Category: science

Does Global Warming Cause Ebola?


Global warming does not cause the spread of ebola. However, it is only a matter of time until some shallow-minded person makes that allegation. Like most global warming stuff, it is an attempt to confuse the public.

picture of person sneezing
A Little Sneeze Goes A Long Way

Now that I have put the ebola/global warming thing to rest, I must report reading a blog by a noted climatologist, Dr Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama at Huntsville. Dr Spencer is most famous for being one of the scientists to figure out how to measure the earth’s temperature from satellites. His methodology gives more consistent readings than the old surface thermometer readings. The surface thermometer readings are subjected to several adjustments, some of which are controversial, and these adjustments result in large errors. Satellite readings have none of these problems.

Dr Spencer’s article is titled, “How Safe Is The Air You Breathe On A Plane?” The results are disturbing. Dr Spencer made some “unscientific” measurements to find out how much carbon dioxide is in an airplane’s cabin air that people breathe. People exhale carbon dioxide and other things. It cannot be helped. Passengers will unavoidably breathe in this mixture of CO2 and moisture exhaled by others.

Dr Spenser used a handheld air-quality meter that measures the carbon dioxide (CO2) content of the air on the plane. It registered 1,600 ppm (parts per million), whereas the ambient concentration of CO2 in the outside air is closer to 400 ppm. This means that the air on a plane is in large part “used” air. You are breathing air other people have breathed, and exhaled, resulting in an elevated CO2 mix.

The problem is that you may be breathing the other stuff, too. There is undoubtedly some spit-swapping happening on an airplane. EEWWW!

Is it time to wear those face masks we saw the Chinese wearing to ward off SARS?

Understand that nothing I have said is supported in studies about health on airplanes.

Just saying…

Genetically Modified Food – Good Or Bad?

With all the hue and cry you hear from environmentalists, neo-preppies, and climate change antagonists that genetically modified organisms (GMO) are the work of Satan, it sounds like the world is coming to an end. Europeans will not allow the import of American corn, soybeans, or other US grown foods that have been genetically modified to combat pests, or to make food crops more drought resistant. Environmental groups are violently against GMO crops. Organic enthusiasts are particularly against these crops.

Before my research for writing this article, I knew very little about the field. Indeed, I have always been skeptical about claims that GMO foods are bad for us. Corn fed to beef and pigs have been modified. Soy beans whose oil goes into virtually every vegetable oil on the market have been modified. We have been modifying foods and other natural products for a long time.

Historically, pretty much every plant or animal food we consume has been modified in one way or another. For example, today’s corn plant had to be domesticated and was interbred over thousands of years to become today’s dietary staple. Ditto pretty much everything else. In 2009 about eighty-five percent of the US corn crop was genetically modified.

So why are people upset over the process? I think people are naturally skeptical of anything new, and some testy people are especially suspicious or critical of anything mankind does. Climate change is a prime example. It has become a political football in spite of the benign nature of climate change. Sure, climate changes all the time, and all those changes are not bad. Some are good.

Likewise, some genetically changed foods are better than their predecessors. They cost less to grow and harvest, perform better against pests, or are more resistant to drought.

Picture of honey bee pollinating a flower.
Honey Bee Pollinating Flowers (Wikipedia)

There are no scientific studies that show that GMO foods are harmful to humans or the environment. What are some of the claims of the crazies?

1. GMO crops are causing the honey bees to die in mass quantities.
2. GMO crops are destroying the environment.
3. GMO crops that are herbicide resistant (Roundup resistant) are causing more herbicide resistant  weeds to develop.
4. GMO food crops are causing more allergy reactions in humans.

The list can go on, and on. In every case that I have investigated, there are no credible scientific studies that show harm to anybody or anything caused by genetically engineered food crops.

Organizations that advocate loudly against GMO crops are political, anti-capitalism, and anti-human. More than anything, these anti-GMO advocates are collecting money from unsuspecting and ignorant environmentalists and kooks all over the world, similar to Greenpeace and other extreme advocacy groups.

Don’t forget to follow the money.

The Big Creation – Evolution Debate

The debate was on, and was between Bill Nye, “The Science Guy”, and Ken Ham, CEO of Genesis Answers. The facility was the Creation Museum in Kentucky which Mr. Ham apparently runs. Bill Nye is well-known as a so-called science expert, and Ken Ham is a young-earth creationist. The young-earth creationists say that the earth is only about six thousand years old as opposed to the scientific view that it is four and a half billion years old.

The debate was a classic exchange of evolution arguments against Biblical based creation. Bill Nye used fossil evidence, radiometric evidence, and other things like genetic findings. He tried to concentrate his presentation against the young-earth hypothesis of the creationists. In doing so he repeatedly made a mistake in expressing that people who believe the Bible don’t understand science, or scientific principles. I agreed with him about the young-earth hypothesis being incorrect, but thought it was beyond the pale to imply that Christians, especially Christians in southern states, are ignorant of science and mathematics. That was pretty shallow of him.

The young-earth creationist view comes by counting Old Testament  generations from Adam to Jesus who lived at at a known time. I think they believe it was two thousand years from the world’s creation to Moses; two thousand years from Moses to Jesus; and two thousand years from Jesus to the present. There is uncertainty in their method, but I don’t feel like delving into all those scriptures and counting generations and years.

Of course, the four and a half billion year age of the earth comes from estimation using geological and astronomical data. Ken Ham’s retort to this sort of measurement was to define two types of science; present day observational science and historical science. His point was that since we were not present when the earth was created, we cannot ascertain age using current scientific methods. Ham says that all we are doing is making unwarranted assumptions.

In this Ham is wrong. Science is science, and it should always be based on observational data. The way we estimate the age of  things formed in the past is by using well known constants that were valid in antiquity, and are valid now. Think Carbon 14 dating, radioactive decay of uranium or other elements. There are many methods of physically dating rocks, bones, and vegetable substances. However, there are uncertainties in many methods, and these are usually expressed as a plus and minus accuracy. Ken Ham argues that none of them are accurate, and I think his argument is based on wishful thinking rather than any concrete evidence.

Nye did not classify the uncertainty of many of the dating methods. It is things like that get lost in so-called debates. He pointed out that there were lots of physical things that are dated older than the six thousand years of Ham’s creationist world. For example, the well known Bristle Cone Pine trees of California can get very old. The age of these trees is measured by counting tree rings, and involves very few assumptions. At least one is nine thousand years old. Ham had no reply to this example.

Ken Ham was absolutely consistent. If he didn’t have a physical explanation, he relied on the Bible. When Bill Nye said he didn’t know how matter was created, Ham pointed that there was a book that explained all that, and the book is the Bible. That got a few laughs in the audience.

Nye also exhibited a good deal if ignorance about the Bible and Christianity. For example, he accused Ham of being inconsistent when Ham explained that the Bible had many parts, not just a description of creation and laws. Bill Nye had no knowledge of the Book of Psalms which is poetry and songs.

Mr Nye also seemed to have no appreciation of the way science is always changing. Not all science changes, but almost every day some theory or scientific finding is overturned. That’s the way science works. Nye spoke of science as if it were a monolithic, unchanging thing. Science is a process designed to use evidence as its basis. When new evidence becomes available,  older theories are many times invalidated.  Trusting in science for an ultimate truth is risky, indeed.

Bill Nye has a degree in mechanical engineering, and as such, is an intelligent person. Unfortunately, his knowledge is lacking in some cases.. Ken Ham is nothing but stubborn, and it is sometimes disappointing when he hides behind the Bible rather than give an answer other than the evolutionists make too many assumptions.

The purveyors of evolution do make a lot of assumptions, and then tout those assumptions as science. For example, they fossil record is not satisfactory to me to explain evolution. What is more convincing are the genetic records. Even though I am a Christian, I accept the principle of evolution.

I don’t believe evolution detracts from the glory of God. When you look into the miracles of nature with science, it is hard NOT believe in God. Mr Nye would be well advised to thank God for our ability to scientifically explore all creation. Mr Ham would be well advised to keep an open mind.

Note: You may be interested in this article on the Federalist blog by Cathy Resienwitz. She calls creationism as believing in the “God of the gaps”. Interesting, and I agree with her.

Existential Stuff

This seems like a good time to discuss beliefs and observations about a couple of basic questions. Does God exist? Why cannot the existence of God be proven.

There is a blog by Dr Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama, Huntsville. Dr Spencer is a decorated scientist and a pioneer in climatology who helped develope satellite technology to measure the earth’s surface temperatures, a much more reliable and consistent measurement than the older surface thermometers. Dr Spencer is also a Christian. I hope you enjoy his blog at this link. It was written in response to a journalist who knew nothing about science or Christianity.

You see, science is only a process that is imperfect at best. All it can do is compare physical entities and judge proof on that comparison. If you have no data you have no proof. So, if you have no physical evidence of God, you have no proof of God’s existence. Also, if you have no physical evidence of a random creation of life, you have no proof. This is a sword that cuts both ways.

Spencer makes the point that it takes the same degree of faith to believe in a Creator as it does to believe in a random process of particles accidentally creating life.  It takes a LOT of faith to believe in random.

When someone says they don’t believe in God because we cannot physically prove the existence of God, I have to question what they really believe. Do they not believe in God because they cannot see, feel, smell God?

Do people believe creation started in a random dance of electrons and other quantum particles banging together in some sort of cosmic march of the sugar-plumb quarks? Do they believe that space aliens brought life to earth several million years ago, or that life was transported to earth in asteroids and comets?,

Much of the science we read about in news releases, or done in the past has proven to be false. It is the job of the scientific process to disprove old ideas as new hypotheses are generated. This happens every day.

It looks like you have to work as hard to believe in nothing as to believe in God.

200,000 to 400,000 Killed By Hospitals

Yeah. I know, these are some pretty big numbers. There’s another study out done by a man whose nineteen year old son was killed by negligent hospital care.

These numbers are hard to believe, and they are truly estimates. However, earlier studies have shown that over 98,000 people die due to doctors and hospitals. Please reference my earlier blog, “  The Dirty Little Health Care Secret“.

The article describing the study is linked, here. In the article you will find a link to the actual study. It gets a little technical, but it is not that hard to understand.

Nobody knows the real numbers killed by our health care system. We do feel that the 98,000 number is low, but the 400,000 number may not be out of bounds. The problem is that we don’t have good data.

Hospitals just don’t have all the right data, and this makes studies like this one an estimate. We should always remember that, but even a low estimate means that our health care system probably kills more people than die in car crashes every year.

Take care, everybody. It’s getting dangerous out there.

E.T. Will Call Home Within 25 Years?

My answer is, BULL!

An article on the Real Clear Science web site got my attention this evening. It seems that SETI (Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is boasting that we should be communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence within about twenty-five years.

How can they make this prediction? Well, that’s easy when you take a look at their reasoning and even their mathematics. You see, they make stuff up as they go.

N = R_{\ast} \cdot f_p \cdot n_e \cdot f_{\ell} \cdot f_i \cdot f_c \cdot L

This equation is called the Drake Equation. Before you flip-out with the mathematics staring you in the face, rest assured that you know as much about this math as the people that made it up.  Yep. It is possible to write impressive looking equations and not know what the heck you are doing. SETI proves this.

They are attempting to express “N”, the number of civilizations in our Milky Way galaxy with whom we may be able to communicate. The problem is that there is no basis for the equation, and there is no way to measure, or even estimate the values of most of the terms.

In other words the neat looking figures literally mean, NOTHING. They use this stuff to get funding.

What does all this have to do with E.T calling our home? The Director of SETI made this stuff up to keep the funding coming, and the twenty-five years is a “brown number” that came right out of his butt.

The reasoning in the article goes like this:

There are a couple of hundred billion stars just in our own Milky Way galaxy, so the odds are good that we are not alone in the universe. On the other hand, if life abounds, why haven’t we found any evidence of it—and is that about to change.

Arguments like this have one great fallacy. They are not based on any evidence whatsoever.

A better way to assess the probability of encountering extraterrestrial intelligence is fairly easy. Since you cannot calculate the probability, you an make a statement. Here’s mine.

Since we have never been visited or communicated with by extraterrestrial intelligence, the probability is that it will never happen. This is essentially what the Fermi Paradox addresses.

You see? I didn’t have to calculate anything, and have gotten a profound message across without  any mathematical chicanery.

I cannot rule out the possibility that it will happen. That’s the way life is. You can never say never, but is SETI worth funding?

I don’t think so.

Our Goldilocks World

You know how it is sometimes fun to sit around and Google things that just pop into your mind? Well, I was doing that tonight while pondering the world around us. I was thinking about trees and plants, and how they figure into our environment. The process I looked up was photosynthesis.

We would not have oxygen to breathe if it were not for carbon dioxide (CO2) and plant life.

6H2O + 6CO2 ———-> C6H12O6+ 6O
Six molecules of water plus six molecules of CO2 makes one sugar molecule and six oxygen molecules.

This is what happens. Plants get their water from the ground through the root system, and they suck in carbon dioxide gas (CO2) from the atmosphere. That’s when the fun starts.

Sunlight is the energy that drives the whole process. When sunlight strikes a leaf of a plant, energy is absorbed. Some sunlight causes heat, and the rest causes chemical reactions between the CO2 and other stuff in the plants. Oxygen is split from the carbon dioxide and water (H2O), and sugar and enzymes result growing the plant.

If it were not for CO2 we would not have trees, plant life, food, or oxygen. It gets that simple.

Global warming is blamed on CO2. There is only a small bit of truth to this in that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and greenhouse gases cause the earth to keep warm enough to support life, but not too warm. CO2 is not the driving gas in the process. The real driver is water vapor, by far the strongest greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

Photosynthesis is yet another process that can be called a Goldilocks process. It takes in carbon dioxide (CO2), and produces food and oxygen, all necessary for life.

Our earth is just far enough from the sun to keep it warm within a livable range. We live on a water planet where the climate is pretty much automatically maintained by clouds, water vapor, water vaporization and condensation, and the associated heat engines.

When things heat up, clouds form, rain happens, and things cool down. That’s one of the mechanism that keeps the world from getting too hot. Greenhouse gases keep the world from getting too cold for life.

Food and water are plentiful almost everywhere because of the natural processes.

What more can one ask? We do live in a Goldilocks world. It is almost like things were planned that way. Our Goldilocks world is just right.

Note: Yes, I noticed in the chemical equation that the Oxygen molecules did not balance. I did a cut and paste from some web page, and am now paying for my own inattention. I think that the six oxygen molecules should be molecules made up of 2 oxygen molecules. Oxygen does that, you know. I just don’t know how to do a subscript in WordPress.

Are Experts Ever Right?

No matter what the situation, there is always some expert ready to give an opinion on what should be done. The problem is, experts are more often wrong than right.

Don’t believe me? There are studies that show this, and those studies keep on coming.

In the financial world stock brokers are sometimes considered to be experts on stocks. Having been a stockbroker, I can tell you that most brokers have little expertise in picking good stocks. There is a famous book first published in 1973, “A Random Walk Down Wall Street”, by Burton Malkiel. One of the things the book highlights is the fact that from an historical viewpoint, professional money managers, as a whole, did not produce stock portfolio gains even as high as the market averages.

Most importantly, you could buy a stock index fund mimicking the Standard & Poor’s 500 average, and you would do better than most professional money managers. Guess what? This hasn’t changed in the last forty years. There is another book titled, “Where Are The Customers’ Yachts?“. The title is  in reference that many of the yachts in marinas are owned by stock brokers, who make money whether the market goes up or down.

Then we have the medical experts, most of them being medical doctors. I have blogged about their lack of expertise, but will repeat the numbers. It is that important. In my blog, The Dirty LIttle Health Care Secret, I highlight the fact that almost 100,000 people are killed by doctors and hospitals every year in the United States. There is a name for this phenomenon, iatrogenesis. Everybody in the medical industry knows about this horrible fact, but nobody wants to talk about it.

We aren’t through talking about medical experts and their mistakes. A very well-known paper published by Dr John Ioannidis, a Greek physician and researcher with  a blue-ribbon background that includes being a professor of medicine and director at Stanford University, and an adjunct at Tufts University School of Medicine, takes aim at peer reviewed studies in the medical research area.

Up to eighty percent of randomized studies in the medical field have proven to be wrong. This is the figure that the Ioannidis team arrived at after reviewing years and years of studies. The reasons vary, but researchers are human, doing anything to acquire government grants to keep university research departments afloat. Data are adjusted to show a pre-determined outcome. Plus, up to 10% of the really large randomized trials are just wrong. How many substances have been identified to be bad for you, and then further study falsified those findings? It is common.

So much for the medical experts.

Climate science is in much the same shape. It was revealed in the ClimateGate emails that internationally prominent climate scientists cherry-picked data, doctored graphs, and produced fraudulent information to the general public to further their political agenda. Other crooked scientists have demonstrated bad conduct, like Dr Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University. He produced the infamous Hockey Stick graph that erased the historic Medieval Warm Period of about 1,000 years ago when the world was warmer than now, but without the influence of increasing greenhouse gases, i.e., carbon dioxide.  Efforts to defend Mann’s shoddy work and wounded reputation were organized by a left-wing communications company, Fenton Communications. Fenton started a website called Realclimate, where the primary blog authors are the same ones that have been known to perpetuate alarmist garbage in the climate science.

Ever heard of eugenics? Eugenics is a science about genetics that was promoted widely around the world in the early decades of the twentieth century. Its advocates believed that they could breed unwanted characteristics like homosexuality, low IQ’s, bad looks, etc. out of the population. This idea was taken to its logical extreme by Hitler’s Nazis when they undertook to eliminate entire populations of people like Jews, homosexuals, mentally retarded people, and people with other medical or hereditary conditions. There was a world-wide following of eugenics. It was the scientific consensus of the day. Now, we know better, or should. The experts were terribly wrong, but there are some who still push this pseudoscience.

How about Alar, the substance falsely accused of causing cancer in children? Alar was sprayed on apples to keep them on the trees to promote ripening. Although attacked by environmentalists who said they had evidence, nothing was ever produced to prove the allegations. Furthermore, half of Hollywood testified before Congress about how bad the stuff was, and even the EPA thought the use of alar was OK. The anti-alar publicity campaign was organized by a left-wing communications company, Fenton Communications.

The list of experts out of control goes on, and on. Why is this?

I believe that money is at the root of much of the bogus research. Most research in the US is funded by the government, and this automatically means that many research programs are politically motivated. There are literally thousands of climate scientists sucking money out of the federal government, almost all of whom preach catastrophic global warming. The government does not fund studies that propose to show that the alarmist are not correct. The whole scam started with the self-fulfilling system that promotes crises that produce votes, and that generate research money.

Some bogus studies misuse statistics. Many of the researchers are medical doctors, climatologists, or social scientists who have little training in mathematics. When you read a press release about a study, see if they quote a margin of error, like plus or minus 5%. If a margin of error is not mentioned, throw a red flag, and look into that study. You may be surprised at what you find. After all, journalists are not very good with numbers, either, and have no clue what they are publishing.

Expert opinion is fraught with risk. If so many experts are wrong most of time, how are we to make decisions?

Pay attention to your gut. Listen to your neighbors. Get a second medical opinion. If something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Use your common sense.

Be very careful when checking expert information. Too many people put too much trust in experts and consensus. Everybody has their agenda.

Carbon Taxes Or Trading – What Do You Know

We have all read about carbon taxes and other malicious fees that our EPA is preparing for the American public. Just how many people in the US know anything about it?

Why should there be a carbon tax? What is it supposed to accomplish? Will carbon taxes halt climate change? Are there other alternatives to handling risks attributed to climate change?

Fortunately for us, we have a guinea pig in the form of the entire country of Australia which foolishly established a carbon tax. We have the figures estimated by world-class economists and climate scientists on the effectiveness of a carbon tax in combating carbon dioxide induced climate change.

A young Australian named Topher Field recently volunteered to produce and direct several YouTube videos explaining carbon taxes and climate change for lay persons. He financed this endeavor with contributions from climate skeptics from all over the world. This is, indeed, a grass-roots effort.

Take a look at the video and decide for yourself. The bottom line is that it costs fifty times more to try to squelch carbon emissions than just adapting to possible damage.

Here’s the link to the 50 to 1 web site.

The Dirty Little Health Care Secret

In reading the book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, I learned about a field of study called, iatrogenesis.

Iatrogenesis is the degree of harm committed on patients by doctors and the health  care systems. In other words, iatrogenesis is all about how many people die because of errors by physicians and hospitals. The numbers are staggering.

According to one source, the number of deaths in the United States due to medical error is approximately 98,000! Remember, this number is from reported deaths, and may or may not be correct depending on how or whether errors are reported within a given hospital system.

The 98,000 to 100,000 number is supported by the references in this Newsweek article.

Other sources credit the number of deaths as over 225,000 patients. This is the number that brings iatrogenesis deaths up to the third largest killer in the nation. Even if this number is not correct, the 98,000 to 100,000 number is roughly equivalent to the deaths that would have been caused by a jumbo jet crashing, everyday.

One thing we do know is that the 100,000 level of iatrogenic deaths is conservative. Some say it is very conservative.

So, how does this affect us today? How does this affect Obama care? Here is my reasoning.

1. The mortality numbers published for the United States show our health system to be more deadly that many other countries. This difference is in large part attributable to our much larger number of doctors, hospitals, MRI and CT Scan machines per capita than any other country in the world.

2. It is obvious that the more health care you get, the greater you are at risk for being killed by the system.

3. According to Nicholas Taleb, the life expectancy of Americans will get longer as our medical care becomes rationed more and more like European health care.

You will notice that I have found one of the only positive things about Obama care. Even though everybody will pay more for healthcare, and everybody will get less healthcare, more people will live through the experience.

We will get the shaft from Obama in our healthcare system. Simply by the principles revealed in iatrogenesis, we should benefit.

How do you like them apples?