Greetings, fellow Coppertops! This week we’ll investigate rumors of black-ops cetaceans & theories of night-vision Neanderthals. We’ll review the skepticism surrounding the new life forms discovered at lake Vostok, along with the apocalyptic overtones accompanying the election of the new Pope. And as we return once again to the planet Mars to study its potential for habitability in the past, we’ll learn about an amazing discovery which might shatter all our preconceptions about life in the universe. St Patrick’s is celebrated this weekend, so after our mission’s over let’s all jack into an Irish pub to have a few pints of Guiness!
10 For our first pill we’ll need to return to lake Vostok in Antarctica, which we visited just last week due to the claim that new forms of bacteria had been discovered beneath its ice cap. Well, as it’s often the case with extraordinary claims in the realm of Science –something we’ll discuss at length in this issue– a bunch of doubting Thomasses think the biological samples were contaminated.
But don’t put down your flamethrower just yet –the team in lake Vostok are already trying to obtain pure water samples for a new analysis, which unfortunately won’t be ready until next year.
9 The winter days in Antarctica have only a few hours of light, and in those conditions night vision would come in pretty handy. And night vision brings us to one of our favorite topics here at the Pills: our extinct cousins the Neanderthals.
When one compares the skull of a Neanderthal right next to a modern Homo Sapiens skull, one will notice they both show almost the same brain volume. But a new study suggests that in their case of our cousins, most of that brain capacity was devoted to seeing in the dark –an evolutionary advantage for the long nights of Europe during the last Ice Age, but a very taxing attribute that came in the way of adapting to changes in their environment.
Eiluned Pearce of Oxford University compared the skulls of 32 Homo sapiens and 13 Neanderthals, and found that Neanderthals had significantly larger eye sockets.
“Since Neanderthals evolved at higher latitudes, more of the Neanderthal brain would have been dedicated to vision and body control, leaving less brain to deal with other functions like social networking,” she told BBC News.
Hmm… larger eye sockets and the capacity to see in the dark. Am I the only one thinking this is somewhat reminiscent of the alleged nocturnal habits of Bigfoot?
8 Most marine life forms have evolved to depend less on vision, which is of little use in the murky depths of the oceans. That is why dolphins are equipped with such a great sonar –and according to a very popular story this week, a group of dolphins in the Black Sea are also equipped with deadly weapons attached to their foreheads.
This elite cetacean commando were trained by the Ukrainian Navy for war-like missions like the laying or hunting of mines, or even “attacking enemy frogmen using “knives or pistols” attached to their heads.” And now the menacing sea mammals are on the loose & surely up to no good –What do you know: Karl Pilkington was right once again!
Now don’t be fooled by all the updates saying this news was a hoax. It’s all part of the Reptilian/Cetacean New (Sea) World Order conspiracy!
7 Even without sex-crazed gun-carrying dolphins, the sea can be extremely dangerous. A fact the survivors of the 2011 tsunami in Japan know only too well…
In what is a clear example of how societal stigma varies from culture to culture, many of the Japanese survivors are being haunted by visions of the people who died during the terrible tragedy. Modern medicine deems these problems as the result of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) And since Japanese society are wary of people suffering from mental problems, the survivors are turning instead to exorcists to help them cope with the anxiety.
We all know that in Western society the tables are turned, and people who claim to see ghosts are the ones labeled as in need of psychiatric (or even psychotropic) attention –even if they don’t want it. But WHY are we so quick to judge these as merely mental problems? Perhaps seeking the service of a so-called ‘exorcist’ you find in the Yellow Pages might not be the best course of action, but neither is IMO to think that non-ordinary visual stimuli is the the exclusive result of hallucinations, which can be remedied by ingesting a magic pill.
Perhaps in the future we’ll come to acknowledge that life-threatening experiences alter human perception, and render survivors of disasters more sensitive to other planes of existence –if only for a brief period of time in most cases.
6 For most people, religion offers the only acceptable outlet to the belief of paranormal phenomena. And despite all the backlash it has received in recent years, Catholicism remains one of the strongest religions in the whole world, with about 1.2 billion followers spread through the 5 continents –that’s why penguins in the South Pole look like nuns & viceversa.
So I guess only people in a coma –or who are still hiding inside their bunker because their radio went dead and haven’t learned the world didn’t end last December– are about the only ones who haven’t heard the news that a new Pope was elected on the auspicious date of 13-03-13 –to learn why I say it’s auspicious, read this entry on my personal blog.
A lot of things has surfaced & been said about Jorge Mario Bergoglio (a.k.a. Pope Francis) ranging from interesting –he only has one lung, he’s a HUGE Soccer fan & likes to use public transportation— to inflammatory –activists accuse him of not fighting the military regime in the 70s– to the utterly batshit crazy –Venezuelans say Hugo Chávez influenced on Bergoglio’s election from heaven! Aye Carumba…
As a former Catholic myself, I’m experiencing a mixed range of feelings with this election. On the one hand, I’ve always felt admiration toward the Jesuit order, whom I not only acknowledged as the intellectual elite of the church, but also thought of them as ecclesiastical badasses ever since I watched The Exorcist & The Mission.
I also hope that Bergoglio is going to try to remind the Church of their oft neglected responsibilities with the poor of the world. Having said that, I’m also all too well aware of his (new) holiness stance re. gay marriage & abortion, so whoever is expecting the Church to change their policies on those topics is probably going to be sorely disappointed.
But I still think electing a man from Latin America was a step in the right direction. The only problem is that now Argentinians are going to be even more insufferable than they already were –didn’t they have enough with having the best football player in the world??
5 Would the new Pope be asked to state his position on the ‘god particle’? Though that’s somewhat unlikely, the truth is that scientists at CERN are now pretty confident that what they found last year is ‘a’ Higgs boson.
Why the ‘a’ distinction you might ask? because although the new particle behaves in much the same way as what the legendary Higgs boson is supposed to, the physicists are not yet sure it’s exactly the type of particle the Standard Model predicts. And that level of accuracy demands more data than what the scientists have collected so far, which won’t be available until the LHC is fired up again in 2015.
So I guess Mr. Higgs will just have to wait a couple more years to collect his Nobel prize?
4 If you think the CERN dudes are taking their sweet time to make things all nice & official, that ain’t nothing compared to the time NASA has taken to confirm what is by now pretty obvious even to a ten-year-old: that Mars had the conditions to harbor life in the past.
The issue of habitability is “in the bag,” said John Grotzinger, a planetary geologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., and the mission’s lead scientist, during a press briefing announcing the results on Tuesday.
The minerals in the tiny, gray, ground-rock sample exposed by Curiosity’s drill speak of abundant standing water, conditions neither too acidic or too alkaline for life, and the minerals that would have provided a ready energy source for microbes, if any had been there
COME ON, NASA!! Dontcha think this acclimatization gig has taken way too long? We can take it, just show us some damn Martian microbes already!
3 With or without Martian microbes, sending human missions to the Red Planet is a question of when. We know there’s a rich guy who wants to send a married couple in the not-so-distant future, and of course –humans being humans– it’s not so unreasonable to imagine the happy couple would be eager to enjoy a few ahem, recreational activities during the long journey.
Well, it turns out that in keeping with their long tradition of acting like killjoy know-it-alls, some eggheads fear that sex in space could be really hazardous to your health. *Sniff* All my Barbarella fantasies are fading before my eyes :’-(
Co-researcher Dr Youssef Chebli said: ‘Thanks to the facilities at the European Space Agency I was able to determine how hypergravity and simulated microgravity affect the intracellular trafficking in the rapidly growing pollen tube
We chose pollen – the carrier of the male sperm cells – as our model because of its pivotal role in plant reproduction and agriculture and because of its extraordinarily rapid growth, meaning we could observe the effects of the hypergravity within seconds.’
The researchers stained specific structures within the cells which revealed how the components move around and how the cellular transport logistics responds to the changing gravity environment.
Dr Chebli said: “We found intracellular traffic flow is compromised under hyper-gravity conditions and both hyper and microgravity affect the precisely coordinated construction of the cellular envelope in the growing cell.
‘This allows us not only to understand general principles of the reproductive mechanism in plants but, more importantly, how the intracellular transport machinery in eukaryotic cells responds to altered gravity conditions.
Translation: What’s bad enough for plant nookie, is probably bad enough for us too.
And yet this sort of fear to the unknown has been present in space exploration ever since scientists wondered whether the human heart would be able to pump blood on zero g. And time & time again those fears have been proven overrated.
Damn right! Light the candles and let’s get ready to boldly come where no one has come before.
2 There’s probably one thing that humans fear more than the unknown, and that is dangerous ideas & the heretics that propose them. The easiest way to stop the spreading of ideas you’re not comfortable with is labeling them as pseudo-science –and when that fails, then it’s time to light the torches & start the witch hunt.
Such appalling witch-hunting has unfortunately reached the heart of the TED talks, which were once the paragon in the dissemination of inspiring ideas & novel theories. But now the managers of TED have shown their true colors by yielding to the harassment of debunking atheists, and proceeded to delete the videos of the talks given by Rupert Sheldrake & Graham Hancock.
When Hancock & Sheldrake’s fans cried foul, TED did a bit of backpedaling & re-posted the 2 videos on their blog, BUT they were now private videos relegated to a dark corner in their website. The moment Hancock himself put TED’s curator Chris Anderson to task for this decision and demanded tangible evidence that showed his talk was ‘unscientific’, Anderson gave a weak-ass reply —“sorry, can’t talk right now, BRB. Also, Wikipedia sez U suck!!”
As to be expected in these sort of cases, the usual suspects have jumped in to attack Graham & Rupert while applauding TED’s dick move:
Concerns that the once-prestigious TED brand was being diluted and contaminated by sloppy scholarship and bad science grew so loud that in December 2012, TED representatives issued a letter to TEDx affiliates about it.
The letter noted that as “TEDx organizers, your audience’s trust is your top priority, over and above any other personal or business relationship that may have brought this speaker to your attention. It is not your audience’s job to figure out if a speaker is offering legitimate science or not. It is your job. [emphasis mine] The consequence of bad science and health hoaxes are not trivial. As an example, Andrew Wakefield’s attempt to link autism and vaccines was exposed as a hoax last year. But while his work was being investigated, millions of children went without vaccines, and many contracted deadly illnesses as a result. We take this seriously. Presenting bad science on the TEDx stage is grounds for revoking your license.”
A couple of years ago I had the opportunity of asking a question to the late writer Carlos Fuentes, concerning the proliferation of questionable information on the Internet. His answer was that he didn’t see this as a problem, because the alternative –the censoring of ideas– was so much worse. I agree with Fuentes, so thanks TED, but I’d rather think by myself –and if allowing the ideas of Sheldrake, Hancock & other heretics to spread means we also have to put up with Creationism & Holocaust deniers, then so be it.
The alternative IS worse.
1 Continuing with the attacks against heretical ideas, and one idea which has walked the blurry line between heresy & orthodoxy is Panspermia. The idea that the building blocks for life are abundant in the Universe, and that life on Earth was kickstarted by some sort of microorganism hitching a ride aboard a comet or meteorite is not so unorthodox in the XXIst century, but still to say you have found actual fossilized microorganisms inside a space rock is something is a claim that will certainly not go unchallenged.
That claim has been made by a group of astrobiologists at Cardiff University in the UK, who took electron-microscope images of fragments of what they think was a small cometary body, which crashed in Sri Lanka in December 2012.
The results of these tests, which the Cardiff team reveal today, are extraordinary. They say the stones contain fossilised biological structures fused into the rock matrix and that their tests clearly rule out the possibility of terrestrial contamination.
The Bad Astronomer begs to differ, the same way he did when we first mentioned this story in January. In his opinion the Cardiff team made some very crass errors –“They don’t establish (the samples) were from the claimed meteor event over Sri Lanka in December 2012. And perhaps most telling, they don’t eliminate the possibility of contamination; that is, diatoms got into the samples because those rocks were sitting on the Earth where diatoms are everywhere.”
The way this is going, I’m afraid that meteorites won’t be allowed to contain fossilized microorganisms until we actually send a space mission to the asteroid belt and find them in situ. And even then I’m sure someone will dismiss it all as Earthly contamination. *Sigh* how right was Max Planck when he said that Science advances one funeral at a time…
Until next time, this is RPJ jacking out, reminding you that NO ONE should do your thinking for you –which also means you can also disregard this advice as well.