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Thu, 21 Feb 2019
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Swamidass, Lenski, and Lents' review of Darwin Devolves borders on fraud

Joshua Swamidass
© J. Nathan Matias / Flickr
Joshua Swamidass
Joshua Swamidass, Richard Lenski, and Nathan Lents have published a review in the journal Science critiquing biochemist Michael Behe's forthcoming book Darwin Devolves. I found their review utterly convincing - although probably not in the way they might hope.

Some background: When I became involved in the intelligent design (ID) movement more than two decades ago, a key reason was because I was intrigued by the scientists who thought they were finding discernible evidence throughout nature of intelligent design. I didn't know whether these scientists were correct. But I definitely wanted them to have the freedom to articulate their views in the public square without retribution. And I wanted to see how the debate played out.

Learning from ID's Critics

In the ensuing years, I learned a lot more about the scientific arguments for and against intelligent design, leading me to conclude that the arguments for ID are pretty strong. I came to this conclusion partly because of my interactions with the leading proponents of intelligent design. But there was another reason: What I discovered reading and interacting with ID's critics. I'm grateful to scientists like Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott, Ken Miller, Francis Collins, Karl Giberson, and a host of others who have critiqued and denounced ID over the years. I'm grateful to them for showing me just how convincing the case for ID really is. Reading their writings, I came across nearly endless examples of question begging, ad hominem attacks, and hand-waving. What I didn't find were serious refutations. In my experience, the critiques offered of ID were so uniformly bad that it began to dawn on me that the scientists who supported ID must be right. If even ID's harshest critics couldn't come up with serious criticisms, I concluded that the case made by Behe, Dembski, Meyer, et al. must be sound after all.

Comment: There's a reason Darwinists can't stand Behe: because he's right. And because he's right, they have no good arguments to make against his case. Darwinism is already dead; scientists like Swamidass et al. just haven't allowed themselves to admit it.

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Male Y chromosomes not 'genetic wastelands' say researchers

X 7 Y Chromosome
© Getty Images
Rochester biologists are finding new insights into processes that shape the Y chromosome, a notoriously difficult piece of the genetic puzzle to sequence.
When researchers say they have sequenced the human genome, there is a caveat to this statement: a lot of the human genome is sequenced and assembled, but there are regions that are full of repetitive elements, making them difficult to map. One piece that is notoriously difficult to sequence is the Y chromosome.

Now, researchers from the University of Rochester have found a way to sequence a large portion of the Y chromosome in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster-the most that the Y chromosome has been assembled in fruit flies. The research, published in the journal GENETICS, provides new insights into the processes that shape the Y chromosome, "and adds to the evidence that, far from a genetic wasteland, Y chromosomes are highly dynamic and have mechanisms to acquire and maintain genes," says Amanda Larracuente, an assistant professor of biology at Rochester.

The notorious Y chromosome

Y chromosomes are sex chromosomes in males that are transmitted from father to son; they can be important for male fertility and sex determination in many species. Even though fruit fly and mammalian Y chromosomes have different evolutionary origins, they have parallel genome structures, says Larracuente, who co-authored the paper with her PhD student Ching-Ho Chang. "Drosophila melanogaster is a premier model organism for genetics and genomics, and has perhaps the best genome assembly of any animal. Despite these resources, we know very little about the organization of the Drosophila Y chromosome because most of it is missing from the genome assembly."

That's in part because most Y chromosomes do not undergo standard recombination. Typically, genes from the mother and father are shuffled-or, "cross over"-to produce a genetic combination unique to each offspring. But the Y chromosome does not undergo crossing over, and, as a result, its genes tend to degenerate, while repetitive DNA sequences accumulate.

Cloud Lightning

Lightning's electromagnetic fields may have protective properties say researchers from Tel Aviv university

Lightning Strikes
© The Independent
Extremely low frequency fields may have played an evolutionary role in living organisms, say TAU researchers

Lightning was the main electromagnetic presence in the Earth's atmosphere long before the invention of electricity. There are some 2,000 thunderstorms active at any given time, so humans and other organisms have been bathed in extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic fields for billions of years.

These electromagnetic fields - the result of global lightning activity known as Schumann Resonances - are weak and difficult to detect. Scientists never suspected that they had any tangible impact on life on Earth. But a new Tel Aviv University study finds that these fields may have protective properties for organisms living under stress conditions.

Research for the study was led by Prof. Colin Price of TAU's Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences and conducted by his doctoral student Gal Elhalel in collaboration with Profs. Asher Shainberg and Dror Fixler of Bar Ilan University. It was published in Nature Scientific Reports on February 7.


Astronomers recalculate when Andromeda galaxy will collide with the Milky Way

Andromeda Galaxy
© Pixabay/Skeeze
Earlier calculations suggested that even if humanity still inhabits the solar system at that time, it would be unlikely to survive it. However, more recent estimations offer a brighter outlook for humankind.

A group of astronomers has managed to calculate a more precise timing for the expected collision between our Milky Way galaxy and Andromeda - our closest galactic neighbour. Previously, scientists believed that it was bound to happen in 3.9 billion years, but the authors of the research, which was published in the Astrophysical Journal, tracked the movement of stars using the ESA's Gaia telescope and determined that in fact, the great collision will only take place in 4.5 billion years.

What is more, the authors of the paper predict that it will not be a "head-on" collision, but rather a "sideswipe", meaning it will not be too disruptive and devastating. And because the distance between stars in galaxies is still astronomically huge, our solar system has all the chances to remain untouched by the event.

However, prior to the collision with Andromeda, the Milky Way has to withstand something similar with the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) which is expected to happen in 2.5 billion years. While Andromeda is a bit larger than our galaxy, the LMC only has 1/80 the mass of the Milky Way. Still, the collision with the LMC will affect our galaxy, purportedly increasing the mass of the supermassive black hole at its centre and reshaping the Milky Way into a standard spiral galaxy.

2 + 2 = 4

Study finds bees have brains for basic maths

honeybee sunflower
Researchers have found bees can do basic mathematics, in a discovery that expands our understanding of the relationship between brain size and brain power.

Building on their finding that honeybees can understand the concept of zero, Australian and French researchers set out to test whether bees could perform arithmetic operations like addition and subtraction.

Solving maths problems requires a sophisticated level of cognition, involving the complex mental management of numbers, long-term rules and short term working memory.

The revelation that even the miniature brain of a honeybee can grasp basic mathematical operations has implications for the future development of Artificial Intelligence, particularly in improving rapid learning.


Russian satellite registers unknown physical phenomena in Earth's atmosphere

Earth's atmosphere
An ultraviolet telescope installed on the Russian satellite Lomonosov has registered light "explosions" in the planet's atmosphere, whose physical nature has not been explained so far, the director of the Research Institute of Nuclear Physics at the Russian State University said in an interview with Sputnik.

"With the help of the telescope, we have obtained even more important results than we expected. It looks like we have encountered new physical phenomena... We do not yet know their physical nature... For example, during Lomonosov's flight at an altitude of several dozen kilometres, we have registered several times a very powerful 'explosion' of light. But everything was clear underneath it, no storms, no clouds," Mikhail Panasyuk said.

Russian astronomic satellite Mikhailo Lomonosov of Moscow State University was launched to the Earth's orbit in 2016.

It was designed to observe transient phenomena in the upper atmosphere of the Earth as well as studying the radiation characteristics of the planet's magnetosphere and for basic cosmological research. Its weight is 625 kilograms.


Forget 3D printing - The 'replicator' is here

The Thinker
© Getty Images
A new 3D printing technique can replicate complex structures—such as Rodin’s famous sculpture, "The Thinker,” seen here—using projections of light into a special resin.
They nicknamed it 'the replicator' - in homage to the machines in the Star Trek saga that can materialize virtually any inanimate object.

Researchers in California have unveiled a 3D printer that creates an entire object at once, rather than building it layer by layer as typical additive-manufacturing devices do - bringing science-fiction a step closer to reality.

"This is an exciting advancement to rapidly prototype fairly small and transparent parts," says Joseph DeSimone, a chemist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The device, described on 31 January in Science1, works like a computed tomography (CT) scan in reverse, explains Hayden Taylor, an electrical engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, who was part of the team that devised the replicator.

In CT machines, an X-ray tube rotates around the patient, taking multiple images of the body's innards. Then, a computer uses the projections to reconstruct a 3D picture.


Iran showcases a massive underground missile factory, new rockets, warheads

Dezful ballistic missile
© AFP/Iran's Revolutionary Guard via Sepah News
Dezful ballistic missile on display.
As Tehran unveiled its newest weapon, it also shared rare footage of a secretive underground complex where Iranian missiles are being built. It has vowed to carry on with its missile program, despite objections from the West.

Iran's new missile was showcased on Thursday, with top military officials unveiling the weapon and, in an unprecedented move, showing the subterranean factory. The location of the facility was not disclosed, for obvious reasons.

The facility was described by the Iranian media as an "underground city" - and its scale appears to be quite impressive. Footage from the scene shows vast corridors, full of various missile parts, including warheads, all at different stages of assembly.

The videos also showed workers at the plant fulfilling tasks, from merely spinning nuts to fine-tuning some tiny electronic devices, thought to be parts of the missiles' guidance system.


'This time we will stay': NASA wants to send more astronauts to the moon


Buzz Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon.
NASA is planning to take the "next giant leap in deep space exploration" as it looks to send astronauts to the moon who are able to stay there.

The space agency's administrator, Jim Bridenstine, called for American firms to help develop human lunar landers - "reusable systems for astronauts to land on the moon" - as he said scientists had been given a mandate by President Donald Trump and Congress to return to the moon for the first time since 1972.

He said NASA was planning to send astronauts "to the moon and eventually to Mars and beyond" and that it was "an exciting time to be leading America's space programme".

"As a lifelong NASA supporter, I am thrilled to be talking once again about landing humans on the moon," he said, writing in online magazine OZY. "But to some, saying we're returning to the moon implies we'll be doing the same as we did 50 years ago.


New type of magnet discovered by scientist

New Magnet
© alphaspirit/Getty Images
A team of scientists has discovered the first robust example of a new type of magnet—one that holds promise for enhancing the performance of data storage technologies.
A team of scientists has discovered the first robust example of a new type of magnet-one that holds promise for enhancing the performance of data storage technologies.

This "singlet-based" magnet differs from conventional magnets, in which small magnetic constituents align with one another to create a strong magnetic field. By contrast, the newly uncovered singlet-based magnet has fields that pop in and out of existence, resulting in an unstable force-but also one that potentially has more flexibility than conventional counterparts.

"There's a great deal of research these days into the use of magnets and magnetism to improve data storage technologies," explains Andrew Wray, an assistant professor of physics at New York University, who led the research team. "Singlet-based magnets should have a more sudden transition between magnetic and non-magnetic phases. You don't need to do as much to get the material to flip between non-magnetic and strongly magnetic states, which could be beneficial for power consumption and switching speed inside a computer.