Friday, November 7, 2014

Weekend Rebel Science Excursion - 37

DNA is not alive
Today we take a look at a persistent false meme which other Agnotology researchers have also taken a looked at.

Regular readers know that Dredd Blog has often repeated the statement "DNA is not alive" and "RNA is not alive" many times over the years.

Who would have thought that the false meme "DNA is alive" is so widespread and believed by so many?

Today, I will venture an educated guess as to why this false meme is so persistent, and how it is associated with the ignorance concerning microbes and viruses.

But first, who would have believed that a percentage of students who incorrectly believe that DNA is alive, and who go to a college or a university that knows better, are still unable to grasp the chemistry - even after those students take university level biology classes that teach them DNA is not alive?

Yes, even after being taught that, why do they still not grasp the chemistry?

Here is a quote from a scientific paper based on a study of the phenomenon:
We are involved in a project to incorporate innovative assessments within a reform-based large-lecture biochemistry course for nonmajors. We not only assessed misconceptions but purposefully changed instruction throughout the semester to confront student ideas. Our research questions targeted student conceptions of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) along with understanding in what ways classroom discussions/activities influence student conceptions. Data sources included pre-/post-assessments, semi-structured interviews, and student work on exams/assessments. We found that students held misconceptions about the chemical nature of DNA, with 63% of students claiming that DNA is alive prior to instruction. The chemical nature of DNA is an important fundamental concept in science fields. We confronted this misconception throughout the semester collecting data from several instructional interventions. Case studies of individual students revealed how various instructional strategies/assessments allowed students to construct and demonstrate the scientifically accepted understanding of the chemical nature of DNA. However, the post-assessment exposed that 40% of students still held misconceptions about DNA, indicating the persistent nature of this misconception. Implications for teaching and learning are discussed.
(Research in Science Education, Volume 43, Issue 4, Aug. 2013, cf. Springer). It seems that when we are infected with any false meme, it can persist even after facing a lot of proof to the contrary.

Let's take a look at some statements about DNA that echo the state of science concerning the matter:
"How would you describe what you do?

My laboratory — the Mansy Lab at the University of Trento — builds artificial cells, or cellular mimics. What distinguishes us from other people in this field is that, typically, people begin with something that is already alive and then they try to change the behavior of that already-living thing by changing its genes. What my lab does is a bit different. We start with things that are not alive. So, protein by itself is not alive, DNA by itself is not alive — but somehow, when you put these things together, under the right conditions, you get life. Nobody knows how that is, and so that’s what we’re trying to figure out. I guess you’d say we are exploring the boundary between living and non-living. What does it mean for something to be alive?

So if DNA in itself is not alive, what is it?

It’s just a molecule, which scientists can build in the lab. That was one of the nice things that the Venter Institute showed: you can build an entire synthetic genome, and it’ll function like a natural one." - (More to life than DNA (emphasis added), Sheref Mansy)
"9- DNA is not living. It is a chemical - a large fragile molecule - in fact it is a FANTASTICALLY HUGE MOLECULE and for what it is, it is in fact remarkably robust. It contains a series of chemical bonds linked together in a chain, and since not all the links of the chain are the same, it is possible to store information there. Our modern computers use binary - a code made of two digits - 1 and 0 or ON and OFF or MAGNETIZED and NOT MAGNETIZED. DNA uses quaternary code - 4 digits represented by four proteins.

10- It is non-living; there is no debate in the biological community about this. It is a relatively inert chemical that can now be synthetically made. Considering DNA as living is like considering protein to be living. DNA is part of a living cell, as are proteins, fats and a number of other organic molecules." (Biology Online)
"A molecule is not alive; DNA ... is not alive. The first biological level on which autonomous life appears is the cell." (The Splendid Feast of Reason, p. 128)
Now, on to a couple of the reasons the false "DNA is alive" meme persists.

One paper points out:
We believe that the absence of DNA from evolution instruction helps perpetuate student misconceptions regarding evolution, and the thesis of this paper is that students would understand evolution better if instructors made the genetic basis of evolution explicit at the DNA sequence level—ideally as part of a curriculum specifically designed to correct student misconceptions.
(Nothing in Evolution Makes Sense Except in the Light of DNA, emphasis added). It would be simple to use any of many books to point out:
Although I would be the last person to denigrate, in any way, the exceptional work which went into the discovery and understanding of DNA or the work that continues to this day in exploring this amazing chemical construction it is inescapable that a strand of DNA is not alive; it never has been and it never will be; it is just an organic molecule. Naturally, therefore, we must ask, 'what is the smallest biological structure that is alive? It is the biological construction known as the 'cell'.
(Life on Other Worlds and How to Find It, p.51). Regular readers know that Dredd Blog has pointed out another reason this false meme persists.

That reason is that there is ignorance of abiotic evolution in general, and ignorance about the complexities of abiotic entities:
VI. Virus Ignorance

Again, what I mean by "ignorance" is our ignoring of viruses because they were defined as not alive, not living, and not a carbon-based life form.

Now, we find out that they are by very, very far the greatest population of entities that contain RNA or DNA:
There are an estimated 1031 viruses on Earth. That is to say: there may be a hundred million times more viruses on Earth than there are stars in the universe.
(On the Origin of the Genes of Viruses). It is a no-brainer to realize that it is about a hundred years late that we now begin to study them in earnest ...
(On the Origin of the Genes of Viruses - 3). That post gives six other factors that may have bearing on the false meme at issue in today's post.

As the one paper above (Nothing in Evolution Makes Sense Except in the Light of DNA) indicated, DNA is not even mentioned in a lot of "evolution" classes ("the absence of DNA from evolution instruction helps perpetuate student misconceptions regarding evolution").

Ya think? 

Isn't using "bio" (life) to define "abio" (non-life), i.e. using biology to teach abiology, a bit like "observing adolescents to understand early childhood" -Alex Filippenko ?

Add to that equation the study showing that those who are carriers of the false "DNA is alive" meme still had the meme after one or more evolutionary biology classes.

No doubt the origin of the problem rests in substantial degree with educators who have neglected to focus on abiology (see Weekend Rebel Science Excursion - 27).

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Once Upon a People

Once upon a People
The epigovernment (Epigovernment: The New Model, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) has decided that we need a change in direction from the past W Direction to the new future W Direction.

Therefore, the future will no longer be called "more of the same."

Instead, as the new bumper sticker shows, the new mantra is "a real and lasting future in every garage" together with "never ending Elijah oil in every pot" (The Peak of The Oil Lies - 6).

"Global warming induced climate change is over," because "we are still on God's planet" (You Are Here).

Get ready for this too: "we are cutting off DC's nuts" and moving the capitol to Lake Wobegon where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."

And how will this be done?

Dust off the cold-war propaganda manuals, splice in some Ebola fear, together with some ISIS panic, and voila, MOMCOM freedom:
The military portion of MOMCOM has from 800 to 1000 bases around the world that depend on free handouts from the public trough.

They are not required to pay it back.

MOMCOM Feeds the Hoi Polloi "Freedom"
Food, weapons, housing, weapons, clothing, weapons, and careful MOM control is always free in the sense the military does not pay back the money that comes its way from the taxpayers.

It is like Wall Street bonuses with khaki on.

The main claim to fame is that the military portion of MOMCOM gives new meaning to freedom, which is what they claim is their number one product: MOMCOM Freedom.

It is what you get instead of getting your money back. No refunds from MOMCOM. MOMCOM Freedom is not free, they like to say.

Clearly they are right because their brand (MOMCOM Freedom) costs us more than all the rest of the world combined pay for it.

The president, congress, and the judiciary think this is a real bargain, exclaiming "you get the freedom you pay for".
(MOMCOM - A Mean Welfare Queen). The W Direction, also known as The Wobegon Trail, will be renamed Highway 61 (War is the Highway 61 of the 1%) when the old DC is castrated by Joni & Sarah, and the new government sits down sans nuts in its new seat.

Forward into the future past (American Feudalism, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).

Why privacy matters, Glenn Greenwald

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Oil-Qaeda Wins Big

Details here
I wondered about the "favorite bands" map shown to the left and its relation to the election.

Consider that map against the backdrop of yesterday's election results for various states.

As a kick-off example, consider that the favorite band shown for Arkansas is Wiz Khalifa.

Yet, their favorite Senator elect is Tom Cotton (R), who is a full on neoCon and is said to be ideologically and socially close to William Kristol.

Weekly Standard editor Kristol is the neoCon's neoCon, who has yet to see a U.S. invasion he does not like and approve of:
Cotton, you see, is the golden child of the Republican party's hawkish establishment. He still calls the 2003 Iraq invasion a "just and noble" war. He's young — just 37 — and fervently backed by some of the most influential conservative figures in the nation.

Like much of the GOP class of 2014, Cotton is extremely conservative on domestic policy. He scored a 92 on the influential Club for Growth's House scorecard last year, a rough approximation of a member's conservatism measured by their votes on economic legislation. That 92 puts him in the top 5 percent of most conservative House members.

But it's foreign policy where Cotton really distinguishes himself from the pack. As the Atlantic's Molly Ball breaks down in a fascinating profile, the Senator-elect's career began in 2006 with his criticism of the New York Times for revealing a clandestine US spying program targeting terrorist finances. "By the time we return home," he wrote to the Times reporters, "maybe you will be in your rightful place: not at the Pulitzer announcements, but behind bars."

At the time, Cotton was a lieutenant serving in Baghdad. When his letter was published on the conservative blog Powerline, it went the 2006 equivalent of viral and Cotton became a conservative media darling. He began corresponding with Bill Kristol, the editor of the flagship neoconservative publication, the Weekly Standard. According to Ball, Kristol and Cotton developed what the former calls "a bond beyond pure policy" over their shared foreign policy views.
(Vox, Meet Tom Cotton, emphasis added). Evidently,  while in Baghdad, he was not fighting for the U.S. Constitution --which guarantees a free press.

Contrast that with the favorite band of Kansas, Eric Church, whose hit "Like Jesus Does", seems to fit better than the Arkansas match up.

I say that because Kansas re-elected Gov. Brownback, a governor who needed a lot of forgiveness.

Moving on to Iowa, whose favorite band is B.O.B., and we run into the same mystery we did with Arkansas.

Their new senator is another neoCon, Joni Ernst, who is Sarah Palin on steroids:
Ernst, as liberals are eager to tell you, has logged some serious time out on the conservative fringes. She’s dabbled in U.N. conspiracy theory, backed a “personhood” amendment, suggested Obama was a “dictator” who needed to be impeached, and vowed that she’d be willing to take up arms against her own government “should they decide that my rights are no longer important.” Her less extreme views — a relative term — include abolishing both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education.
(Slate). The disconnect with the favorite bands of Kansas and Arkansas, compared to their choice of politicians, is strange.

I am reminded of the U.S. scoring next-to-last in a survey of how much citizens of nations know about their own nation (Etiology of Social Dementia - 12, cf. Agnotology: The Surge).

This is what happens when Oil-Qaeda wins big.

The next post in this series is here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Another Sign of Another Layer in the Oil Wars?

Perhaps the title of today's post should be "Honey, I shrunk the Petrodollar."

Let's speculate on a couple of events taking place within a long line of events that have and will continue to have global impact.

There is speculation that Saudi Arabia's continuation of its oil production levels (rather than easing up so that oil prices will stay high) and lowering some prices (rather than letting market forces determine price) is part of a larger strategy.

Was it aimed at Russia's oil competition, the U.S. fracking surge, or mid-eastern nations that do not have the "proper Islamic faith?"

Technically, the Saudi's can pull a barrel of oil out of the depths at about $30 per barrel, while its competitors I just mentioned tend to have to spend as much as double that or more (e.g. @fracking).

There is a lot of scuttlebutt about what the Saudi thinking means, but as a cautionary tale, remember this:
Back in March 1999 "The Economist" magazine carried a cover photo of two men drenched in oil as they attempted to close a faulty valve that was spraying a huge stream of crude skyward. Over the photo was the headline: "Drowning in oil." At the time it really did seem as if the world were drowning in oil.

The previous December crude oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange touched $10.72 per barrel. That month U.S. gasoline prices averaged 95 cents per gallon. "The Economist" opined that oil might go down to $5 per barrel.

But, of course, in retrospect the magazine's cover proved to be the perfect contrarian indicator, for oil had already begun its historic ascent toward $147 per barrel. The 2008 price spike was the culmination of a 10-year bull market that had begun in December 1998.
(Oil Price). That said, one can see that fracking prices and Canadian tar sands extraction costs (analysis here) is scary-close to the about $77-$85 bbl. sales price, and could shake things up:
Oil prices tumbled to their lowest point in more than two years after Saudi Arabia unexpectedly cut prices for crude sold to the U.S., likely paving the way for further declines and adding to pressure on American energy producers.

The decision by the world’s largest oil exporter sent the Dow industrials into negative territory for the day amid concerns about the pace of global growth.

The move heightened worries over the resilience of the U.S. oil industry, which has expanded rapidly in recent years. But that growth, driven largely by new production technology used to extract oil from shale-rock formations, has never been tested by a prolonged slump in prices.

While lower crude prices generally help consumers by reducing the amount they pay for gasoline, analysts said falling energy prices will squeeze profit margins at many U.S. energy companies, particularly smaller firms or those with large debt loads.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia raised the prices for its oil in other locations, including Asia, where the country had cut its prices for four consecutive months.
(WSJ, emphasis added). At any rate, these possible price wars between oil producing nations could be eclipsed by something else that has less fluctuation, and has been gaining speed and strength.

That would be the reserve currency struggles that have been ongoing for years (see e.g. First Shots Fired In The Currency Wars, Phase Five Of The Currency Wars? - 2, Phase Six Of The Currency Wars?, The Government Catastrophe Has Already Happened).

These paper struggles can be as devastating as actual shooting wars in some cases, so recent events are worth watching:
Energy-exporting countries are set to pull their "petrodollars" out of world markets this year for the first time in almost two decades, according to a study by BNP Paribas.

Driven by this year's drop in oil prices, the shift is likely to cause global market liquidity to fall, the study showed.

Brent crude futures have fallen 23 percent this year, with 2014 promising to be only the second year since 2002 that crude prices will end the year lower than they began it.

This decline follows years of windfalls for oil exporters such as Russia, Angola, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. Much of that money found its way into financial markets, helping to boost asset prices and keep the cost of borrowing down, through so-called petrodollar recycling.

This year, however, the oil producers will effectively import capital amounting to $7.6 billion. By comparison, they exported $60 billion in 2013 and $248 billion in 2012 ...
(Petrodollars leave world markets for first time in 18 years, emphasis added). Regular readers know what I think about economists in general (Economists - Aliens From Cygnus?).

But, perhaps some squeals in posts from Jim Willie are half worth reading (Shanghai Shock to Shatter the Gold Market!, The Economic ENDGAME Has Arrived, The Crash Heard Round the World- Saudis to Reject USD for Oil Payments).

Don't buy anything from them, just ponder their (maybe shrilly, maybe not) rhetoric indicating that something is afoot (could be a scam).

Then, as usual, you decide.

The next post in this series is here.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Afraid To Be An American

The America of yesteryear is gone because too many people are afraid to be Americans any more.

The old America that has practically become extinct was anti-torture.

As a matter of fact, President Ronald Reagan would have put Dick Cheney in prison for his torture programs and his advocacy of torture:
Ronald Reagan was in office as U.S. President from 1981 - 1989.

In 1983 his DOJ prosecuted a republican Texas Sheriff for the crime of waterboarding: In 1983, Texas Sheriff James Parker was charged, along with three of his deputies, for handcuffing prisoners to chairs, placing towels over their faces, and pouring water on the cloth until they gave what the officers considered to be confessions. The sheriff and his deputies were all convicted and sentenced to four years in prison. [NPR Link]
(Pres. Reagan Puts Cheney In Jail). Too many Americans, including President Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder, are afraid to be Americans when it comes to prosecuting torture mongers in high places.

A relative handful of a hundred or so have not been afraid to be Americans, and have explained that to the United Nations:
Since the United States last reported to the Committee Against Torture in 2006, even more evidence has emerged confirming that civilian and military officials at the highest level created, designed, authorized, and implemented a sophisticated, international criminal program of torture.

In August 2014, President Barack Obama conceded that the United States tortured people as part of its so-called “War on Terror,” yet the United States continues to shield senior officials from liability for these crimes, in violation of its obligations under the Convention Against Torture.
(Torture by U.S. reviewed by UN, PDF). The new mantra, one rejected at the Nuremberg Trials, "I was following orders" is now asserted by those who are afraid to be Americans (ibid, cf. I Was Following Orders).

This neoCon America is not favored worldwide so the good reputation that the true America had is now gone (Neocons Poll Downward Worldwide).

Fear is the primary emotional construct of neoCon America, witnessed by the recent "Obola" scare (Obola: Art Thou Dying Properly?).

It is as if some neoCon government officials, drunk on political toxins, formed a paranoia-crazed mob (via the MSM) to take the civil rights away from a brave American (one not afraid to be an American) who went to fight a real danger at its source (Judge in Maine Eases Restrictions on Nurse).

Thus, the neoCon America founded on paranoia is a danger to all life forms, so stand up for the America which used to be good for the world (The Real Dangers With Microbes & Viruses).

In conclusion, the nation is evolving from "a kinder gentler nation" into a worldwide, nation-murdering military driven bully (American Feudalism - 6).

Resist the neoCons by not being afraid to be an American.