Category Archives: Nature & Space

No Reducing Atmosphere for Naturalistic Origin of Life

On July 16–21, Fazale “Fuz” Rana and I attended the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life (ISSOL) Conference held at the University of California, San Diego. The climax of the conference was the Wednesday (July 19) evening session devoted to answering the question, “64 Years after Miller Experiment, Can the Formation of Building Blocks of Life Be Considered As Solved?” (The Miller Experiment in 1953 was when Stanley Miller sparked a gas mixture of methane, ammonia, hydrogen, and water to produce a low-abundance level of a few of the simpler amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.) A panel consisting of four of the world’s top origin-of-life researchers (Nicholas Hud, Jack Szostak, Steven Benner, and Donna Blackmond) moderated by Antonio Lazcano, Stanley Miller’s research partner and past president of ISSOL, attempted to answer this question.

All four of the panelists and the moderator answered “No” to the posed question. Steven Benner even added that the building blocks of the building block molecules of life are either missing on the early Earth or they exist at abundance levels far too diluted to be of any use.

The day before, the morning sessions of the conference were devoted to discussing the environmental conditions for the origin of life on the early Earth. The first presenter, Yoichiro Ueno, began his talk by pointing out that there was no conceivable hope for a naturalistic origin of the building block molecules of life unless oxygen was totally absent from Earth’s atmosphere.1 However, he speculated that rather than the origin of life occurring on Earth 3.8 billion years ago, it actually occurred much earlier—during the Hadean era, 4.4–4.0 billion years ago.

The Hadean era gets its name from extensive evidence establishing that Earth’s surface previous to 4.0 billion years ago was hellishly hot. However, a few zircons dating back to that period show that there were brief episodes in at least a few locations on Earth during the Hadean era when liquid water was present. Ueno further speculated that during these brief episodes Earth had a reducing (oxygen-free) atmosphere. He then referred to Miller-type experiments that demonstrate ultraviolet-induced photochemistry can produce eleven of the twenty bioactive amino acids.2

Ueno was by no means alone at the ISSOL conference in speculating that a reducing atmosphere on the early Earth was a critical component to a naturalistic origin of life. A consensus emerged among the origin-of-life conference researchers that there simply was no other way to explain life’s origin from a materialistic perspective.

The problem with these speculations about Earth’s early atmosphere is that the most ancient zircons establish that Earth’s mantle oxygen fugacity (tendency to escape or expand isothermally when pressure is released) has not deviated much, if at all, during the past 4.3 billion years.3 This conclusion is confirmed by Archaean (4–3 billion-year-old) mantle residues and magmas that reveal a redox (reduction-oxidation reaction) state equivalent to present-day values.4 These results led geophysicists Brian Hynek and Stephen Mojzsis to conclude in a paper published in Geology, “The resultant atmosphere from outgassing is correspondingly expected to have been at least mildly oxidizing from the early days.”5

What does an “at least mildly oxidizing” atmosphere imply about the origin of life on Earth? It rules out all naturalistic or materialistic origin-of-life models. It establishes that the origin of life on Earth must have been achieved by a super-intelligent, supernatural Being.

Original article: No Atmospheric Reduction

Human Presence in Sumatra 73,000-63,000 Years Ago

Abstract

Genetic evidence for anatomically modern humans (AMH) out of Africa before 75 thousand years ago (ka) and in island southeast Asia (ISEA) before 60 ka (93-61 ka) predates accepted archaeological records of occupation in the region. Claims that AMH arrived in ISEA before 60 ka (ref. 4) have been supported only by equivocal or non-skeletal evidence. AMH evidence from this period is rare and lacks robust chronologies owing to a lack of direct dating applications, poor preservation and/or excavation strategies and questionable taxonomic identifications. Lida Ajer is a Sumatran Pleistocene cave with a rich rainforest fauna associated with fossil human teeth. The importance of the site is unclear owing to unsupported taxonomic identification of these fossils and uncertainties regarding the age of the deposit, therefore it is rarely considered in models of human dispersal. Here we reinvestigate Lida Ajer to identify the teeth confidently and establish a robust chronology using an integrated dating approach. Using enamel-dentine junction morphology, enamel thickness and comparative morphology, we show that the teeth are unequivocally AMH. Luminescence and uranium-series techniques applied to bone-bearing sediments and speleothems, and coupled uranium-series and electron spin resonance dating of mammalian teeth, place modern humans in Sumatra between 73 and 63 ka. This age is consistent with biostratigraphic estimations, palaeoclimate and sea-level reconstructions, and genetic evidence for a pre-60 ka arrival of AMH into ISEA. Lida Ajer represents, to our knowledge, the earliest evidence of rainforest occupation by AMH, and underscores the importance of reassessing the timing and environmental context of the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa.

Continued…

From Nature: Human Presence in Sumatra

Chameleon Care

purple lizard

The following is a brief summary of general chameleon care, husbandry, and medicine. It is not all conclusive, but does provide a framework of necessary information for the chameleon owner. As with any pet, proper husbandry and veterinary care are the most important factors in a long, healthy life. It isn’t hard to see why so many people fall in love with chameleons, and desire to keep them as pets. They are interesting, colorful animals that are unlike so many other animals. However, any prospective chameleon owner should realize that they are fragile in nature, and have some very specific needs. Without continual proper care, a pet chameleon can become very sick, very quickly.

Origin and Species Variety

There are several species of “true” chameleon, many whose native habitats range from Yemen and Saudi Arabia southward to Madagascar and parts of eastern Africa. The most popular varieties kept as pets are the Veiled, Panther, and Jackson’s chameleons. Depending on their sex and species, they can grow up to 24 inches in length, live from 1 to 12 years old, and reach sexual maturity in about five months. Obviously, individuals that are kept in ideal conditions, with proper diet and veterinary care will live longer lives. While some species are from drier climates such as the veiled chameleon, others are from more tropical areas. Therefore, in order to properly care for your particular chameleon, do some research to learn more about its life in the wild.

You may have already noticed some of the traits that make true chameleons so unique. They have prehensile tails, and zygodactyl feet, which means their toes are grouped in opposition to each other. Their large, obtrusive eyes work independently of one another, allowing them to keep a watch out for predators and catch their food. Of course, they are able to change colors, depending on their emotions and health condition. These colors can have varying patterns, and can contain shades of green, white, blue, red, yellow, brown, orange, purple, and black.

Enclosure

A chameleon’s cage should be large enough to allow it adequate exercise and accommodate a three-dimensional “playground” of different diameter branches with leaves for cover. Cages should be taller than they are long, and made of material that is easily cleaned. Avoid placing the enclosure in drafty or busy areas of the house. As for foliage, ficus and pathos plants are commonly used since they can be eaten by adults. Hardwood branches provide good perches; do not use limbs from “sappy” trees such as pines. Give your pet enough cover inside his cage so that he can feel that he is hiding.

UV-B Spectrum Lighting

Perhaps the most common mistake of the novice chameleon owner is not realizing the absolute dependence of chameleons upon specific wavelengths of light. They require 12 hours of exposure per day to the “UV-B” spectrum of light. This spectrum (290-320nm) can be provided by special light bulbs or natural unfiltered sunlight (which is the best source). Bulbs specifically stating that they provide 5% or more UV-B spectrum should be used while the chameleon is indoors. Without this spectrum, they are unable to properly utilize calcium inside their body, regardless of how much they ingest. This condition, called metabolic bone disease, or secondary nutritional hyperparathyroidism, is probably the number one cause of fatalities and growth defects in captive chameleons. Note that most window glass panes filter out UV radiation. Owners should also be informed that UV-B lamps are generally good for about 6-8 months, but can still produce visible light without UV-B spectrum after this period of time. Therefore, bulbs should be changed after six months of use.

Heating

Reptiles are ectothermic, and require external sources of heat in order to carry out their metabolic processes. Certain body temperatures are necessary for digestion, reproduction, and feeding. The average chameleon requires a daytime temperature range from about 77-87° F, and a night temperature of 65-75 °F. Some good heat sources that can be used outside your chameleon’s enclosure (placed 12-24 inches from the cage walls) are 50-75 watt incandescent bulbs, ceramic heating elements (commercially made), or so-called “heat lamps”. There should be several horizontal branches nearby so that your pet can move closer or farther away from the heat source if it needs. The key is to set up an environment that provides a gradient of temperatures. Red light bulbs and ceramic elements can be used 24 hours per day, without affecting the chameleons’ daily light rhythms. Heat rocks or other heating elements under the cage or at the bottom of the cage are not recommended. Temperatures in different parts of the cage can be easily monitored by placing thermometers (available at pet stores) in a few places. Generally expert herpetologists will slightly decrease temperatures and light cycles in the winter months.

Water and Humidity

Chameleons drink water from droplets sitting on objects (usually leaves) in their surroundings. The most common way to provide these droplets is to use a dripping system. This can be easily fashioned by making a hole in the bottom of a bucket, plastic mild carton, or container just large enough that a drop of water will come from it every several seconds to few minutes, and fall on plant leaves within the enclosure. Another smaller container should be placed in the chameleon’s cage under the drip system to catch the water as it falls through the plant leaves. As a short term solution, ice cubes can be placed on the cage top to slowly drip water while they melt. Commercially-made drip systems or ultrasonic misting devices can also be purchased to be used in this regard. Misting the animal itself is controversial, as it seems to stress some individuals. The humidity in a chameleon’s cage should correspond to its native environment, and be monitored daily. The average humidity needs between the different species is 50-70%.

Diet

True chameleons are mostly carnivorous, which means that they rely on insects or other animals for food sources. They are able to eat a variety of insects, but are fed mostly cricket diets in captivity. However, crickets should not comprise more than 50% of the diet. As the saying goes, “you are what you eat”, so it is important that crickets being used as food also be fed a diverse nutritious diet. They can be fed commercial “gut-loading” food in addition to dark leafy greens (collards, kale, dandelion leaves, mustard greens), oats, broccoli, alfalfa hay, and other fruits and vegetables. Adding calcium supplement powder to the crickets’ diet is also recommended. One is unable to know if crickets obtained from a pet store have been fed recently. So, owners should make sure that crickets have eaten just before being given to their chameleons. Sprinkle calcium supplement powder on the prey items every other feeding. Other insects and larvae such as waxworms, earthworms, caterpillars, grasshoppers, flies, and like should be fed for diversity. Using a “sweep net” over a lawn or garden can catch a variety of bugs for you to use. Avoid beetles and the frequent feeding of mealworms, as they are not easily digested. Some larger species can be fed “pinkie” mice on occasion.

I recommend feeding your chameleon either by hand, or placing all its food items into a bowl so that your pet recognizes the bowl as its source of food. Of course, have a branch placed very close to the bowl so that the chameleon can get to the prey items. Some chameleons will eat vegetables (dark, leafy greens are best), and you can finely chop them up to place into the food bowl daily with the prey. Adults should be fed once per day, while juveniles require feedings several times per day. Provide each creature as much as it can eat in a single feeding. Do not leave insects in the enclosure for extended periods of time.

Substrate

Substrate or “bedding” is what is used to line the bottom of a cage or enclosure. The best substrate for chameleons is simple flat newspaper (cheap, recyclable, easily disposed). If a particulate or natural substrate is used avoid the following: beddings with small particles (sand, kitty litter, etc.), cedar, gravel, corn cob bedding, and beddings that would hold excess moisture. Moisture trapped in bedding can promote bacterial and fungal growth.

Stressors

Stress is a very common reason for poor health in chameleons. Common sources of stress are being placed in a cage with another chameleon, handling, noises, excessive traffic or movement outside of the enclosure, inappropriate temperatures, or changes in the environment. One should remember that these species are not domesticated, and even though they are captive bred, are still in their minds wild animals. If you are handling your chameleon, do not “put him on show” and allow several people to hold and touch it. Be very gentle when removing it from its enclosure.

Diseases

Like humans and other animals, chameleons can get sick from a variety of sources. They are susceptible to bacterial, fungal, and viral infections, and can harbor several different kinds of parasites as well. You can help these infections at bay by keeping the enclosure clean, removing uneaten prey items daily, and keeping your pet from coming into contact with another chameleon. If you already have a reptile at home, you should quarantine any new addition for at least 1-3 months time to avoid transference of disease from one individual to another.

Chameleons are sensitive to many chemicals and toxins in the environment, and should be kept away from household cleaners, aerosols, etc. As with any reptile, you should wash your hands after handling it or items within its enclosure (especially soiled bedding). There are diseases that can be transferred from reptiles from humans in this manner (Salmonella infection is one example), but proper hygiene should alleviate this risk. Other problems that can occur in chameleons include egg-binding, organ failure (especially kidney and liver), cancer, and bone fractures due to insufficient vitamin D, calcium, or UVB radiation.

Preventive Care

Your chameleon should be given a check-up by your veterinarian every 6-12 months. In addition, your veterinarian should perform a fecal examination annually to determine if there are gastrointestinal parasites present, and can prescribe the appropriate medications. Blood tests are recommended every 1-3 years to check for internal disease. Speak to your veterinarian about any concerns regarding your chameleon’s care.

Original article: Chameleon Care

Satellite-to-Ground Quantum Key Distribution

Abstract

Quantum key distribution (QKD) uses individual light quanta in quantum superposition states to guarantee unconditional communication security between distant parties. In practice, the achievable distance for QKD has been limited to a few hundred kilometers, due to the channel loss of fibers or terrestrial free space that exponentially reduced the photon rate. Satellite-based QKD promises to establish a global-scale quantum network by exploiting the negligible photon loss and decoherence in the empty out space. Here, we develop and launch a low-Earth-orbit satellite to implement decoy-state QKD with over kHz key rate from the satellite to ground over a distance up to 1200 km, which is up to 20 orders of magnitudes more efficient than that expected using an optical fiber (with 0.2 dB/km loss) of the same length. The establishment of a reliable and efficient space-to-ground link for faithful quantum state transmission constitutes a key milestone for global-scale quantum networks.

Introduction

Private and secure communications are fundamental human needs. Traditional public key cryptography usually relies on the perceived computational intractability of certain mathematical functions. In contrast, quantum key distribution (QKD)1 proposed in the mid-1980s—the best known example of quantum cryptographic tasks—is a radical new way to offer an information-theoretically secure solution to the key exchange problem, ensured by the laws of quantum physics. QKD allows two distant users, who do not share a long secret key initially, to produce a common, random string of secret bits, called a secret key. Using the one-time pad encryption, this key is proven to be secure by Shannon2 to encrypt (and decrypt) a message, which can then be transmitted over a standard communication channel. In the QKD, the information is encoded in the superposition states of physical carriers at single-quantum level, where photons, the fastest flying qubits with their intrinsic robustness to decoherence and ease of control, are usually used. Any eavesdropper on the quantum channel attempting to gain information of the key will inevitably introduce disturbance to the system, and can be detected by the communicating users.

Continued…

Original article: Satellite-to-Ground Quantum Key Distribution

Top 10 Contributions of Aristotle

Born in 384 BC in Stagira, a small town on the northern coast of Greece, Aristotle’s is argua1bly one of the most well-known figures in the history of ancient Greece. He was a popular pupil of famous ancient Greek philosopher Plato. But unlike Plato and Socrates, Aristotle displayed an instinct to conclude about his study of nature using scientific and factual reasoning – a trait his predecessors routinely discarded in favor of their philosophical discerns. Perhaps it was his unyielding fascination for nature, logic and reason that he went on to make some pivotal contributions that are still reflected today in modern day mathematics, metaphysics, physics, biology, botany, politics, medicine and many more. He truly earns the honor of being called the “First Teacher” in the west. Further delving into the details of his achievements, here is a list of top 10 contributions of Aristotle.

Invented the Logic of the Categorical Syllogism

Syllogism represents a certain form of reasoning where a conclusion is made based on two premises. These premises always have a common or middle term to associate them together, but this binding term is absent in the conclusion that is decided upon. This procedure of logical deduction invented by Aristotle, perhaps, lies at the epitome of all his famous achievements. He was the first person to come up with an authentic and logical procedure to conclude a statement based on the propositions that are at hand. These propositions or premises are either provided as facts or simply taken as assumptions provided beforehand. For instance – Socrates is a man. All men are mortal. These two premises can be concluded as – ‘Socrates is mortal.’

The logic behind finding a reasoning based on a proposition and an inference that has something common with the said proposition is clearly pretty straight forward. Its deductive simplicity and ease of use catapulted Aristotle’s theory of syllogism to attain an unparalleled influence on the history of western logic and reasoning. Although in the post renaissance era leading up to the modern age, we came up with logical approaches that were based more on mathematical deductions (and were far more accurate), and less on the uncertainty of non-plausible premises. That being said, Aristotle’s logical theory of categorical syllogism attained a stature that makes it far more than a mere historical curiosity.

Classification of Living Beings

In his book, History of Animals (Historia Animalium), Aristotle was the first person in human history to venture in the classification of different animals. He would use the traits that are similar among certain animals to classify them under similar groups. For example – based on the presence of blood, he would make two different groups such as animals with blood and animals without blood. Similarly, based on their habitat, he classified animals as ones that live on water and ones that live on land. In his perspective, life had a hierarchical make up and all the living beings could be grouped in this hierarchy based on their position from lowest to highest. He placed human species at the highest strata in this hierarchy.

He also devised the binomial naming convention. Using this system, all living organisms now could be given two different sets of nomenclature defined by name of organism’s ‘genus’ and ‘difference’. Aristotle meant the ‘genus’ of a living being to represent its collective family/group as a whole. The name of the ‘difference’ is what makes the living organism different other members of the family it falls within.

Founder of Zoology

Aristotle is also known as the father of Zoology. As evident from his classification of living being, all his classification procedures and several other treatises he wrote primarily involved different species of animal kingdom only. He wrote a number of treatises that revolved around different aspects of zoology. Some of his popular treatises such as ‘History of Animals’, ‘Movement of Animals’, ‘Progression of Animals’ and others, were based on study of different land, water and aerial animals. Unlike his predecessors who merely documented their routine observations of nature, Aristotle worked on outlining specific techniques that he would use to make specific observations.

He used these empirical methods to carry out, what we could call in modern age designation, several proto-scientific tests and experiments to study the flora and fauna around him. One of his early observational experiments included dissecting the bird eggs throughout different stages of embryo development inside the egg. Using his observations, he was able to study the detailed growth of different organs as the embryo develops into a fully hatched youngling.

Contributions in Physics

To put it out rather bluntly, it is true that while Aristotle established new frontiers in the field of life sciences, his escapades in physics fall shorter in comparison. His studies in physics seems to have been highly influenced from pre-established ideas of contemporary and predecessor Greek thinkers. For instance, in his treatises On Generation and Corruption and On the Heavens, the world setup he described had many similarities with propositions made by some pre-Socratic era theorists. About the makeup of the universe, he tardily embraced Empedocles’ view that everything was created from different compositions of four fundamental elements – earth, water, air and fire.

Similarly, Aristotle believed that any kind of change meant something was in motion. In a rather self-contradicting way (at least the initial interpreters found it to be so), he defined the motion of anything as the actuality of a potentiality. In its entirety, Aristotle understood physics as a part of theoretical science that was in sync with natural philosophy. Perhaps a more synonymous term to adhere with Aristotle’s interpretation would be ‘physis’ or simply the study of nature.

Influences in History of Psychology

Aristotle was the first to write a book that dealt with the specifics of psychology – his book De Anima (in translation read as ‘On the Soul’) being the first book on psychology. In his book, he proposes the idea of abstraction that reigns over body and mind of a human being – they exist within the same being, intertwined such that mind is one of the many basic functions of the body. In his more detailed psychological analysis, he constitutes the human intellect into two essential categories – the passive intellect and the active intellect.

According to Aristotle, it is in human nature to imitate something that, even if on a mere superficial level, provided us with a sense of happiness and satisfaction. Perhaps the highlight of his psychological observations has been the delicate connection that binds the human psychology with the underlying human physiology. His contributions take a giant leap from where the pre-scientific era psychology stood before him, into an age of far more precise qualitative and quantitative analysis.

Advances in Meteorology

For his contemporary time and age, Aristotle was able to put forth a detailed analysis of world around him. At present, the term meteorology specifically encompasses the interdisciplinary scientific study of atmosphere and weather. But Aristotle made a far more generalized approach wherein he also covered different aspects and phenomenon of air, water and earth within his treatise Meteorologica or Meteora.

In his treatise, in his own words, he lays out details of ‘different affections’ that are common in between air and water, as well as the different kinds and parts of the earth, and the affections that associate those parts together. The highlight of his ‘Meteora’ treatise are his accounts for water evaporation, earthquakes, and other common weather phenomena. His analysis for these different meteorological occurrences is one of the earliest representations of such phenomena. Though that doesn’t say much about the accuracy of his meteorological studies. Aristotle believed in the existence of ‘underground winds’ and that the winds and earthquakes were caused by them. Similarly, he categorized thunder lightning, rainbows, meteors and comets as different atmospheric phenomena.

Ethics

An attempt to summarize the rich details of Aristotelian ethics within the bounds of a couple of paragraphs will only put it short. Having said that, Nicomachean Ethics stand as the major highlight of Aristotelian ethics. It represents the best-known work on ethics by Aristotle – a collection of ten books maintained based on notes taken from his various lectures at the Lyceum. The Nicomachean Ethics lays out Aristotle’s thoughts on various moral virtues and their respective details.

Aristotelian ethics outline the different social and behavioral virtues of an ideal man. The confidence one bears in the face of fear and defeat stacks up as courage. The ability to resist the temptations of physical pleasures stand out as a person’s temperance. Liberality and magnificence speak the volumes of wealth one can give away for the welfare of others. Any ambition can never be truly magnanimous unless it attains an impeccable balance between the honor it promises and the dues it pays. These, along with other pivotal excerpts, build the groundwork for Aristotle’s endeavors in ethics. In this ethical essence, Aristotle believed that ‘regardless of the various influences of our parents, society and nature, we ourselves are the sole narrators of our souls and their active states.’

Aristotelianism

Aristotelianism is the biggest exemplary to the influence Aristotelian philosophy has had on the entire subsequent philosophical paradigm itself. Aristotelianism represents the philosophical traditions that takes its roots from the various works of Aristotle in philosophy. This route of conventional philosophy is highly influenced from different aspect of various Aristotelian ideologies including his view on philosophical methodology, epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, ethics and many more.

The fact remains that Aristotle’s ideas have become deeply engraved in the social and communal thought structure of overall civilization that followed in the western world. His philosophical works were first rehearsed and defended by the members of Peripatetic school. The Neoplatonist followed suit soon after, and made well documented critical commentaries on his popular writings. Historians also point out major references of Aristotelianism in early Islamic philosophy where in contemporary Islamic philosophers such as Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi and others translated and incorporated Aristotle’s work in their learning.

Politics

The word politics is derived from the Latin word ‘polis’ which in ancient Greece simply represented any city-state. Aristotle believed that ‘polis’ reflected the topmost strata of political association. Being a citizen of a polis was essential for a person to lead a life of good quality. Attaining the stature of such a citizen meant you needed to make necessary political connections to secure a permanent residence. In Aristotle’s view, this very pursues concluded the fact that ‘man is a political animal.’

Without a doubt, the various ventures of Aristotle’s life helped shape up his political acumen in ways his predecessors and contemporaries could not. His progressive adventures in the biology of natural flora and fauna are quite visible in the naturalism of his politics. He divides the polis and their respective constitutions into six categories, of which three he adjudges as good and remaining three as bad. In his view, the good ones are constitutional government, aristocracy, and kingship, and the bad ones include democracy, oligarchy and tyranny. He believes that the political valuation of an individual directly depends on their contributions in making the life of their polis better.

Poetics

Many of the records of Aristotle’s take on art and poetics, much like many other documents of his philosophical and literary works, were composed around 330 BCE. Most of these exist and survive to this day because they were duly noted down and preserved by his pupils during his lectures. Aristotle’s insight in poetics primarily revolve around drama.

Perhaps in one of those subsequent periods when Aristotelianism was gaining more ground around the world, his original take on drama was divided into two separate segments. The first part now focused on tragedy and epic, and the second part discussed the various details of comedy. According to Aristotle, a good tragedy should be able to involve the audience and make them feel katharsis (a sense of purification through pity and fear).

Conclusion

It has been more than 2300 years since the last day of Aristotelian era in ancient Greece, yet the research and work of Aristotle remains as influential in this time and age. From fields that significantly incline towards a structurally scientific orientation such as physics and biology, to the very minute details about the nature of knowledge, reality and existence – his multitudinous all-around contributions truly make him one of the most influential people in human history.

Original article: Ten Contributions by Aristotle

Neil deGrasse Tyson and America’s Nerd Problem

‘My great fear,” Neil deGrasse Tyson told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes in early June, “is that we’ve in fact been visited by intelligent aliens but they chose not to make contact, on the conclusion that there’s no sign of intelligent life on Earth.” In response to this rather standard little saw, Hayes laughed as if he had been trying marijuana for the first time.

All told, one suspects that Tyson was not including either himself or a fellow traveler such as Hayes as inhabitants of Earth, but was instead referring to everybody who is not in their coterie. That, alas, is his way. An astrophysicist and evangelist for science, Tyson currently plays three roles in our society: He is the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the New York Science Museum; the presenter of the hip new show Cosmos; and, most important of all perhaps — albeit through no distinct fault of his own — he is the fetish and totem of the extraordinarily puffed-up “nerd” culture that has of late started to bloom across the United States.

One part insecure hipsterism, one part unwarranted condescension, the two defining characteristics of self-professed nerds are (a) the belief that one can discover all of the secrets of human experience through differential equations and (b) the unlovely tendency to presume themselves to be smarter than everybody else in the world. Prominent examples include MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, Rachel Maddow, Steve Kornacki, and Chris Hayes; Vox’s Ezra Klein, Dylan Matthews, and Matt Yglesias; the sabermetrician Nate Silver; the economist Paul Krugman; the atheist Richard Dawkins; former vice president Al Gore; celebrity scientist Bill Nye; and, really, anybody who conforms to the Left’s social and moral precepts while wearing glasses and babbling about statistics.

The pose is, of course, little more than a ruse — our professional “nerds” being, like Mrs. Doubtfire, stereotypical facsimiles of the real thing. They have the patois but not the passion; the clothes but not the style; the posture but not the imprimatur. Theirs is the nerd-dom of Star Wars, not Star Trek; of Mario Kart and not World of Warcraft; of the latest X-Men movie rather than the comics themselves. A sketch from the TV show Portlandia, mocked up as a public-service announcement, makes this point brutally. After a gorgeous young woman explains at a bar that she doesn’t think her job as a model is “her thing” and instead identifies as “a nerd” who is “into video games and comic books and stuff,” a dorky-looking man gets up and confesses that he is, in fact, a “real” nerd — someone who wears glasses “to see,” who is “shy,” and who “isn’t wearing a nerd costume for Halloween” but is dressed how he lives. “I get sick with fear talking to people,” he says. “It sucks.”

A quick search of the Web reveals that Portlandia’s writers are not the only people to have noticed the trend. “Science and ‘geeky’ subjects,” the pop-culture writer Maddox observes, “are perceived as being hip, cool and intellectual.” And so people who are, or wish to be, hip, cool, and intellectual “glom onto these labels and call themselves ‘geeks’ or ‘nerds’ every chance they get.”

Which is to say that the nerds of MSNBC and beyond are not actually nerds — with scientific training and all that it entails — but the popular kids indulging in a fad. To a person, they are attractive, accomplished, well paid, and loved, listened to, and cited by a good portion of the general public. Most of them spend their time on television speaking fluently, debating with passion, and hanging out with celebrities. They attend dinner parties and glitzy social events, and are photographed and put into the glossy magazines. They are flown first class to university commencement speeches and late-night shows and book launches. There they pay lip service to the notion that they are not wildly privileged, and then go back to their hotels to drink $16 cocktails with Bill Maher.

In this manner has a word with a formerly useful meaning been turned into a transparent humblebrag: Look at me, I’m smart. Or, more important, perhaps, Look at me and let me tell you who I am not, which is southern, politically conservative, culturally traditional, religious in some sense, patriotic, driven by principle rather than the pivot tables of Microsoft Excel, and in any way attached to the past. “Nerd” has become a calling a card — a means of conveying membership of one group and denying affiliation with another. The movement’s king, Neil deGrasse Tyson, has formal scientific training, certainly, as do the handful of others who have become celebrated by the crowd. He is a smart man who has done some important work in popularizing science. But this is not why he is useful. Instead, he is useful because he can be deployed as a cudgel and an emblem in political argument — pointed to as the sort of person who wouldn’t vote for Ted Cruz.

“Ignorance,” a popular Tyson meme holds, “is a virus. Once it starts spreading, it can only be cured by reason. For the sake of humanity, we must be that cure.” This rather unspecific message is a call to arms, aimed at those who believe wholeheartedly they are included in the elect “we.” Thus do we see unexceptional liberal-arts students lecturing other people about things they don’t understand themselves and terming the dissenters “flat-earthers.” Thus do we see people who have never in their lives read a single academic paper clinging to the mantle of “science” as might Albert Einstein. Thus do we see residents of Brooklyn who are unable to tell you at what temperature water boils rolling their eyes at Bjørn Lomborg or Roger Pielke Jr. because he disagrees with Harry Reid on climate change. Really, the only thing in these people’s lives that is peer-reviewed are their opinions. Don’t have a Reddit account? Believe in God? Skeptical about the threat of overpopulation? Who are you, Sarah Palin?

First and foremost, then, “nerd” has become a political designation. It is no accident that the president has felt it necessary to inject himself into the game: That’s where the cool kids are. Answering a question about Obama’s cameo on Cosmos, Tyson was laconic. “That was their choice,” he told Grantland. “We didn’t ask them. We didn’t have anything to say about it. They asked us, ‘Do you mind if we intro your show?’ Can’t say no to the president. So he did.”

One wonders how easy it would have proved to say “No” to the president if he had been, say, Scott Walker. Either way, though, that Obama wished to associate himself with the project is instructive. He was launched into the limelight by precisely the sort of people who have DVR’d every episode of Cosmos and who, like the editors of Salon, see it primarily as a means by which they might tweak their ideological enemies; who, as apparently does Sean McElwee, see the world in terms of “Neil deGrasse Tyson vs. the Right (Cosmos, Christians, and the Battle for American Science)”; and who, like the folks at Vice, advise us all: “Don’t Get Neil deGrasse Tyson Started About the Un-Science-y Politicians Who Are Killing America’s Dreams.”

Obama knows this. Look back to his earlier backers and you will see a pattern. These are the people who insisted until they were blue in the face that George W. Bush was a “theocrat” eternally hostile toward “evidence,” and that, despite all information to the contrary, Attorney General Ashcroft had covered up the Spirit of Justice statue at the Department of Justice because he was a prude. These are the people who will explain to other human beings without any irony that they are part of the “reality-based community,” and who want you to know how aw-shucks excited they are to look through the new jobs numbers.

At no time is the juxtaposition between the claim and the reality more clear than during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which ritzy and opulent celebration of wealth, influence, and power the nation’s smarter progressive class has taken to labeling the “Nerd Prom.” It is clear why people who believe themselves to be providing a voice for the powerless and who routinely lecture the rest of us about the evils of income inequality would wish to reduce in stature a party that would have made Trimalchio blush: It is devastating to their image. Just as Hillary Clinton has noticed of late that her extraordinary wealth and ostentatious lifestyle conflict with her populist mien, the New Class recognizes the danger that its private behavior poses to its public credibility. There is, naturally, something a little off about selected members of the Fifth Estate yukking it up with those whom they have been charged with scrutinizing — all while rappers and movie stars enjoy castles of champagne and show off their million-dollar dresses. And so the optics must be addressed and the nomenclature of an uncelebrated group cynically appropriated. We’re not the ruling class, the message goes. We’re just geeks. We’re not the powerful; we’re the outcasts. This isn’t a big old shindig; it’s science. Look, Neil deGrasse Tyson is standing in the Roosevelt Room!

Ironically enough, what Tyson and his acolytes have ended up doing is blurring the lines between politics, scholarship, and culture — thereby damaging all three. Tyson himself has expressed bemusement that “entertainment reporters” have been so interested in him. “What does it mean,” he asked, “that Seth MacFarlane, who’s best known for his fart jokes — what does it mean that he’s executive producing” Cosmos? Well, what it means is that, professionally, Tyson has hit the jackpot. Actual science is slow, unsexy, and assiduously neutral — and it carries about it almost nothing that would interest either the hipsters of Ann Arbor or the Kardashian-soaked titillaters over at E!

Politics pretending to be science, on the other hand, is current, and it is chic.

It’s useful, too. For all of the hype, much of the fadlike fetishization of “Big Data” is merely the latest repackaging of old and tired progressive ideas about who in our society should enjoy the most political power. Outside of our laboratories, “it’s just science!” is typically a dodge — a bullying tactic designed to hide a crushingly boring orthodox progressivism behind the veil of dispassionate empiricism and to pretend that Hayek’s observation that even the smartest of central planners can never have the information they would need to centrally plan was obviated by the invention of the computer. If politics should be determined by pragmatism, and the pragmatists are all on the left . . . well, you do the math.

All over the Internet, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s face is presented next to words that he may or may not have spoken. “Other than being a scientist,” he says in one image, “I’m not any other kind of -ist. These -ists and -isms are philosophies; they’re philosophical portfolios that people attach themselves to and then the philosophy does the thinking for you instead of you doing the thinking yourself.” Translation: All of my political and moral judgments are original, unlike those of the rubes who subscribe to ideologies, philosophies, and religious frameworks. My worldview is driven only by the data.

This is nonsense. Progressives not only believe all sorts of unscientific things — that Medicaid, the VA, and Head Start work; that school choice does not; that abortion carries with it few important medical questions; that GM crops make the world worse; that one can attribute every hurricane, wildfire, and heat wave to “climate change”; that it’s feasible that renewable energy will take over from fossil fuels anytime soon — but also do their level best to block investigation into any area that they consider too delicate. You’ll note that the typical objections to the likes of Charles Murray and Paul McHugh aren’t scientific at all, but amount to asking lamely why anybody would say something so mean.

Still, even were they paragons of inquiry, the instinct would remain insidious. The scientific process is an incredible thing, but it provides us with information rather than with ready-made political or moral judgments. Anyone who privileges one value over another (liberty over security, property rights over redistribution) is by definition indulging an “-ism.” Anyone who believes that the Declaration of Independence contains “self-evident truths” is signing on to an “ideology.” Anyone who goes to bat for any form of legal or material equality is expressing the end results of a philosophy.

Perhaps the greatest trick the Left ever managed to play was to successfully sell the ancient and ubiquitous ideas of collectivism, lightly checked political power, and a permanent technocratic class as being “new,” and the radical notions of individual liberty, limited government, and distributed power as being “reactionary.” A century ago, Woodrow Wilson complained that the checks and balances instituted by the Founders were outdated because they had been contrived before the telephone was invented. Now, we are to be liberated by the microchip and the Large Hadron Collider, and we are to have our progress assured by ostensibly disinterested analysts. I would recommend that we not fall for it. Our technology may be sparkling and our scientists may be the best in the world, but our politics are as they ever were. Marie Antoinette is no more welcome in America if she dresses up in a Battlestar Galactica uniform and self-deprecatingly joins Tumblr. Sorry, America. Science is important. But these are not the nerds you’re looking for.

From Nation Review: Neil deGrasse Tyson

 

 

So-called scientists who roundly misquote better scientists and pompously dismiss all the other science that contradicts them…

Aren’t scientists.

Naturalism is dead. Has been for over seventy years. Anyone still peddling it is a grave robber.

 

The Douglas DC-3

Douglas DC-3 B

On a spring morning in 1966, North Central Airlines flight 787 departed Eppley Field at Omaha, Nebraska, en route to Grand Forks, North Dakota, with seven stops along the way. On its first leg to Norfolk, Nebraska, the airplane cruised at a leisurely 155 mph.

Everything was routine until a sudden backfire startled captain Al Bergum and co-pilot Tom Truax. Black smoke and flames poured from the left engine nacelle. As Bergum rushed to shut down the engine and feather the propeller, the crew actuated the single-shot engine fire extinguisher. Still, the fire burned. Fifteen miles short of Norfolk airport, Bergum and Truax faced a tough decision—try to make it to the runway or land in a farmer’s field with 26 passengers and three crew on board.

The captain decided to put the plane down in the alfalfa patch. Luckily, it was a plane designed for this very situation. The commercial aviation icon, the war hero, and the aerial workhorse—the Douglas DC-3.

Hatching the “Gooney Bird”

There are thousands of stories about the DC-3. From “Gooney Bird” and “Dumbo” to “Spooky” and “Puff The Magic Dragon,” at least two dozen nicknames testify to its versatility and ruggedness. More than 16,000 DC-3s and military version C-47s were built in 50-plus variants. More than 300 are still flying today.

The DC-3 was born into a still-nascent commercial air travel industry—and traveling by air was much riskier and arduous before the DC-3 came along. The first airline flight in America was a 23-minute jaunt across Tampa Bay in 1914, on which a single passenger joined the pilot in a noisy, windy open-cockpit Benoist flying boat. By the 1920s, the Ford Trimotor reliably carried 13 passengers coast to coast, but its limited range (570 mi), slow cruising speed (100 mph), and modest instruments meant that the trip took 48 hours (though not all of it was aboard the Trimotor). In comparison to these early flights, the DC-3 was a quantum leap forward.

The Douglas Aircraft Company built the “Douglas Commercial 3” based on the 1933/34 Douglas DC-1 and DC-2. Around that time, American Airlines CEO, C. R. Smith, persuaded Donald Douglas to design a sleeper aircraft based on the DC-2 for long-distance flights. With a cabin two feet wider than the DC-2, it accommodated 14 to 16 sleeper berths or 21 passenger seats.

The new airliner first flew on December 17, 1935, and its expanded dimensions perfectly balanced load and revenue. Transcontinental trips from L.A. to New York could be made in about 15 hours, or 17 hours in the other direction. As Flying Magazine puts it, the DC-3 married reliability with performance and comfort as no other airplane before, revolutionizing air travel and finally making airlines profitable. Airlines like TWA, Delta, American, and United ordered entire fleets of DC-3s, finally establishing the airplane as the go-to method for long-distance travel.

Becoming a World War Legend

The onset of WWII saw the last civilian DC-3s built in early 1943. Most were pressed into military service, and the C-47 (or Navy R4D) began rolling out of the company’s Long Beach plant in huge numbers. It differed from the DC-3 in many ways, including the addition of a cargo door and strengthened floor, a shortened tail cone for glider-towing shackles, and a hoist attachment. In 1944, the Army Air Corps converted a DC-3 into a glider (XCG-17), and it significantly outperformed the gliders towed by C-47s on D-Day. C-47s served in every theater.

Large numbers of C-47s were freed for use after the war, but airlines swiftly adopted larger, faster DC-4s and DC-6s for main routes. Smaller regional airlines like North Central eagerly snapped up DC-3s sold off by major airlines, while surplus C-47s became an armada of cargo freighters, building the airplane’s reputation for being able to carry just about anything you could fit through the door. Douglas made a longer, more powerful, and faster DC-3S or “Super DC-3” in the late 1940s, meeting with little airline sales success though taken up by the Navy and Marines as the R4D-8/ C-117D.

But really the basic DC-3/C-47 configuration was so good it needed little improvement. Its two Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp 14-cylinder radial engines produce 1200 hp each, providing thrust enough to lift 20-plus passengers and baggage or a 6,000-plus pound cargo load. Cruising at 160 to 180 mph, the DC-3 can fly about 1,600 miles, land in less than 3,000 feet, and take off again in less than 1,000 feet. Its low-speed handling and toughness made it the go-to airplane for a myriad of jobs including military special operations.

That included going back to war. In response to increased attacks by Viet Cong on rural South Vietnamese outposts in Vietnam in 1963, American Air Commandos began assisting the defense of small villages at night by using their C-47 transport aircraft to fly in circles and drop illumination flares, exposing attackers to the defending troops. The practice inspired the idea of fitting the C-47s with firepower and ultimately an Air Force effort called Project Gunship I.

The Air Force modified several C-47s by mounting three 7.62 mm General Electric miniguns to fire through two rear window openings and the side cargo door, all on the left side of the aircraft. A gunsight was mounted in the left cockpit window. Orbiting a target at 3,000 feet and 140 mph, the modified “AC-47” could put a bullet into every square yard of a football field-sized target in three seconds.

Another C-47, used as a leaflet-dropping, loudspeaker-equipped psychological warfare aircraft in Vietnam was unofficially called the “Bullshit Bomber.”

Captain Ron W. Terry, an Air Force counterinsurgency warfare expert, led a team from the 4th Air Commando Squadron that flew the first AC-47 missions in December, 1964. They were the first of many between late 1964 and early 1969, during which over 6,000 hamlets and firebases came under the protective cover of AC-47s. Not one fell while the aircraft was overhead. Terry returned to the States in 1965 bringing with him information that would lead to development of the AC-130 Hercules.

The Carry-Anything Cargo Plane

By the early 1960s, turboprop airliners like the Convair 580 surpassed the DC-3s efficiency as a regional airliner. They could operate from the same short runways as the DC-3 with similar fuel consumption but at greater range, speed, and the added comfort of a pressurized cabin. In an era when Americans were flying to space, paying for an airline flight on a DC-3 seemed increasingly odd.

Despite vanishing from all but a few airline fleets, DC-3s were still ubiquitous in the 1970s and 80s, often seen on airport ramps alongside 747s and DC-10s working as cargo aircraft and freight forwarders. They fought forest fires as air tankers, brought odd-size cargo to metropolitan markets, and were the aircraft of choice for drug cartels. However, one of the C-47s most famous cargo jobs was supplying the city of Berlin with food during the Berlin Airlift, along with other aircraft like the C-54 Skymaster and the C-74 Globemaster.

The DC-3 remained on military duty until 2008—72 years—until the Air Force’s 6th Special Operations Squadron finally retired its turbine-powered Gooney. Other DC-3s continue to fly missions as sensor development testbeds for the military and as freighters with companies like Canada’s Buffalo Airways.

Nearly 100 countries have operated DC-3s and long-forgotten airplanes still surface including a wrecked C-47 discovered in northern Siberia just this spring. In addition to airliners and freighters, DC-3/C-47s have flown as VIP and executive transports, electronic intelligence gatherers, float planes, air ambulances, Antarctic research aircraft, and gunships to name a few.

Perhaps the best way to refer to a DC-3 is simply to call it a legend. People still scramble for a flight in one at airshows, and in remote areas, the arrival of a Gooney means help and support. It’s simple, rugged, and surprisingly relevant to this day.

One Story, Thousands More

On that spring morning back in 1966, Captain Bergum likely knew the storied history of his wounded aircraft as it limped across a Nebraskan sky. As he began his descent to reduce the chances of cartwheeling during the single-engine landing, Bergum kept the landing gear up. When fully retracted, the DC-3’s wheels still protruded from the underneath the airplane, providing a mild buffer in an emergency landing. Just before the field, he closed the throttle on the remaining engine.

Brushing—then plowing—through the green alfalfa crop, the DC-3 was cushioned by the thick vegetation. As it settled, both propellers dug into the soil, the tailwheel making slight contact as the airplane slid to a swift, straight stop.

Crew and passengers clambered out unharmed to the sound of an approaching John Deere tractor and wagon. Farmer David Dicke had seen the DC-3 straining to land from his kitchen. He invited the passengers back to his farmhouse for coffee and cookies. Bergum and Truax secured the airplane and assessed the damage. Aside from needing new engines and props, the DC-3 was largely unharmed. Transport to Norfolk airport was quickly arranged and, amazingly, all the passengers chose to resume the flight on another North Central DC-3.

Several days later, the farmer cut a swath through his field and another crew jumped in the airplane, flying the airliner out of the alfalfa to the nearby airport, and a couple weeks later, it was back in service.

Original article: The Douglas DC-3

I’ve always loved the lines on the Douglas DC-3 from the 1930s and 1940s.