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Comment: Re:Dang... (Score 2) 139

by the gnat (#47535479) Attached to: Siberian Discovery Suggests Almost All Dinosaurs Were Feathered

Good parroting of the popular Dawkins-driven line, but simply vastly historically incorrect as the sequence of events. Origen of Alexandria (one of the "Fathers of the Church", that is, one shaping core positions at the very earliest foundation of Christianity) was arguing for allegorical interpretation of Genesis in the second century A.D.

I'm aware that many Christians throughout history have argued for an allegorical interpretation of Genesis, which is why I specifically said "literalists" (i.e. creationists and associated nuts). Whatever other problems I may have with the Catholic Church (for example), I do not consider them anti-science. I had in mind the people who try to prove that the speed of light must have changed drastically in order to make the observed size of the universe compatible with their reading of Genesis (e.g. the Ussher chronology). I'll grant that I was a little unfair in blaming "the Bible" for this, but you can't really escape the fact that Christianity is dependent on an essentially immutable set of scriptures*, and there is also a large contingent that views allegorical interpretations as heresy.

The notion that science comes along and "shows religion incorrect" is fanciful nonsense.

Which is why I never said that. But it is certainly not nonsense to point out that the available scientific evidence supports a much different origin theory than the literal reading of Genesis. You can view the hand of God in there if you want; I don't really concern myself with such things. However there is still that very large subset of Christians (and Muslims, and Jews) for whom this compromise is intolerable, because for them, whatever the Bible says must be true.

(* At least within the last millennium or so. Of course in the longer time frame the contents of the Bible - especially the Old Testament - were subject to a great deal of revision and selective editing, which is why the literal interpretation really seems nonsensical to me..)

Comment: Re:Dang... (Score 2) 139

by the gnat (#47534459) Attached to: Siberian Discovery Suggests Almost All Dinosaurs Were Feathered

Science is wrong

That's a bit of an exaggeration. Science was incomplete, in the sense that our assumptions about the appearance of dinosaurs were based on limited fossil evidence (and analogies to modern lizards rather than birds). And the raw evidence wasn't even "wrong", it was totally valid - only our interpretations were incorrect. Now we have new evidence, which is being incorporated into how we think about dinosaurs. When was the last time that anything was added to the Bible?

Comment: Re:Dang... (Score 2) 139

by the gnat (#47534427) Attached to: Siberian Discovery Suggests Almost All Dinosaurs Were Feathered

There are more models to support the scientific theory, but even then, there are something like 35 competing theories of evolution.

Possibly, but the general concept isn't even remotely controversial (at least among actual scientists). Especially the theory that humans and apes have a common ancestor, which is simultaneously the most minimal example of evolution, and the one that seems to upset people the most.

However, if one wants to be totally objective (or at least minimize biases), one has to admit that science doesn't always have the answers. The idea that science can eventually explain everything is as an untestable hypothesis as a deity creating everything. Neither can be proven.

The predictive ability of science - and the number of things it explains - does continue to improve over time, however. The same cannot be said of religion. Or, put another way, science is capable of changing as new evidence is obtained, as exemplified by this article. The Bible, however, is immutable, and the literalists have to resort to increasingly contorted explanations for how the Genesis account could be factually correct.

Comment: Re:Advanced? (Score 1) 95

by the gnat (#47519539) Attached to: Finding Life In Space By Looking For Extraterrestrial Pollution

The thing is, fossil fuels run out rather quickly on the cosmic scale. A few centuries and the consequences of pollution become apparent quickly too. A civilization must quickly move to something cleaner or it dies. Either way, the pollution stops. What are the odds that our telescopes will find a planet inhabited by a civilization that just happens to be going through a (likely) one-time few century window of time?

This is an excellent point, but it's also orthogonal to the post I was replying to. You're arguing based on certain physical constraints which are based on reasonable extrapolation from our present circumstances. The GP was arguing that pollution was "illogical", which is just a nonsensical argument. Polluting the planet to the point of species extinction would be illogical, but trace levels of CFCs in the atmosphere don't necessarily indicate a fundamental lack of logic, just a transitional period where a civilization was smart enough to make such things, but not smart enough to realize the long-term impact. (But I agree that this timeframe is not likely to be very long.)

Comment: Re:Advanced? (Score 1) 95

by the gnat (#47519505) Attached to: Finding Life In Space By Looking For Extraterrestrial Pollution

First off, what we can or cannot imagine has absolutely nothing to do with what is or is not real, so it isn't clear why you're bringing this up.

The parent poster was criticizing the making of "assumptions" about how advanced alien life might behave in the process of trying to detect it. If we don't make certain assumptions based on what we can observe firsthand, our imaginations are all we're left with. And I agree this is a shitty way to do science, which was kind of my entire point.

Comment: Re:Advanced? (Score 2) 95

by the gnat (#47519007) Attached to: Finding Life In Space By Looking For Extraterrestrial Pollution

Would an advanced race actually do something so illogical?

By "advanced", I assume the summary meant "technologically advanced". How would any civilization reach a high level of technology without going through industrialization? It's not like anyone enjoys living downwind of a coal plant, but the messier forms of energy production are convenient, cheap, and don't require any advanced materials or science. Try to imagine an alternate history where we emerged from the industrial revolution with effective, sustainable fusion and solar power without ever polluting the planet.

One of my least-favorite sci-fi tropes is an alien race which is simultaneously technologically adept enough to build starships and aggressive enough to spread through the galaxy meets (much less technologically advanced) humans for the first time and sadly remarks on our lack of environmental consciousness and our propensity for violence. It requires the assumption that exactly none of the circumstances that constrained our development, and none of the evolutionary pressures which drove it, might apply to other species. Yes, we can't be certain that other forms of life aren't so radically different that these rules don't apply - but we have yet to observe such life forms on Earth, at least.

Comment: Re:Correction (Score 3, Insightful) 97

by the gnat (#47503769) Attached to: UEA Research Shows Oceans Vital For Possibility of Alien Life

Actually, we know almost all basic chemistry, and the range of (stable) molecules that silicon can form is orders of magnitude less than for carbon.

Well, yeah, but I didn't want to offend the pedants even further. Unless the laws of physics (and therefore basic chemistry) are very different elsewhere in the galaxy, it's not unreasonable to think that carbon-based, liquid-water-dependent lifeforms are the most probable. In fact, I'd be willing to bet a tidy sum of money that the overwhelming majority of unique forms of life are not terribly dissimilar from ours as far as the underlying chemistry is concerned. They might be fantastically alien in all sorts of other strange ways, but they'll still be based on simple organic polymers. But this is still irrelevant to the discussion at hand, because even if there were different forms of life, we have no idea how we might detect them at astronomical distances.

Comment: Re:Correction (Score 5, Insightful) 97

by the gnat (#47502633) Attached to: UEA Research Shows Oceans Vital For Possibility of Alien Life

I wish I had mod points. Every time I hear about planets not being able to support life, this is my first thought.

And every time a story about extraterrestrial life gets posted on Slashdot, several dozen people say exactly the same thing, as if they've had some brilliantly original insight that the scientists researching the subject missed. No one is explicitly ruling out the possibility that there are gaseous lifeforms living in the clouds of gas giants, or silicon-based rock monsters like the one in Star Trek. Hell, it would be a huge discovery if we found something like that. But since we're presently incapable of observing such lifeforms firsthand, and have no idea what we should be looking for at a distance of light-years, we have to settle for looking for the planetary "signatures" of temperature, oceans, oxygen content, etc. It may not satisfy the pedants, but it's still extremely difficult by itself. When we're capable of actually exploring other solar systems directly, then maybe we can start to look for fantasy lifeforms on frozen airless rocks and methane clouds.

Comment: Re:So depressing. (Score 2) 108

by the gnat (#47500583) Attached to: A Look At NASA's Orion Project

All the hundreds of bases on foreign soil should be liquidated, and the foreign countries that get those back should start footing the bill for their own defense. Then we'll see how much they want to cry about American expansionist policies and so on.

In fairness, it's generally not the South Koreans (to pick one obvious example) complaining about American expansionism.

Comment: Re:Wish I could say I was surprised (Score 2) 178

by the gnat (#47431673) Attached to: Peer Review Ring Broken - 60 Articles Retracted

Alternatively (or in addition), we could increase the penalties for those caught cheating.

FYI, cheating like this is already a guaranteed career-ender. People who do things like this aren't rationally weighing the cost of getting caught against the career advancement that comes from publishing; they simply don't expect to get caught.

Comment: Re:"Security" (Score 1) 120

by the gnat (#47412935) Attached to: A Box of Forgotten Smallpox Vials Was Just Found In an FDA Closet

they were just samples of a common infection

A common infection that killed more people in the 20th century than all wars put together. It's shocking to think that someone would carelessly misplace a vial of an airborne infectious agent with a mortality rate above 20%, even in the mid-20th century. Smallpox is hands-down the deadliest disease in human history - the only reason it could be eradicated was the lack of non-human reservoirs. I'm not particularly afraid of nuclear war, but the thought of smallpox outbreaks scares the shit out of me.

Comment: Re:Bitcoin mining? (Score 1) 89

by the gnat (#47295287) Attached to: Computing a Cure For HIV

the results one would expect given the resources dumped into this one just are not there.

I don't know, what kind of results do you expect? HIV is a really tough bug to fight - it's almost the opposite of smallpox where a universal and exceptionally effective vaccine was found early on. Tricking the immune system into killing a virus that is evolved to prey on the immune cells was never going to be easy. But the leading antiviral therapies allow most infected patients to live almost indefinitely while maintaining relatively high quality-of-life, whereas 30 years ago they would nearly all have been doomed (and some of the earlier therapies were debilitating). I consider that a pretty impressive achievement of medical technology.

Now, the fact that millions of Africans (and others) still have AIDS is less impressive, but the reasons for that are entirely social and political, not technological.

Comment: Re:Bitcoin mining? (Score 1) 89

by the gnat (#47291611) Attached to: Computing a Cure For HIV

It's because the Republicans won't let them work on that research.

The National Institutes of Health - the single largest government sponsor of biomedical research in the world - spends
approximately $3 billion per year on AIDS research. That's about 10% of their entire budget. In comparison, they currently spend about $5.5 billion per year on cancer, which affects vastly more Americans than AIDS, and also kills more in wealthy countries (because AIDS patients - or their insurers - can afford the treatments that enable long-term survival with low viral load). Due to federal budget issues, both funding pools have declined since 2010, but AIDS research only slightly - cancer funding is significantly lower.

As for treating the cure versus the symptoms, it is extraordinarily difficult to "cure" viral infections with drugs, and HIV has proven to be incredibly difficult to vaccinate against.

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