Scientists Demand Tougher Guidelines on Teaching of Creationism in Schools

10:15:30 PM, Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Prominent scientists, including Sir David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins, have called on the government to toughen its guidance on the promotion of creationism in classrooms, accusing "religious fundamentalists" of portraying it as scientific theory in publicly funded schools.

A group of 30 scientists have signed a statement saying it is "unacceptable" to teach creationism and intelligent design, whether it happens in science lessons or not. The statement claims two organisations, Truth in Science and Creation Ministries International are "touring the UK and presenting themselves as scientists and their creationist views as science".

"Creationism and intelligent design are not scientific theories, but they are portrayed as scientific theories by some religious fundamentalists who attempt to have their views promoted in publicly funded schools," the scientists say.

"There should be enforceable statutory guidance that they may not be presented as scientific theories in any publicly funded school of whatever type."

The scientists claim organisations such as Truth in Science are encouraging teachers to incorporate intelligent design into their science teaching.

"Truth in Science has sent free resources to all secondary heads of science and to school librarians around the country that seek to undermine the theory of evolution and have intelligent design ideas portrayed as credible scientific viewpoints. Speakers from Creation Ministries International are touring the UK, presenting themselves as scientists and their creationist views as science at a number of schools."

Free schools and academies were not obliged to teach the national curriculum and so were "under no obligation to teach evolution at all," it added.

Truth in Science denied advocating the teaching of creationism in schools. "We wish to highlight the scientific weaknesses of neo-Darwinism and to encourage a more critical approach to the teaching of evolution in schools and universities," it said in a statement.

Creation Ministries International was unavailable for comment..."

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Synthetic DNA Added to Yeast Cells, Paving Way for 'Evolution' on Demand

9:03:47 PM, Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Life forms have been created that carry strands of genetic material designed and built from scratch in the lab, paving the way for on-demand "evolution" of organisms.

Scientists made sections of chromosomes, the long molecules that bear DNA, and transferred them into yeast cells, of the kind normally used in baking.

The cells adopted the new genetic code as part of their normal cellular machinery and, to the scientists' surprise, appeared as healthy as their natural counterparts.

The feat is a big step towards the manufacture of completely synthetic organisms that could be designed to churn out biofuels, vaccines and industrial chemicals, said Jef Boeke, who led the study at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.

Studies of bugs with synthetic DNA are widely anticipated to shed light on some of the toughest questions in biology, such as what is the minimal suite of genes required for life on Earth.

"We have created a research tool that not only lets us learn more about yeast biology, but also holds out the possibility of someday designing genomes for specific purposes, like making new vaccines or medications," said Jef Boeke, who led the study at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.

Built into the synthetic chromosomes are genetic sequences that, when triggered by a chemical, dramatically rearrange the organism's genes. The technique, known as genome scrambling, allows scientists to accelerate the evolution of the organisms on demand, by creating thousands of new strains and collecting the best survivors.

The advance was made possible by powerful techniques that have emerged from rapid developments in genetics, computing and synthetic chemistry.

Boeke's work centred on a yeast known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, one of the most well-understood organisms in the field of genetics. It has 16 chromosomes that together carry around 6000 genes..."

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Dark Matter Packs a Punch: Milky Way's Spiral Arms Formed by Intergalactic Collision

8:46:25 AM, Saturday, September 17, 2011

"The signature spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy were likely formed by an epic collision between the Milky Way and the Sagittarius Dwarf galaxy, according to a University of Pittsburgh researcher and his collaborators, published today in the prestigious British journal Nature.

Supercomputer simulations by Christopher W. Purcell, postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in Pitt's School of Arts and Sciences, and colleagues report their findings in a paper titled "The Sagittarius Impact as an Architect of Spirality and Outer Rings in the Milky Way."

This paper is the first to identify Sagittarius as the architect of spiral structure in our Milky Way. "It presents a new and somewhat unexpected way of thinking about why the galaxy we live in looks the way it does," says Purcell.

"Cosmologically speaking, it demonstrates the idea that relatively small impacts like this can have a dramatic impact on the structure of galaxies throughout the universe," he adds. This idea had been assumed theoretically, but never demonstrated.

Purcell's collaborators include University of California High-Performance AstroComputing Center (UC-HIPACC)-affiliates James S. Bullock, Erik J. Tollerud, and Miguel Rocha, all at the University of California at Irvine. The fifth coauthor is Sukanya Chakrabarti at Florida Atlantic University.

In the field of cosmology, supercomputer simulations are the only laboratories for scientific experimentation. With supercomputers, astronomers can recreate a small-scale simulation or model of distant, violent events that occurred over billions of years, and observe that model in sped-up time, in order to make predictions that can be tested by actual observations of the universe..."

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Synthetic Lint Ends Up In Oceans

8:31:29 AM, Saturday, September 17, 2011

"Every time a garment made from polyester or other synthetic fabric goes through the wash, it sheds tiny plastic fibers. Thousands of them. It turns out that these fibers end up fouling coastal environments throughout the globe, a global research team finds.

Itsy bitsy plastic pellets, such as those used for their abrasive qualities in products like skin cleansers and paint removers, also turn up in coastal sand, a separate study reports. Like polyester lint, these micropellets also go down the drain, through water treatment plants and into coastal waters.

The mass that microplastic bits contribute to marine pollution is small, concedes Mark Browne of University College Dublin, who led the fiber study. But that doesn’t mean their impact is benign, he adds.

Browne’s group sampled shoreline habitats at 18 sites on six continents. Plastic fibers polluted every one, with sites nearest urban centers hosting the most. At any site, microplastic fibers constituted more than 65 percent of the plastic pieces, by number (with the exception of sand-size pellets, which this study ignored).

Since earlier work had uncovered plastic fibers at land sites treated with sewage, the researchers sampled outflows from sewage-treatment plants. These waters also hosted acrylic and polyester fibers anywhere from 1 millimeter down to 10 micrometers in diameter.

This suggested that laundry might be a source. So over the next year, the researchers laundered individual garments and blankets in washing machines, running several empty cycles to clean out residual fibers between each wash. These tests “demonstrated that a single garment can produce greater than 1,900 fibres per wash,” the researchers report online September 6 in Environmental Science & Technology. Fleece fabrics shed the most.

What really makes microplastics potentially dangerous is the contaminants they ferry, argues Anthony Andrady of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, a materials scientist and polymers specialist not connected with the new study. “In the ocean, plastics act like a sponge,” he explains, absorbing and concentrating fat-soluble pollutants.

Indeed, in a study in the November 2010 Marine Pollution Bulletin, researchers in Portugal reported finding pollutant-tainted microplastic pellets..."

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Strange Vent-Fellows: Chemosynthetic Shrimp, Tubeworms Together for First Time at Hydrothermal Vent

8:12:40 AM, Saturday, September 17, 2011

"Ocean explorers on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer observed two species of marine life scientists believe have never before been seen together at a hydrothermal vent -- chemosynthetic shrimp and tubeworms. They also observed the first known live tubeworms ever seen at a hydrothermal vent in Atlantic waters. The discoveries were made August 5-15 during an expedition to the Mid-Cayman Rise south of Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean.

"On the very first ROV, or remotely-operated vehicle, dive, we observed abundant shrimp of a species different in appearance from other Mid-Atlantic Ridge species," said Professor Paul Tyler, Ph.D., a marine biologist from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom who was aboard Okeanos Explorer. "These shrimp had characteristics previously seen only on shrimp containing chemosynthetic bacteria, and we identified them as such."

"During the ROV's second dive, we were witness to the first discovery of a live hydrothermal tubeworm in the Atlantic," said expedition Science Lead Chris German, Ph.D., chief scientist for the National Deep Submergence Facility at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. "I will take that home as my personal key discovery moment for the cruise."

The two discoveries blended into what German described as an even more remarkable discovery. "Not only did we see extensive tube worm communities of differing sizes and shapes across the length and breadth of a large hydrothermal vent field, but we observed for the first time anywhere, chemosynthetic shrimp and tubeworms inhabiting the same hydrothermal site," he said.

"The significance of these observations is that the iconic symbol of Pacific vents is the tubeworm, while the iconic symbol of Atlantic vents is the vent shrimp," added Tyler. "To find both together has important implications for the evolution of vent communities in the Caribbean as the Atlantic became separated from the Pacific some five million years ago."

Chemosynthetic tubeworms and shrimp are unlike most other life on Earth that are photosynthetic -- relying on energy from the sun. These new hydrothermal animals, by contrast, exist on the deep and dark ocean floor where no sunlight penetrates. They derive energy instead, from chemicals that rise in the hot water of hydrothermal vents making them chemosynthetic.

Tubeworms rising six feet from the seafloor were first discovered in 1977 next to hydrothermal vents in Pacific waters at the Galapagos near where the underwater tectonic plates spread. Since then, smaller tubeworms have been found at seafloor cold seeps in the Gulf of Mexico, but until this discovery, have not been observed at vents in the Atlantic..."

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Bats Adjust Their 'Field-of-View'

8:08:32 AM, Saturday, September 17, 2011

"A new study reveals that the way fruit bats use biosonar to 'see' their surroundings is significantly more advanced than first thought. The study, published September 13 in the online, open access journal PLoS Biology, examines Egyptian fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus), which use echolocation to orient inside their caves and to find fruit hidden in the branches of trees. Their high-frequency clicks form a sonar beam that spreads across a fan-shaped area, and the returning echoes allow them to locate and identify objects in that region. As these bats were considered to have little control over their vocalizations, scientists have puzzled over how they are able to navigate through complex environments.

The research team, led by Nachum Ulanovsky of the Weizmann Institute in Israel and Cynthia Moss of the University of Maryland, reports that these bats adapt to environmental complexity using two tactics. First, they alter the width of their sonar beam, similar to the way humans can adjust their spotlight of attention in order to spot, for example, a friend in a crowded room. Second, they modify the intensity of their emissions. "The work presented here reveals a new parameter under adaptive control in bat echolocation", says Ulanovsky.

Ulanovsky and his team trained five Egyptian fruit bats to locate and land on a mango-sized plastic sphere placed in various locations in a large, dark room equipped with an array of 20 microphones that recorded vocalizations. In one set of experiments, the researchers simulated an obstacle-filled forest by surrounding the sphere with two nets spread between four poles. To reach the target, the bats flew through a narrow corridor whose width and orientation varied from trial to trial.

In the obstacle-filled environment, the bats covered three times as much area with each pair of clicks as they did when the obstacles weren't there. The angle separating each two beams was also wider and the volume of the clicks louder, and these differences became more pronounced as they drew further into the corridor and therefore closer to their obstacles. This larger 'field of view' allowed the bats to track the sphere and the poles simultaneously, and avoid collisions while landing.

"This is the first report, in any sensory system, of an active increase in field-of-view in response to changes in environmental complexity," says Ulanovsky. Although these new findings may be unique to Egyptian fruit bats because of their rapid tongue movements, Ulanovsky explains that their results "suggest that active sensing of space by animals can be much more sophisticated than previously thought – and they call for a re-examination of current theories of spatial orientation and perception.""

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Paris Ban on Muslim Street Prayers Comes Into Effect

4:08:33 AM, Saturday, September 17, 2011

"A ban on saying prayers in the street, a practice by French Muslims unable to find space in mosques, has come into effect in the capital, Paris.

Interior Minister Claude Gueant has offered believers the use of a disused fire brigade barracks instead.

The phenomenon of street prayers, which see Muslims spreading mats on footpaths, became a political issue after far right protests.

France is home to the biggest Muslim minority in Western Europe.

By some estimates, as many as six million French people, or just under 10% of the population, are Muslims, with origins in France's former North African colonies.

Their integration has been a source of political debate in recent years, and earlier this year France became the first EU state to ban the wearing of the Islamic veil in public.

'Mosques co-operating'

The new ban came into force at midnight (22:00 GMT) on Thursday, in time for traditional Muslim Friday prayers.

Speaking earlier this week to Le Figaro, Mr Gueant said about 1,000 people were using two streets in the capital's multi-ethnic Goutte d'Or district for prayers.

He said an agreement had been reached with two local mosques for the state to rent out the disused barracks on Boulevard Ney with floorspace of 2,000 sq m (yds) for three years..."

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Skull Points to a More Complex Human Evolution in Africa

4:01:06 AM, Saturday, September 17, 2011

"Scientists have collected more evidence to suggest that ancient and modern humans interbred in Africa.

Reanalysis of the 13,000-year-old skull from a cave in West Africa reveals a skull more primitive-looking than its age suggests.

The result suggests that the ancestors of early humans did not die out quickly in Africa, but instead lived alongside their descendents and bred with them until comparatively recently.

The results are published in PLoS ONE.

The skull, found in the Iwo Eleru cave in Nigeria in 1965, does not look like a modern human.

It is longer and flatter with a strong brow ridge; features closer to a much older skull from Tanzania, thought to be around 140,000 years old.

Prof Katerina Harvati from the University of Tuebingen in Germany used new digitising techniques to capture the surface of the skull in detail.

The new technique improved upon the original measurements done with callipers by letting researchers see subtler details about the skull's surface.

"[The skull] has got a much more primitive appearance, even though it is only 13,000 years old," said Chris Stringer, from London's Natural History Museum, who was part of the team of researchers.

"This suggests that human evolution in Africa was more complex... the transition to modern humans was not a straight transition and then a cut off."

Prof Stringer thinks that ancient humans did not die away once they had given rise to modern humans..."

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New Dolphin Species Discovered in Big City Harbor

3:56:42 AM, Saturday, September 17, 2011

"An entirely new species of dolphin has been discovered in Australia, and not in some isolated lagoon but in the shadows of skyscrapers, scientists say.

One of only three new dolphin species found since the 1800s, the Burrunan dolphin—naed after an Aboriginal phrase that means "large sea fish of the porpoise kind"—is known from only two populations so far, both in the state of Victoria.

About a hundred Burrunan dolphins have been found in Port Phillip Bay near Melbourne, Australia's second most populous city. Another 50 are known to frequent the saltwater coastal lakes of the Gippsland region, a couple hundred miles or so away.

Dolphin DNA Surprise

It's longbeen known that distinct dolphin populations roam off southeastern Australia. But now DNA tests have shown that the creatures dolphins are genetically very different from the two recognized bottlenose dolphin species, the common bottlenose dolphin and the Indo-Pacific bottlenose.

The results were so surprising that the team initially thought there was a mistake and reran the tests, said study leader Kate Charlton-Robb, a marine biologist at Australia's Monash University.

"The main focus of the research was to figure out which of the two [known] bottlenose species these guys were," she said.

"But from the [DNA] sequences that we got, it turned out that they were very different from either of the two known species."

The team also examined dolphin skulls, collected and maintained by Australian museums over the last century, and determined that Burrunan dolphins have slight cranial differences that set the species apart..."

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NASA Unveils New Rocket Design

10:54:53 PM, Friday, September 16, 2011

"NASA revealed on Wednesday a design for its next colossal rocket that is to serve as the backbone for exploration of the solar system for the coming decades.

The rocket would be the most powerful since the Saturn V that took Americans to the moon four decades ago. NASA expects that it could lift astronauts on deep-space missions farther than anyone has ever traveled.

“We’re investing in technologies to live and work in space, and it sets the stage for visiting asteroids and Mars,” the NASA administrator, Major General Charles F. Bolden Jr., said at a news conference.

In an effort to speed development and control costs, the design is based on pieces from the just-retired space shuttles. The first stage would essentially be an elongated shuttle fuel tank, and it would use the same rocket engines. For the initial test flights, solid rocket boosters — stretched versions of the shuttle boosters — would be strapped on to provide additional thrust.

The first unmanned test flight of the first iteration of the rocket, able to lift 70 metric tons to low-Earth orbit, could fly as early as 2017. Future versions are to be more powerful, capable of lifting up to 130 metric tons.

The cost of developing the rocket is estimated at $10 billion over the next five years. The crew capsule where the astronauts would ride would cost $6 billion and the launching pad and other ground facilities would add another $2 billion, for a total of $18 billion.

Congressional backers of NASA hailed the announcement as resolving a standoff between Congress and the White House over the future of the space agency.

“This is a day we’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” said Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. “We wish it had been sooner, of course.”

Last year, Congress passed a blueprint for the space agency calling for a rocket like the one announced Wednesday, and President Obama signed it into law. But NASA missed deadlines for announcing how it would implement the plan. In frustration, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, where Senator Hutchison serves as ranking member, even issued a subpoena to NASA demanding information.

NASA has yet to work out the details of how it could use the new rocket, and the launching schedule beyond the first test flight will depend highly on future budgets. Internal NASA documents suggest that if the space agency’s budget remains flat, providing about $41 billion between now and 2025, then the first manned flight would not occur until 2021, and the rocket would fly only once every two years, and NASA would not finish the 130 metric ton version until after 2030..."

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Frankfurt: Lamborghini Sesto Elemento To Go Into Production

10:49:46 PM, Friday, September 16, 2011

"Lamborghini has made an official announcement at the Frankfurt Motor Show in regards to the Sesto Elemento concept which was unveiled at last year’s Paris Motor Show. President and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini, Stephan Winkelmann has confirmed that the concept will go into production. We are also expecting the production version to be identical to the Paris concept.

The production Sesto Elemento will be limited to a 20-unit production run and is planned for a launch in early 2013. This track-only 999 kg model will use a 570hp V10 powerhouse linked to an all wheel drive system. With those figures, the vehicle’s power-to-weight ratio is set at 1.75 kg per hp, allowing the monster to hit 100km/h in just 2.5 seconds from a standstill.

It uses a carbon fiber monocoque made of forged composite and there is also extensive use of carbon fiber throughout the vehicle. Stephan Winkelmann said, “The excellent feedback and the numerous requests we’ve had from our customers have really convinced us to embark on the challenge of producing a vehicle with unique characteristics”.

"We are proud that what a year ago was just a ‘technology demonstrator’ of future super sports cars, even though in working order, will become a small series reality,” he added..."

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FBI Teaches Agents: ‘Mainstream’ Muslims Are ‘Violent, Radical’

10:45:21 PM, Friday, September 16, 2011

"The FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that “main stream” [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult leader”; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a “funding mechanism for combat.”

At the Bureau’s training ground in Quantico, Virginia, agents are shown a chart contending that the more “devout” a Muslim, the more likely he is to be “violent.” Those destructive tendencies cannot be reversed, an FBI instructional presentation adds: “Any war against non-believers is justified” under Muslim law; a “moderating process cannot happen if the Koran continues to be regarded as the unalterable word of Allah.”

These are excerpts from dozens of pages of recent FBI training material on Islam that Danger Room has acquired. In them, the Constitutionally protected religious faith of millions of Americans is portrayed as an indicator of terrorist activity.

“There may not be a ‘radical’ threat as much as it is simply a normal assertion of the orthodox ideology,” one FBI presentation notes. “The strategic themes animating these Islamic values are not fringe; they are main stream.”

The FBI isn’t just treading on thin legal ice by portraying ordinary, observant Americans as terrorists-in-waiting, former counterterrorism agents say. It’s also playing into al-Qaida’s hands.

Focusing on the religious behavior of American citizens instead of proven indicators of criminal activity like stockpiling guns or using shady financing makes it more likely that the FBI will miss the real warning signs of terrorism. And depicting Islam as inseparable from political violence is exactly the narrative al-Qaida spins — as is the related idea that America and Islam are necessarily in conflict. That’s why FBI whistleblowers provided Danger Room with these materials.

Over the past few years, American Muslim civil rights groups have raised alarm about increased FBI and police presence in Islamic community centers and mosques, fearing that their lawful behavior is being targeted under the broad brush of counterterrorism. The documents may help explain the heavy scrutiny.

They certainly aren’t the first time the FBI has portrayed Muslims in a negative light during Bureau training sessions. As Danger Room reported in July, the FBI’s Training Division has included anti-Islam books, and materials that claim Islam “transforms [a] country’s culture into 7th-century Arabian ways.” When Danger Room confronted the FBI with that material, an official statement issued to us claimed, “The presentation in question was a rudimentary version used for a limited time that has since been replaced.”

But these documents aren’t relics from an earlier era. One of these briefings, titled “Strategic Themes and Drivers in Islamic Law,” took place on March 21..."

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911 by Bike - the Lost Tape (Never Seen Before 911 Footage)

4:05:18 PM, Friday, September 16, 2011

-- Saved the link a few days ago, but only got a chance to give a look now. It's worth sharing.

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Twilight in Four Seconds

11:45:27 PM, Thursday, September 15, 2011
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Last Ford Crown Victoria Rolls Off The Line

7:34:29 PM, Thursday, September 15, 2011

"NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The last Ford Crown Victoria rolled off a Canadian assembly line Thursday, marking the end of the big, heavy Ford cars that have been popular with taxi fleets and police departments for decades.

Since 1979, almost 10 million Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Cars -- so-called Panther Platform vehicles -- have been sold.

Demand for better fuel economy and performance have choked off sales over the years. The Crown Victoria and Town Car get just 24 miles per gallon on the highway, a figure matched by some large three-row SUVs today.

"Production levels at the [Ontario, Canada] plant have declined by 60 percent in the last decade as customer preferences shifted to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles," Ford said in its announcement.

With the last car rolling of the line Thursday, all production will stop.

Ford (F, Fortune 500) is offering $100,000 cash payments or relocation offers, among other programs, for the workers at the plant, the automaker said. A closure agreement between Ford of Canada and the Canadian Auto Workers union was reached in 2009 , Ford said.

For the last several years the Grand Marquis and the Town Car have only been offered to fleet buyers, not individual retail customers. Mercury, which built the Grand Marquis, was shut down altogether as a car brand last year.

Ford sold about 80,000 Crown Victorias and Town Cars combined last year, said Tony Gratson, Ford's manager for government fleet sales. Those figures just weren't enough to support a factory capable of producing 250,000 cars a year.

The Crown Victoria and its cousins have been popular with fleet users because of their roominess, legendary ruggedness and relative simplicity.

Most cars today are built with so-called unibody engineering in which the body sides and roof play a role in keeping the body rigid. The Panther Platform vehicles were engineered with an old-fashioned body-on-frame design that's mostly used by pickup trucks today because, while heavier, it's better able to bounce back from heavy, punishing use..."

-- ""You couldn't kill it no matter what you did to it," Ford spokesman Octavio Navarro said of the Crown Victoria." -- That's for sure! RIP, Crown Vic. =(

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