A Crack in Creation; Jennifer A. Doudna, Samuel H. Sternberg; 2018; Mariner Books;246 pgs; Notes, index
If you examine the book cover, you will notice that some of the letters are in yellow, the others in white. The letters in yellow are A, C, T, and G… the first letters of the four amino acids that make up DNA. The author's last name is "Dou DNA", but that is just a coincidence. So this is a book about biology. I know a lot more about physics and computing than I do about biology, but oddly, that knowledge was quite helpful. My thanks to Blythe Nilson who corrected some ugly errors in my first draft of this piece.
CRISPR, the underlying technology here, is as important to our future as nuclear power. So you should know something about it. You don't need to know how it works, just what it might be able to do.
Physics and chemistry are closely related. Biology is chemical. And DNA biology is also very computational. DNA's ACGT structure is binary (i.e. base 2) code. You might say "Then why are there four letters, rather than two?" Because nature needed an easy way to copy DNA. The DNA chain is made up of paired letters: A always pairs with T, and G with C (each pairing is a bit). This allows the DNA to be cut in two long pieces, and then each piece is reassembled into a complete DNA chain by re-pairing (or repairing) the chain by adding the appropriate matching letter. One copy of DNA becomes two. This is the chemical basis for reproduction.
Each triplet of these letters code for a particular amino acid, and the sequence of DNA dictates how these amino acids will be built into proteins. Proteins are the true stuff of life.
As I read this book, I was struck by the number of times I could see software analogies in the chemistry. In computing, data and code are two sides of the same coin. The same is true for the molecules of life. They are hardware (a fixed bunch of atoms arranged just so) and software (do this, then do that) all packaged up into a single object.
Enter CRISPR (an acronym for Clustered, Regularly Interspaced, Short Palindromic Repeats), a new technology that is both enormously promising and bloody scary at the same time. CRISPR is not a great name. Even knowing what the letters stand for tells you nothing about what is actually is. The one chapter in the book that describes the CRISPR details is challenging. It is full of acronyms and strange words, making it hard to follow. The rest of the book is much less challenging.
CRISPR was initially just an observation that part of the DNA of the bacteria consists of Repeating Clusters of DNA. The repeated bits read the same forward as backward (Palindromic), were quite Short, and were always the same distance apart (Regularly Interspaced). It soon became apparent that these genes were associated with the bacteria's immune system. What a bacteria fears is a phage (short for bacteriophage), a virus that attacks bacteria. The CRISPR genes contain a length of genetic material in the Regularly Interspaced part. These bits of RNA are actually viral RNA that was taken from a phage in the past, and is now used as a pattern matching template to recognize viral DNA. Associated with CRISPR is an enzyme that, once activated, destroys its DNA/RNA target… in this case, the phage.
Aside: RNA and DNA are chemically very similar and sometimes serve similar purposes. RNA is a single stranded molecule, and DNA is double stranded. RNA uses uracil (U) instead of thymine (T) in its code.
Once the enzyme is released, it zooms down the DNA chain at a rate of 300,000 nucleotides per second, carving it up into amino acid junk! That is fast!
Scientists realized that this mechanism could be used to find, change, and/or disable genes with amazing accuracy. For a software guy like me, I see many analogies to computer code. Each segment of phage DNA/RNA in CRISPR is used as template to find an invading phage and kill it. This is like a parameter to a subroutine or, if you prefer, a kind of microscopic Google search using the DNA segment as the search target. This is hardly surprising since, at its core, genes are a series of zeros and ones that are used to make you and me. In other words, it is all software and software is easy to change (hence the "soft" part).
CRISPR technology has enormous potential for both good and evil. It might be used to cure horrible genetic diseases such Huntingtons, or it could be used to create supermen. It can be used to hunt down one gene with one wrong letter, tag that gene for repair, and then get the mechanisms of body to repair it. Sickle Cell Anemia is one such disease.
When writing software, one generally designs top-down and builds bottom-up. In the software of real life, there is no design, only what works. Software starts with building tools; and then uses those tools to build larger software structures which, in turn are used as tools to build even more complex structures and procedures. And with all these tools lying around, there often comes a realization that the existing tools could be easily repurposed to do something that previously seemed out of reach. I have experienced this many times in my software career. Bio-researchers are discovering all these tools lying around in the cell and are closing in on learning how to use them.
CRISPR opens many doors, some of which we should probably keep locked. Curing an awful disease is obviously a good thing. Changing human germ cells is much scarier. Changes to human germ cells means that the change is passed on to offspring. And that smacks of eugenics, NAZI supermen, designer babies etc., and it raises many ethical questions.
The closing chapters of the book focus on the future and the inherent advantages and dangers that CRISPR embodies.
Biotech like CRISPR gives us god-like powers to manipulate life. Advances in biotech and computing make it possible for us to wield those powers. I do not think it an exaggeration to say that CRISPR is the biotech equivalent of the Manhattan Project. I hope mankind learns to use it wisely, because use it we will.
This is a great book. Interesting details; not overly technical; and a Perry Mason who-dun-it (or more accurately, what-dun-it). First, the crime scene is set; then the possible perps are introduced; followed by the gathering of evidence, a trial, and a courtroom confession, with a somewhat "Orient Express" flavor.
The mystery is "Where did the moon come from?" This is called selenogony. Selene, the moon, is the daughter of Theia in Greek mythology. Before I tuck into my overview, a few fun facts.
George Howard Darwin was an eminent scientist and a great thinker on moon questions. With pen and paper, he did much of the basic number crunching on the moon and the gravitational dynamics that affect it and us. His contributions are overshadowed by those of his famous father Charles. Mind you, he was big on eugenics, so there is that too. Like his dad, he was knighted. Charles Darwin changed many people's thinking from catrastophism (stuff like the Flood) to gradualism (the Grand Canyon was carved slowly over thousands of years). The new "thing" was slow change over many years.
Many will recall the crashing of comet Shoemaker-Levi 9 into Jupiter (an excellent example of catastrophism at work). In addition to discovering the comet, Shoemaker, a geologist by training, did groundbreaking research into cratering (pun intended). He is the first, and still only, person to be buried on the moon.
Another fun fact: It is not possible to fire a bullet into orbit from the surface of the Earth. It will either go on forever, or fall back to Earth. This is true for any planet.
The three possible perps for the origin of the moon were: Fission, Capture, and Co-Accretion.
Fission: The early hot Earth was spinning very fast and flung the moon off (some thought, leaving the Pacific Ocean "hole" behind);
Capture: The moon accreted elsewhere; wandered into Earth's orbit and was ultimately captured into orbit around the Earth;
Co-Accretion: The two planets (the moon is a planet in all but name) formed together out of one accretion disk of material. An accretion disk is a collection of material orbiting something. Over time, gravity flattens the material into a disk shape and, over more time, objects in the disk stick together until larger and larger bodies are formed. Typically one body, a planet, is formed by vacuuming up everything within a certain distance of its orbit. In this example, two bodies accreted.
A fourth option was rarely discussed because it smacked of catastophism, which science had decided they did not like. That option was a huge impact (or Splat). More on this later.
Each theory has its problems. The resolution came after the last Apollo mission.
Aside: Apollo's moon data and samples were the only scientifically useful results that have been produced by manned space travel. The ISS is a boondoggle.
The same moon is visible to everyone on the planet, every where and every night. It was the standard clock for thousands of years. As a clock, it had a problem, of course. The lunar month was not an even divisor of the solar year. This made the seasons crawl about in a most unsettling way.
The fact that we live on a sphere can be determined in several easy ways. The most dramatic is to witness is lunar eclipse. You can plainly see the circular shadow of the Earth on the moon. But to many, the moon was flat, just like the Earth. Aristarchus of Samos was the first to suggest that the Earth both revolved and rotated.
A relevant short joke: "The only thing flat Earthers have to fear is sphere itself."
Kepler struggled with the then-ruling model of the solar system, which consisted of circles within circles, with the Earth at the center. Copernicus suggested that the Sun was at the center. Kepler tried many times to make circles work. Circles were perfect; and god was perfect; so it was a nice fit. Kepler tried circles with an offset center. His model was close. Only 8 minutes of arc off (the size of a quarter at 36 feet). But that 8 minutes meant he was wrong! He persevered until he finally broke with circles and invoked the elipse. Ta da! Kepler's three laws of planetary motion.
And it was about this time that Galileo turned his telescope on the moon… that pesky, mottled, luminous body in the sky. What he saw stunned everyone… shadows crawling across the moon's surface as it went through its 28 Earth-day day. The moon was a sphere too! The moon had mountains. Of course, he next turned his telescope on Jupiter and revealed something even more shocking: that stars (actually moons) were orbiting Jupiter… which was impossible because everything went around the Earth. Enter the Spanish Inquisition, but that is another story.
When George Darwin came along to ask moon origin questions, Newton's gravity was well understood. Especially when it came to where the action is: Tides and tidal forces.
A word about tides: Sailors have tracked the tides forever. They understood that there were three overlapping cycles: The moon revolving around the Earth; the Earth's rotation; and the position of the Sun. There are two high tides every day. This implies two bulges in the planet's oceans. The ocean nearest the moon is attracted more strongly than an ocean on the other side of the world, and so it bulges. The Earth itself is attracted to the moon, and falls toward it all the time. The Earth is attracted more than the ocean furthest from the moon, and this creates a bulge on the opposite side of the Earth. Gravity falls off with the square of the distance; tides fall off with the cube.
Tides (more accurately, tidal forces) are where the action is. Tides can squeeze and compress moons until they are molten. Tides explain why the moon only shows one face to the Earth. Tides can rob angular momentum from one body and transfer it to another. Without tidal forces, the solar system would be boring. In fact, it is tides that cause the moon to slowly move away from the Earth. Darwin knew this, but did not know how old the Earth was. If he had known, he could have used it to calculate when the moon was very close to the Earth, and perhaps divine its origin.
I mentioned Shoemaker and his craters. In modern times, we know of many craters on Earth. Some are volcanic and some were caused by impacts. The moon was covered in craters and the speculation was that they were volcanic. Why? Because impactors come in at many different angles and you would expect to see the crater smeared out in a line (think of a golf ball hitting a sand trap at an oblique angle). Shoemaker showed this was wrong. When an asteroid hits the moon or the Earth, it is travelling at orbital speeds… in the 20,000 mph neck of the woods. Pound for pound, they carry more energy than TNT. When the impact takes place, it is best modeled by a huge explosion. This is why impact craters are round and not smeared in one direction. Simply counting craters (along with some interesting math) gave an initial estimate of the age of the moon to be close to that of the Earth.
We are getting close to the end of the story. When the astronauts returned to the Earth, they brought hundreds of pounds of moon rock, including one that appeared green on the moon. At this point, the arguments get geologically quite detailed. They involve things like the behavior of elements at pressures of 250,000 atmospheres and temperatures of 8,000 Celsius. Suffice to say that under certain temperatures and pressures, some elements are iron-loving and not rock-loving. Under those conditions, they would follow iron into the core of the planet. Under other conditions, those same elements are rock-loving and would stay near the surface. Any theory about the moons origin must explain the various densities of elements at different levels.
It was at this time that the crazy impactor theory re-arose. It had some holes in it, but they could be resolved with more research.
The Fission theory was always wonky because no one could come up with a plausible story that could explain the enormous energies involved. The Earth-Moon system is essentially a double-planet and is unique in the solar system. If fission could happen, it should happen more than once.
The math of Co-Accretion suggests that the Earth should have swallowed the moon before it ever got moon-sized.
And Capture seemed like an impossibly unlikely bank shot in pool. Scientists do not like such "just-so" stories.
But a major impact solved all these problems (with a few open questions). At a conference (the trial, in my Perry Mason analogy) held in Kona, Hawaii, something very rare took place. Something actually happened. Conferences of this ilk are like political debates. Everyone knows what everyone else thinks; they hear what the others think; they say what they think; no one changes their mind; and they all go home. Not this time. The Impactor theory was re-opened as a possibility, and a score card was created for the four theories, the last being a kind of "Orient Express" conspiracy of Co-Accretion and Capture… AKA the Impactor theory. And Impact won! Scientists changed there minds right there and then. The role of Perry Mason was filled by moon scientist William Hartmann.
I knew the who the "perp" was when I bought the book. I grew up during Apollo. The book is a fascinating who-dun-it with whacko characters who discover half the story, and seers that broke the prejudice mold and created a scientific consensus. Well written with just enough hard science so you can follow the arguments.
I wrote an essay about 23.4 degrees (http://www.thegodcon.com/the-god-con/234-more-comments-from-a-space-nerd). Most things in the solar system are spinning, and most of that spinning is at right angles to the plane of the thing's orbit. But not Earth. It is spinning at 23.4 degrees off that angle, and a good thing too. Without it, no seasons on Earth, and no us. That wonky angle is evidence of an off-center impact with Earth of a planet about the size of Mars. A pool shot with English on it. It blew off a huge chunk of the Earth's iron-poor mantle, which ultimately coalesced into our moon; and it knocked the Earth off-axis. This explains why the moon is so iron poor, and why moon rocks and very old Earth rocks are the same age and composition. Tidal forces spread the shattered Earth's crust into a disk much like Saturn's; which quickly glommed into our moon.
Thus, we live on what might be quite rare in the galaxy: a double planet. The moon and the Earth both rotate about a common center of gravity which is about three Earth diameters away from the center of the Earth.
The impactor has appropriately been dubbed Theia, mother of the moon.
I do not have a lot to say about this book. A friend suggested it and I read it. It is well written, engrossing at times, and had many insights into the terrible struggle to survive that England went through in the first years of the war. There are a few very colorful characters, and few dark ones as well:
The image of Churchill walking around naked, drinking brandy and champagne, barking orders, and smoking his cigars is almost a cliché.
Lord Beaverbrook, the most interesting personality in the book, almost single-handedly ramped up airplane production and won the Battle of Britton. The Battle of Britton was the air war during the summer of 1940. The Blitz was the bombing of London and other civilian sites, and it went on much longer. The Battle Britton ended when the Blitz began.
Lindemann is a character I knew a bit about from other readings. He was Churchill's right-hand man, science advisor, and general all-round dickhead... hated by everyone. "Often wrong but never in doubt" sums him up pretty well. While he may have contributed to the war in many positive ways, the reverse was also true. For example, a few years later, he dismissed the idea of the V2 as a physically impossibility. He was very, very wrong.
Randolph was Churchill's ne'er-do-well son (his other children were women). A drunken, philandering, gambler… he spent about a million dollars a year (today's money) on booze, broads and gambling!
Rudolph Hess was the most interesting German character that was explored. I learned a few new things about his ill-fated trip to England to make peace. He would remain in Spandau prison, its last inmate, until he killed himself at age 94.
Adolph Galland is another interesting German character. He was an ace fighter pilot. I read his biography in my 20s. By the war's end, he was a general and ran the entire fighter defense of Germany. Later on, he was a technical consultant on the making of the movie "The Battle of Britton". He was the only pilot who was allowed, personally, by Hitler, to smoke cigars and fly at the same time. He smoked 20 a day.
The other principle characters are the remaining members of the Churchill family. A low-key Peyton Place.
Politically, the first years of the war were about survival and getting the US into the fray. The Lend-Lease Act was a big part of that. The pressure of constant bombing had eased up by mid '41, as Hitler turned his eye to the East. Within a week of Pearl Harbor (Dec 7, '41), the US was at war with both Japan and Germany. Germany declared war on the US, and the US reciprocated. The US was the only country that Germany declared war on in WWII! This is where the book ends.
This is a long book, but an easy read. If you skip a sentence or two, you don't miss much. I normally scribble notes into the books I read, and then summarize them afterward. I did that here, but only scribbled about a dozen times. In other words, I learned very little worth knowing. But if you want to get a feel for the gestalt at the time; the attitudes and feelings of both the government players and the people; and the nature of the suffering they went though, I would recommend it.
In 1981, I wrote scribbled up a list of questions to help distinguish science from pseudoscience. The list took on a life of its own and has popped up in the oddest of places. I once found it was part of a Dentistry curriculum. An independently derived and shorter list by Robert Part became part of US jurisprudence.
The differences between science and pseudoscience has been explored by many great minds, including an thorough article written in 1995 by my friend Barry Beyerstein.
I encourage any and all to use the list as appropriate, with proper citation.
Below is a list of questions you should ask yourself when investigating a new "scientific" topic. These questions will help you to separate the good science from the sham.
Pasted from <http://faculty.msmc.edu/markel/mst_101/class%20files/pseudoscience%20characteristics.htm>
Questions to help distinguish a pseudoscience from a protoscience (a new science trying to establish its legitimacy) adapted from Lee Moller's "BCS Debates a Qi Gong Master," Rational Enquirer, Vol 6, No. 4, Apr 94 (published by the British Columbia Skeptics Society)
1. Has the subject shown progress?
2. Does the discipline use technical words such as "vibration" or "energy" without clearly defining what they mean?
3. Would accepting the tenets of a claim require you to abandon any well established physical laws?
4. Are popular articles on the subject lacking in references?
5. Is the only evidence offered anecdotal in nature?
6. Does the proponent of the subject claim that "air-tight" experiments have been performed that prove the truth of the subject matter, and that cheating would have been impossible?
7. Are the results of the aforementioned experiments successfully repeated by other researchers? 8. Does the proponent of the subject claim to be overly or unfairly criticized?
9. Is the subject taught only in non-credit institutions?
10. Are the best texts on the subject decades old?
11. Does the proponent of the claim use what one writer has called "factuals" - statements that are a largely or wholly true but unrelated to the claim?
12. When criticized, do the defenders of the claim attack the critic rather than the criticism?
13. Does the proponent make appeals to history (i.e. it has been around a long time, so it must be true)?
14. Does the subject display the "shyness effect" (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't)?
15. Does the proponent use the appeal to ignorance argument ("there are more things under heaven … than are dreamed of in your philosophy …")?
16. Does the proponent use alleged expertise in other areas to lend weight to the claim?
This link is me, but that is all I can say. I think this is Korean?
疑似科学と未科学を識別するのに参考となる16の質問 by Lee ...
transact.seesaa.net › article
Aug 7, 2006 - ... おそらく主宰であるLee MollerがニューズレターRational Enquirerに書いた「Pseudoscience or Protoscience (疑似科学か未科学か)」という ..
This is the text of the original article I wrote in 1981. Most people rightly ignore the preamble and only pay attention to the list.
Pseudoscience or Protoscience?
by Lee Moller
As a skeptic, one can find something to argue about with almost anyone -- even other skeptics. After having participated in more than one such good-natured debate, some patterns of criticism of skepticism emerge. One of the most common criticisms is the question "How can one tell the difference between a pseudoscience and protoscience?" By protoscience, I mean any claim which, as the result of the unguessable verdict of history, will ultimately be viewed as a legitimate field of study. A common example of such a protoscience is continental drift. It was initially rejected or scoffed at by many scientists, but now continental drift and plate tectonics are well established facts. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. Philosophers still debate the issue of "where do you draw the line?" I suspect that there is no way of distinguishing between science and pseudoscience (this is one reason why the skeptic must always be prepared to change his or her mind in the light of new evidence), but there are certain characteristics that most quackeries seem to share. This article will suggest some questions one could ask (not in any particular order) that might help to distinguish between the reasonable and the absurd.
1. Has the subject shown progress?
Many pseudosciences have been around for centuries and have progressed little, if at all. Graphology (handwriting analysis) is a good example. There have been several theories of graphology over the last century, and they all work equally poorly. Astrology is a second example. Astrologers hardly even blinked when Uranus, Neptune and Pluto were discovered -- although the "theory" of astrology was supposedly complete before this happened.
2. Does the discipline use technical words as 'vibration,' 'frequency,' and 'energy' or phrases such as 'different dimension,' or 'plane of existence' without defining what they mean?
For example, many fringe medicines claim to "balance your body's vital energies." Without appropriate definitions, this statement is meaningless. The most common definition of "energy" is "the capacity to do work." What does it mean to "balance the body's vital capacities to do work?"
3. Would accepting the tenets of a claim require you to abandon any well-established physical laws?
For example, if one were to accept astrology, one would be forced to reconsider such well-established physical laws as causality or the limiting speed of light. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The evidence should be extremely compelling if it is going to convince you to abandon your confidence in modern physics -- a science that clearly has some handle on the truth. Witness the modern-day miracles of laser surgery, superconductivity and the silicon chip, to name a few.
4. Are popular articles on the subject lacking in references?
How many times have you heard phrases like "a recent study showed conclusively that..." but you can never find our which study or who performed it. On the rare occasions when explicit references are supplied, the references are hopelessly out of date or the data on the study often prove to be unavailable. No legitimate scientist will ever refuse to allow experimental data to be examined.
5. Is the only evidence offered anecdotal in nature?
Anecdotal evidence (e.g. "A friend of my mother had a dream about her daughter being in a accident...") for paranormal claims is ubiquitous and, in general, worthless. As Arthur C. Clarke once said, "If you've never seen a UFO, you're not very observant, and if you have seen as many as I have, you wouldn't believe in them either."
6. Does the proponent of the subject claim that airtight experiments were performed, and that cheating was impossible?
Many experiments on psi powers (such as those done of Uri Geller) that were supposedly fraud-proof were laughably transparent to magicians. Even in the presence of a qualified magician, cheating in experiments to test psi powers is never impossible. This leads to the next point.
7. Are the results of the experiments successfully repeated by other researchers?
It is amazing how, with boring regularity, the psychic powers of mediums or "gifted people" seem to evaporate whenever a video-camera or a magician is present in the room. (Psi researchers call this the "shyness effect;" I call it darn convenient.) Repeatability is a cornerstone of science. Without it, science is reduced to rumor and hearsay. Points 6,7,8 and 9 are, of course, tightly inter-related.
8. Does the proponent of the subject claim that he is overly criticized, or the victim of a conspiracy to suppress his ideas?
Conspiracies are not impossible, but it is inconsistent to suggest that, for example, the medical community is suppressing a cancer cure when doctors everywhere die of cancer with the same regularity as the man on the street.
9. Is the discipline taught in night-school non-credit courses only?
Check out local continuing education courses in your municipality. You will probably find courses on channeling, astrology, aura reading and many similar topics.
10. Are the best texts on the subject decades old and available from any store?
Pseudoscientific "experts" stubbornly continue to refer to out-of-date texts, and ignore the more recent literature that might take a little more time and effort to find.
11.Does the proponent of the claim use what one writer called 'factuals?'
A factual is a statement that contains just enough science to make it sound plausible. A common factual is to invoke the Uncertainty Principle of quantum mechanics to explain psychic powers, but to ignore those parts of quantum mechanics which disallow such an application.
12.When criticized, do the defenders of a claim attack the critic, rather than the criticisms?
Such ad hominem attacks are an excellent way of distracting the public from the real issues. There are other characteristics that often crop up, but those mentioned above are some of the most common. This is not to say that just because a certain subject displays one or two of these characteristics, that it is necessarily quackery. But most pseudosciences, at least in my experience, will display most if not all of these qualities simultaneously. In these cases, the verdict of history is almost certain. However, you never know... One day someone might actually see a sasquatch, and perhaps provide concrete evidence of the same, but to date, the number of hucksters and frauds that have been caught cheating provide ample reason to remain skeptical. People can say anything -- and many do.
(Reprinted with permission of the British Columbia Skeptics. Lee Moller is the editor of the Rational Inquirer, the newsletter of the BC Skeptics.)
Pasted from <http://www.ntskeptics.org/1989/1989mayjune/mayjune1989.htm#pseudoscience>
This is a nice summary of the list in a Math, Science and Technology course.
This link gives me pause, but still…
I get a reference in this psychology book.
The Bangladesh Institute of Sociology:
I was also cited in in psychology book: The Psychology of Science and the Origins of the Scientific Mind by Gregory Feist.
Ben Goldacre is a UK Physician. He has written two books on this general subject: the shorter Bad Science and the longer Bad Pharma. He is a good writer with a cutting sense of humor. Unlike most doctors (GPs anyway) he knows a thing or two about statistics and probabilities.
Blythe N. and Dave H. know about my disdain for chiropractors. During our radio days, their disdain for nutritionists turned out to be just as strong. Ben would concur.
Goldacre fires broadsides at the usual targets such as homeopathy, as well as a few lessor known examples of bad science, like brain training, detoxing, and the anti-oxidant scare. And like many other skeptical publications, he takes a close look at placebos and regression to the mean, the life blood of quacks everywhere.
Good vs bad science is easy to recognize, even for the cognoscenti, and for every study, there is an opposing study. To deal with this, a check list protocol was set up called JADAD a meta-analysis protocol was built on JADAD called the Cochrane Collaboration. These two ideas allow the truth to eventually come out. It is likely, for example, that the recent reversal on cholesterol was based on this method.
Surprisingly for some, he poo-poos placebo based trials, as this is often a dodge. Researchers test their products (i.e.: drug) against placebo, the lowest possible standard, and not against the best product on the market at the time.
A major warning from the good doctor: If anyone expresses anything with respect to diet in terms of certainty, they are full of crap. He debunks another myth by stating that most of modern medicine is, in fact, evidence based.
Here are some fun real-world examples (think big tobacco) of cheating in the business of drug science.
Or do what the NFL did: set up its own bad research; establish a self-published journal; and then stack it with doctors on the take (see League of Denial).
Both Bad Pharma and this book go into some detail on this topic. One solution, which is not yet been adopted, is to register experiments before they start. This forces a priori documentation of experiment protocols, success/ fail criteria, etc. and would go a long way toward eliminating some of the manipulation that goes on today.
The books closes with a discussion of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) fiasco. Ben has a few kind words for Jenny McCarthy et al.
This is must reading for all skeptics.
The book follows the money.
6th century: Indulgences created to raise money. Full absolution granted to Crusaders; partial to Crusader helpers. You could even pay to have your relatives placed on the fast track out of Purgatory. And donations made The Rosary more powerful.
16th Century: Leo the X sells indulgences for sins not yet committed (the sin futures market)
19th Century, Gregory XVI needs more money so he borrows from the Rothschilds, who are Jewish in the extreme.
Pius IX tears down the Jewish Ghetto walls in Rome to appease the money lenders. It did not matter much, Jews were forbidden to move anyway.
Pius then sold Vatican bonds, freed himself of the Rothschilds and rebuilt the ghetto walls.
In 1858, a housekeeper secretly Baptized a Jewish kid. Pius found out and kidnapped the kid and raised him Catholic!
Early 20th Century. Leo speaks out AGAINST separation of church and state; freedom of the press, and religious tolerance.
1929: Pius XII signs Lateran Accords with Mussolini (an atheist). The church was suddenly tax exempt on just about everything, even property taxes.
Nogara is tasked to manage Vatican money and everything changes. Money begets money. The Curia expands rapidly. To raise more money, they occasionally declared a year to be "Holy", and begged for more dough. The church indulges in arbitrage.
1935: The Vatican has its fingers in every aspect of the Italian economy. Only the government owned more property. But lending money at interest is still naughty!
1930: The Reichskonkordat deal with the Nazis is signed. 1/3 of Germans were Catholic. Money from them for the Church money was deducted was deducted at source. The Vatican was rich!
The War: Despite tangible evidence of the Holocaust, the Pope refuses to speak out about anything! At the core… money. The Pope found his voice after the war ended. One Father (Juricev) said during the war that it was not a sin to kill a Jew or a Serb… as long as they were older than 7! Too many sins to enumerate here. The Vatican did business with blacklisted countries during the war. They learned how to launder money.
1942: Nogara creates the Opere di Religeone (the IOR, aka the Vatican Bank). The only bank with its own country (and vice verse), unrestrained by borders or pesky audits.
1943: The Vatican is heavily into the Insurance business. Jewish policy holders were rarely paid out.
The Rat Line refers to the Vatican underground railroad for Nazis after the war. The Germans (1/3 of them Catholic) used the Vatican Bank to store stolen loot. The Vatican provided shelter, documents, and money for fleeing Nazis. The Pope even asked for clemency for a leader of the infamous Einsatsgroupen killing squads. Vatican refugees were a laundry list of the worst monsters of the 20th century, including Clause Barbi and Adolph Eichmann. The Vatican was so afraid of the commies they would do anything. For them:
Catholic + Nazi == Fine, possibly misguided, fellow;
Catholic + Commie === Excommunicated bastard
1960: The church owns 120 million square feet of property (tax free). The only sovereign state with more territory outside its borders than in.
Enter the Mafia with Sindona. Sindona was hired to help manage Vatican money. Sindona met Gelli, a business man and Masonic Lodge (called P2) Leader. The Vatican hates Freemasons, because they are anti-religious and partly commie.
Catholic + Freemason == excommunication.
And yet, many Vatican priests and insiders were Masons.
1967: The Italians finally tax the Vatican just a little. By now Vatican holdings are a maze of holding companies, nearly impossible to untangle. But the Vatican did have money in munitions firms, pharmaceuticals (that made birth control pills), and printing companies that made porn.
Marcinkus ran the IOC. He and Sindona were as bent as they come. Enter Calvi (who would ultimately be found swinging from Blackfriar's Bridge), a banker. Also bent. Marcinkus sat on the board of many banks, many of which were off-shore tax havens. Sindona had 48 such companies.
Sindona bought Franklin Bank in the US (18th largest), which would eventually go down as the biggest bank failure in US history. Meanwhile, Sindona spent 5.4 million on the Nixon campaign in '73. Marcinkus and Sindona would play pat-a-cake with Italian and US justice for years. Sindona was given a Man of the Year Award by the US Ambassador to Italy.
The IOR had 175 million in Calvi backed off shore companies. Sindona blackmailed Calvi into helping him.
In 78, a Pope dies; A new Pope (John Paul I) is elected who promises change, including firing Marcinkus; That Pope is (almost certainly) murdered; The Pope's murder was covered up; And a new Pope (Is the Pope Polish?) John Paul II came in.
The Pauline Monks affair breaks. Monks stole millions; and spent it on the usual (fast cars, loose women, etc). Their guilt was beyond question. The Pope issued a decree to stop the Vatican investigation. Another cover up
Sindona, Calvi (Blackfriar's Bridge) and Marcinkus were the top of a rouges gallery of criminal assholes. Sindona was a mob connection; Marcinkus ran the IOR; and Calvi was mob and off-shore bank connection.
The collapse of Franklin Bank had many repercussions. Judges and prosecutors killed.
Sindona; faked his own abduction went on the run; got caught; got tried; and then was poisoned in prison.
Meanwhile Calvi was in financial trouble. He tired every source he could, but his fate was sealed. More facts about P2 (the Masonic Lodge) came out. Lots of members all over the Vatican, police and government.
The Vatican was in bed with an investment bank called Ambrosian's, run by Calvi. The Vatican denied this, but proved to the banks biggest debtor. When this bank collapsed, the Vatican told the Italians to shove their material witness requests.
The rest of the sordid tale is low-lighted with the Vatican's reply to the world when accessed of crimes. They ranged from: (silence), "It is the nasty media", and "How dare you. This the church." to "Fuck off… we are a sovereign country and we answer to nobody." That is, they claimed diplomatic immunity. In one instance, the Vatican sang and danced when they were serves with papers. Two years later, investigation ongoing, the Vatican said it ignored the papers because they did not come in a diplomatic pouch.
Marcinkus was teflon. He out-lasted many Popes. He was under indictment for a long time and could not leave the Vatican. He was due to be fired by John Paul I, but the Pope was murdered (and the murder covered up) just before it was to happen, Whew… that was close. He ended up at some shitty little parish in Arkansas or some such.
John Paul II was useless.
Benedict (Ratzinger) was senile. He ducked every issue (and there were shitloads of them) until the report about gays in the Vatican came out. He could not take it and quit. Among other sins, he refused to sanction a priest who diddled 200 deaf boys!
Pope Francis has made huge strides in cleaning up the IOR.
He has made controversial statements about gays and rape victims.
This is all to his credit, all of which was cancelled out when he refused to cough up the names of defrocked pedophile priests from the UN Child Protection branch. The church even allowed some convicted priests to return to duty! The Vatican has spent 4.5 billion on abuse settlements, 1.5 billion of which was lawyer's fees.
Meanwhile, the Vatican owns gobs of real estate and has tons of money (some of it Nazi gold) all raked off of money laundering.
I was watching a documentary on earthquakes about 9 days ago, based in part on this book. I ordered the book and started reading two days later.
I thought myself fairly knowledgeable on earthquakes, but I was wrong. Mostly because most of what we know we have found out in the last decade or two. The book is written as a sort of detective novel, leading up to its big conclusion.
Many people of my age probably think that we are in a largely earthquake free zone. Geologists thought so too, but wondered why the Cascadia had not had a large quake when every other part of the ring of fire did. They rationalized that our rocks are slippery so stresses can be relieved regularly. After Sumatra and the 250,000 dead there, interest picked up in Cascadia. Could a Magnitude 9 quake be in our future too?
In the olden days, lo, several decades ago in the sixties, plate tectonics was only just gaining acceptance. In the eighties, lasers were used to measure distances between points to see if the earth was moving. This was expensive and difficult. Then GPS came along. Geologists were not interested in GPS coordinates per se, they were interested in how far apart two rock-fixed points were. This was cheap and easy. Soon tons of data was pouring in and computer simulation started taking off. The other thing they did was to look for evidence of past quakes in multiple different ways. They found it.
Spoiler alert… We are due. The Juan De Fuca Plate is now called the Cascadia Subduction Zone Fault and it has let rip every 400 years or so with a massive quake. The last was 400 years ago.
If you live in the interior, you are laughing. If you live on the coast of Vancouver Island, you are fucked. Depending on the nature of the shaking, many buildings in Vancouver (esp brick and mortar "medium-rises") will collapse. In the worst case scenario, the entire west coast of North America from LA to Alaska may be hit hard. The expected tsunami would hit Crescent City like a hammer, and would probably do significant damage in Japan.
It is a good story. The evidence of the turbidite cores, tree rings, oral histories, ghost forests etc all come together nicely. The upshot is that we should be spending more on earthquake preparedness and building reinforcement.
One nice sub-story came from a ten year old British girl in Phuket who had been taught what to look for. She spotted the signs of an incoming tsunami. She convinced her parents and saved her family.
Cascadia is Sumatra. The death toll will be lower, but the damage worse. The good news is that while earthquake prediction is still a dark art, predicting what tsunamis will do is becoming relatively easy. For example, next time, we will be able to tell the Sri Lankans to bug up (not out) even if they are on the lee side of the island… which actually got hit worse than the weather side did. You will have to read the book to find out why.
Ordinary Men, Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution; Christopher Browning; 1998; 268 pgs
Just about everyone who is aware of the depths of Nazi evil have asked themselves this question: How could a modern, civilized nation sink into barbarity and, if I were there then, would I be shooting Jews in the back of the head too?
This book is about the latter half of that question. Its conclusions are drawn from trial transcripts, modern testimony, Nazi records and psychology experiments (specifically the Stanford Prison Experiment and Milgram's faked electric shocks experiment). Putting aside the notion of souls, this is basically a nature/nurture argument. One thing is certain, if we are just talking statistics, the answer to the question would seem to be "Yes. Being generous, three out of four of us would be pulling the trigger".
The Order Police 101 Battalion consisted of about 500 men. All but a few officers were born in the first decade of the 20th century. The average age was 39. In other words, old enough to know better. Virtually all were conscripted. Many were cops before the war. During the war, they shot 38,000 men, women, and children, and rounded up and deported 45,000 to the Treblinka gas chambers. Some men were set aside for labor. The standing order, SOP if you will, was to shoot children, women, and the infirmed where they stood. The bodies were left for other Jews or town folk to clean up. Others were marched out to nearby forests, forced to dig their own graves and then were shot in the back of the head at a range of inches. The descriptions are very grisly and graphic.
One interesting fact about all the participants in the Final Solution: There is no evidence that any one was censured for refusing to kill unarmed people, despite claimed fears to the contrary by many of the perpetrators at trial.
Most of the Battalions work was done as the Germans transitioned from the psychologically damaging shooting of Jews to the easier, out-of-sight, out-of-mind deportation to the gas chambers.
Killing 1,000 Jews in a single town was a typical one day action. In the first such action, the commanding officer asked if any of the 500 men would not want to participate. A dozen stepped forward. Others would find ways to avoid the work. None were punished for avoiding this work. The actual shooting was often fobbed off to blood-thirsty, anti-Semitic Hiwis, volunteers from Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and elsewhere. But 80% (a number that correlates well with the Stanford Prison Experiment) did pull the trigger. Liberal amounts of vodka were distributed to the men to ease their guilt.
There are many reasons why they did what they did. Almost all are rationalizations. Projecting the blame onto the ones who give the orders; thinking of what they did as merciful; blaming the Jews for passivity; concern for future employment as a reason not to shoot; antisemitism; and so on. But the biggest reason was peer pressure. This is not really what I expected. Like most, I assumed the killers were young, stupid, brainwashed Hitler youth. Not so.
Perhaps this is the reason the only group I have been a part of was a group that hated groups.
Do not think that the Germans were unique in their behavior, Think My Lai or ISIS.
I had one small nit with one supposition of the book. The author argues that there was no real self-selection bias in the battalion. I would argue that cops in general are predisposed to hierarchies, the exercising of power and deference to authority, Any many of the Order Police were cops before and after the war.
This book is hard to read. Just as the killers got inured to killing, the reader gets inured to reading about the killing. But it is important that we have a good understanding of the ugly side of human nature. It is relevant today. Consider ISIS; the drug war in Mexico where beheadings have become common place; the cult of personality in North Korea; Iran and Saudi Arabia and sharia law; the killing fields of Cambodia, etc.
I strongly recommend this book if you have any interest in the subject matter at all.
My heritage is Danish and so I feel a certain obligation to understand the role of Denmark in the war. There are four Scandinavian countries: Iceland (allied possession during the war); Norway (occupied and resisted); Denmark (occupied and resisted); and Sweden (neutral but anti-German). Finland is not Scandinavian.
Denmark, a small country of only 4 million, was overrun within 24 hours in April, 1940. Denmark borders Germany and Danes and Germans share a lot of common culture. The Germans recognized the importance of Denmark for its food supply and its strategic location. As such, the Germans "went light" on the Danes.
Many brave stories came out of the Danes struggle to harass and damage the German war effort. The most significant strategic contribution of Denmark took place immediately after D-Day when the resistance bombed rail lines and such and prevented the Germans from rushing reinforcements to the new front.
They also found the wreckage of one of the early V1s on Bornholm Island. The intel from that discovery led to the bombing of Peenemude, the Nazi V-weapons development site.
A famous mission of the war was the twin raids on the Gestapo Headquarters in Copenhagen and Arhus. Shell House in Copenhagen was bombed by RAF Mosquitos (Canadian made) at very low flight levels. The Germans had created a prison for resistance fighters on the roof of Shell House and the Mosquitos literally had to skip their bombs in through the front doors of the building. Germans died, Danes survived.
For those involved, including my father, the most famous Danish accomplishment was to get almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark out and over to Sweden just one day before they were due to be rounded up and exported to the German camps.
Like any other occupied country, the Danish underground conducted sabotage raids and paid the price, usually in the form of torture and death. Many civilians were shot in retribution. The underground also killed many Danish collaborators (it was called liquidation).
Many amusing-in-hindsight stories also came out. The one I like best is the British radio kits that were sent to Denmark during the war. They ran on AC. Denmark at the time was DC. The Danes, took the British version apart and made a new one. It was 1/3 the size, ran on AC or DC, and was more rugged and much easier to manufacture. Eventually, the British adopted the Danish design.
Also amusing, the Germans set up guard posts at key intersections in the city. They were protected by 4 foot tall concrete walls . The wall left only the German's head and shoulders exposed. The Danes, as they walked by, would hang signs on the wall saying "This Nazi is not wearing any pants."
One attack was called the Smorrebrod Raid. Danish airport workers smuggled plastic explosives into their airport and placed time-delayed bombs all over the place. They smuggled them in in what we would call their lunch boxes (Smorrebrod means "Butter and Bread") which the German's did not search. After such a raid, the "perps" would generally be smuggled out of Denmark to Sweden.
It should be said that the Norwegians fought and brave fight against the Germans and suffered terribly. Sweden, while technically neutral, provided aid to its neighbors at every opportunity, risking the wrath of the Nazi's.
In 1880, William Herschel tripped over an astounding discovery. He asked a simple question. Sunlight warmed the skin. Do the different colors of the rainbow carry different amounts of heat? He set up a prism to cast a large rainbow on a wall (this is tricky because the angles must be right and the pesky Earth just keeps on rotating). He placed a thermometer in several different bands of color, and a control thermometer just off from the red end of the spectrum where no light fell at all. To his amazement, the control thermometer recorded a rising temperature and the others nothing. He had discovered infrared light and that the rainbow is not just what meets the eye. This opened the door to the entire electromagnetic radiation (EMR) spectrum. By WWII, they had a full theory of light from Maxwell, and radio was all the rage.
The book begins in the 1930's. Radio was not the concern, impending war was, and the first crude radar units were built. Radar is the invention of the title. Radar saved Briton. It is said that the A-Bomb ended the war, but radar won it.
As dry as this book might sound, it is quite engrossing. I must admit I went rapidly through the last 120 pages or so that covered the cold war and other events leading up to our modern world because I am already reasonably familiar with them (it is mostly computer related). My interest in this subject dovetails nicely with my interests in technology, WWII, and the history of science. Science and war go back a long way, and there is nothing like a good war to accelerate both basic science and technology.
A primer is perhaps useful. Light is an ambiguous term. We use it to mean the light that we can see, and any form of light whether it can be seen or not.
The broad forms of light are: Radio; Cell Phone; Microwave; Infrared; Visible; Ultraviolet; X-Rays; and Gamma rays. In wave lengths, these go from miles in the radio spectrum to femtometers and shorter (smaller than the nucleus of an atom). Frequencies are the inverse of wavelength and energy is proportional to frequency. So radio waves are very low frequency, low energy, very long wave length light. Gamma rays are very high frequency, high energy, short wave length light. Radar focused primarily in the microwave band, around the same frequencies used by your microwave oven, with a wavelength of around 2 centimeters. Sort of in the middle.
Generally speaking, the higher the frequency, the lower the wavelength; and the better you can see. To use radar to see an enemy airplane, centimeter wavelengths were the key. One problem is that different materials interact with EMR in different ways at different frequencies. For example, rain plays havoc with 1 cm radars because water absorbs the energy (which is why your microwave works).
In 1940, a group of Brits went to the US to trade secrets. This was known as the Tizzard mission. The US needed the British technology, although they did not know it at the time, and the Brits needed the US's manufacturing capabilities. The Brits brought their super-secret Resonant Cavity Magnetron. This device could create strong emissions of microwave energy at just the right wave lengths. Radar won the war, the magnetron made radar work. The Americans were gob-smacked. The RadLab was created and it produced radars at a dramatically increased pace. Radar was used to detect incoming threats, count them, and get there altitude (all different applications), aim guns, monitor traffic in harbors, guide plans to a safe landing (today we call this ILS for Instrument Landing System), FoF (Friend or Foe) systems and lots more.
Aside: Some FoFs worked by detecting small changes in a planes returns caused by distinctive engine vibrations. Amazingly, analog computers of the day could sniff this out. Cool.
More than a few famous names worked at the RadLab, including Nobel winner I. I. Rabi, Robert Watson Watt (he is related), William Shockley and ploy-math Luis Alvarez. Alvarez would move on to the Manhattan Project, and later in his career he would be known for the asteroid/dinosaur extinction theory.
The development of the bomb took most of the Nobel winners out of the market. This lead to the following amusing conversation:
S1: The bomb guys get all the breaks! They snatch up all the Nobel winners first.
S2: Well, Rabi just won, so we have one too now.
S1: Yeah, but we have only had ours for 3 weeks!
It soon became apparent to the higher-ups, especially Vannevar Bush, that basic science was important, And so scientists suddenly found themselves considerably higher up in the food chain, leading to this: A scientist found himself being frustrated by a military pencil pusher. He (sorry, they are all he's) turned to his tormentor and asked "Who do I see about getting you fired?"
Meanwhile, the Germans were working on their radars in a kind of intellectual, evolutionary game of leapfrog. One project was code named Freya. Freya, Odin's wife in Norse mythology, and the source of Friday (Freya's Day), had a magic necklace that allowed her to see for hundreds of miles in every direction. Only the Nazis would be arrogant enough to use her name on a radar project.
This book is long and full of a lot of detail. It has a good index, lots of notes, and a list of acronyms used. Very helpful. Radar systems were the start of high frequency electronics. Modern computers were a direct result of all that. Radar technology combined with computing power opened up the rest of the EM universe to us. The computer power came from the transistor, invented by Shockley. Early analog computers would contain hundreds of tubes, each tube being a bit. Today, millions of transistors can fit on the head of a pin.
The largest radio telescope in the southern hemisphere is located in Parks Australia in the middle of a sheep paddock. It was built by RadLab alums after the war.
If you enjoy reading about WWII, EMR technology, applied physics and its impact on our lives, this is a book I would recommend. Another, longer, similar book does the same for nuclear physics: The Making of The Atomic Bomb.
It has been suggested that radar advanced applied solid state physics by two decades. The PC, cell phones, the internet, HD TV, smart phones, astronomy, planetary research, NMR machines… a near endless list of things we have already started to take for granted. All delayed by twenty years. You would recognize this world because in people terms, it is practically yesterday.
A recent puff (read: stupid) question for politicians is "If you could, would you go back and kill Hitler as a youth?" Well, if you did, you would have to give up quite a lot today.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.