Criticism of “Homochirality and the Origin of Life”[1] by Hugh Ross

Hi Hugh,

I recently came across this tweet:

Ross 01

Needless to say that I was very intrigued. Of course, homochirality was, at some point, a big mystery for those thinking about the origin of life, but in 2017, the veil has been lifted on the fundamental mechanisms that allow enantiomerically pure compounds to form spontaneously. I therefore had a look at your post, and was quite unpleasantly surprised. Here are the things I take issue with, listed in order of appearance, not importance. Each particular point is numbered. This will make it easier, should you wish to reply to this post (I hope you will).

  1. The date of the blog entry is November 7, 2011. Why does your tweet call it “latest blog”? Have you really not written anything since? The fact that you still consider it up to date in 2017 is quite a problem, as we will see later.
  2. Life requires homochirality in certain molecules.
    Do we know that? I don’t think we do. We actually have no idea about life other than that which we observe on Earth. I would suggest replacing that sentence by “Life as we know it uses its main chiral building blocks in a homochiral fashion.”
  3. When scientists failed to demonstrate a naturalistic explanation for homochirality via terrestrial chemical pathways, they turned to astronomical mechanisms.
    This is factually incorrect. Both terrestrial and astronomical factors have been taken into account from a very early stage. I will say more about this later.
  4. “However, research continues to prove fruitless […]
    That is of course a blatant lie. Over the last 40 years, chemistry has advanced enormously (and often serendipitously) to provide us with the definitive certainty that the appearance of homochirality is possible and understandable, both spontaneously on Earth or caused by non-terrestrial chemical or physical influences. Details about this will be presented in later points.
  5. [research] instead, makes it clear that supernatural design is a much better explanation for the existence of life-essential homochirality.”
    That is the second lie in the same sentence. You know very well that no scientific research has ever pointed to a supernatural explanation. As a physicist, you also know that no scientific research can ever point to a supernatural explanation. This is the first occurrence of the “god of the gaps” fallacy in this blog. Lack of knowledge is lack of knowledge, not knowledge of an alternative explanation.

[Side note: I’m only past your introductory paragraph, and I’ve already listed 5 criticisms. This will be a long post.]

  1. Any molecule with four different chemical groups attached to a central carbon manifests two distinct three-dimensional configurations. Chemists refer to these mirror image configurations as left-handed and right-handed. Such molecules are said to be chiral.
    That definition is both incorrect and incomplete. The first sentence is the definition of a stereogenic carbon atom. Molecules that contain multiple stereogenic carbon atoms are not necessarily chiral. Chemists also don’t use the terms left- and right-handed anymore. We haven’t done so for decades, it’s completely archaic and useless. Finally, your definition leaves out stereogenic atoms other than carbon, helical, axial, and planar chirality. Never mind, we can go on assuming that we will limit all of the following points to the particular case of chirality caused by the presence of one or multiple stereogenic carbon atoms.
  2. Life chemistry demands homochirality
    No Hugh. Chemistry does not demand anything. This is simply what we observe. It is an observation that living organisms are composed of proteins made from l amino acids, it is not a necessity or a demand. Let me also give a tip to the writer you’re trying to be: do not use nouns as adjectives, it’s considered poor style.
  3. Proteins cannot assemble unless all the chiral amino acids (20 out of the 21 bioactive amino acids are chiral) are either 100 percent left-handed or 100 percent right-handed.
    That is wrong. Proteins can form from either enantiomer of the amino acids, or mixtures of both enantiomers. Once again, the correct thing would be to say that living organisms only use and produce proteins made from one enantiomer of the amino acids. The exact same comment applies to the following sentence (“Likewise, DNA and RNA molecules cannot assemble unless all pentose sugars are 100 percent left-handed or right-handed.”). Fortunately, you’re not incapable of getting it right, as the sentence “All organisms on Earth manifest only left-handed chiral amino acids and right-handed pentose sugars.” shows. It is indeed an observation of a fact, not a fundamental necessity. Despite the last sentence being correct, I recommend you use a nomenclature recommended by IUPAC to designate enantiomers instead of using left- and right-handed.
  4. Homochirality presents a challenge to atheists, agnostics, and others who try to explain the origin of life via purely natural mechanisms.
    They’re called scientists, regardless of their spiritual beliefs. One does not have to be an atheist or agnostic to enquire scientifically about the origin of life. To present this as a question of the religious being opposed to unbelievers is both a strawman argument and divisive.
  5. […] demonstrating how homochirality arises […] is the simplest problem
    Well no, it isn’t. And if it were, you’d have a strange way of relegating the the topic of your post to the rank of a minor question.
  6. But, as Fuz and I documented in our book, Origins of Life, no possible terrestrial pathways exist for producing the homochiral molecules required for life’s emergence.
    This statement is the fundamental falsehood that undermines the whole validity of your blog post. It is very clear nowadays that homochirality can be the result of purely terrestrial phenomena. The emphasis is deliberate: I am not stating that it is the case, but I’m refuting your statement that there are no pathways.
    The “purely terrestrial” pathway to homochirality would involve a phenomenon called spontaneous absolute asymmetric synthesis. This process is now well-known and well-understood. Its result is the formation of a product that is either enantiomerically enriched, or even pure, starting from either achiral or racemic substrates. I will not detail the mechanisms behind this here, but they are most commonly of two types:
    – they involve phase changes and the enantiomeric selection is due to the formation of conglomerate crystals;
    – they do not involve phase changes and the enantiomeric selection is due to a phenomenon of asymmetric autocatalysis which results in amplification of the enantiomeric excess.
    The peculiar aspect of spontaneous absolute asymmetric synthesis is that it is a stochastic phenomenon. In the absence of any external influences, it is impossible to predict which enantiomer will be favoured during the process. If the process is repeated a large number of times, an equiprobable outcome for either enantiomer is observed.
    The logical consequence of this would be that, if homochirality emerged spontaneously on Earth without any outside influences, the enantiomers that we observe (the handedness, as you call it) is the product of chance. Nature uses one of the two possible forms, without there being a reason why.
    A concise review dealing with this topic has been published by Hein, Gherase and Blackmond. [2]
  7. Organic chemist William Bonner once declared: […]
    You fail to explain 3 things about this quote:
    – It is taken from a news article (albeit published in Science magazine) and not a peer-reviewed paper. As such, it is not bound to present conclusions that strictly follow from experimental data and is merely a statement of personal opinion.
    – Bonner was convinced one had to look towards outer space and therefore oriented his research projects in that direction. His statement is a justification of his research interests, and says nothing about the possibility or impossibility of there being other explanations for the origin of homochirality.
    – Bonner’s most influential work is from the 1980s and this particular interview was from 1995. Over 20 years later, we have a much better and deeper understanding of, among other things, the phenomena mentioned in point 11. This is also your only reference on the topic, meaning that you neither cite proper research publications nor contemporary work. Given the large amount of research done in the area of prebiotic chemistry, this superficial treatment is more than inadequate.
    Most importantly, the question whether an initial enantiomeric excess occurred on Earth or elsewhere is of no importance whatsoever. Neither one of the two possibilities would support your claim that supernatural forces are a necessity.
  8. The rest of your post deals with different (more or less recent) accounts of chiral molecules found in space or produced using circularly polarised light.
    Circularly polarised light (CPL) is known to be capable of inducing absolute asymmetric synthesis. The difference with the spontaneous version described in point 11 is that now, in the presence of a physical chiral influence (CPL displays ‘true’ chirality according to the definition given by Barron), the outcome of absolute asymmetric synthesis is no longer stochastic: the enantiomer (or handedness, as you call it) obtained in the experiment is determined by the circular polarisation of the light source. What is the implication of that? It means that if the initial absolute asymmetric synthesis process happened in space where CPL is effective, then the observed preference for an enantiomer would not be random.
  9. When commenting the enantiomer ratios found in experiments and on meteorites, you falsely claim that the low preferences that are observed mean that such phenomena cannot explain homochirality on earth. This is not true. It is well understood that both mechanisms responsible for spontaneous absolute asymmetric synthesis, i.e. asymmetric autocatalysis and crystallisation of conglomerates, can give rise to asymmetric amplification. An initial infinitesimal imbalance in the ratios of enantiomers can give rise to very high final enantiomers in just a few cycles of the same reaction. A very striking example has been published by Singleton. [6]
  10. The false assumption that in order to explain homochirality on Earth, all biologically relevant chiral molecules need to come into existence in enantiomerically pure is all pervasive throughout your blog post. This is of course not necessary. For instance, in an asymmetric catalysis-driven scenario, the existence of a single catalytically active species in enantiomerically enriched form is sufficient to account for the formation of one or many other chiral molecules. If you factor in non-linear effects, the initial species does not even need to be enantiomerically pure. [7]
  11. Finally, from a scientist to a former scientist, your list of references is a shambles. It looks like it came from bad OCR software and much of it needs to be deciphered before one can use it. Please give the references the attention that they deserve.

This post has grown quite long. Given the extraordinary amount of published science concerning each of the points made here, it could have grown to the size of a book. However, its objective has never been to review all known science or to teach current prebiotic models to the readers.

The objective of this article is to show that all your claims of impossibility are wrong. Ultimately, your whole blog post amounts to a fallacious “god of the gaps” argument. You point out our ignorance on a number of topics, and conclude that a supernatural explanation is therefore more reasonable.

However, I have shown that (i) we are not as ignorant as you claim we are, and (ii) we know that the appearance of homochirality is not at all at odds with the fundamentals of science. Thus, despite the fact that we don’t know the exact nature of the events that led to the emergence of homochirality, we do know all the mechanistic aspects that can lead there. If a reasonable explanation is to be found, then it will be found within this framework. Incidentally, and I’m sure you’ll agree, humanity has found explanations for many of the natural phenomena that used to puzzle our ancestors. None of these explanations have ever required a supernatural force. Helios’ chariot doesn’t pull the sun, lightning is not the product of Zeus’ anger and thunder is not the result of Thor bringing down his hammer. There is no reason to think that this will ever be necessary, and the arguments you have brought forward in your blog post certainly don’t imply the necessity for a supernatural explanation either.

@takethatchem

References

  1. http://reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2011/11/07/homochirality-and-the-origin-of-life (Retrieved on 13 December 2017).
  2. J. E. Hein, D. Gherase, D. G. Blackmond Top. Curr. Chem. 2013333, 83-108; DOI: 10.1007/128_2012_397.
  3. J. Cohen Science 1995267, 1265-1266; DOI: 10.1126/science.7871419.
  4. E. Rubenstein, W. A. Bonner, H. P. Noyes, G. S. Brown Nature1983306, 118; DOI: 10.1038/306118a0.
  5. L. Barron J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1986108, 5539-5542; DOI: 10.1021/ja00278a029)
  6. D. A. Singleton, L. K. Vo J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2002124, 10010-10011; DOI: 10.1021/ja027129o.
  7. T. Satyanarayana, S. Abraham, H. B. Kagan Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2009, 48, 456-494; DOI: 10.1002/anie.200705241.

 

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Green Parties aren’t so Green

By @TakeThatGMOs

Image result for jill steinIn this publishing, I will focus on Green parties and environmentalism, and how green parties get environmental protection wrong.

What are Green parties?

Wikipedia defines Green parties as a”Formally organized political party based on the principles of green politics, such as social justice, environmentalism and nonviolence.”

Green parties are found all over the world. Here’s a list of green parties from around the world. The world’s first Green parties began appearing in the early 70s in Germany and Australia. The German Green party was the first Green party to achieve national prominence in their respective country. One of their key pillars was their opposition to nuclear energy.

Green parties and environmental protection

Green parties are primarily concerned in theory with protecting the environment and environmental conservation. That in its own regard is a good cause. The issue lies with how Green parties go about trying to protect the environment.

Green parties are anti-science on nuclear energy

The UK Green Party wants to phase out fossil-fuel based energy generation and nuclear power. Jill stein, the US Green Party’s candidate for president wants to phase out nuclear power and end nuclear subsidies. Moreover, Stein has compared nuclear power plants with weapons of mass destruction on more than one occasion.

In this instance, the UK & US Green Parties are wrong on nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is safereliable and clean.

The evidence over six decades shows that nuclear power is a safe means of generating electricity. The risk of accidents in nuclear power plants is low and declining. The consequences of an accident or terrorist attack are minimal compared with other commonly accepted risks. Radiological effects on people of any radioactive releases can be avoided.

Not only that, but nuclear power is the most reliable source of energy in use today and produces the least carbon emissions, even less than solar power.

Capacity Factor by Generating Source
Source: Nuclear Energy Institute

Life Cycle Carbon Emissions
Source: Nuclear Energy Institute
Arguably, the only legitimate concern with nuclear energy is the radioactive waste. Even then, the amounts of nuclear waste produced is negligible, safe to store and can even be used as a resource.

65% of scientists support building more nuclear power plants as opposed to 35% who aren’t sure or don’t support the building of more nuclear power plants.

Green Parties go against the established scientific evidence, and oppose nuclear energy, which is the most reliable way forward for green energy.

Green Parties and GMOs 

GMOs have been established as a safe and very promising technology. Fears about GMOs are completely unwarranted, and go against the established scientific consensus. GMOs may provide the solution to nutrient deficiencies as well as food supply problems in poorer countries. They can be engineered to grow in unfavorable climates as well as be engineered to contain more nutrients, such as beta carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A in golden rice. Moreover, GMOs can be engineered to produce biofuels, which can be a great way to combat carbon emissions produced by cars, the second largest producer of carbon emissions.

The UK Green Party opposes GMOs, and supports placing a moratorium on them, as well as restrict research on GMOs. Here’s Jill Stein’s take:

Not only is her information on GMOs completely wrong, but she also uses biased sources such as Organic Consumers Union and Union of Concerned Scientists as sources, both of which are incredibly dishonest and have their own agendas to push. The Organic Consumers Union for instance wants to spread the sale of organic food, and so have an obvious benefit in scaring people from buying GMOs.

The Canadian Green Party wants to ban GMOs and stop ANY research done on them. This is the very first paragraph from the CGP’s page on GE organisms:

Genetically engineered (GE) organisms may pose a potentially serious threat to human health and the health of natural ecosystems. Many Canadians want to follow the example of the European Union and ban GE crops. At a minimum, GE products must be labeled, giving consumers the right to know and to say no to GE foods.

Paranoia and fear of GMOs and opposition to them won’t be of any use. GMOs are tested very thoroughly and have huge potential in reducing carbon emissions. Yet again, the stances held by Green parties are not so green.

Alternative Medicine

The GPUS supports alternative medicine:

Greens support a wide range of health care services, not just traditional medicine, which too often emphasizes “a medical arms race” that relies upon high-tech intervention, surgical techniques and costly pharmaceuticals. Chronic conditions are often best cured by alternative medicine. We support the teaching, funding and practice of holistic health approaches and, as appropriate, the use of complementary and alternative therapies such as herbal medicines, homeopathy, naturopathy, traditional Chinese medicine and other healing approaches.

Other Woo:

Stein’s infamous rambling about how WiFi can damage children’s minds as well as people having “questions about vaccines” and her claims that the agencies that work on insuring vaccines are safe and reliable are “influenced by pharmaceutical companies”  is the final straw in her scientific credibility.

To conclude:

Green parties and green politics support very noble causes in trying to counteract climate change and work towards protection and conservation. However, Green parties simply don’t follow the science when doing this.

Green parties are just simply not so green.

 

 

An Interview with Biblenauts’ Tyler Lolong

by @TakeThatDarwin

Hey, Tyler. Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions about Biblenauts, which gives me an excuse to talk about Biblenauts on my Twitter account, which I enjoy doing.

For the past year and change, you’ve written and drawn Biblenauts, a Monday-Wednesday-Friday webcomic that explores the Old Testament. Is this your first webcomic? How do you stick to your schedule so — ah ha ha — religiously? And how did you decide that a webcomic was the best means of exploring the Bible in this way?

I started doing comics in college, where I had a five-day- a-week strip in the student paper. It was awful and I loved it. That strip got me used to following a deadline pretty quick. After that I did a comic called Pomophobia for a couple years while suffering through grad school and developing Biblenauts. That comic is still at pomophobia.com, if anyone’s interested. Fae and Basie show up.

I love making comics, and I love the Bible, so combining the two just made sense. A ton of folks have adapted the Bible, including cartoonists, but I don’t know of too many adaptations that followed a newspaper-strip style, doing bits and pieces over time. I like the intimacy a comic strip brings, and how that intimacy contrasts with the bombast of the sword-and-sandal epic. I also love how comic strips can quickly switch between 2014-09-08-Whats-Eden-You-Page-04storytelling and one-shots, which is useful when dealing with a collection like the Bible that’s made up of more than just stories.

The characters of Fae and Basie were prominent in the first few comics, but have since faded into the background and become a sort of Greek chorus, appearing only to deliver the occasional punchline or bit of editorializing. (Fae’s comment at the end of the Sodom and Gomorrah story was especially brilliant.) How much was their role intended to change from the beginning, and how much just sort of organically happened?

Biblenauts is inspired by (ripping off) Superbook, an anime that adapted the Bible for a Japanese audience. It featured two kids and a robot traveling to Bible times to learn lessons about genocide and the importance of cleaning your room. Originally I wanted to do a straight-up parody, with my present-day characters as the main focus, and had a whole prelude chapter written out. But then I realized I was sixteen pages in before I got to “in the beginning,” and I decided that maybe my Bible comic should focus on the Bible.

I really liked the characters, though, and their chorus function is very useful, so they stuck around. Currently they spend a lot of time in the background because the Bible characters steal the stage. When I hit later books like Judges, which has minimal characterization, Fae and Basie will have a bigger role to play.

One of the things you do remarkably well is highlight both the admirable and less-admirable aspects of various Biblical characters, thereby humanizing them and bringing them to life. Your interpretation of Jacob, for one, is clever but deceptive, almost Odysseus-like. How much of your characterization do you think is textually supported?

Do you think a first-time Bible reader would come away with similar impressions of these characters? Would a Bible scholar?

This question is complicated, because different traditions and different scholars disagree on how to interpret the text. I like to think I hew pretty close to the text, but the Bible is so intertwined with my identity that I can’t claim any sort of objectivity.

While I stand by my readings, they’re not meant to be scholarly. I pull mainly from the text, but also from pop culture, folklore, midrash, and scholarship. My version of Joseph is likely different from what most modern readers will take from the text, because I took it from extra-biblical traditions that depict Joseph as feminine. And sometimes I go with a particular translation just because it’s funny.2015-08-24-The-Wrestler-Page-04

Your portrayal of angels is MEGA otherworldly. What influenced your decision to make them so different from the traditional dude-but-with-wings image?

In my mind, the best pop culture version of an angel I’ve come across is Madeline l’Engle’s A Wind in the Door, which features a cherubim made up of a pulsing mass of wings and eyes. I used to stare at that novel’s cover art. I like her take on angels because they resemble the otherworldly depictions you see in texts like Ezekiel. When that prophet  approaches divinity, he has trouble describing what he sees. I wanted to approximate that.

In your earliest comics, the serpent in the Garden of Eden is a talking snake rather than, as people seem to automatically assume, Satan. How did so many people come to the conclusion that the serpent is Satan, and why did you avoid that reading? Are there any other instances you’d like to point out where you break ranks with modern-day Bible interpretations?

That interpretation really shows the power of tradition. The text never refers to the snake as anything other than a snake, but enough people made the connection with the Christian concept of the devil that we started to read him into the story. I felt that shoving 2015-10-26-Absents-Speak-Louder-Than-Words-Page-11the devil in would add little to the story, so I left the snake a snake. Though Fae found a way to shove Jesus into that story, so maybe the whole thing is a wash.

You warned your readers about the story of Dinah early on, and probably with good reason. It’s one of those stories that really highlights the difference in values between us and the authors of the Old Testament — while it’s a fascinating revenge story, it totally treats the rape victim as a MacGuffin who drops off the radar as soon as she’s set up the conflict between the male characters. Your thoughts?

Yeah, the true horror of that story, for me, is that no one asks Dinah what she thinks. She never gets to speak. If that story pisses anyone off, I highly recommend Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, which goes through most of Genesis from Dinah’s perspective.

While your affection for the Bible as literature is obvious, I get the impression — pardon me for saying so — that the affection is kind of one-sided, and that you are probably not the audience the Bible’s authors intended thousands of years ago. What do you think?

I’m not an ancient Israelite, no. I doubt the Bible’s authors and editors would like me very much.

How do you feel about the people who maintain that they can draw meaningful lessons from a sola scriptura reading of the Bible without understanding the culture from which it came?

Depends on the lesson. Do you use the Bible to make the world a better place, and to bring you closer to God? Then go for it. Do you use the Bible to devalue other people, and justify hatred? Then we have a problem.

Anyone who claims they’re just following the Bible is lying, though. We all come to it from a tradition, even just by existing in the Western world. We all have biases which affect our reading. You have to examine how your view of the world colors your interpretation, and vice versa.

You started Biblenauts more than a year ago and have, at this point, made it most of the way through Genesis. What does the future hold for Biblenauts? Will you be skipping ahead at any point? Is the New Testament in the cards?

Well, Exodus is next, naturally. I plan to focus mainly on the narrative material, but the format of a comic strip lets me jump out of a story and play with whatever I want. I do want to put at least a little of every book of the Tanakh in the strip, but some may need to be peppered in with others. I doubt anyone would want a full year of just Psalms.

Thanks so much for your time, Tyler.

Thanks for the opportunity!

Tyler Lolong has a Patreon. Give him money.

How To Disprove The Flat Earth

turtle

By @ScienceWasWrong

eratosthenes experimentAround 240 B.C, the Greek astronomer Eratosthenes devised a way to measure the circumference of the earth. He knew that each year on the summer solstice the sun would pass directly overhead and illuminate the bottom of a well in the city of Syene, about 500 miles south of Alexandria. On that day, when the sun was at its highest in the south, he found that a stick in Alexandria cast a shadow at a 7.2 degree angle. This angle corresponds to the solar zenith angle – the angle between the sun and the point in the sky directly overhead. He reasoned that the distance between the two cities must therefore constitute 7.2 degrees of a circle, which indicates a circumference of about 25,000 miles.

Eratosthenes made two assumptions here: that the earth is a globe and that the sun is distant enough that its rays are essentially parallel.  Eratosthenes’ experiment does not prove that the earth is a globe in and of itself because his assumptions must be true in order for his results to be valid. Flat earthers reject these assumptions and posit that the sun is much smaller and closer to the earth so that its rays are not parallel. This can produce a 7.2 degree shadow just as well. In order to find out which is the case, we must work backwards from these assumptions and see what each would entail if true. Only then can we find a way to test them.

angles

After arriving at the circumference of the Earth, Eratosthenes is said to have invented a system of latitude and longitude and made an ambitious attempt to map it. His experiment would have provided most of the information he would have needed to do so. All that was left would be to wait until the winter solstice and repeat the experiment, in which case he would have measured a shadow angle of 56.2 degrees. Subtracting the 7.2 degrees between Alexandria and the Tropic of Cancer, this gives 48 degrees as the angle between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Dividing by 2, this places the Tropic of Cancer at 24 degrees north of the equator (the latitude of the Tropics have fluctuated throughout history and continue to do so today) and Alexandria at 31.2 degrees north.

Modern science places the earth’s radius at 3,959 miles, which gives a pole to pole circumference of about 24,875 miles. Dividing by 360, we find that one degree of arc should be about 69.1 miles on the earth’s surface. That is why lines of latitude are about 69.1 apart. So on a globe for every 69.1 miles or one degree of latitude you move north or south of the point the sun is directly overhead, the angle of the shadow in that location would increase by one degree. If Eratosthenes was correct, the angle of his shadow must have been equal to Alexandria’s latitude north of Syene, because that would be the angle that Alexandria is leaning away from Syene due to the curvature of the earth. If three more astronomers were doing the experiment on the same day at 20 degrees, 40 degrees, and 60 degrees north or south of the Tropic of Cancer, they would each respectively measure a shadow angle of 20 degrees, 40 degrees, and 60 degrees, and all would arrive at a circumference of 24,875 miles. The beauty of Eratosthenes’ experiment is that you can repeat it anywhere on earth, on any day of the year, and arrive at the same circumference. This is where the flat earth model runs into problems.

sun angles

In the flat earth model, as a consequence of geometry, as your distance from the point the sun is directly overhead increases, the distance between each degree of shadow will also increase exponentially. For example, assume the sun giving off a 45 degree shadow at 45 degrees north, as depicted in this lovely meme. If the earth were flat, that would mean the sun is 3,110 miles high. In that case, it would be 1,132 miles to the 20 degree shadow, 1,478 miles between the 20 and 40 degree shadows, and a whopping 2,777 miles between the 40 and 60 degree shadows. Someone performing Eratosthenes’ experiment at 20 degrees north of the Tropic of Cancer would arrive at a circumference of 20,376 miles, someone at 40 degrees north would get 23,486 miles, and someone at 60 degrees north would get 32,320 miles.

Flat earthers use the Azimuthal Equidistant Projection map, which shows all points at an undistorted distance and direction from the center. Lines of latitude on the flat earth map have flat earth mapthe same spacing as those on the globe: 69.1 miles per degree. It is for this reason that the angle of the shadow can only be equal to the degrees of latitude between you and the point the sun is directly overhead in one location. Everywhere south of that point the shadow angle would be greater than the latitude and everywhere north of that point the shadow angle would be less than the latitude. If the sun were 3,110 miles above the flat earth, the 20 degree shadow would be 16.4 degrees north, the 40 degree shadow 37.8 degrees north, and the 60 degree shadow 78 degrees north. Only at 45 degrees north would the latitude and the angle of the shadow actually be the same as they would everywhere on the globe and only there would someone arrive at a circumference of 24,875 miles. You can change the height of the sun all you like, the latitude and angle will only be the same in one location. Even then, it is only a coincidence due to the random height of the sun, not a direct function of latitude as it is on the globe.

To be sure, if each of our astronomers were to measure a shadow angle corresponding to their latitude, as is to be expected on the globe, and you were still assuming a flat earth model, that would require that from 20 degrees north the sun be 3,797 miles high above the flat earth, at 40 degrees north 3,294 miles high, and at 60 degrees north 2,393 miles high. An impossibility. The only possible solution would be to distort the flat earth map beyond recognition by staggering the lines of latitude, but even then it would only be correct for a single day, as the sun moves to a different latitude each day and the model would again become increasingly wrong.

So to recap, if the earth is a globe, the angle between the sun and 90 degrees overhead must be equal to the degrees of latitude between you and the point the sun is 90 degrees overhead in every location. If the earth is flat, this can only be true in one location. Testing this discrepancy between these two models has the potential to end to this debate once and for all.

You can do this test yourself. You can’t be in two places at once to take multiple measurements on the same day but, lucky for us, the position of the sun in the sky varies by about 47 degrees every 6 months as the sun moves between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Since the sun is moving a fraction of a degree north or south each day, you can stay right where you are and test a new angle every day.

  1. Go to this website, enter your location, and look at the sun transit time to find out when the sun will cross over your line of longitude, when it is directly south of you.rolling pin
  2. When this time comes, go outside, find something that casts a shadow, measure it, and carefully measure the length of the shadow. Only measure to the edge of the solid dark part of the shadow, not the lighter penumbra at the end.
  3. Divide the length of the shadow by the height of the object and hit inverse tangent on your calculator to get the angle of the shadow. For precision’s sake, the sun has an angular diameter of about 0.5 degrees. The end of the dark part of the shadow is defined by light from the top of the sun passing over the top of the object, while light from the bottom of the sun crosses over the top of the object to mark the end of the penumbra, giving it the same angular width as the sun. To get the zenith angle of the center of the sun, add 0.25 degrees to your shadow angle.penumbra
  4. Go to this website and see which latitude the sun was overhead at the time you measured the shadow.
  5. If the sun is in your hemisphere and at a lower latitude, add the sun’s latitude to the angle you measured. If it is in the same hemisphere and at a higher latitude, subtract the angle from the sun’s latitude. If it is in the opposite hemisphere, subtract the sun’s latitude from the angle you measured. First convert the latitudes’ arc minutes to decimals by dividing by 60. (Example: 46° 34′ = 46 + 34/60 = 46.567°)
  6. If the earth is a globe, the result, depending on the precision of your measurements, should be equal to your latitude.
  7. To find the circumference of the earth as Eratosthenes did, multiply the shadow angle by 69.1 miles to get the distance. Divide 360 by the angle of the shadow, and multiply that by the distance. If the earth is round, the result should be about 24,875 miles.

Alternatively:

  1. Find the angle of a shadow at ANY time of day when the sun is out.
  2. Find out where the sun was at overhead at that time.
  3. Type those coordinates into Google Earth and measure the distance from there to your location with the ruler set to degrees.
  4. Compare this to the angle you measured.

This method is especially damning because of the degree at which longitude lines diverge south of the equator on the flat earth map.

Still unconvinced by the astronomical coincidence that at a random time on a random day the sun was at the correct height and distance to be at the same angle in the sky as your random latitude north or south of it? Well it’s the moment of truth, because the angle should get progressively wronger with each passing day. Try it again the next day, or the next day, or the day after that. You can also do this:

  1. Multiply the angle by 69.1 to get your distance from the point the sun was directly overhead.
  2. Divide this by the tangent of the angle to get what should be the height of the sun if the earth is flat.
  3. Now see what latitude the sun will be overhead two weeks from now. Convert it to decimals. If it’s in the opposite hemisphere, add it to your latitude, if not, subtract the lower from the higher. This is the angle of the shadow you should get if the earth is round.
  4. Multiply this angle by 69.1 to get the distance.
  5. Divide the distance by the height of the sun from step 2 and hit inverse tangent to get the angle of the shadow you would expect on a flat earth.
  6. Wait two weeks and find the angle of a shadow again as you did in the first test.

If you get the angle you found in step 3, the earth is round. If you get the angle you found in step 5, the earth is flat. Still not convinced? Try it on the winter solstice, the spring equinox, and the summer solstice. Be amazed as you get the same angle you would expect to get on a globe each time.

Is there any way for a flat earther to ad hoc their way out of this? They could say that the sun is constantly changing height to give you the correct angle. Presumably it would be doing this for your sake as it would only work for someone at your exact latitude, giving everyone else in the world wildly inaccurate results. They could say the sun position website is wrong and the sun is moving away at increments that give you the correct angle each day, even though again, this would only be working for you. If you’re in England, the sun would have to be past the ice wall on the winter solstice to get an angle like 75°. They could come up with some kind of woo about the position of the sun being an illusion, but while you’re over there in David Copperfield land with your buoyancy gravity, we’ll be here in reality getting things done.

 

Genital Cutting: It’s Not About Skin

by TakeThatForeski
Say it Frank!

Genital cutting – whether done to those designated female, intersex or male at birth – is not about skin. Yes – it’s skin that gets cut.  But it’s not about skin.  It’s about consent.


In this video, Soraya Mire – a survivor of female genital mutilation and a leading activist for the right to bodily integrity – speaks out about male genital mutilation in America (what gets called circumcision, and how it parallels female genital mutilation in Africa and the Middle East.

Male Circumision - Child and Adult
Should male genital alteration be legal? Absolutely – but only for hose who are old enough to make that decision for themselves.

Orchid

Should female genital alteration be legal? Absolutely – but only for those who are old enough to make that decision for themselves.

Intersex

Should intersex genital alteration be legal? Absolutely – but only for those who are old enough to make that decision for themselves.

Consent: their body, their choice. Without consent from the person whose genitals are being cut, it is mutilation.

All children have a right to bodily integrity: female, intersex, male – stop cutting childrens’ genitals.

The Hypocrisy and Lies in Kevin Folta’s Case

Posted by @TakeThatGMOs:

Note: The contents of this post were written originally by the kind folks at Fit Strategy on Facebook. They post solid science-based advice on fitness as well as a healthy dose of skepticism. Their post is hosted here with permission.

  

By now everybody has heard about Kevin Folta and the recent news about him. A lot are frustrated at the anti-GMOs community due to their exaggerations and lies and many people are very confused and/or unaware of the degree of hypocrisy and lies presented by USRTK and the anti-GMOs activist community. They are nothing but a bunch of unscientific, fear and woo mongering, liars. The amount of hypocrisy and fraud involved in this case is unbelievable, and to demonstrate that, Fit Strategy made an excellent post by the full meaning of the word. Here is their post: 
The Truth About Kevin Folta. Definitely read to the end where we expose USRTK.

After the frivolous waste of taxpayer money that was the FOIA request of Kevin Folta’s and other scientists’ email accounts, the big buzz was a $25,000 donation from Monsanto. There’s been a lot of spin, so let’s get things straight.

The initial narrative was that Kevin Folta was a paid shill. This didn’t last long seeing as how the money wasn’t actually given to Folta and he didn’t pocket any of it. Folta organizes a communication seminar that teaches scientists and teachers how to better communicate about hot-topic science issues like biotech. Some topics he presents include presentation structure, overcoming anxiety, non-verbal communication, and understanding your audience. Controversial stuff, I know. Of course he presents the current scientific consensus too, but so do thousands and thousands of other scientists. The money was used to pay for travel, food, and other expenses on 12 different talks [and a student conference, as mentioned by Folta]. That’s a measly $2,083.33 per talk, covering things like roundtrip airfare, hotels, taxis, etc.

All of the accounting is transparent and available upon request. How can we trust it? It comes from the University of Florida fiscal office. This takes care of the 2nd narrative that followed the shill accusation: that Kevin Folta lied about never receiving money from Monsanto. Folta has repeatedly said that he has never been paid by Monsanto nor has his research been funded by them. And all of that’s true. Monsanto donated $25k to the University of Florida, which was earmarked to cover expenses for these 12 talks. Folta was never personally given that money and never took any kind of compensation. So no, he didn’t lie. And it’s worth noting that the communication program has had numerous donors, not just Monsanto.

If you’re still inclined to believe that Kevin Folta is some kind Monsanto hack, let’s examine the people who wasted your tax dollars raiding public scientists’ email accounts. The US Right to Know organization filed the request, but first let’s look at their biggest donor…the Organic Consumer’s Association. OCA doesn’t reveal their donors (how transparent of them), but some public disclosures find major funding from Eden Organic, Nutiva, and Dr. Bronner’s. All of these are major organic businesses with a financial interest in convincing the public that biotech is evil. And for spreading that message, Ronald Cummins the CEO of OCA got paid $99,590 in 2013. That’s just a little more than the $0 Folta got paid to give his talks.

Onto USRTK. In 2014 they raised $46,525. Their director, Gary Ruskin, was kind enough to pay himself about half of that in salary, $22,479.09. Again, a bit more than the $0 Folta was paid. Their listed accomplishments for 2014 were building their website, and a report on GMOs. The GMO “report” is a laughable 60 pages with plenty of big pictures, large headings, some charts, and foot notes. Yet somehow they claimed to the IRS it cost them $22,000. The report is standard propaganda claiming the usual non-sense, like GMOs aren’t actually regulated (they’re heavily regulated). This year, OCA has already given USRTK $114,500.

So the people behind the shill accusations are actually getting paid salaries by large organic businesses to spread a message that benefits *drum roll* large organic businesses. AND they wasted YOUR tax dollars doing it. Now they have the audacity to call a respected scientist a shill? Hey Gary and Ronald…how about you release all your funding information and emails? Come on, live up to your namesake–I thought we had a right to know? Nothing but a couple of cowards who are too stupid and morally bankrupt to contribute anything of real value to the world.

Kevin Folta: everyone who is capable of critical thought, and isn’t already drinking their kool-aide, is on your side. The hypocrisy is blindingly obvious. Please don’t lose any sleep.

None of the contents of the original post were edited in any way except for one inaccuracy pointed out by Kevin Folta which was highlited.

Follow me on Twitter @TakeThatGMOs to continue the discussion and follow Fit Strategy on Facebook. Many thanks to them! 

Bohemian Rhapsody is about Galileo

queen

By @ScienceWasWrong

For too long I have been silent on this issue. Queen’s 1975 hit single Bohemian Rhapsody is about Galileo. There, I said it. I’m fully aware of the backlash this post will bring. This is the hill I’ve chosen to die on. You may think I’m crazy, but they said the same thing about Galileo and they were wrong and he was right and that can only mean that I am right as well. Eppur si muove.

I will now break the song down verse by verse to defend my contention.

Is this the real life,
or is this just fantasy?

A blatant reference to Galileo’s 1632 book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in which he defended the reality of the heliocentric model against the geocentric fantasy land of Ptolemy.

Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality.

Religious dogma is caught in the landslide of scientific progress triggered by the Copernican revolution from which it has no means of escape.

Open your eyes,
Look up to the skies and see

One has only to look to the skies, to the phases of Venus and movement of Jupiter’s moons, to see that Galileo is correct.

I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,
Because I’m easy come, easy go,
Little high, little low,
Anyway the wind blows doesn’t really matter to me, to me.

An obvious reference to Galileo’s famous experiment in which he dropped spheres of different masses from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa to test Aristotle’s theory that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects. It was easy to convince people of the theory, but it was also easy to disprove. Whether their mass is high or low, they all fall at the same rate. The slight irregularity in their fall times due to wind resistance doesn’t really matter, to Galileo.

Mama, just killed a man,
Put a gun against his head,
Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead.

The man is geocentrism and the gun is Galileo’s telescope.

Mama, life had just begun,
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away.

Galileo’s mother is a metaphor for science. The life of modern science had just begun, but Galileo is about to throw his life away for it.

Mama, ooh,
Didn’t mean to make you cry,
If I’m not back again this time tomorrow,
Carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters.

Galileo says his goodbyes to science before facing the inquisition. If he is found guilty, it should carry on making discoveries without him.

Too late, my time has come,
Sent shivers down my spine,
Body’s aching all the time.
Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got to go,
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth.

Galileo is getting old and is ready to leave the trolls and naysayers behind to face the truth (as I’m doing here).

Mama, ooh (anyway the wind blows),
I don’t wanna die,
I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.

Nothing to see here, just Galileo being all melodramatic about the possibility of being put to death.

I see a little silhouetto of a man.

The little silhouetto of man is Pope Urban VIII.

Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?

Scaramouche was a roguish clown character in Italian comedies who dressed in black, much like Galileo’s inquisitor, Vincenzo Maculani, who preferred to wear a black cappa instead of the traditional bright purple garb of a cardinal. The Pope is asking Maculani to interrogate Galileo, or do the fandango – a dance for two.

 

Galileo_facing_the_Roman_Inquisition

Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening me.

The inquisitors try to scare Galileo into recanting by threatening him with the wrath of God.

(Galileo) Galileo. (Galileo) Galileo, Galileo Figaro Magnifico.

I’m not sure what this part of the song has to do with Galileo.

I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me.
He’s just a poor boy from a poor family,
Spare him his life from this monstrosity.

The choir voice of science interjects on behalf of Galileo to the monstrosity of the Catholic church.

Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?
Bismillah! No, we will not let you go. (Let him go!)
Bismillah! We will not let you go. (Let him go!)
Bismillah! We will not let you go. (Let me go!)
Will not let you go. (Let me go!)
Never, never let you go
Never let me go, oh.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no.
Oh, mama mia, mama mia (Mama mia, let me go.)

The choir voices of science and religion do battle over what is to become of Galileo.

Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me.

Galileo is found vehemently suspect of heresy.

[headbanging guitar solo]

This represents the badassery of Galileo’s quip: “Eppur si muove.

So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?
So you think you can love me and leave me to die?
Oh, baby, can’t do this to me, baby,
Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here.

Galileo reflecting on the fact that house arrest kinda sucks.

Nothing really matters,
Anyone can see,
Nothing really matters,
Nothing really matters to me.

Galileo is depressed that nothing he did really mattered because assorted dipshits and elected officials in the 21st century will think that he was put to death for discovering that the earth wasn’t flat for some reason and compare themselves to him whilst making stupid anti-science arguments.

Any way the wind blows.

Seriously, he doesn’t care about the stupid wind resistance.

waynes world

 An Interview with TheoryFail

By @TakeThatGMOs & @TheoryFail

A while ago we published an interview with @TakeThatDarwin which provided some interesting insight into the origins of the TakeThat™ Crowd and more details and information on @TakeThatDarwin and the whole TakeThat Family in general. 

This time, I’ll be asking @TheoryFail, a “handsome Brit” and the Prince of the TakeThat throne. 

Oh, and technically he is a TakeThat account even though he doesn’t have ‘TakeThat’ in his name as he runs the account with the same backbone of the other accounts. Here goes’

1) To start off I have to ask you about how you began with the account. When was it created and did it have anything to do with TTDarwin at first or did you discover him later? How did you know about TTD and what did you think of what he was doing? How did the relationship between you two grow and reach what it is today? 

I was one of TTDs very early followers. I think one of his tweets was RTd into my timeline by @anarchicteapot (who is wonderful, by the way. You should all go and follow,) and I started interacting with TTD at a very minor level, throwing him the odd specimen here and there. I followed as much for the comedy as the creationists. 

I had a bit of an idea to do a similar sort of thing pretty much as soon as I saw what TTD was doing, but it took me quite some time to figure out exactly what my spin would be. I finally had a eureka moment in January 2014 and the rest is history. 

2) What would you say is the ‘ultimate’ purpose of your account? How do you plan on achieving that? Why did you choose TheoryFail and did you have a different name at first? 

I’m not sure that I have an ultimate goal with regards to where I want to take @TheoryFail. It started of as a lighthearted way to shine some light on the dark world of creationism and science denialism, but now I like to think of it more as a way to highlight the need for good critical thinking skills. 

I’d like to expand into podcasting, and of course the TakeThats are doing that in general. Other than that, I’m open to suggestions. Some kind of large TakeThat gathering has been suggested, but that’s a while off!

I’ve always been @TheoryFail. The name came after a 2 minute brainstorming session, and eliminating other options because the Twitter usernames were either already taken, or too long. 

Having TakeThatSomething didn’t even cross my mind. This was before the upsurge of TakeThat accounts, and I think what TTD and I do is, albeit superficially similar, very different. TTD has regularly spoken about his unwillingness to engage, whereas I like to try and unpick the thinking behind the creationists accounts. 

3) How did you grow and become known. Did you TTD provide help to your account?

I think I sent an early tweet to TTD saying something along the lines of “Hey, I’m doing what you do, but for ‘only a theory'” Then I got a few mentions by TTD and a LOT of support from people like @tattoosandbones and I picked up 1000 followers in a short period of time. 

4) Why did you choose the specific fields of pseudoscience you chose? And generally, why did you stick with evolution instead of branching out? 

We all know that ‘The Question’ is ‘if we evolved from monkeys and apes, why are there still monkeys and apes?’ Well, I spent a bit of time looking at what other tropes creationists trotted out to try and hide away from scary evolutionists. The ‘evolution is ONLY a theory’ statement stuck out, partially because it’s so easy to discredit, but also because it was SO widespread. 

I tend to stick with evolution for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it’s important. Creationism is damaging to our advancement in many differing  ways, and we really should have moved on from it by now. Secondly, it’s really easy to research. There are great internet resources that anyone can use. I’m not special. I don’t have specific education in evolution, nor do I pretend to, but I do have a firm grip on the basics, which is all you really need to flummox most creationists. 

5) How do you interact with your specimens? How do you find them? Is there a group of people you generally always RT? 

As I’ve mentioned before, I really try not to be a dick. This doesn’t always work, but I figure that people are more likely to respond if you’re relatively nice to them. 

I don’t have a huge deal of time to manage what I’m going, believe it or not, so I don’t tend to be able to exercise my witty repartee in the same way TTD does. I think this leads me to have a different set of followers to some of the other TakeThats, who are often more willing to jump in and interact. 

As for finding them; I used to use a whole raft of search terms to try and weed all of them out, but now I tend to use just one. I RT enough mind bending ideas into my followers timelines that if I did much more, I think there’d be a revolt. 

I have a list of particularly odd accounts that I’ve RT’d in the past and I occasionally dip into that, if it’s a quiet day, but unfortunately, it barely gets touched at the moment. 

6) How do you think your account is generally helping towards stopping people from getting scientific theories confused with mainstream theories? How is your account contributing to stamping out pseudoscience in general?

I’m not sure that it does, or that it can. Again, from my point of view, it’s more about pointing out bad *thinking* rather than factual inaccuracies. Most of the people I RT have no interest in what evolution is, for example. But if I can help point out errors in that way of thinking, the onlookers can learn. Hopefully. 

I’m under no pretence that the ‘specimens,’ as TTD likes to call them, will suddenly open their eyes to good science, but I think the best we can hope is to both show why they’re wrong, and get people interested in science and critical thinking. 

7) Is there anything specific you want to say to your followers?

Surely they hear enough from me already‽ 

More seriously, I really appreciate the interaction with my followers. I *try* to engage with as many of them as possible. Do say hello.  

8) What do you have in mind for the future? Do you have things in preparation? What do you treat your account as, ie a hobby or a task, etc.? 

As I said, I’d like to branch out – possibly into podcasting, maybe a double act with TTD. Nothing is being planned right yet, but I’m open to suggestions – maybe getting some of my flowers involved in a project. I tend to attract some really interesting people. 

My account falls somewhere in between a hobby and a task. I tend to think of it as ‘outreach.’ Something with a vague-ish definition that can’t really be pinned down. A bit like ‘kind.’

9) Finally, what is the best type of gin? 

Hendricks. With a decent tonic and a decent slice of cucumber. 

Failing that, Bombay Sapphire, tonic and a decent squeeze of lime. The lime’s important. It’s for taste, not a garnish. 

Does Donald Trump believe in evolution?

By @TakeThatScience






Note: This is satirical and is not meant to be taken seriously.
Donald Trump has declared his presidential candidacy. He has given many interviews but the topic of evolution hasn’t come up yet. A Google search doesn’t reveal any insights into Trump’s opinions about evolutionary biology either. So I went straight to the man himself and asked him: Do you believe in evolution? Here is his response:
Trump: “You know, I don’t really believe in that stuff. Man coming from monkeys and apes? I don’t think so. We are much more advanced than animals. We are smarter by far. Could a monkey write ‘The Art of the Deal’? Could a monkey oversee the development of the most luxurious golf courses in the world? Could an animal produce ‘The Apprentice’, one of the most successful television shows in history? Hell no!”

“Show me a monkey navigating the New York real estate scene. Show me a gorilla that is a self-made multi-billionaire. I don’t think you can. So you liberals can believe in evolution. You can trust the scientists. The same scientists, by the way, that push global warming even as New York gets colder and colder every winter. It’s absurd.”

“I’m sure the media will take these quotes and run with them as they always do. It really is pathetic. But the American people agree with me about evolution and many other issues including immigration, jobs, ISIS, and so on. The poll numbers show that. The people love Trump. Make America great again!”