sounds pretty cool - although a bit gimmicky. I can't imagine the experts are seriously relishing the chance to do research in full view of the public. I'm sure many members of the public will have interesting questions and comments but mixed in with that will be the inevitable trouble-makers simply knocking on the glass and buzzing in to ask where the toilets or the cafeteria are.

Still, I'm in London at the end of the month so I'll pop in and have a look...


30 August, 2009

Oye tio!! - voy a Espana


I'm flying to Malaga in Southern Spain tomorrow morning, where I'm going to spend a week with some friends. We will travel straight to Tarifa, which is a short ferry trip from Tangiers, Morroco and spend a few days around there. Then we head to Sevilla for a few days in the city before flying back home.

I probably won't be on the net much if at all... hasta luego!!


27 August, 2009

Presuppositionalist Nonsense Part II

In Presuppositionalist Nonsense Part I, it was shown that the request of a presuppositionalist for an account of the abstract, universal, invariant laws of logic is a dishonest approach as it already assumes, with no verification, that the laws of logic are indeed abstract, universal and invariant. The onus is actually on the presupper to prove this claim, which they unsurprisingly never do. Of course, to do so amounts to an impossibility since they would literally have to demonstrate that no law of logic has ever been broken at any time since the universe existed and that no law of logic will ever be broken in the future.

It is, however, much easier to disprove as one example of a law of logic not holding is all that is needed. In Part I, the example of relativity was used to show that the law of non-contradiction is not universal. I was challenged by a presupp commenter called Sye TenB that this example did not apply since different perspectives do not count as 'the same way', which is a necessary condition of the law of non-contradiction.

I disagreed with him but I took his criticism on board nonetheless and now I present a slight variation on my argument which I hope will clear it up. Instead of two people and a train, simply imagine the perspective of one person sitting at a table looking at a bunch of flowers. From the perspective of the person, the flowers are not moving. However, this person knows some basic cosmology and is thus aware of the fact that the earth's rotation is moving the flowers. I submit that this person can simultaneously appreciate the fact that the flowers are thus moving and not moving at the same time, and crucially, in the same way.

Now I can already hear Sye saying that the person is simply imagining two different perspectives and so this still isn't in the 'same way'. But, again, I would disagree. The person doesn't have to literally imagine themselves looking at the flowers from an outer space perspective in order to know that they are moving. They can simply have knowledge of the fact that it is moving with the earth's rotation. So, in my opinion it's possible to look at an object and simultaneously think of it as both moving and not moving at the same time and in the same way.

Anyway, I promised another example of the law of non-contradiction not holding and here it is...

Suppose that the last few sentences in yesterday’s edition of a tabloid newspaper read:

"We have received several complaints accusing our newspaper of sub-standard journalistic ethics. We thus make this pledge. The last sentence in tomorrow’s edition of the newspaper will be true."

This is a grammatically correct meaningful sentence. It imparts information on a particular subject. So, after reading today's paper, you check the last two sentences which read:

"Correction: we regret to inform our readers of a mistake. The last sentence in yesterday’s edition of the newspaper was not true."

Again, a grammatically correct meaningful sentence. It similarly imparts information on a particular subject.

Now you remember from yesterday's edition that the last sentence in today's edition would be true. This means that the original sentence in yesterday's edition is no longer to be considered true. The result is that the first sentence is both true and not true at the same time and in the same way, thus breaking the law of non-contradiction. Of course, a presupper will deny this to the end, perhaps by saying that the first sentence is not true and false at the same time, since it was originally true yesterday, and then only became false today. But if it only became false today, then that means the last sentence in today's edition is also false, meaning the first sentence is true again. So it most definitely is true and not true at the same time and in the same way.

As I explained in Part I, this breakdown in the law of non-contradiction is consistent with the fact that the laws of logic are man-made entities. They are useful guidelines which describe how reality seems to work. This is not consistent, however, with the presuppositionalist worldview in which the laws are logic, as derived from God's nature, are universal and invariant.

A common presupper response to this would be something like:

Could the universe have both existed and not existed before man came along and created the law of non-contradiction?

This is just a silly question. The existence of the law of non-contradiction is not necessary for something to exist in a non-contradictory way. Logic does not determine reality, reality determines logic.

Now the following is not a scenario that I believe in, but just for fun lets consider for a moment the possibility that the universe did exist and not exist at the same time...

I'd just like to repeat that last sentence to deter potential quote miners.

Now the following is not a scenario that I believe in, but just for fun lets consider for a moment the possibility that the universe did exist and not exist at the same time...

In what way could we measure or observe this? Let's take one at a time:

1) If the universe does exist and not exist at the same time then, as one part of that dichotomy, it would necessarily exist. Since we are here observing the universe, I think it is safe to assume that it does indeed exist.

2) If the universe does exist and not exist at the same time then, as one part of that dichotomy, it would necessarily not exist. By definition, there would be no trace of this non-existent universe to measure or observe, and indeed we have no trace of such.

So from our viewpoint, there is no evidence to falsify the hypothesis that the universe actually does exist and doesn't exist at the same time. The presupper will jump on the idea of the universe not existing and extrapolate to suggest that this means your consciousness also doesn't exist. But what they fail to consider is that the original question is whether the universe (or one's consciousness) can both exist and not exist at the same time, not just whether it doesn't exist. As I have shown, this is not inconsistent with what we observe, as we do in fact exist, and we cannot measure our non-existence.

The very fact that this is difficult to understand or comprehend shows that the law of non-contradiction is a man-made entity, which describes reality with a high degree of precision, but is not necessarily universal or invariant.

To sum up, in my view logic is only applicable to human thought and reasoning, meaning it is not universal. Is logic necessary for a rock to exist or the sun to shine? No, it is only necessary for humans to think and reason about these things. Consciousness uses logic to interpret and interact with reality. Logic does not exist outside of consciousness. And even at that, in rare cases it does not always hold true, leading to paradoxes and contradictions. These contradictions refute the presuppositionalist's worldview, since they require the laws of logic to be universal and invariant.

In Part 3 I will discuss how the presuppositionalist's own position on such things as senses, reasoning and certainty is self-refuting and how their claimed presupposition that God is the source of logic and certainty is fallacious.


24 August, 2009

Who is the Intelligent Designer? - Elusiveness by Design

I recently received a few comments on an earlier post I did on a flaw in intelligent design (ID) theory. Essentially, my point was that knowledge of human design cannot be used as a basis for recognizing supernatural design. It can only be used as a basis for identifying other human design. The point was made by the commenter, Michael, that I was wrong in my approach as I was attacking the notion of a supernatural designer, something which ID does not necessarily claim.

At first glance, this may seem like a perfectly reasonable criticism. If you accept it, then you could say that I am committing the logical fallacy of attacking a strawman, as I am taking an argument that ID does not hold and attacking it. However, this is one of the core problems with ID. They do not publicly hold the position I am attacking for that very reason, because it is so open to attack. Rest assured, they certainly do hold the position privately - just ask any one of them and they'll probably admit it. It is this unwillingness to speculate on the identity on the designer in public, I will argue, that contributes to the status of ID as an unfalsifiable theory, thus rendering it pseudoscientific.

When asked certain questions, IDists claim that ID says nothing about this or nothing about that. This is because if they try to expand upon the theory of an intelligent designer it quickly turns into religion. So they prefer to make only one claim, and a flawed claim to boot, and then refuse to expand on that claim. This means that ID adopts an ambiguous position with regards any direct prerequisites or consequences of ID being true. Luckily, this does not stop others from exploring the shaky scaffold that props up the notion of ID.

Breaking it down, the designer has to be either supernatural or natural. Let's take these one at a time:

1) If the designer is supernatural, then ID is pseudoscience. Plain and simple.

2) If the designer is natural then this means that ID could potentially be tested.

The problem is, of course, that ID proponents don't claim that the designer is natural or supernatural, they simple say they are not concerned with the designer's identity. This automatically means that both options above are possible, rendering ID as pseudoscience because it doesn't reject the idea of a supernatural explanation.

It is, of course, obvious why they don't speculate on the identity of the designer. They are all creationists of one ilk or another and so they believe that the designer is God. Casey Luskin, the ID attack gerbil, has admitted as much to me in our email debate and several other ID proponents have also agreed that they believe the Christian God to be the designer. Why is this a problem? Well, as explained above, if the designer is God then ID is pseudoscience and legally has no place in the science classroom. So they don't admit it publicly and instead wallow around in ambiguity.

The only other alternative is that the designer is natural. Now if ID proponents were to come out and say as much, they would be lying to themselves, but it might actually benefit their cause in that, at first, it seems ID is now not necessarily pseudoscience. However, the problems don't end just because the designer is potentially natural because this is simply begging the question...

Who designed the designer?

An answer which necessarily asks the exact same question it is supposed to answer is effectively useless. So whether the designer is supernatural or natural makes no difference - ID is useless.

I'll explain why...

Saying an intelligent designer made a flagellum is unfalsifiable. Nothing can ever disprove this. If we were able to find the exact evolutionary pathway step by step, the ID proponent could simply say that the intelligent designer designed the step-by-step pathway.

The only way to refute, or even explore, ID is to imagine that it is true and then look at the prerequisites and consequences of that. This is the only way that ID could potentially be considered real science - if ID proponents try to disprove it. They don't (for obvious reasons) but others are happy to do so.

Many wacky hypotheses are dismissed simply by exploring their implications and realizing that they are untenable ideas. ID is untenable as it would require an infinite regress, so no questions are answered that do not ask the exact same question ad nauseum. Of course, if you do not explore these aspects of a theory, then your theory remains unfalsified, which is exactly the case with ID.

This analogy might help:

What if I say to you that I have formulated a new branch of mathematics where 5x10=51...?

You might explain that 5x10 actually equals 50 by showing me 5 separate bundles of 10 things and combining them all to give 50 things. But then I would just say:

"No, I didn't claim that 5 bundles of 10 things equals 51 things, just that 5x10=51."

You could try to convince me all day using logic but you can never prove me wrong if I say that this is a new branch of maths. It is unfalsifiable because any attempt to disprove it is not acceptable as it includes things that I did not claim.

This is the same as ID.

It is purposely designed to be impossible to disprove as it does not allow for any prerequisites or consequences of ID to be examined. This makes it pseudoscience.

So when someone, like me, attempts to explore the necessary conditions for ID to be true and finds error in it, I will always get someone telling me I am wrong because I have added extra unclaimed information.

Well, I propose that 5*10=51

Teach the controversy.


19 August, 2009


I don't read all that much fiction - perhaps reading the Bible as a kid in Sunday School put me off - but when I picked up Daniel Suarez's 'Daemon' in Newcastle airport about a month ago the blurb on the back intrigued me:

An infernal web of autonomous computer programs, Sobol's Daemon feasts on the lifeblood of our hyper-connected society: information. Gathering secrets and stealing identities, it soon has the power to change lives as well as the power to take them. Those who serve the Daemon are rewarded; those who defy it are eliminated.

Although it was probably the line underneath this from a Google employee that convinced me to reach for my wallet:
"Daemon is to novels what the Matrix was to movies. It will be how other novels that rely on technology are judged..."

If you like science-based techie fiction with plenty of twists and turns then this book is definitely for you. I certainly enjoyed it. It's going to be made into a movie, that's for sure. The science is mind-bending at times but never implausible. I won't say too much but, interestingly, the main bad guy is killed in the very first paragraph, an event which triggers pre-planned mayhem across the world. This means the police are left trying to shutdown a dead criminal's intricate series of cyber-booby traps with no chance of catching or punishing him.


13 August, 2009

Presuppositionalist Nonsense Part I

Following a few recent encounters with some presuppositionalists, I have given some thought to their position on the laws of logic. It seems clear to me that the laws of logic are simply general rules that we humans use to interpret the world around us. However, the presupper will have you believe they have some sort of transcendent mystical origins and are in fact a reflection of God's nature.

Let's just say I am skeptical of this.

A favourite starting point for their onslaught of idiocy is to ask a non-believer for an account of the abstract, universal, invariant laws of logic. This initial question commits the fallacy of the loaded question. For example it's like asking someone "Have you stopped beating your wife?". In this case, regardless of the answer, you are automatically insinuating that the person beats his wife when there is no justification for this. Similarly, presuppositionalists are loading their question with the 'fact' that the laws of logic are abstract, universal and invariant and then simply asking the non-believer to account for that fact, thus putting their opponent on the defensive. This makes a non-believer think that they should indeed have an account for these proposed properties of the laws of logic, even though the presupper has never actually proven their initial premise. It's just a devious deflection tactic.

As for these proposed properties of logic, I for one don't accept that the laws of logic are necessarily universal or invariant. I will, however, concede that they are abstract in that they are not physical entities but instead they are used as a tool for human consciousness to describe physical phenomenon. I will not say that I am certain that they are not universal or invariant, but I think there is room for debate. For starters, I doubt whether it can be proven that they are definitely universal or invariant as this would be an impossible task. On the other hand, if the laws of logic are not universal or not invariant, it can easily be proven by finding an example of such a case.

So, if it can be shown that a law of logic does not hold in any particular situation, then this would automatically refute the presuppositionalist position, as it would disqualify their claim that the laws of logic, and thus the character of God, is unchanging. This would be devastating for their position as it would not be consistent with their claims to certainty.

So are there any incidences where the law of logic do not hold?

Well, yes.

In fact, none other than Einstein himself provided a scenario where an object can be said to be both moving and not moving at the same time, violating the law of non-contradiction...

Imagine person A sitting on a train and a person B standing on the platform. Both are looking at an object on a table in the train carriage, let's say it's a flower in a vase. The flower is clearly visible to both A and B, albeit through the carriage window for B. As the train passes by the platform, the flower stays still from the perspective of person A and yet the flower moves from the perspective of person B. The flower is clearly both moving and not moving at the same time.

So is it moving or not moving? Which interpretation is correct? Well, the answer is that both are equally correct. That is relativity.

A more extreme example would be to say that although you think you are not moving right now (assuming you are sitting at a desk with your computer), from the theoretical perspective of someone looking at you through a telescope from outside our solar system you are travelling at 500,000-600,000 mph. That's a big contradiction!!

So, if you think about it, the law of non-contradiction is broken all the time. This law states that something cannot be both A and not A. Well if A is movement, then, due to relativity, many things are both moving and not moving at the same time when considered from multiple perspectives, and, crucially, all interpretations are equally correct.

Now some may say that this example doesn't matter because the perspectives of two different observers does not qualify for the law of non-contradiction. They would say that I am equivocating or deliberately misleading by using ambiguous definitions of the same word or concept. However, I am not doing this. Movement of the flowers from different perspectives is not an equivocation. It is an objective description of the flowers from two different, yet equally accurate, perspectives.

What this means is that the law non-contradiction is not universal - it does not hold in all places and at all times. In the above example of the train it holds for person A and it holds for person B, but when both A and B are considered at the same time, it does not hold. Hence, it is not universal. No further examples are needed - point proven.
(However, for those still in doubt as to the validity of this example, I will provide a different example of the law of non-contradiction not holding in part II)

How is this the case? Why does a law of logic not universally represent reality?

Well, this is actually consistent with the idea that the laws of logic are simply mechanisms our brains use to understand reality and process information. These laws of logic were necessarily subject to how reality was thought to be in the past. However, as we have now seen, the law of non-contradiction is not compatible with relativity. I imagine that this can be somewhat explained by the fact that relativity, in it's current form, is a modern idea and so it does not fit into the classical laws of logic.

Now that we have shown that the law of non-contradiction is not universal, how would the presuppositionalist respond? Here is a typical response:

Riiiight!!!! If the law of non-contradiction was proven wrong, it would also necessarily NOT be proven wrong as well.

Now the above is not a strawman (scmike says it here and Sye says something similar in the sidebar here). Let's examine what this means and if it's a rational response. Essentially, the presupper is claiming that if you show that the law of non-contradiction is wrong in one instance, then contradictions are universally acceptable. This means that that 'A' can equal 'not A' whenever you want it to, hence 'proven wrong' can become 'not proven wrong' - and hey presto, you have just proven that the law of non-contradiction is actually true!!!

There is one word and one word only for that position - pathetic

First of all, we did not show that the law of non-contradiction is wrong, just that it is not universal. It is still a useful law. It still works in most, if not all, cases from an individual's perspective. It only seems to break down when multiple perspectives are considered at the same time.

Secondly, extrapolating from this to say that any contradictions are now allowed is just a juvenile response. It leads to an infinite regression of absurdity as demonstrated here:

Non-believer - "The law of contradiction does not hold in this particular instance, therefore it is not universal"

Presupper - "If the law of non-contradiction is wrong, it would also necessarily NOT be wrong as well. Hence the law of non-contradiction is right"

Non-believer - "If the law of non-contradiction is right due to fact that it has been proven wrong, then it is also necessarily NOT right. Hence the law of non-contradiction is wrong"

Etc....ad nauseum

So the assertion that if the law of non-contradiction was proven wrong, it would also necessarily NOT be proven wrong as well is clearly absurd and should be dismissed as such.

To conclude part I of this post, I just want to re-emphasis that the original claim of the presupper is that the laws of logic are universal. This is impossible to prove, so there is a huge weight of burden on the presupper to back up this claim, and as such they never do. They simply say it, again and again and again.

What is possible though, and quite easy in fact, is to disprove this claim by simply finding one example of a law of logic not holding true. One single example from a whole universe of possibilities is all it takes to refute the presupper claim.

Well, relativity is a perfect example of this. It breaks the law of non-contradiction as it allows for an object to be both moving and not moving at the same time and in the same way. I stress that this is not equivocation, although the presupper will undoubtedly claim otherwise in a vain attempt to prevent their bubble of semantic lies from bursting.

In short, the presupper position is refuted.

More to follow in Part II


What Came First - The Snake or the Egg?

Well, in the case of the Arabian sand boa, Eryx jayakari, it seems that the answer is - both.

Although many species of snake lay eggs, boas generally give birth to live offspring. In the journal Evolution, Vincent Lynch and Günter Wagner used phylogentic analysis to show that two species of the genus Eryx re-evolved the ability to lay eggs, meaning that oviparity (egg-laying) to viviparity (live-birth) is reversible. Specifically, these snakes appear to have re-evolved oviparity nearly 60 million years after the initial transition to viviparity.

Evolution: Reinventing the egg

There is a short commentary on this study in the recent edition of Nature:

Many vertebrates have abandoned egg-laying for live birth. But despite some suggestive examples, convincing evidence for the evolutionary reversal of this trait has been lacking until now.

Vincent Lynch and Günter Wagner at Yale University, New Haven, carried out a phylogenetic analysis of 41 species of boa snake using recent DNA data. The most parsimonious explanation of the phylogeny, they conclude, is that the Arabian sand boa, Eryx jayakari (pictured ), one of only two species of egg-laying boa, re-evolved this ability some 60 million years after the transition of the group to live birth.

E. jayakari also lacks the egg tooth other oviparous snakes use to tear their way out of the egg, additional evidence that egg-laying was lost and reacquired, according to the authors.


10 August, 2009

Open Invitation to Scmike

This post is an open invitation to scmike to continue the conversation started over at Ray Comfort's blog. Of course, scmike has already been shown up for his dishonesty at several sites, including over at Ryk's. But that won't stop him. You see, scmike is a presuppositionalist and believes that God is the only possible source of logic. He has never proven this and simply repeats the same semantic dance again and again and again (see here for an example of a similar failed approach by Sye TenB). It's an easy method of argumentation but it lacks any substance and generally goes on for weeks as the presupper will refuse to answer certain questions.

For example, these:

1) Are your senses infallible?

2) If you answer no to the above, please explain how you discriminate between the times when your senses are reliable and when they are not?

3) How do you distinguish between an actual revelation and an imaginary revelation?

He will probably ignore this, but if he shows up, he will refuse to answer my questions.

Just watch....

Oh and scmike, Sye left with his tail between his legs but, for the record, here are the questions Sye refused to answer so feel free to address them too (apologies for the Gish Gallop but these have all been previously asked individually with no answer):

1. Explain how these two contradictory quotes of yours are compatible: "Impossibility of the contrary" with respect to your worldview and "I have never claimed that it would be impossible" with respect to a contrary worldview.

2. You consistently claim that your version of the truth is certain, but seeing as you have agreed in the past that there are people who are certain of truth but are in fact wrong, how can you know that you are not one of these people?

3. If you discount the validity of personal revelations as a source of truth (the contrary being that any hallucination can be considered as truth), how is it that you were able to arrive at the conclusion that presupposing God's existence is the foundation of rationality, since you wouldn't have been able to judge it to be the correct position without already having accepted it?

4. Give an example of an absolute truth, i.e. a truth that does not require a system in order to exist. When you provide your example, please include how you came to the conclusion that it was a valid example.

5. What is the evidence that your ability to reason is valid? (Note that the evidence must demonstrate your ability to reason but cannot use reason itself as this would presuppose the very thing you are trying to provide evidence for.)

6. Provide evidence that your revelation was not from Satan posing as God, or that it wasn't from a computer programmer or that it wasn't just a hallucination. All of these scenarios are possible.

7. What absolute standard did you use as your foundation to determine that God is an absolute standard?

8. How did you come to the conclusion that God has an unchanging character?

9. How do you know your senses or your extrasensory perception were reliable prior to and at the time of your revelation? If you claim your revelation wasn't sensory or extrasensory but that it was 'innate', how do you justify the assumption that your innate perception is reliable?

10. Occasionally, when a tough question arises, instead of answering you respond with a phrase like "you have no basis for that question/claim". If a person has no basis for one claim then he/she also must have no basis for any claim. So why do you answer any questions from anyone with a different worldview, since they never have a basis for their question?

11. As you have told us, God cannot murder or lie. This means that God is not all powerful or 'omnipotent', since it is conceivable to imagine a God-like deity that could also murder and lie. So, since God is not omnipotent, how can you be sure that he was able to reveal truth with absolute certainty to you?

12. Consider this claim: an all-knowing entity (e.g. the Invisible Pink Hammer) reveals knowledge to me in such a way that I know it to be certain? Part of this reveation is that your Christian God does not exist. I do not know how this happens, but it is innate and does not require senses or rational thinking. Through these revelations I have found the Truth and have also been told that you are a liar and that your religion is false. Please offer a refutation of this claim. If you cannot, you must concede that this claim is equally as likely to be true as your own, regardless of whether anyone actually believes it.

13. Have your senses and reasoning ever let you down? Have you ever misread something or made a mistake (including during childhood)? I imagine even you would admit that it occasionally happens. How do you explain these examples of your senses and reasoning failing you, when you have been gauranteed that they are reliable? Are they only reliable some of the time?

14. Please provide an example of an absolute truth which is not a systemic truth.

15. Seeing that we presuppose that you [Sye] have had a sudden blow to your head which has resulted in brain injury can you provide evidence that you can think rationally?

16. Explain why the qualifiers absolute, universal, and immutable apply to a discussion of logic.

17. How do you attribute any revelation to an omnipotent omniscient being, when any revelation could come from a source that is neither Omniscient or Omnipotent but simply capable of fooling you.


05 August, 2009

Email Scams - Or I'm a Triple Millionaire!!!!

I don't usually get spam in my email account. I don't know why as some of my friends with similar email accounts get hundreds a day. Anyway, a few months ago I received this email:

Dear Friend,

My name is Mr Clarence Edwin, an attorney at law chambers of Clarence
Edwin & Associates. A deceased client of mine whose name is the same last
name with you, who herein after shall be referred to as my client, died
together with his family on December 26 -2004 as a result of Tsunami Disaster.

I am contacting you because you have the same surname as my deceased client
and i felt that you could help me in the distribution of funding that were
left in my deceased client's bank account. This funding is closed to be
declared UN-serviceable by the bank as there were no indicated next of kin or
next of beneficiary of the funding in the bank account.

The total amount of cash in the bank account of my deceased client is
US$4.7 Million ( Four Million Seven Hundred Thousand United States Dollar )
only. The bank had issued to me a notification to contact the next of kin of
my deceased client or account will be confiscated.

My proposition to you is to seek your consent, and to present your kind self
as the next-of-kin and beneficiary of my deceased client, since you have the
same last name with him. This means that the proceeds of his bank account
would be paid to you as his next of kin or the legitimate beneficiary. We
would share the percentage on a mutually agreed-upon 60% for me and 40% to
your kind self.

All the legal documents to back up the claim as my client's next-of-kin would
be provided by me. This will be executed under a legitimate arrangement that
would protect you from any breach of the law.

If this business proposition offends your moral and ethic values, do accept
my sincere apology. I must use this opportunity to implore you to exercise
the utmost indulgence to keep this matter extraordinary confidential, whatever
your decision, while I await your prompt response. Please contact me, if your
interested by replying the mail or ignore it if you are not.

Best regards,
Barrister Clarence Edwin

Obviously after the first sentence or two I knew it was a scam, but I decided to respond anyway:

Dear Clarence,

Many thanks for this news. I was not aware that any of my extended family were killed in the tragedy in 2004. This is quite a shock and I am surprised that I hadn't heard about it.

On closer inspection, I notice that you never mentioned my name, my family name or my deceased relatives name. It is also surprising that my father would not be the next of kin instead of myself, as any relations with our family name would be related to me through him.

In short, I think you are full of shit. You are a complete scumbag who is trying to rip people off. Not only are you a thief, but you are also preying on people's emotions which makes you a complete asshole. On top of that you are trying to profit from a natural disaster which killed thousands of people and left many more injured and homeless, which is deplorable. I will be passing this email onto the proper authorities. I hope you get whats coming to you.

Kind regards,

Strangely, Clarence never got back to me.

For the record, I received two more scam emails shortly after:

From:Maria Adams
Abidjan-Cote D'Ivoire.
(Old Ivory Coast)

Dearest one,
Compliment of the day.I'm Mrs.Maria Adams married to late Mr.William Adams from Sierra-Leone.I picked interest on you after glancing through your profile at my late husband's int'l business directory.I deemed it necessary to disclose this important issue I believe one thing in me that God will always make a way for the needy and helpless one.We were living in this country(CoTe D'Ivoire) where we are till now before the death of my husband.

We were blessed with an only son Peter.I lost my husband a couple of years ago.My husband was a serving director of the Agro-exporting board until his death .He was assassinated by the rebels during the political uprising here just the same thing that is going on in this country.Before his death he told me of a fund deposit of US$15.5M(Fifteen Million, Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) he made in a private bank here in Abidjan Cote D'Ivoire with my name as the next of kin.He made this deposit for the purchase of cocoa processing machine and development of a factory before his untimely death.

This is a matter of trust, now I confide in you since I don't know anybody abroad.If you agree on this, I'll give you 25% of the total share when transferred, then extra 5% will be added to you if you make any expenses on the cause of the transfer hence I don't have any money may be to settle any expenses.My son is very sick at the moment but praying to God for his healing. Please remember us in your daily prayers.

Waiting to hearing from you, please once I hear from you positively,I'll send you more details on what you need to do.Wishing you a lovely day.

Maria Adams


REF NO:US/76841284672/09
BATCH NO:1305/08/EMS


This is to inform you on the release of the Espaсa Ђuromillones
Loterнa/international Promotion Program held on the 16TH February, 2009. Due
to mix up of some numbers, name and email, the results were released on the 4th
of March, 2009. Your name attached to ticket number X-0207142544-0Z with serial
number 02-04 drew the lucky numbers of 23-51-22-5-0 which consequently won the
lottery in the 3rd category.

You have therefore been approved for a lump sum payout of Ђ985.950.00 (NINE HUNDRED
Ref no:US/76841284672/09, Batch no:1305/08/EMS . This is from a total cash prize
EUROS ONLY) Shared among the international winners in this category. CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!

Your fund is now deposited with a security company and insured in your name. Due
to mix up of some numbers and names , we ask that you keep this award from public
notice until your claim has been processed and money remitted to your account as
this is part of our security protocol to avoid double claiming or unwarranted
taking advantage of this program by participants. All participants were selected
through a computer ballot system drawn from 25,000 names from Asia, Australia,
Africa, Europe, South America and North America as part of our International
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To begin your lottery claim, please contact your claims agent Mrs. Anna Mendez
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for the processing and remittance of your winning prize money to a designation
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In order to avoid unnecessary delay and complication, please remember to quote
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staff and thank you for being a part of our International promotions program.


I didn't bother replying and haven't received any more scam emails since, but I really can't understand how anyone would fall for this. Who in their right mind would think that a complete stranger is going to give them millions of dollars for nothing. What's sad is that it seems many decent people have fallen for these scams and hand over smaller amounts as 'release fees' in order to process the exchange of these imaginary big life-changing windfalls.

More info about email scams can be found here.


04 August, 2009

Ricky Gervais Explains an Alternative Theory


30 July, 2009

Swine Flu Vaccine - Priorities Wrong?

In the current edition of Nature (30 July 2009) there is a short correspondence from Italian immunologists on the subject of a swine flu vaccine.

I think it conveys an important message.

In the piece entitled "Flu: vaccinate to cut risk of chimaeric virus emerging", Ilaria Capua & Giovanni Cattoli from the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie in Italy, make the suggestion that any decisions on priority distribution of swine flu vaccine should take into account areas at higher risk of the emergence of a reassortment virus. This is a virus containing an assortment of genes from various different viruses and can occur in geographic locations where different human and animal viruses are simultaneously present

There is a risk of generating novel influenza A viruses through reassortment of the eight genes that result in antigenic shift, which would give rise to strains to which the human population has no immunity. For example, reassortment occurred between avian and human influenza viruses to create the human pandemic viruses of 1957 and 1968

Developing countries are breeding grounds for these types of reassortment viruses due to inadequate security and safety measures. Based on this, the authors indicate that along with the vaccination of risk patients and healthcare workers, emphasis should be placed on vaccinating populations in developing countries.

Fast-tracking vaccination of humans against pandemic influenza in developing countries where zoonotic flu in poultry is endemic would help prevent reassortment between naoH1N1 or other novel pandemic influenza strains and avian influenza viruses. That would deflect the unpredictable and serious consequences of viral reassortment to humankind worldwide.

So it is vital that we think on a bigger scale here. Undoubtedly each government has prioritised the vaccination of it's own citizens (here in Ireland they are apparently buying two doses per person), however the global community needs to think outside the box and firstly prevent the emergence of reassortment viruses. This constitutes a far greater risk to the human race and must be addressed immediately.


Show Some Support for Simon Singh!!

From Pharyngula.

(Note: this is the infamous article on chiropractic that got Simon Singh sued. It is being reposted all over the web today by multiple blogs and online magazines.)

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results - and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that "99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae". In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer's first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying - even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world's first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: "Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck."

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.