Mars Life: Hope Against Hope

first_imgGood news: the Viking landers (1976) may have been unable to detect life on Mars if it were present.  Bad news: the dust devils on Mars probably would kill anything alive on the surface.  These contrasting stories recently tugged in opposite directions on hopes to find life on the red planet.  A report on PNAS1 questioned the ability of the Viking experiments to detect organic molecules on Mars.  The team, including Martian-meteorite promoter David McKay (08/06/2006), found organics in Antarctica and the Atacama and Libyan deserts that would have been below the detection limit of the Viking instruments.    Mars, however, is continually swept by the mini-tornados known as dust devils.  The Science News2 Oct. 28 cover shows a picture of a terrestrial “satanic wind” lofting dust high into the air.  On Mars, Sid Perkins writes, the thinner atmosphere allows these vortices to rise much higher and gain enough energy to strip molecules of their electrons.  The reactions blanket the surface with highly-oxidizing compounds, like hydrogen peroxide, that would sterilize microorganisms on the surface, let alone bleach their hair.  Hopes for Martian life are thus reduced significantly:Highly reactive peroxide would scour organic chemicals from Martian soil, says [Gregory T.] Delory [UC Berkeley].  That process would make the surface of the Red Planet hostile to life.  Furthermore, because the planet lacks an ozone layer, large quantities of ultraviolet radiation reach Mars’ surface.  Deep in the soil, where neither ultraviolet radiation nor peroxide infiltrates, however, life might survive.The 10-man research team that published these results in Astrobiology last June3 believes the peroxide molecules could survive up to four years in the soil.  Martian dust devils, which are ubiquitous on the red planet, also generate high amounts of static electricity that could pose risks to future human explorers.  See also the 08/02/2006 entry on this topic.1Navarro-Gonzalez et al, “The limitations on organic detection in Mars-like soils by thermal volatilization-gas chromatography-MS and their implications for the Viking results,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0604210103, published online before print October 23, 2006.2Sid Perkins, “Satanic winds: Looking at dust devils on Earth and Mars,” Science News, Week of Oct. 28, 2006; Vol. 170, No. 18, p. 282.3Atreya et al, “Oxidant Enhancement in Martian Dust Devils and Storms: Implications for Life and Habitability,” Astrobiology, Jun 2006, Vol. 6, No. 3: 439-450.Delory left intact a tiny bit of hope by saying, “The jury’s still out as to whether there is life on Mars.”  The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.(Visited 15 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

New Fossils, Old Stories

first_imgYou can sing any words to the same tune, if you don’t know any other tunes and don’t care how well the syllables rhyme or fit.Several patterns have emerged in evolutionary stories about fossils over the years: (1) things appear earlier than thought; (2) things appear fresher than thought (some even unfossilized); (3) things evolve faster or slower than thought; (4) Darwin takes credit no matter what. Let’s see if these patterns hold up with current fossil news.Tiny Bird Fossil Solves Big Mystery About Life After Dinosaurs (Live Science): “A teeny-tiny fossilized bird skeleton is helping researchers understand the explosive rate at which birds diversified after the dinosaur age, new research shows.” It seems a teeny-tiny bit audacious to claim this is evidence for evolution. Mindy Weisberger, senior writer for Live Science, asserts that the mere existence of a modern bird so soon after whatever killed the dinosaurs “suggests that birds rapidly evolved in the 3 million to 4 million years after the dinosaurs died — much faster than previously thought, they said.” Funny; evolutionary reporters never specify who thought that. The article mentions how slowly birds evolved while dinosaurs were around, some 55 million Darwin Years. Then, “Without dinosaurs and the other extinct animals in the way, bird diversity suddenly skyrocketed,” the article goes on. So much for the molecular clock or Darwin’s gradualism.Fossilized Tropical Forest Found — in Arctic Norway (Live Science): The lead photo looks like a polystrate tree in upright position. “A tropical forest densely packed with 12-foot-tall trees with flared trunks and curved branches of needle leaves,” Weisberger writes about a fossil forest of lycopods found in Norway inside the Arctic Circle. They grew near the Equator during the Devonian period, she says. UK paleontologists “found that the fossil forest was actually 20 million years older than previously estimated.” How did upright trees get buried? They didn’t go into that. “In the cliffs there are many layers of fossil trees, one on top of the other,” one of the discoverers mentioned. The climate change story doesn’t seem plausible; would a gradual drop in CO2 leave tree stumps standing upright in the ground to be buried gradually? Wouldn’t they rot long before that? What one believes often dictates what questions one asks.Pteranodon osteohistology! Or, bizarrely bacon-esque pteranodon bones (PhysOrg): In this article from PLoS Blogs, Taormina Lepore waxes fictional about the land before time, when pterosaurs ruled: “Like demon reptile bats, they ruled the air while birds were just getting their start on the evolutionary stage, and long before bats were a twinkle in Earth’s eye.” Evidence, please? We get a recounting of the history of pteranodon fossils. Laura Wilson, a paleontologist is introduced. Can she bring home the bacon? “Strangely enough, when Pteranodon long bones such as this femur below are sliced in cross-section, they look a lot like bacon – according to Wilson, who is a bacon fan! I pretty much agree with her, it does look enticing.” (See humor as a propaganda tactic.) Pardon us for asking, but we thought the issue was how old these bones are and how they evolved into master flyers that ruled the air. The little detour into whether the bones belonged to adults or juveniles is interesting, but we just wanted to know. Is there evidence for evolution here? Silence.Bird embryos uncover homology and evolution of the dinosaur ankle (Nature Communications): Maybe there’s some evolutionary substance here. If so, it looks like Brownian motion: “The ASC [ascending process of the anklebone] originated in early dinosaurs along changes to upright posture and locomotion, revealing an intriguing combination of functional innovation and reversion in its evolution.” The authors say that the traits “represent evolutionary variations in the development of a homologous character,” after assuming the ankle bones are homologous to begin with. After weaving their favorite scenario, they admit, “However, the mechanisms that pattern the ankle region are poorly understood, and much work remains to assess if molecular patterning is amphibian-like in the ankle of birds.” They also cannot rule out convergence—the idea that birds and early tetrapods arrived at the meager similarities independently. The whole paper seems tentative rather than conclusive. Science Daily, nonetheless, made this into a trophy for Darwin, calling it an “evolutionary transformation in birds” albeit an “unexpected” one. Why unexpected? Because it’s a surprising case of evolutionary reversal.  “Evolutionary reversions have always generated much discussion among scientists, because ancient traits can occasionally re-appear in a highly transformed context,” we are told. Behold the wonder:The reappearance of this long-lost developmental pattern in highly evolved organisms like birds and chameleons could be compared to finding primitive clockwork gears inside your latest smartphone. These intriguing discoveries are bound to renew discussion about the interplay between the evolution of new functions and the resurrection of old developmental patterns.Transitional species of duckbilled dinosaurs illuminate relationship between evolution and growth (Science Daily): Finally, a transitional form! This story will certainly please Darwin. It alleges a straight path between duckbilled dinosaurs that did not overlap in time. Alas, the differences in two species from Montana vary only slightly in the shapes and sizes of horns and crests on their heads. Such variation has confused some other paleontologists about species identification when they realized specimens represented different life stages of the same species. These paleontologists are aware of that, but claim that the shape of the crest followed evolutionary time as well as individual lifetime. “Changing of timing or rate of development is called heterochrony, a process which is being increasingly recognized as a major driving force in evolution,” the scientists explain. This, however, is not the kind of evolution Darwin envisaged. No new organ or function appears. Let us not be intimidated by the term, either. Heterochrony (emphasis on the roc) simply means “various times.” Substituting that into the sentence makes the argument sound less scholarly. How can “various times” really be “a major driving force in evolution”?Ornithomimus dinosaur with preserved tail feathers and skin tightens linkages between dinosaurs and birds (PhysOrg). A paper in Cretaceous Research reports a “feathered” case of Ornithomimus (“ostrich mimic”) from Alberta. “The discovery is shedding light on the convergent evolution of these dinosaurs with ostriches and emus relating to thermoregulation and is also tightening the linkages between dinosaurs and modern birds,” PhysOrg claims. But are these really feathers?  For that, we defer to CMI where Tas Walker wrote up a detailed analysis of this fossil and the circumstances of its burial and preservation.Unique feeding mechanism among marine reptiles from the age of dinosaurs (Science Daily): A marine reptile called an elasmosaur appears to have been a filter feeder. It had “a unique mode of feeding,” the article says. “The massive lower jaws bear a comb-like structure formed by many slender teeth that project sideways. Similarly, the teeth in the upper jaws extend downward and sideways.” The animal probably engulfed a mouthful of prey then squeezed the water out the combs. How did this evolve? “Baleen whales independently evolved a very similar method of feeding many millions of years after the extinction of the last elasmosaurs,” the article says. Another convenient “convergent evolution” excuse—two poof spoofs instead of one.Someone might think we are picking and choosing stories to embarrass evolutionists. We are not. This is standard fare in the science literature. We get especially excited when we see “transitional form” like the one above, but are usually disappointed below the hyped-up headlines.Notice how one’s worldview influences the questions. We are very interested to know how the lycopod fossil forest was buried, with layer upon layer of stumps across a wide area, some in upright positions. Evolutionists with their Darwin-colored glasses only ask how they evolved. They see what they want to see, and are blind to the implications of remarkable data right in front of their eyes. (Visited 33 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

Bill Gates: Who says Africa will always be poor?

first_imgBill Gates in Acrra, Ghana, in 2013. “A growing number of countries in Africa are building community health systems, which are extremely cost-effective,” he writes. (Image: Gates Foundation)• Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation(206) [email protected]: If you are a member of the news media, please use the phone number or email address above to leave a detailed message. Include your name, press affiliation, phone number, questions, and deadline.“Poor countries are doomed to stay poor.” That’s a myth Bill Gates passionately debunks. The founder of Microsoft, one of the richest men in the world and, today, co-founder – with his wife Melinda – of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates has released a letter that explains why pessimism about the future of poor countries holds back their development.In previous years the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation annual letter discussed the foundation’s work. In the 2014 edition of the letter, the Gateses chose instead to focus on three major global myths, erroneous ideas held by many in the world that hold back the upliftment of poor people everywhere.The letter is in three parts, challenging three persistent myths about global poverty: that poor countries are doomed to stay poor, that foreign aid is a big waste, and that saving lives leads to overpopulation. Read the annual letter on the Gates Foundation website.We bring you the full text of the first part of the letter, which specifically discusses Africa.Myth: Poor countries are doomed to stay poorBy Bill GatesI’ve heard this myth stated about lots of places, but most often about Africa. A quick web search will turn up dozens of headlines and book titles such as “How Rich Countries Got Rich and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor”.Thankfully these books are not bestsellers, because the basic premise is false. The fact is, incomes and other measures of human welfare are rising almost everywhere, including in Africa.So why is this myth so deeply ingrained?I’ll get to Africa in a moment, but first let’s look at the broader trend around the world, going back a half-century. Fifty years ago, the world was divided in three: the United States and our Western allies; the Soviet Union and its allies; and everyone else. I was born in 1955 and grew up learning that the so-called First World was well off or “developed.” Most everyone in the First World went to school, and we lived long lives. We weren’t sure what life was like behind the Iron Curtain, but it sounded like a scary place. Then there was the so-called Third World – basically everyone else. As far as we knew, it was filled with people who were poor, didn’t go to school much, and died young. Worse, they were trapped in poverty, with no hope of moving up.The statistics bear out these impressions. In 1960, almost all of the global economy was in the West. Per capita income in the United States was about $15 000 a year.1 (That’s income per person, so $60 000 a year for a family of four.) Across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, incomes per person were far lower. Brazil: $1,982. China: $928. Botswana: $383. And so on.Watch the video:Years later, I would see this disparity myself when I travelled. Melinda and I visited Mexico City in 1987 and were surprised by the poverty we witnessed. There was no running water in most homes, so we saw people trekking long distances by bike or on foot to fill up water jugs. It reminded us of scenes we had seen in rural Africa. The guy who ran Microsoft’s Mexico City office would send his kids back to the United States for checkups to make sure the smog wasn’t making them sick.Today, the city is mind-blowingly different. Its air is as clean as Los Angeles’ (which isn’t great, but certainly an improvement from 1987). There are high-rise buildings, new roads, and modern bridges. There are still slums and pockets of poverty, but by and large when I visit there now I think, “Wow, most people who live here are middle-class. What a miracle.”The global picture of poverty has been completely redrawn in my lifetime. Per-person incomes in Turkey and Chile are where the United States level was in 1960. Malaysia is nearly there, as is Gabon. And that no-man’s-land between rich and poor countries has been filled in by China, India, Brazil, and others. Since 1960, China’s real income per person has gone up eightfold. India’s has quadrupled, Brazil’s has almost quintupled, and the small country of Botswana, with shrewd management of its mineral resources, has seen a thirty-fold increase. There is a class of nations in the middle that barely existed 50 years ago, and it includes more than half of the world’s population.Here’s another way to see the transition – by counting people instead of countries: So the easiest way to respond to the myth that poor countries are doomed to stay poor is to point to one fact: They haven’t stayed poor. Many – though by no means all – of the countries we used to call poor now have thriving economies. And the percentage of very poor people has dropped by more than half since 1990.That still leaves more than one billion people in extreme poverty, so it’s not time to celebrate. But it is fair to say that the world has changed so much that the terms “developing countries” and “developed countries” have outlived their usefulness.Any category that lumps China and the Democratic Republic of Congo together confuses more than it clarifies. Some so-called developing countries have come so far that it’s fair to say they have developed. A handful of failed states are hardly developing at all. Most countries are somewhere in the middle. That’s why it’s more instructive to think about countries as low-, middle-, or high-income. (Some experts even divide middle-income into two sub-categories: lower-middle and upper-middle.)‘Life in Africa never gets better’With that in mind, I’ll turn back to the more specific and pernicious version of this myth: “Sure, the Asian tigers are doing fine, but life in Africa never gets better, and it never will.”First, don’t let anyone tell you that Africa is worse off today than it was 50 years ago. Income per person has in fact risen in sub-Saharan Africa over that time, and quite a bit in a few countries. After plummeting during the debt crisis of the 1980s, it has climbed by two thirds since 1998, to nearly $2 200 from just over $1 300. Today, more and more countries are turning toward strong sustained development, and more will follow. Seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies of the past half-decade are in Africa.Africa has also made big strides in health and education. Since 1960, the life span for women in sub-Saharan Africa has gone up from 41 to 57 years, despite the HIV epidemic. Without HIV it would be 61 years. The percentage of children in school has gone from the low 40s to over 75% since 1970. Fewer people are hungry, and more people have good nutrition. If getting enough to eat, going to school, and living longer are measures of a good life, then life is definitely getting better there. These improvements are not the end of the story; they’re the foundation for more progress.Of course, these regional averages obscure big differences among countries. In Ethiopia, income is only $800 a year per person. In Botswana it’s nearly $12 000. You see this huge variation within countries too: Life in a major urban area like Nairobi looks nothing like life in a rural Kenyan village. You should look sceptically at anyone who treats an entire continent as an undifferentiated mass of poverty and disease.The bottom line: Poor countries are not doomed to stay poor. Some of the so-called developing nations have already developed. Many more are on their way. The nations that are still finding their way are not trying to do something unprecedented. They have good examples to learn from.I am optimistic enough about this that I am willing to make a prediction. By 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world. (I mean by our current definition of poor.)2 Almost all countries will be what we now call lower-middle income or richer. Countries will learn from their most productive neighbours and benefit from innovations like new vaccines, better seeds, and the digital revolution. Their labour forces, buoyed by expanded education, will attract new investments.A few countries will be held back by war, politics (North Korea, barring a big change there), or geography (landlocked nations in central Africa). And inequality will still be a problem: There will be poor people in every region.But most of them will live in countries that are self-sufficient. Every nation in South America, Asia, and Central America (with the possible exception of Haiti), and most in coastal Africa, will have joined the ranks of today’s middle-income nations. More than 70% of countries will have a higher per-person income than China does today. Nearly 90% will have a higher income than India does today.It will be a remarkable achievement. When I was born, most countries in the world were poor. In the next two decades, desperately poor countries will become the exception rather than the rule. Billions of people will have been lifted out of extreme poverty. The idea that this will happen within my lifetime is simply amazing to me.Some people will say that helping almost every country develop to middle-income status will not solve all the world’s problems and will even exacerbate some. It is true that we’ll need to develop cheaper, cleaner sources of energy to keep all this growth from making the climate and environment worse. We will also need to solve the problems that come with affluence, like higher rates of diabetes. However, as more people are educated, they will contribute to solving these problems. Bringing the development agenda near to completion will do more to improve human lives than anything else we do. [1] Calculating GDP is an inexact science with a lot of room for error and disagreement. For the sake of consistency, throughout this letter I’ll use GDP per capita figures from the Penn World Table, adjusted for inflation to 2005 dollars. And for the sake of simplicity, I’ll call it “income per person.” [RETURN][2] Specifically, I mean that by 2035, almost no country will be as poor as any of the 35 countries that the World Bank classifies as low-income today, even after adjusting for inflation. [RETURN]last_img read more

Mafikizolo to fly the South African flag in Davos

first_imgDavos, Saturday 23 January 2016 – South Africa’s Mafikizolo will tonight fly the South African flag high in the snow covered town of Davos, Switzerland as the 2016 World Economic Forum comes to an end.Mafikizolo’s appearance in Davos follows their outstanding performance at the World Economic Forum’s Africa meeting in Cape Town in June 2015. After their impressive artistic offering the group was invited by Prof Klaus Schwab to travel to Davos to entertain guests at the soiree to mark the end of the 2016 Forum.South African arts and culture is a critical vehicle through which the spirit of our national brand is conveyed within the country and beyond our borders. As such the role of arts and culture in building national cohesion and the economy is recognised in the National Development Plan. In 2011, South Africa’s music industry was worth R2.2 billion in sales.Follow Mafikizolo’s travels on @MafikizoloSA #SAinDavos.last_img read more