Defining life foolishly

Some like to define living organisms as that which

1) reproduces,

2) has inheritance, and

3) has variation.

In other words, living things would be those which evolve by natural selection. Rosie Redfield (blog) espoused this view in a recent talk at the Evolution 2012 conference in Ottawa (#evol2012 Twitter feed). Jerry Joyce (lab page) did the same at the 74th symposium of Quantitative Biology at Cold Spring Harbor Labs in 2009.

But this is folly.

First of all, I can easily give an hypothetical example of something that must clearly be alive, but which does not evolve. I’ll defer that to the end of this post.

But I can also give an example of something that most people will not agree is alive, namely languages. Metaphorically, I can accept that languages are alive. “Danish is such a beautiful language, alive with raunchy adjectives and verbs that sing.” Or something. But not actually alive in a literal sense. It is spoken by beings that are alive, but is no more alive than thoughts or books, even if it does evolve (note that languages evolution really isn’t of the Darwinian kind, either, just like memes aren’t).

Read the rest on Pleiotropy.
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Lawyers Using Bots to Hassle Busy People, or: How I had to waste time giving myself permission to quote and paraphrase myself, really

It’s all just so bleepin’ INSANE.

Here’s the deal. Two, no three, years ago a buddy of mine, who shall nameless so he’s not associated with this mini-quagmire, asked me to contribute a chapter to a book he’s editing on a subject near and dear to me. Fine. Glad to. So, over a year ago I put some of my work in progress online at The Valve, a group blog where I have privileges, in order to get feedback on my ideas.

Which I did. Thank you very much, interwebs.

Time goes by, I turn in my final chapter. My buddy likes it, his editor likes it. And then the publisher sends some bots out on the web to compare text in their book-in-progress to whatever’s on the web. What happens? My chapter gets flagged because, hey! some of my prose is out there on the web.

And you know why some of the prose in my chapter is out on the web you clueless bot-masters? Because I put it there! That’s why.

Anyhow, my buddy sends me a note explaining the situation and asking me to send him a note explaining that, yes, I put that stuff out there on The Valve. Here’s my exact message: “Some of the prose in my [name redacted to protect the innocent] chapter first appeared online at The Valve — where, for example, I’m quoting [some worthy]. So I’m just re-using my own prose.”

My buddy passed that on to his handlers and we figured that was the end of it. But, no, not good enough. His handlers got back to him, this time with the very passages the bots had swiped from the web. Continue reading

Grow up, Americans!

Seriously, Americans. What is this infatuation you have with your founding fathers?

Whenever Americans from the right of the political spectrum (which, btw, is far right compared to normal countries*) insist that America is a Christian country, they turn to the founding fathers to prove their point. And when Americans from the left of the spectrum (why is quite far to the right compared to normal countries**) counter that it is not, then they too turn to the Constitution. Fair enough, you might say. It is the law, after all (at least the Constitution is, which says nothing about America being a Christian nation: We The People ring a bell?). However, it is the law as written centuries ago. Newsflash: it is outdated.

Read the rest on Pleiotropy.

Wakefield: Admit Nothing, Deny Everything, Make Counter-Accusations

That’s pretty much all Andrew Wakefield did on CBC Radio’s The Current the other morning. He has always acted in the best interests of his patients (The children! The poor wee sick bairns!), never did anything unethical, had no conflict of interest, the British medical establishment (enabled by muck-raking journos and no doubt spurred on Big Pharma) is out to get him, it’s lies-all-lies I tell you!, he’s a most noble and put-upon hero, yessirree.

I suppose it’s possible the self-aggrandizing fraud even believes all that bullshit about himself.

Merry Newtonmass 2010

God rest ye merry, physicists
Let nothing you dismay.
Remember Isaac Newton
was born on Christmas Day!
His gravity and calculus and “f” equals “m” “a”!
Oh, pillars of physics and math, physics and math,
Oh, pillars of physics and math!

A factor of big G – the same
for flea and giant star.
Then multiply the masses
and divide by square of “r”.
The force that keeps us on the earth
and orbits moons afar!
Oh, pillars of physics and math, physics and math,
Oh, pillars of physics and math!

Now, calculus is math for those
who change things bit by bit.
To figure out derivatives
and get the curve to fit.
Then integrate and you can find the area under it!
Oh, pillars of physics and math, physics and math,
Oh, pillars of physics and math!

Sir Isaac took a beam of light
and passed it through some glass.
“What shall I call these colours?”
was the question he did ask.
And now we live with ROY G BIV
in every optics class.
Oh, pillars of physics and math, physics and math,
Oh, pillars of physics and math!

Political interference in science

Eric Cantor and Adrian Smith both republican (Duh) representatives have decided to attack the National Science Foundation. Albeit in a cowardly way.

Yet more Canadian religiots

Damn, but we seem to be on a roll lately. The Waterloo (Ontario) District School Board votes to allow the Gideons to hand out Bibles in school. The money quote, from one trustee who voted in favour:

If you deny the religious experience in your education system you open the door to the demonic experience.

Also:
All publications are supposed to be read by the trustees to make sure “such materials are for information [only] and not for the purpose of proselytization.”
I wonder how many of the trustees who voted for this have actually read the Bible? All of it.
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