Jun
18
2013
0

That hypothesis is not necessary.

There is a petition on the Whitehouse petition site asking that “Creation Science” and “Intelligent Design” be banned from public school science classes. Since they are thinly disguised religion, this ought to be a “no brainer” in the good ol’ USA where – despite the “in god we trust” on our currency religion and government are supposed to be separate.

It isn’t. There are plenty of people (and some of my extended family) who are worried about science promoting atheism. This misses the point of science completely.

Science is non-theistic.  If a devious “sky monkey”  plays tricks with our experiments, then we cannot possibly learn anything from experience – since the ideas we deduce will have changed by the time we try them again. To paraphrase Einstein – “God doesn’t play dice with reality” – well if she does, then she doesn’t load the dice.  Laplace – quoted in the title – was asked by king Louis the somethingth – why God didn’t show up in his ground-breaking work on Celestial Mechanics. His response captures the relationship – “I didn’t need that hypothesis”.

Creation Science and Intelligent Design are so bad that they’re “not even wrong” – There is no part of modern biology that they can predict, which is completely different from natural selection (a major part of the mechanism of evolution), genetics, and evolution.  (I already did write about this in depth).

Even the most difficult question for an evolutionary theory of life, “how did it start?” is not suited to a theistic answer. If we believe that divine intervention was absolutely necessary for life to start, then we cannot ask questions about minimal conditions for life or “what is living?” or “how did it start?” because, not being God, we can’t answer them. Of course, if we don’t have a prior hypothesis of “the sky monkey did it”, then we can try. Science is about trying to understand the world, based on the general hypothesis that “if we know what is going on, then maybe we can make life better for people”.

If theists thought hard about it, they would thank Thor that we’re not mixing science and religion. Imagine a science experiment on the efficacy of different religions. We take 16 or so religions, and to be correct have to include a control like “the church of the flying spaghetti monster” as well as some of the less salubrious forms of voodoo, paganism  or Wicca as well as more mainstream ones like Christianity or Islam. Remember, though, that if you’re doing “scientific religion” you have to take the results as what you will practice – even if it does involve nailing chicken entrails to your wall.

We then design a set of binary outcome things to pray for so that on average half of the religions are praying against the other half all the time. If we use Hadamard matrix to schedule the prayer objectives then we can balance out the trials and make sure that we get an unbiased estimate.

Well, almost. We can’t do infinitely many trials, so given the null hypothesis of “no effect”, we can estimate a probability of observing a given outcome. It isn’t pretty.

  1. Somebody has to do best (Mean value theorem – either they are all the same or else someone has to be better than everyone else). It might not be the religion you like. In fact with 16 random choices of religion, the odds that you’re the best are 1/16 with the null hypothesis.
  2. With a small n of trials (say 16) where each has a prior probability of 0.5, the cumulative probability of someone getting 75% response is non-trivial. ( the odds of  having exactly 0,1,2,3,or 4 negative outcomes is  1*(1/2)^16+ (1,16)*(1/2)^16 + … + (4,16)*(1/2)^16 ) where (n,m) is the binomial coefficient for n things taken from m things.) When you do the math – that’s 4% or so, and 75% response would qualify you as a saint.  If you’re willing to accept only being blessed, with say a 66% out come – that’s about 23% of the time.

Any bets?

    Written by Rob in: rant,science,Wildlife |
    Jun
    16
    2013
    0

    Hot, Buggy and Beautiful

    We had a chance to visit the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park, which is just south of New Orleans and walk on one of the park trails.

    It is, be warned, hot (94F, 32C) by 9 am, buggy – mosquitoes and biting flies – , full of wild life and beautiful. We did just under 4 miles in a morning to walk out to a canal to look for aligators

    What you can see

    What you can see

    In addition to alligators we saw several nonpoisonous snakes, a couple of species of lizards, turtles, frogs and several birds, including prothonatory warblers and a swallow-tailed kite (which is a bit rare).

    The trail goes through marsh and swamp

    A wooded cypress marsh

    A wooded cypress marsh

    The border of the open swamp

    The border of the open swamp

    Here are a few of the critter’s we saw

    Dragon fly on a Buttonbush

    Dragon fly on a Buttonbush

    A real gecko

    A real gecko

    A very large slider/scooter (50cm or so long)

    A very large slider/scooter (50cm or so long)

    The trail itself is well-shaded and almost all on a boardwalk made from recycled soda bottles.

    The trail (mostly)

    The trail (mostly)

    Google Earth view of the trail

    Google Earth view of the trail

    A gpx file of the walk is attached here

    Written by Rob in: outdoors,trail map,Wildlife |
    Nov
    03
    2012
    0

    Preparing Persimmons

    Persimons

    Persimons

    The persimmons are getting ripe again, and we have a bumper crop. They slowly ripen as the weather gets cold and as long as you beat the deer and raccoons to them. In the picture the one at the top is almost ripe. They should be extremely soft and ready to fall off the tree.

    One big headache is removing the seeds and other non-edible stuff from the fruit. In the past, I would push them through a strainer – which was a lot of work and tended to break the strainers. There must be an easier way!

    There is. Put the persimmons directly in an electric mixer and pulp them (I use the egg whisk on a 30 year old kitchen aid mixer that was a wedding present). Add the milk, sugar and spices required for the recipe and then whip the mixture. This can then be strained to remove the seeds – no fuss and a lot less mess than trying to strain the pulp directly. The mixture gets quite thick – almost like a pudding or milkshake – so I think it can be turned into a persimmon pudding without too much work, but I don’t have a recipe for that (yet).

    Persimmon muffins.

    Approximately 10 ripe American persimmons.
    1/2 to 1 cup sugar
    tablespoon cinnamon
    teaspoon ginger
    teaspoon salt (I like the “Lite” salt that is 75% KCl)
    2 cups milk
    pulp the persimmons and then add the rest of the above. Filter out the seeds using a strainer.
    3 tablespoons vegetable oil
    2 eggs
    tablespoon baking powder.
    Mix the above with the persimmon/milk mixture
    add
    2-3 cups plain flour (enough to make a stiff batter)

    put into greased muffin tins and bake at 350F (180C) until done (about 15-20 minutes).

    The muffins will be heavy, moist and delicious.

    Written by Rob in: outdoors,recipe,Wildlife |
    Dec
    10
    2010
    1

    Henry Coe State Park

    Henry Coe state park has a well-earned reputation as a great place for backpacking and a truly steep set of paths.  It is also one of the relatively undiscovered gems of the San Jose area.  I arrived on a damp Friday afternoon and was, pretty much, the backpacker in a 40 square mile or so area, only 5-7 miles from Morgan Hill California.

    After getting off the plane in San Jose, I checked the weather and it was supposed to rain quite hard on Sunday.  Therefore I went to the safeway on East Dunne street, picked up a few supplies and headed for the hills.  The ranger office was shut, but I could register with the “iron ranger”.  Fortunately a couple of volunteers were around to help and show me where to place my car (behind the barn with a sheet on the dash saying when I’d be back).

    I took the corral trail to poverty flats road and 4.3 miles and about 1500 feet lower made camp at poverty flats camp site 3.  On the way down I passed an interesting tree that I don’t quite recognize.  It had large nuts that resembled horse chestnuts, but aren’t. (it is a California Buckeye) I saw deer, a coyote, and a bobcat track on the way down.  The fuel pellets worked well for cooking dinner – but the Osem brand mejadarra (rice & lentils) is now highly spiced and somewhat disgusting.  Boiling water with tea helped the human sump work and I turned in.  I tried the bivy sack (outdoor research microlight)  and had a bit of trouble with condensation, so ended up taking it off.  There was a bit of drizzle but nothing significant.camp at poverty flats

    The next morning was beautiful and sunny so I tried a fast-packing technique of starting quickly and eating on the trail.  So after a mile and a half or so and a 1000 foot up and down over jackass peak Trail up Jackass PeakI stopped at Coyote creek, ate and pumped water.  This was a decision point and after checking the map I started the climb up Willow ridge towards Coit and Kelly lakes.

    I walked back the next ridge over in the afternoon

    I walked back the next ridge over in the afternoon

    I called, and surprised, my father from the top of the ridge (I generally carry my cell phone even when it isn’t likely to be useful because if you come out in the wrong place it can be a lifesaver). Unfortunately my wifes cell was off.  On the way I was passed by the one mountain biker I saw.  I was almost to Kelly lake when the ranger drove by.  He was concerned that I was lost, but I gave him my itinerary and we had a nice chat.  He said that if the weather turned really bad, I could alway hold up in one of the latrines (which, by the way are spacious, relatively smell-free and even have toilet paper).  I thanked him and went on my way.  Just past Kelly lake I put up my tarp (as there had been a few sprinkles), ate lunch (peanut butter, cliff bars and tortillas), and pumped a bit more water.  (I didn’t need to carry more than about 2.5-3 liters).  I started on the return leg via Mahoney meadows road.

    I saw several large brown newts (coastal range newts) on the way.  They seem a bit out of place in this arid area, but that’s where they live.Costal Range Newt

    About 4 miles later, the heavens unleashed a reasonable amount of rain and I put on rain gear and a pack cover.  The REI flash 50 is somewhat water resistant and my gear is bagged in a contractor’s trash bag, but the cover helps keep the thing drier.

    I had been planning to stop at Mahoney pond, which on a nice day would have been beautiful, but I don’t like to stop on a ridge when a storm is in the offing.  There is a slightly overused campsite just off the trail near the pond.  Because the weather was threatening I aimed for the lost spring campsite, but the sign was missing so I ended up at the lost spring.  Rather than go back uphill and hunt around, I elected to head for the Los Cruzeros sites, by  Coyote creek (only about 1.5 miles from poverty flats going the short way and about 17 miles the way I went). Los Cruzeros

    I pitched my tarp, and setup underneath.  This time I was glad of the bivy sack as the Etowah tarp would let the occasion spray through (could have been knocking condensation off of the inside).  I started dinner, a mountain house meal, and then realized I’d setup within the “widow maker” zone of an oak tree.  Fortunately there was a lull in the rain and I was able to very quickly move everything (in a hurry I can pitch the tarp and move in in less than 5 minutes!).  So while dinner finished rehydrating I moved camp.  Dinner, tea, and to bed.  It rained a  bit that night, but nothing too significant by my standards.

    view of the fog burning offThe next morning was foggy, but the fog was burning off.  I lazed about, only having six or so miles to go and not wanting to get to the camp office much before noon.  (I couldn’t check in at Asilomar until later in the afternoon anyway).  So back up over jackass peak.  Rather than face a grinding haul back up poverty flats road, I took the much steeper “cougar trail”, which was breath-taking (both literally and in terms of beauty).  Half-way up there was an old car frame, and I have no idea how they got it there.  The ranch, when it was active, had tried planting olive trees.  These trees were bearing fruit, but would have been very hard to harvest by modern means as the slope was 30-50% grade at times.

    Once on top I took a short break, and followed the Manzanita point trail, a bit of the road, the forest trail, and then the corral trail back to the office.  This is sort of anti-climatic, and I was passed by the only two hikers I saw on the forest trail near the headquarters.  Once on the corral trail, it started to rain, so on with the raingear and pack cover again.

    There is no formal checkout and the ranger in the office was distinctly disinterested in the backcountry so I got in my car and headed off to do science.

    Trail stats from gps

    28.2 miles, moving average 2.7 mph, 6162 feet climbing (!?).

    Trail as seen in Google Earth

    How did my gear perform?

    REI flash 50 pack – Reasonably comfortable and held all I needed.  Not quite as waterproof as advertised (but what is?).  After a long day the shoulder straps began to hurt a bit, but that was probably a mis-adjusted load lifter.  Definitely able to carry a weekend load, but a bit small for much more (though with a summer weight bag??).  It has a strap similar to the over the top strap on the mariposa plus, which is good for securing rain wear and jackets, but not quite as versatile as there is a top pocket in the way (I probably could have adjusted it a bit better).  The top pocket is useful and has clips for car keys so that you don’t have to worry about them getting lost.  The side bags are a bit tight for most water bottles, so put them in before packing the rest.

    Etowah tarp – light, possibly leaky (?).

    Estibit fuel pellets.  Much more expensive than ethanol, but WORK.  You can take these on planes in small amounts, as they aren’t particularly flammable.  (hard to light without a lighter).  They smell like fish that is slightly off (as do most small organic amines).   They leave a sticky residue on your pot, but it is water soluble and wipes off so it isn’t an issue.  Definitely usable for a short “in and out” trip, but probably not good for a longer trip.

    Bivy sack.  Some condensation issues, but generally ok.  The mosquito net was useful on the most rainy night as the little buggers came out.   Not an adequate replacement for a ground sheet under normal conditions, unless you want the rest of your gear to get muddy. Useful as insurance, but not as good as I’d like on its own.  The western mountaineering down bag I brought was much more water-resistant than the down bags of my youth so condensation wasn’t an issue.  As a solo backpacker miles from help, it was comforting to have this.

    Mountain house dehydrated meal, cliff bars, and the like.  Edible, even tasty, but I’d be wary of using them for more than a few days as I’d get fed up with the taste.

    Summer sausage bars, peanut butter, tortillas.  A little better tasting, but not exactly balanced food.

    Osem brand – way too weird spices for my taste.

    Green tea hard candy – great pick me up.

    Using tea for helping wash up (idea from “as the crow flies”) definitely good.  Covers traces of seasoning and helps the human sump work.

    Written by Rob in: backpacking,gear lists,trail map,Wildlife |
    Mar
    17
    2010
    0

    A Little Hero-worship.

    Just poking around some of the sites that I often read when I’m trying to avoid looking at grant reviews.

    Baydon Powell self portrait

    Baydon Powell self portrait

    Lord Baydon-Powell was quite prescient about the state of the world.  While some of his writings are a bit racist for today’s taste and he did mistake the Hitler youth for a scouting organization for a short while towards the end of his life (about 1 year), it is clear that he was an insightful and fundamentally decent man.

    His final message to the scouts sets the tone I want to see today.  Even though it might drive some of the “fundies” up the wall, the Zen of it is reassuring as we work through today’s version of the same kinds of problems he saw 100 years ago.

    final message

    final message


    (the images are from the world scouting website)

    Written by Rob in: outdoors,scouting,Wildlife |
    Feb
    17
    2009
    2

    Okefenokee Trip

    This weekend I went on a 34.3 mile canoe trip over three days with my son’s (one of their) troops to the Okefenokee Wildlife Management Area. This is a truly neat and primeval place. My personal highlight was getting my 100th bird (white ibis). You need to make arrangements exactly 2 months before you go as they won’t take reservations any earlier and 2 months minus one day is too late. The local outfitter (okefenokee adventures) rents nice canoes and decent paddles, but only has the orange “life preserver” PFD’s which are almost as bad as not wearing one.

    We drove down on Friday night, arriving at Trader’s Hill campsite quite late (about 11:30), which was no problem, and they were very nice about letting us register on the way out. The trip started at the concession/rental site, and went to round top platform. We then went to the cabin on Floyd’s island and returned on the third day. We had to carry all the drinking water as the swamp water is hard to purify (for emergency we figured using a particle mesh filter followed by UV and aqua-mira might just work – but the water would still look like weak tea). The scouts showed great water discipline and we finished with more than enough.

    The first night out was very windy, a bit cool (40ish), and wet. As good scouts we’d been prepared and brought tarps. But then how do we fasten them to a 16×24 foot shelter? Being one of the adult leaders (and not one of the ones who did the hard work of planning and arranging things) I found a solution to this on section hiker which was to use an eye screw. The eye screws (3/8×3 or so) fit into the cracks between the boards and could be inserted and removed without damaging the platform. After a quick trip to the Home Depot, I had six which resided in my single work glove sheath. These worked like a charm and we were able to build a nice shelter that withstood some fairly inclement weather.

    The weather broke that night and the next day was an easy, mostly dry, trip to the cabin on Floyds’ Island.

    This cabin was refurbished by troop 123, and is still in excellent shape. It easily fit all 20 people in it. We then left at dawn in order to be at the landing by about 12, so we could get home to Atlanta at some reasonable time.

    The wetness and shape of space in the canoes really makes me appreciate the design of duluth packs. Wide rather than tall, and opening on the top, they fit neatly in the bottom of the canoe and let you get at your gear. Pity we didn’t have them, but our lighter weight regular backpacks worked OK (and a lot better than the trashbag/duffel sack that some of the other people brought) Both my son and I used bivy sacks on the platform – which meant we could be on the outside where a little spray (and there was more than a little) wouldn’t harm us. Otherwise, we used careful water proofing with a large waterproof stuff sack and plastic bag reinforcements. And -as always on the water- we carried a spare dry set of clothes.

    The total trip was 34.3 miles by my GPS. We averaged about 2.8 miles an hour (I was on the sweep canoe so we took our time ;-) ). The attached trail map below shows the route. I used the lithium photo batteries in my Garmin 60csx, which are both lighter than alkaline (about 2/3 the weight) and last longer. Right now they show full power after 4 days (or more) of trail tracking. I think, somehow, they will do for Northern Tier.

    Written by Rob in: outdoors,scouting,trail map,Wildlife |
    Jan
    04
    2009
    0

    More Lake Weiss Trilobites

    I had a chance to find more trilobite fossils this weekend, and unlike before they were not just impressions, but the whole critter.
    a trilobite
    The picture below shows a very small fossil that was already loose from wave action.
    a trilobite
    Looking at the local rocks and their layering suggests an explanation for the spotty distribution of fossils. When the mudstone was laid down in the Cambrian the area was a wide tidal mud flat. Much like the area around Tybee Island
    Tybee beach(but not as sandy and NO trees) or the mudflats near the Severn river or the Gower pennisula.
    Severn Mudflats
    Mud flats are not really flat, but tend to have little pockets where biological detritus collects.
    a horseshoe crab These pockets become hotspots for fossil collection when covered with silt by tidal floods. There are occasional quasi-stable areas and these can also support a colony of animals that is subject to being covered in a local flood event and we have found a few dense patches of Crinoid stems – including one with a trilobite in it that I don’t have a picture of (yet). Shallow water above mud flats is a great location for small crustaceans and various small mollusc’s which is just what we find in the fossil evidence. Some of them were just unlucky (or lucky – it depends on your viewpoint) to get caught in a small pool at low tide and have their remains preserved for us.

    One of the stronger pieces of evidence that this was an estuarine environment comes from about 100-1000 layers above the fossil rich layer(if each major layer in the mudstone reflects a season – then maybe only about 1000 years later) the river shifted and deposited a layer of gravel on top of the mudstone. There is a continuous shift in the color of the sediment from a dark gray – where the fossils are found to a lighter gray or tan and we don’t see visual evidence of a discontinuity event. It looks just like a gravel bank deposited on the side of a river. In some ways it is a pity that it is so old -because it would be a great place to look for land animal fossils – just that there aren’t any from the Cambrian.

    Written by Rob in: outdoors,science,Uncategorized,Wildlife |
    Dec
    24
    2008
    0

    Trilobites of Lake Weiss

    Finally I’ve managed to find a trilobite fossil. It’s been something for which I’ve been searching for many years. Northeast Alabama has rocks of the appropriate ages and it is just a matter of finding the right layer and the right location (as the fossils are somewhat sporadic). I can usually find the rocks, but it is my eagle-eyed wife who usually finds the interesting fossils (she found one last year).

    Anyway, in the Lake Weiss area (and especially the spring creek area) there are two layers of sedimentary mudstone. The upper layer, which is light tan in color and contains a fair amount of alluvial gravel is generally barren. The lower layer, which is grayish, has a fair number of interesting fossils in it. We’ve found soft corals, something that looks like a sponge or squashed sea-urchin, a small number of shells, some mysterious tracks, and (finally!) trilobites. This lower layer is right below the full pool limit – so if you want to look – now is the time.

    so here’s my best fossil which has 5 small casts. I’m not sure what the dark brown thing in the middle is (it looks like an ammonite, but could be something else).

    There is another species of trilobite as well, and this fossil – which my son found – is a good example.

    postscript: These are probably Cambrian fossils. If you look closely at the right hand edge of the second picture you can see a fringe of scales. S. M. Gon III’s page has a good set of information.

    Written by Rob in: outdoors,scouting,Wildlife |
    Nov
    16
    2008
    0

    O Deer!, O Neanderthal!

    There’s a fun wildlife biology teaching game called “Oh Deer”. In it a group of people divide into two sets where one is the deer and one is the environment. Typically you start with 1/4 deer and 3/4 environment. Each set turns their back on the other and decides whether they are shelter, food or water and places their hands over their head (like a house) if shelter, over their stomach if food and over their mouth if water. Then on a command they turn around and the deer try to find someone in the environment who wants what they want. If they do, then both people are deer, and if they don’t then the “deer” becomes part of the environment.

    Not surprisingly the deer population rises and crashes with this simulation. If one adds a small amount of predation, either with “wolves” or “hunters” then the population tends to stabilize. (you can make this quite complex)

    There’s been a bit of a mystery about why there aren’t Neanderthals around now. Maybe our ancestors hunted them, but maybe not – it’s been the stuff of romantic speculation. In a recent article in the National Geographic, it was pointed out that based on body size and muscle mass the Neanderthals needed about 4000 calories/day to survive. We wiseacres (bad translation of homo sapiens) only need about 2000 calories/day.

    It would be fun to try “oh Neanderthal”, where now two species have to get food, shelter and water. The only difference is those Neanderthals who look for food have to get two people to have one stay as a Neanderthal and the rest only have to find one to stay as a homo sapiens. My strong suspicion is that the Neanderthals would quickly disappear. (Actually – to simplify the rules – up to two homo sapiens can share a “food” but could take one each if there were enough)

    Metabolic efficiency might be all it takes. (I wonder if the american car companies are aware of this – probably not ;-< )

    Written by Rob in: outdoors,science,scouting,Wildlife |
    Nov
    15
    2008
    1

    Being the Best Worm You Can Be

    First in a series of posts about evolution, natural selection and the “laws” of biology.

    One of the things one often hears from people who don’t understand natural selection and evolution is a statement like “if people descended from apes, why are there still apes?”

    The trite answer is that there still are apes, just some of them write blogs, some post silly questions to the newspapers, while others eat termites in the African forests (Homo sapiens is a tail-less large primate after all).  But this masks a deeper confusion.

    Like most complicated animals (arthropods, fish, reptiles, mammals etc) we are based on a segmented body plan.  The “six pack” that body builders adore is just a reflection of three of the segments in our abdomen.  In a very real sense we’re worms with legs.

    So if we’ve evolved from worms, why are there still worms?

    The answer is that worms are just as evolved as we are – only they’ve evolved to be the best worms that they can be.  The things you need to do to be a successful earthworm or annelid sea worm are very different from the things you need to do to be a successful human or dog  or fruit fly.

    Earthworms, for example, can be described as a “primitive” animal and physically they are not very different from earthworms of the Jurassic.  “primitive” is not a pejorative term in biology.  It doesn’t mean bad – it means having features that are seen in many species and therefore derived earlier the history of the organism.  We share many “primitive” features with earthworms – we have a head, segments, a central digestive tube, muscles and nerves.  So do fruit flies – both the common ones and the olive fruit flies that so recently featured in our (USA) elections.   (If you ever get the chance to watch the ultrasound inspection of a developing baby, in utereo, keep an eye out because the segmental nature of our body is really clear in a 3-4 month embryo.)

    Obviously, though, we’re not earthworms, and we’re not fruit flies.  The derived or “advanced” characteristics that let us type words into a computer and an olive fruit fly devastate the Mediterranean olive crop by laying eggs in the olives are different.  Yet we share many of the developmental control proteins and pathways that we inherited from our annelid ancestors.

    Written by Rob in: pedagogy,science,Wildlife |

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