Properly leading science articles

Not long ago I wrote about misleading science articles, where it was claimed something in science was proved by a group of authors, one of which responded to the post (thank you, Christian Hoelbling). Now here’s a better article which is properly leading.

WASHINGTON – Mysterious dark energy, which likely causes the universe to keep expanding, seems to have another effect: It prevents the biggest clusters of galaxies from getting too fat. Astronomers used X-rays to study the formation of galactic clusters billions of years ago. Their research supports the hard-to-fathom concept of dark energy as a potent force that governs the growth of the universe.

It also means Albert Einstein’s century-old theory of general relativity passes another crucial, but not conclusive, real-world test.

Emphasis added.

Science is about disproving, not proving. By relativity “pass[ing] another crucial…test” it is meant that it was not falsified; it does not mean that anything was proven. The continued inability to falsify general relativity simply reinforces the theory.

Incidentally,

“[Dark energy] much more important and abundant in the evolution of the universe than the atoms that make us up,” said Princeton theoretical astrophysicist David Spergal.

Nothing makes sense except in the 'light' of creationism

At least not in Louisiana.

Not far back, I warned that we need to watch out for Bobby Jindal. He’s the anti-science mook of a governor from Louisiana that recently signed into a law a bill which targets the facts of evolution and global warming.

Remembering Jindal as a good student in his genetics class, Landy hoped that the governor would recall the scientific importance of evolution to biology and medicine. Joining Landy in his opposition to the bill were the American Institute of Biological Sciences, which warned that “Louisiana will undoubtedly be thrust into the national spotlight as a state that pursues politics over science and education,” and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which told Jindal that the law would “unleash an assault against scientific integrity.” Earlier, the National Association of Biology Teachers had urged the legislature to defeat the bill, pleading “that the state of Louisiana not allow its science curriculum to be weakened by encouraging the utilization of supplemental materials produced for the sole purpose of confusing students about the nature of science.”

But all these protests were of no avail. On June 26, 2008, the governor’s office announced that Jindal had signed the Louisiana Science Education Act into law. Why all the fuss? On its face, the law looks innocuous: it directs the state board of education to “allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied,” which includes providing “support and guidance for teachers regarding effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review scientific theories being studied.” What’s not to like? Aren’t critical thinking, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion exactly what science education aims to promote.

s always in the contentious history of evolution education in the U.S., the devil is in the details. The law explicitly targets evolution, which is unsurprising—for lurking in the background of the law is creationism, the rejection of a scientific explanation of the history of life in favor of a supernatural account involving a personal creator. Indeed, to mutate Dobzhansky’s dictum, nothing about the Louisiana law makes sense except in the light of creationism.

It’s fascinating that the group of people who claim to be the most moral of all mankind are the ones who are constantly seen lying about their intentions. Rather than to continue saying “We are creationists. We believe absurd things which have no basis in science. We want these things taught in the secular school system. Oh, and by the way, we need to talk about the whole “secular” thing”, they instead say “Academic freedom is being quashed because our ideas are not being accepted.” Of course, academic freedom has nothing to do with accepting every bad idea that comes around. If it did, not only would the Bible be an acceptable alternative discussion to the fact of evolution, but so would the Koran, Greek myths, and whatever the hell it is Tom Cruise believes. We would see Christian Science being regarded as an acceptable alternative to actual medicine and medical practices. We would see astronomy professors attempting to inform students of stellar evolution while in the next class an astrologer would tell the students why it’s a lucky week for capricorns.

Creationism and its twin in a cheap tuxedo, Paley’s Watchma…I mean, intelligent design…are not rejected on the basis that evolution cannot stand up to criticism. They are rejected because evolution already has stood up to criticism. That is why it’s a scientific theory. It stands with equal validity to cell theory, atomic theory, and the theory of gravity. It is established beyond all doubt. Proposing a necessarily complex (not to mention invisible) creator only raises more questions – namely, if the question is “How do we explain complexity?” then we are raising that very question with such a proposition. That is, saying life is so complex it needs a creator raises the question of the existence of the complexity of that creator.

Nothing makes sense except in the ‘light’ of creationism

At least not in Louisiana.

Not far back, I warned that we need to watch out for Bobby Jindal. He’s the anti-science mook of a governor from Louisiana that recently signed into a law a bill which targets the facts of evolution and global warming.

Remembering Jindal as a good student in his genetics class, Landy hoped that the governor would recall the scientific importance of evolution to biology and medicine. Joining Landy in his opposition to the bill were the American Institute of Biological Sciences, which warned that “Louisiana will undoubtedly be thrust into the national spotlight as a state that pursues politics over science and education,” and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which told Jindal that the law would “unleash an assault against scientific integrity.” Earlier, the National Association of Biology Teachers had urged the legislature to defeat the bill, pleading “that the state of Louisiana not allow its science curriculum to be weakened by encouraging the utilization of supplemental materials produced for the sole purpose of confusing students about the nature of science.”

But all these protests were of no avail. On June 26, 2008, the governor’s office announced that Jindal had signed the Louisiana Science Education Act into law. Why all the fuss? On its face, the law looks innocuous: it directs the state board of education to “allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied,” which includes providing “support and guidance for teachers regarding effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review scientific theories being studied.” What’s not to like? Aren’t critical thinking, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion exactly what science education aims to promote.

s always in the contentious history of evolution education in the U.S., the devil is in the details. The law explicitly targets evolution, which is unsurprising—for lurking in the background of the law is creationism, the rejection of a scientific explanation of the history of life in favor of a supernatural account involving a personal creator. Indeed, to mutate Dobzhansky’s dictum, nothing about the Louisiana law makes sense except in the light of creationism.

It’s fascinating that the group of people who claim to be the most moral of all mankind are the ones who are constantly seen lying about their intentions. Rather than to continue saying “We are creationists. We believe absurd things which have no basis in science. We want these things taught in the secular school system. Oh, and by the way, we need to talk about the whole “secular” thing”, they instead say “Academic freedom is being quashed because our ideas are not being accepted.” Of course, academic freedom has nothing to do with accepting every bad idea that comes around. If it did, not only would the Bible be an acceptable alternative discussion to the fact of evolution, but so would the Koran, Greek myths, and whatever the hell it is Tom Cruise believes. We would see Christian Science being regarded as an acceptable alternative to actual medicine and medical practices. We would see astronomy professors attempting to inform students of stellar evolution while in the next class an astrologer would tell the students why it’s a lucky week for capricorns.

Creationism and its twin in a cheap tuxedo, Paley’s Watchma…I mean, intelligent design…are not rejected on the basis that evolution cannot stand up to criticism. They are rejected because evolution already has stood up to criticism. That is why it’s a scientific theory. It stands with equal validity to cell theory, atomic theory, and the theory of gravity. It is established beyond all doubt. Proposing a necessarily complex (not to mention invisible) creator only raises more questions – namely, if the question is “How do we explain complexity?” then we are raising that very question with such a proposition. That is, saying life is so complex it needs a creator raises the question of the existence of the complexity of that creator.

HIV Evolution

Scientists have recently shown that the rate of evolution for HIV is not constant.

HIV is so deadly largely because it evolves so rapidly. With a single virus as the origin of an infection, most patients will quickly come to harbor thousands of different versions of HIV, all a little bit different and all competing with one another to most efficiently infect that person’s cells. Its rapid and unique evolution in every patient is what allows HIV to evade the body’s defenses and gives the virus great skill at developing resistance to a pantheon of antiviral drugs.

“A huge amount of HIV diversity accumulates in the body of a patient with HIV, and it’s a big reason why HIV is such a powerful virus,” said Ha Youn Lee, Ph.D., assistant professor of Biostatistics and Computational Biology at the University of Rochester and corresponding author of the study.

Lee and colleagues have settled a longstanding question about just how HIV morphs in the body. In a paper published Dec. 12 in PLoS Computational Biology , scientists show that HIV evolution in the body does not occur at a constant rate. Rather, the virus’s rate of change suddenly slows when the level of crucial immune cells known as CD4+ T-cells falls in a patient.

The team suggests several possible reasons for why HIV slows its evolution later in the disease process. One is that there are simply fewer immune cells left for the virus to infect. Another possibility is that since the immune system is no longer as effective targeting the virus, the virus no longer feels the “selective pressure” of the immune system, and the virus slows its evolution in response.

It’s no secret that HIV is a daunting virus. The fact that it has been shown now to have such a tremendous amount of variation should put no one at ease. There are literally thousands of different types of HIV in an infected individual’s body soon after the disease is contracted. Thousands.

Picture a criminal on the lam. When the police are out in force, the criminal must change his disguise more and more to survive, but when fewer police are present, the criminal can change his disguise less often. In the case of HIV, the virus actually eliminates the “police officers” – CD4+ T-cells patrolling the body. As time goes on and fewer immune cells are present to flag HIV, the virus no longer has the need to evolve as rapidly as it did when the cells were out in force.

This is a pretty apt analogy, if a bit 19th century/Sherlock Holmes-esq. As a secondary point, it’s nice to see such a blatant attempt at popularization within a science article.

As the virus mutates, giving birth to viral offspring called quasispecies, it presents an ever-changing face to the immune system, which is continually adapting itself to keep up with the onslaught. The immune system does a remarkable job fending off the assault, killing most of the viral particles every day. Even so, some of the virus is able to elude the body’s defenses and ultimately devastates the immune system in most patients.

Alas, not all evidence for evolution is pleasant. It’s roughly about as indifferent and pitiless as one might expect such a natural process to be.