There and Back Again: Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON)

ISON remnantOr not, as the case may be. If you haven’t already heard Comet ISON – once hailed as a potential “comet of the century” – has almost certainly fragmented after rounding the Sun and will not be spectacularly gracing our skies over the new year, nor returning to the outer reaches of the solar system intact. In more hopeful times back in late June Brian Thomas published an article called “Ison–The Comet of the Century,” which opened:

In September 2012, a Russian and a Belarusian astronomer using the Kislovodsk Observatory co-discovered a comet heading our way. Comet Ison should become visible to Earth viewers in December 2013 after passing perilously close to the Sun during November. It may even appear brighter than the moon, triggering discussions about when and how comets formed.

Thomas, who paid no attention to what was even then a very real possibility that ISON would break up during its “perilous” perihelion approach, used the comet as a launching pad to promote the young-Earth creationist view that comets prove that the universe is young. But even before fragmenting ISON was not a particularly good poster-boy for this cause. Continue reading

On Top of the World

We seem to be making an overdue time jump into November: Brian Thomas’ article for Monday is called Tibetan Cat Fossil: A Tall Tale? He opens:

An international research team claims to have found the world’s oldest big cat fossil in Tibet, publishing their findings in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Big cats include lions, tigers, jaguars, and even snow leopards from Asia. The team dated several snow leopard-like partial fossils at between 4.1 and 5.95 million years old and a complete skull at around 4.4 million years. But how did the authors obtain these large numbers?

Continue reading

Concentration is Important

Lego Color BricksThe building blocks from which DNA is made are known as deoxynucleoside-5′-triphosphates (dNTPs), which are made up of the familiar four DNA bases – Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine, and Thymine – plus a deoxyribose sugar and three phosphate groups. dNTPs are produced by the enzyme ribonucleotide reductase (RNR), and the enzymes that replicate DNA must obtain these molecules from the solution around them.

Imagine you have a tower of randomly coloured lego bricks, which you are trying to construct an identical copy of. The problem is that the materials you are using are not orderly arrayed on the floor but are instead being thrown at you randomly and must be caught before use. Continue reading

Bloody Mosquito Redux

Culiseta annulataIn mid-October I started a list in a google spreadsheet of “Articles of Interest.” It’s already up to 162 entries right now, and contains news articles and blog posts from a wide variety of sources that I might need to find again. The news stories behind a couple of recent ICR articles – on Dmanisi and the ancient galaxy from Monday – feature, as do many other topics which are likely to come up. The ICR tends to operate on a time delay of a few weeks, so looking forwards in the seven days following the galaxy story we have new information on Titan’s lakes; some abiogensis research; better dating for Homo (erectus?*) rudolfensis; and also that silly “Junk DNA face” story. Looking back at things they seem to have missed, meanwhile, turns up items like a story about blue straggler stars, a topic about which Brian Thomas has previously made noises, and an interesting system of extrasolar planets.

My point here is that there is no shortage of fresh science news of the kind the ICR likes to talk about. And yet for the second time in as many weeks Brian Thomas has decided to revisit an older story in order to better make a fool of himself. For Wednesday we have Questionable Dating of Bloody Mosquito Fossil – my previous post on this can be found here. Continue reading

A New Oldest Galaxy: z8_GND_5296

Keck TelescopesWe have a new contender for the title of “oldest known galaxy”: it has a redshift of z = 7.51, corresponding to an age only 700 million years younger than the universe as a whole, and has been assigned the code z8_GND_5296. Discoveries like this happen fairly often, as there is a sustained effort of astronomers staring at little red dots with similarly arcane designations in the hope of teasing out a little more information about the early evolution of galaxies. Continue reading

Not Enough Lightning Strikes

Abisko rockI’m feeling a rush of what seems to be nostalgia: I’m sure it’s been ages since we saw such a classic example of an attempt to prove that the Earth is young via the use of an overly simplistic understanding of geological processes as we have here in Counting Earth’s Age in Lightning Strikes, by Brian Thomas.

But first a look at the research that prompted his article. Certain angular fracturing in exposed rocks – like in the above picture from northern Sweden – is commonly credited to the freeze-thaw cycle, with the expansion of water forming ice over winter acting to expand existing weaknesses. Other options do exist, but they all follow a similar theme. As Brian’s source paper, Lightning as a geomorphic agent on mountain summits: Evidence from southern Africa, says: Continue reading

Dmanisi Round 2: Fraud?

You no doubt still remember Friday’s post, in which we looked at an article by Brian Thomas and Frank Sherwin called Human-like Fossil Menagerie Stuns Scientists (screenshot) that horribly mangled the science around Dmanisi skull 5 to claim that it showed that all early Homo species were fully human in the modern sense, while Australopithecus and others were just apes. While they correctly noted that many species would have to be “wiped from the textbooks” – quoting from a Guardian article they couldn’t go too far wrong there – they went so far in their enthusiasm as to claim that human evolution itself should be similarly erased. For my part I suggested that the ICR may want some new science writers, as their article went over and above the call of duty when it comes to misrepresenting scientific results for creationist ends. Seriously: I could do much better.

Today, in a spectacular turnaround, Brian Thomas alone has published a second article on the same fossil called New ‘Human’ Fossil Borders on Fraud. Having previously argued that Dmanisi skull 5 was a problem for evolution, he now suggests (while not so much as acknowledging the previous article) that it’s really a fraud in some manner, perpetrated by researchers to prop up evolution. Thomas doesn’t seem to be claiming that the skull itself is a fraud, in the manner of Piltdown Man, but that it’s really just a Australopithecine that anthropologists are calling early Homo for their own ends. Continue reading

The Microprocessor

Intel 4004

(Not this kind of microprocessor.)

The ICR does not usually post on local public holidays, but for Veterans Day (November 11) we have Incredible Microprocessor Protein Acts as Genome Guardian from Jeffrey Tomkins:

Researchers recently studied a highly sophisticated cellular machine that acts as a guard for the genome against harmful mutations and that evolution cannot explain.

Grammar is a wonderful thing – does he mean that “evolution cannot explain” the protein or the mutations? I don’t know for certain, but we’re going to have to use the former as our working assumption. Continue reading

“That’s not what we were looking at”

I should post follow-ups on old posts more often. Minda Berbeco at the NCSE’s new blog, Science League of America, has tracked down the primary author, Morgan Kelly, of a paper that Brian Thomas misinterpreted back in June about adaptation in sea urchins. Kelly answered a few of Berbeco’s questions on her research, including:

Could you explain how the ICR article misrepresented your results?

There were a couple problems with their interpretation of my research. First of all, there is a difference between the potential to adapt and having already done so. It seems that they have misinterpreted our findings to say that urchins have already adapted. That’s not what we were looking at.

There’s more. Of course there’s more. I’ve emailed researchers in the past to notify them of ICR articles, and the typical response notes that the creationist piece does indeed horribly mangle their research and conclusions. Rarer is a detailed explanation of what is really going on – real scientists are busy – but when it happens it’s a treat. Read on!

Lumping at Dmanisi

Palaeontologists at Dmanisi, an increasingly famous village in Georgia, have made some quite interesting discoveries: a small collection of early Homo skeletons from people living in the same place at the same time that are nevertheless fairly variable in appearance, as exemplified by the recently-described “skull 5.” The usual rules of population dynamics say that you can’t have different species that have the same niche (i.e. they have same shtick – they live in the same way, eat the same food etc) living in the same place – one of them will quickly win out and exclude the others. If this hasn’t happened – and it doesn’t seem to have at Dmanisi – we must conclude that the organisms are or were of the same species. Continue reading