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Comment Re:Sensationalistic (Score 1) 606

Second, this is carbon dating, and we are talking about drama involving a couple decades.

It is plain that between the actual science and the reporting, there is a weak link (or several), in the reporters.

TFS gives an age range, which if not qualified is probably as you say, a 95% confidence interval. That alone makes it a non-story, really. Their C.I. for the age of the parchment goes before the (nominal) date of birth of the purported author. Non-issue on the face of it, even before you bring up issues like palimpsests.

If I wanted to, and given a reasonable amount of funds, I could start to make parchment tomorrow which would, when prepared, give a carbon date of, say, 200AD. If you used similar techniques to prepare a suitable ink ... I reckon we could have Mo's hand-written note that " Khadijah, I've discovered a really great con trick that'll get us all killed, or make us rich", with a solid RC date of 600-610 CE (calibrated). Between preparing the parchment, the ink, and finding a calligrapher who do the squiggly lines, I reckon we could possibly have the forgery ready for 2021. Are you game?

The technique for preparing the parchment would be to grow a lot of grain in a greenhouse using CO2 from coal manufacture, combined with natural ventilation. The coal-derived CO2 would dilute the natural C-14, as it has essentially no C-14. We want 1400 years of depletion, so that would be about 1/4 coal-derived CO2 to 3/4 natural ventilation. (We might need to filter for N-14 and nuclear-test derived nucleotides, so it might be easier to go with straight coal-derived CO2 and add a source of C-14.)

C-14 depleted grain in hand, we grow a small herd of C-14 depleted sheep or goats. We'd need to check they're genetically similar to ones in the area. Just buy some local goats and we can breed up our beasts.

How to make the ink ... I'd have to do some more research. We might need to grow some C-14 depleted chickens to make C-14 depleted egg for a binder.

And I've got other things that I've got to do. Is the general plan clear? Are you up for it?

Comment Re:Doesn't Predate Mohammed (Score 1) 606

Its not at all uncommon to find ancient handwritten texts using reused paper (or parchment or whatever was used).

"Palimpsest" is the term.

If it dated to much *younger* than the traditional date of the Koran, that would be news.

No it wouldn't. You've got the logic flipped.

Compare this with "The Bible", which actually does not exist as a single thing anywhere,

... not since I last ran out of toilet paper.

Comment Re:Uh oh (Score 1) 606

And just who do you think was feeding decades-old grain and straw to the sheep (or goat) that was peeled to make the parchment, in order to skew the carbon isotope signature of the parchment when Mo said "I've got this great idea, and I need a fresh sheet of goatskin to write it on!"

(See post below for more on carbon dating.)

Comment Re:Scientist != atheist (Score 1) 606

If you're a professor of Christian Theology, I imagine you're likely to believe in God.


We've had Archbishops of Canterbury (head goddy of the UK's state religion) who didn't believe in central tenets of their professed faith, so why should being an atheist disbar you from studying religion closely enough to become a professor at it.

I'm perfectly capable of doing the maths to become a professor of statistics (or so my statistics professor told me when trying to persuade me to join his department), and I'm perfectly capable of analysing and understanding the rules of a game of poker. The fact that I hardly ever play cards of any sort, and haven't played poker ever, and never would if there was money on the table is no barrier to understanding the game. (Understanding it's emotional appeal is a question for psychologists specialising in addiction.)

Comment Re:Scientist != atheist (Score 1) 606

When you cite that Pew survey (which is repeated every year or two, and shows consistent trends), you should also note that amongst scientists of higher reputation (principally membership of invitation-only societies like the Royal Society and National Academy of Sciences ; but also filtering on having been awarded a Nobel Prize), then the proportion of atheists rises.

By the time you get to FsRS and Nobellists, the proportion of atheists is up around 90%, and increasing steadily with time.

Comment Re:And? (Score 1) 146

Sorry, my mistake - it's one monomer, but the bugs in question can chow down on the raw monomer, but most of the material in the waste water is the dimer (two monomers joined head-to-tail, which obviously closes the loop and makes it impossible for the dimer to participate in the polymerisation reaction. There's a second enzyme in the system that can open up the dimer to form monomers, which the rest of the system can then digest. I don't know if this has been tested, but I'd suspect that the monomer-eating ability would have evolved first, because even if you supplied pure dimer, then it would have equilibrated to produce some monomer in solution, on which the bacterium could then feed. Adding the dimer-cracking ability - from some other hydrolysis enzyme - would make the system much more useful to the bacterium. Working the other way would, IMHO, be rather less likely. But I wouldn't stake more than a pint of beer on the question.

Comment Re:And? (Score 1) 146

There are bacteria and eukaryotes that have been found consuming plastic in the ocean.

That's a pretty significant claim, for which I'd like to see a citation, because I think you're probably misunderstanding something of which I have heard.

In the mid-70s, bacteria cultured from a waste-water treatment plant at a nylon-manufacturing plant (in Japan, IIRC) were found to be able to metabolise the monomers that form nylon (two different 6-carbon chains with condensible radicals on the 1- and 6- atoms) from their relatively high concentrations in the waste water. They used the pre-nylon monomers for both energy production (the isotopically labelled carbon would be excreted as isotopically labelled CO2) and for incorporation into structural proteins, lipids etc. The mutation that allowed them to do this was a single nucleotide error which changed the reading frame on one sector of DNA, which allowed the monomers to be used as source material in their metabolic network, the rest of which continued to operate more-or-less unchanged.

That's the case I know to be true - I read up on it a decade or two ago, as the genetic work was a classic of the time. I have NOT heard of such bacteria being found in the general environment (because such monomers are pretty damned rare), and in any case cracking a condensed link in an established monomer is a very different job from grabbing a radical on one end of a short chain of aliphatic carbon.

I suspect that you've been reading articles a long way down the chain of "Chinese Whispers" from the original work.

Oh look, even wikipedia agrees with me!

Refs : Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1984 Apr; 81(8): 2421â"2425 "Birth of a unique enzyme from an alternative reading frame of the preexisted, internally repetitious coding sequence." S Ohno
Kinoshita S, Negoro S, Muramatsu M, Bisaria VS, Sawada S, Okada H. "6-Aminohexanoic acid cyclic dimer hydrolase. A new cyclic amide hydrolase produced by Achromobacter guttatus K174." Eur J Biochem. 1977 Nov 1;80(2):489â"495.
Kinoshita S, Terada T, Taniguchi T, Takene Y, Masuda S, Matsunaga N, Okada H. "Purification and characterization of 6-aminohexanoic-acid-oligomer hydrolase of Flavobacterium sp. K172." Eur J Biochem. 1981 Jun 1;116(3):547â"551. [PubMed]

I know that is is hackneyed to request Slashdotters to provide references to original sources, but that is the standard which is requested of real scientific and technical people, and I see no reason to lower to the "entertainment" industry's standards.

And of course, I remain open to the possibility that you've actually got some novel evidence. I haven't looked at this case in detail since before I got married.

Comment Re:First Sitting president to Visit Alaska (Score 1) 388

People will no longer have to explain the two names over and over and over.

To be honest, at least within the mountaineering community, "Denali" has been the recognised name for decades, possibly going back into the mid-70s. I can't remember having to connect the names "Denali" and "Mt McKinley," and I only got into mountaineering in the late 70s

Comment Re:Not a new idea (Score 1) 388

Why did Constantinople get the works? That's nobody's business but the Turks.

You need to revise your history. The Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453 and re-named it Istanbul in 1930 ; the city had the name Constantinople (for Constantine's Polis) from it's inauguration as capital of the Byzantine empire in 330. Before then it was Byzantium for a thousand or so years.

Comment Re:exhibit A: OK Cupid's famous essay (Score 3, Insightful) 301

Heck you can check it yourself: sign up for a paid for dating site, put the photos into Google image search, and see how long it takes before you get a fake. But sexual desperation is such that men will still go there,

I'll do you even one better.. TINEYE plugin ... just right click and search the image on tineye.. saves a lot of hassle for many reasons.. dating only being one of them

Comment Re:yeah right (Score 1) 68

That's a different issue. There's a discussion about whether there is such a thing as "interpreted languages" and "compiled languages", and in the strictest sense, the answer is no, because some normally-compiled languages can be run in an interpreter, and most normally-interpreted languages can be compiled; but there is also a philosophical debate that allows an imprecise use of the terms. Java is what I'd consider a "compiled language" because of its architectural design -- I don't care that the target architecture is rarely seen in hardware form. The limitation this leaves you with is execution speed, which was a genuine concern in the early days of Java, but that's not a feature of the language per se.

Python is a scripting language. It's almost fully dynamic, in that you can (if you want) rewrite class definitions during execution time based on user input. This is, on my philosophical level, an architectural feature of an interpreted language, and any compiled version of Python is going to have to include a compiler and/or interpreter to deal with these quibbles at run-time.

My point, in short, is that these architectural features aimed at the interpreted environment are a source of potential errors, and that they don't compile well; therefore Python is not a good candidate for use in compiled code. Python is was specifically designed for running in an interpreter. Why would you want to use it anywhere else?

Comment Re:"never to have worked a day in his life," ... (Score 1) 55

I need to find one of those jobs where you get paid for not working.

No, you need to find something that you're good enough at doing that you can complete sufficiently valuable work in a reasonable time. Clearly, your current work is not something that you're good at, and you need to do something more suited to your actual skills, not to what it says on your CV.

substituting hours for skill is never a good trade off.

"The identical is equal to itself, since it is different." -- Franco Spisani