Thought of the day

The NFL is a really shady organization. First they release the Wells report, which was filled with bogus science, faulty logic, and an obvious agenda. Next, they smear Tom Brady over ‘destroying’ his cell phone – even though the NFL had all the information they requested AND Brady’s people offered to try to get them more (they declined). Now they’ve not only escalated their language from him being ‘generally aware’ of some scheme* to him being overtly involved, but they’re <em>still</em> leaking false reports to ESPN (which dutifully reports what their football overlords request they report). Fuck you, NFL.

*There was, in fact, never any scheme by anyone. The footballs were never deflated beyond the predictions of the ideal gas law. Moreover, Brady explicitly gave a copy of the rules to the refs so that they would know to keep the balls at the legal minimum of 12.5.

Catholicism and evolution

I often hear people trumpeting that the Catholic Church supports science because it supports evolution. The usual rebuttal is a terrible one that points to the Church historically denying science, as if that bears any relevance whatsoever to whether or not it supports it now. Let’s stop with that line of bad argument and instead focus on what the Church currently believes – it turns out it, in fact, does not support evolution.

Evolution has no goal. It isn’t conscious. It operates on a combination of natural selection and random mutation (amongst a few other factors). This is necessarily focused on the level of the individual – or gene, if you want to go down that path, but we needn’t – and generation. An organism replicates or reproduces, passing its genes on to the next generation without regard to how well its great-great-great-great-great offspring will fare. Indeed, it isn’t even passing on its genes with regard to how will its own offspring will fare. It, of course, often does make an investment there, but its concern is in and of itself in the passing of its genes. Fundamentally, that is what matters in evolution. The genes that pass through the sieve of natural selection have done so for the sake of continuing to exist. We would be correct to think of the game as resetting in every generation.

What this means is that there is no long term goal within evolution. Genes have unconsciously seen to it that they will get themselves copied for as long as they can. If that ends with a quickly replicating bacterium or something toothy or something small and quick or something intelligent or something simply huge, then so be it. The only way in which it can be said that evolution has any sort of goal is to say that it has generational goals. These are not conscious and they do not come about with any sort of phenotypic effects in mind. That is, the goal is for genes to continue to exist; there is no goal for genes to produce any particular characteristic or trait. Evolution is truly incidental.

This matters in terms of the Catholic Church’s alleged acceptance of evolution because the Church, like most religions, believes that human are special and/or inevitable. We aren’t. As Stephen Jay Gould famously noted, if we re-ran the tape of life, we would get different results every time. The fact that we exist is incidental in the history of life. Change a few factors here or there and humans don’t exist. The same goes for every species. For instance, if an asteroid didn’t hit Earth 65 million years ago, dinosaurs would quite likely still roam the planet. The rise of the mammals probably wouldn’t have happened since we would have remained as small burrowing creatures that kept out of the way of all the big, toothy animals out there.

Human inevitability is necessary for virtually all religions, including Catholicism. If humans are only incidental, then we lose any sort of special status. That’s exactly what reality is, though. We know this for a fact. The only way to reconcile Catholicism and evolution is to say that God guided evolution towards humanity in a way which appears consistent with a natural process. For my money, that’s an unsatisfying God-of-the-Gaps explanation; in this argument, God is indistinguishable from nature.

Your definition of “clickbait” sucks

An example of clickbait: “A firefighter rescued 9 kittens from a burning building. You’ll never believe what happened next!”

Not an example of clickbait: A title to an article you don’t like or a title that is just misleading or a title that is just sensationalist or any content within an article.

The hallmark of clickbait titles is vagueness. If it isn’t vague, it isn’t clickbait. The reader is given the general topic, but the lede is hidden. That’s the bait. You have to click to find out what happened next. You have to click to see why you’ll be so amazed. You have to click because the title doesn’t give you the basic information about the content.

And, no, that definition of “clickbait” that you just googled does not make a case for some other use of the term. While the OED (why aren’t you using says clickbait is any content on the Internet that is sensationalized or designed to get clicks, that’s a garbage definition. Content has been sensationalized on the Internet for the past 25 years. The word “clickbait” has only risen in popular use in the past 2-3 years since Gawker style articles started clogging your Facebook feeds. It’s obvious the word is a response to something more than sensationalized titles. And note how the garbage definition uses “or”. That means anything which is designed to get clicks is clickbait? Quick, tell the BBC and Reuters and Al Jazeera America to stop writing headlines about earthquakes, riots, floods, and Greek debt. Hell, tell Facebook to get rid of that “clickbait” home button at the top of your Facebook page. It’s designed to get you to click, after all.

Related side-rant: People abuse dictionary definitions all the time. First, a lot of people use Merriam-Webster, which is a really shitty dictionary and should be considered dictionary abuse in and of itself. Second, people love to pick one or two *pieces* of a definition that fits their needs. That isn’t how words work. “Television” can be defined, in part, as “visual media”, but that doesn’t mean I get to refer to comic books as television because they’re also visual media.

People labeling everything “clickbait” is a huge pet peeve of mine. It has become this term people use to derisively refer to any article they don’t like. Often, I see people not even being specific to titles, instead focusing on the content of the article. No. The 9th paragraph in an article cannot possibly be what got you to click a link. The title got you to click. And if it was intentionally vague, then it was probably clickbait.

An article title can be bad for many different reasons, but if it isn’t vague, it isn’t clickbait.

Scalia, as predicted

Three years ago I made a prediction about Political Figure Antonin Scalia regarding his professed adherence to stare decisis as it relates to same-sex marriage:

Lawrence v Texas established adequate precedence for the constitutional legalization of same-sex marriage. At least it did in political figure Scalia’s view. (In reality, the 14th Amendment established it.) That means that once same-sex marriage makes it way to the Supreme Court in the coming years, Scalia is going to rule in favor of it. That is, if he really does care about stare decisis. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

I hope I’m wrong, but here’s my prediction: Scalia is going to rule against same-sex marriage in overt defiance of the principles he pretends he holds.

What I was arguing here was that Scalia had whined in Lawrence that the Court’s decision to disallow governmental interference in the bedroom of consenting adults had, effectively, established precedence for same-sex marriage. That is, Scalia wrote in his dissent that if the Court could overturn a state’s ability to legislate against something based upon a moral opposition to homosexuality, then it would also have the power to overturn a state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Since Scalia is a self-professed lover of stare decisis – he believes past decisions must be taken into account in new decisions – it would only make sense for him to side with same-sex marriage proponents. Even though he dissented in Lawrence, the decision set precedent that, according to Scalia himself, the Court had the necessary latitude to strike down any ban on same-sex marriage that was premised on moral opposition. Today, however, he dissented in Obergefell v. Hodges, in blatant violation of his alleged principles and in full satisfaction of my three year old prediction.

Round-Up is not in plant DNA

I wrote the following in response to someone on social media who said Round-Up gets into the DNA of GM crops. Several other people in the same thread made the same claim. I know a great number of people out there believe a whole host of things about genetically modified organisms for one reason or another. In most cases, the people don’t have a basic background in the issues at hand. That would be fine if the topic stayed on safety – we can all read the summaries of scientific papers – but time and time again, people insist on making outlandish claims that betray an ignorance of biology. Here’s what I wrote:

DNA is composed of four nucleotides: guanine, cytosine, adenine, and thymine (plus a few things to help glue it all together). These are the molecules that compose that double-helix structure we all know so well. Guanine (G) and cytosine (C) bond while adenine (A) and thymine (T) bond. Each strand of the double helix has some given order of these letters (GAACATTAC) that goes on for some time. The corresponding strand has the matching letters (CTTGTAATG). These are called base pairs. Every three base pairs correspond to an amino acid. TGG, for example, corresponds to the familiar tryptophan we find in our turkey every Thanksgiving.

That’s a crash course in what DNA is. Next, it’s necessary to understand what a gene is (on a biological level). Knowing that DNA is composed of nucleotides that form an amino acid every three base pairs, we can understand what a gene is. Those base pairs continue to form a double helix structure between start and stop codons. These are specific sequences of 3 base pairs which indicate where a gene begins and ends:


The start codon is AUG and the stop codon is TAG here. All the letters in between code for amino acids. (Those letters tend to get into the hundreds or thousands.) These amino acids are folded into a specific 3D shape that catalyzes reactions. If there is some sort of error anywhere along the line, the 3D shape won’t form correctly and thus won’t work. That’s what Round-Up does to most plants. If you spray it on some weeds in the cracks of your driveway, you’ve inhibited the synthesis of necessary amino acids plants use. Without those amino acids, the ultimate 3D structure is mal-formed, if it forms at all.

I’ve bored you with all this because I want to be clear: Round-Up is not present in the DNA of GMOs. GMOs are able to synthesize the aforementioned amino acids via a naturally occurring gene that has been inserted into them.

In other words, the active ingredient in Round-Up is glyphosate. This is not a nucleotide and it does not attach to or compose DNA. It attaches to a specific enzyme (which is produced by DNA) and inhibits a pathway that is only found in plants. (That is, a given enzyme is needed to catalyze a given process, but it is inhibited from doing so. It’s similar to a key being needed to open a door, but someone has stuffed the keyhole with other junk. You aren’t opening that door.) As a result, a number of necessary amino acids cannot be synthesized, causing the plant to die. GM crops have a slightly different enzyme, however. Recall that enzymes form specific 3D shapes. The enzyme in GM crops form a different shape than the enzyme in other crops. That means the glyphosate cannot attach, and thus it cannot inhibit the synthesis of those amino acids.

At no point is Round-Up a part of anything’s DNA. It couldn’t be. The double helix structure works with nucleotides. That’s just what DNA is. Glyphosate is a synthesized molecule which interrupts the enzymatic process of plants. Those interrupted enzymes are products of genes and they also contribute to the production of amino acids which are necessary for the replication of more genes.

Thought of the day

Remember when Steve Jobs got a very treatable form of cancer? He chose to go with the pretend/alternative medicine route. He died where most would have survived for quite some time. That was no surprise. Quackery breeds death. But what has been a nice surprise is Valerie Harper, the star of Rhoda and one of the co-stars on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In March of 2013 she emotionally announced that she had cancer and as a result had as little as 3 months to live. Well, thanks to actual medicine she’s cancer-free as of April of last year (with no negative public updates since).

Thank goodness for science, eh?

More “deflate gate” nonsense

The NFL recently released its report concerning “deflate gate”. The conclusion was that it was “more probable than not” that Tom Brady was “generally aware” if not outright involved in manipulating ball psi outside the allowed lower limit of 12.5 psi. Here are a few things no one wants to talk about:

  • Three of the four balls the Colts used were under the minimum psi at halftime. The report curtly dismisses this.
  • The report excluded interviews with Brady.
  • Very early reports said most of the balls were well under the minimum, but a later report corrected this and said 10 of the 12 game balls were a few ticks under.
  • Ball psi isn’t regularly measured. Refs “check” the balls and approve them before game time, but this mostly consists of a quick squeeze in all likelihood.
  • Ball psi certainly isn’t measured at half-time, so there’s no data set for how balls might react between the start of the game and 30 (game) minutes later.
  • It makes no sense to say psi is so important to Brady that he would cheat, yet one of the balls was 2 psi under while the others were merely ticks under. You don’t intentionally cheat for your star quarterback by flagrantly messing up. If psi is so important to him, then a 2 psi difference might wreck the game. It’s “more probable than not” that the equipment guys ballparked the psi measurements for the balls, making a genuine mistake on one of them.
  • The research firm hired by the NFL has a shady past. It once concluded that oil waste in an Ecuadorean forest didn’t increase cancer rates. The study was commissioned by Chevron. Another time it concluded that second hand smoke doesn’t cause cancer. I’ll let you guess who commissioned that one. Another time it exonerated Toyota’s electronic systems after people found themselves suddenly and uncontrollably accelerating. Yep, you guessed it. Toyota paid for that one.

Here’s the worst part: the report concluded that science can’t account for the difference in claimed psi and measured psi for the ball measured at 10.6 psi. Except it can. Not that that single ball is a valid starting point in the first place. The conclusion here is a pretty obvious one. There’s no good evidence to indicate that anyone in the Patriots organization, including Tom Brady, did anything to intentionally deflate footballs below the league minimum. This is a witch hunt against a team that a lot of people already hate for being so successful over the years. The NFL has taken a beating this past year (no pun intended), so it’s desperate to do everything in its power to regain its reputation. Hiring a shady research firm to put out a bogus, science-free report is exactly what it needs, even if that sounds counter-intuitive. Now the league can say it has met the minimum required to dole out punishments; if Roger Goodell suspends the arguable face of the league, he comes across as stern, swift, and honorable. In reality, he’s just an asshole. Look, Pats haters, I’m pretty envious of Brady, too. He’s got the all-American dream. He’s a star quarterback that is quite literally the best the game has ever seen, he has a supermodel wife, he’s worth $100 million, he’s got just about a fistful of Super Bowl rings, and let’s be honest, plastic surgeons are probably asked every single day if they can make their clients look like him. But that’s no reason to buy into garbage reports from shady firms hired by a damaged league with an agenda.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 216 other followers