* Posts by Peter Mellor

76 posts • joined 17 Jul 2007


Britons warned of plague of the 'supercats'

Peter Mellor

Rogue cat

Many years ago, a friend of mine wanted to dispose of some kittens of her current moggy to good homes. I chose a cute little tabby (female): definitely of domestic descent, no inbreeding, apparently of perfect temperament (when young). I gave it to my parents. Within a year, it had:

- stripped the wallpaper from the hall by playing "wall of death" on it every night;

- jumped onto my father's bare shoulders while he was shaving (no warning) then slid down with all claws still fully engaged;

- lacerated my mother's hands without warning while lying apparently peacefully in her lap being stroked (several occasions);

- ambushed me from under the bed while I was turning in while staying with Mum and Dad, lacerating both of my bare feet.

My father blamed me for teasing it, but I am sure it had "turned" without any provocation. Other family members blamed my mother for keeping it in all the time. Take your pick.

The name of this pest? "Angel"!


Secret US spontaneous human combustion beam tested

Peter Mellor

Defence against directed energy weapons

Assuming that the energy is transmitted in the form of electromagnetic radiation of a reflectable wavelength, simply arrange for the the beam to his a bank of autocollimators. (Think: bicycle rear reflector.) Work it out.

BTW, while at university in the 1960's, I went with the maths society to visit the MoD secret research establishment in Baldock, Herts. (It's not there any more.) We were proudly shown a solid wooden door damaged accidentally by the discharge of a laser. There was a circular hole 3 inches across, right through the door, with smoke blackening on the paint above it. The guys might have been taking the p**s out of a load of gormless undergrads, but it looked impressive.


US women protest for the right to bare

Peter Mellor
Paris Hilton

Evolution of the female breast

Rounded breasts are unique to homo sapiens. Gorillas, chimps, etc., don't have them, but still manage to breast feed their young. According to Desmond (Naked Ape) Morris, and also (if I recall correctly) Richard Dawkins, the reason for the evolution of breasts in the human female is self-mimicry: breasts evolved to resemble female buttocks, probably around the same time that bipedalism became the norm, and face-to-face (rather than "doggy fashion") became the preferred position for sexual intercourse. According to this theory, therefore, the primary function of breasts in the evolutionary sense IS to act as a sexual stimulus to males.

Paris (even though she's a bit on the skinny side for my tastes).


Ridley Scott signs up to direct Alien prequel

Peter Mellor
Paris Hilton

Alien: missed opportunity

I saw Alien (the original) and loved it. I don't see what the whingers are whingeing on about. Also saw Alien II (the one with the little girl who has to be rescued from the infested ship by Ripley). I thought the idea of aliens as a nest of ants all hatched from eggs laid by a gigantic queen was pretty clever (and done with admirable SFX).

The opportunity for a sequel to the original film that was sadly missed was connected with Ripley rescuing her cat from the doomed ship at the last minute. Given that the cat had been at loose on the ship with the alien (which, you will recall, turned up in the top bunk of the escape module, and had to be blasted into space by evacuating the air) for several hours, I fully expected that an Earth-bound sequel was planned, in which pussy turns out to have an interesting infestation of worms on return to terra firma.

I obviously missed my vocation: I should have been a Hollywood script writer.

I don't care if Sigourney Weaver is nearly 70. She's two years younger than me, and I still want to see her in her knickers.

[Paris, 'cos she's the closest you've got to a "dirty old man" logo!]


China seals town after plague deaths

Peter Mellor

Alternative explanations for the Black Death

Some years ago, two researchers published a paper and a book, arguing that the Black Death in the Middle Ages could not have been bubonic plague. There was an article in the New Scientist summarising their arguments. These were serious epidemiologists, publishing in respected journals: this is not a "nutcase" viewpoint. (I can't find the references to this work right now.)

Their argument was based upon the rate at which the epidemic (not pandemic) spread, and the symptoms of the disease as recorded in contemporaneous documents. They analysed records of outbreaks of bubonic plague on the Indian subcontinent in the 19th Century (i.e., during the British Raj, when good records were kept), and compared these with historical accounts of the Black Death. In the 19th C outbreaks, the spread from town to town was slower, and the infection and mortality rates were much lower than those of the Black Death. (This was despite the fact that infected individuals could not be effectively treated, given that antibiotics were not discovered until at least a century later.) Recall that the Black Death wiped out ONE THIRD of the population of Europe at the time.

The alternative hypothesis that these researchers proposed was that the Black Death was not due to Yersinia pestis, but was an epidemic of a haemorrhagic fever of the Ebola or Marburg variety, originating in Africa. Given that the Black Death was reputed to have been spread by warriors returning from the Crusades (with contacts in the Middle East, and hence in North Africa), the transmission route is at least plausible. The researchers cited earlier accounts of similar plagues in classical Greece as evidence that these diseases could spread to Europe. The incubation period and infection rates deduced from historical records were about right for the spread of an Ebola-type disease. Also, Ebola-type diseases can be contracted from contact with inanimate objects handled by infected persons or exposed to infected animals. I think that this is not true of bubonic plague.

Objections have been published; in particular, that infected fleas (the vector for bubonic plague) could have travelled faster than their rat or human hosts. The research is interesting, but still controversial. I would be interested to read any comments from knowledgeable epidemiologists.


'I can see dinosaurs from my back porch'

Peter Mellor

Sarah Palin's family values

A friend in Texas forwarded this to me. I haven't checked the facts, and take no responsibility for their accuracy.


Suppose you call yourself a Christian, and a politician new to you burst onto the scene. You do NOT know this politician's party affiliation. All you know is:

-- The politician's 19-year-old son, bewilderingly named 'Track,' is a 'hard partyer' who according to at least one national newspaper has been addicted to OxyContin ('hillbilly heroin') for the last two years.Track also loves to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana, and is an alleged drug dealer. In 2005, Track was one of four teenagers who vandalized 44 school buses; one of the participants alleges Track was the ringleader, whose role in the incident was covered up to save face for his mother. A judge gave Track the choice between jail and joining the Army. Today the politician is making political hay out of her son's 'patriotism.'

-- The politician's daughter, bewilderingly named 'Bristol,' is another 'hard partyer.' She is pregnant out of wedlock, but before her child is born she will be married to a young man named Levi. Meanwhile, a young black man named Kevin is convinced he is the true father of Bristol's baby. Whether or not Kevin is right, it is clear that Bristol has had multiple sexual partners, out of wedlock. The politician boasts that Bristol's sex education was of the 'ignorance-only' variety, the only kind the politician approves of.

-- The politician's black pastor engaged in domestic terrorism before emigrating to the United States, blaming crime in his native town on a 'witch' and convincing the local government to harass and terrorize the 'witch' until she finally had to leave town -- a 'victory' the pastor still boasts about. This 'Christian' pastor prayed over the politician in 2007, imploring God to save the politician from Democratic 'witches.'

-- Until 2002, the politician's husband belonged to a political party that is working to have her state secede from the United States. The head of the political party, with whom the politician socialized, frequently made statements like 'God damn America.'

-- The politician and her family are stonewalling an investigation into whether she illegally used her political office to attempt to have her former brother-in-law fired. During her sister's divorce proceedings,the politician was repeatedly admonished by the judge to cease making false and inflammatory statements about the character of her former brother-in-law.

-- The politician is so adamantly against allowing women to control their own bodies that she opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest. No one has asked the politician how many years in federal prison a 15-year-old who was raped by her father ought to serve for HER crime of removing a piece of tissue smaller than the head of a pin.

-- The politician's net worth is more than $2-million. She portrays herself as a working-class 'hockey mom' and 'Joe Sixpack.'

-- Evidence suggests that the politician has frequently used her political office to enrich friends (including providing jobs on slim to no qualifications) and punish enemies.

-- Three members of the family of Brad Hanson, a former business partner of the politician's husband, have provided sworn affidavits that the politician had an extramarital affair with Mr. Hanson. One of the sworn affidavits was provided by a man who has passed a polygraph test of his allegation.

I am honestly puzzled as to why self-identified Christians have embraced this politician as one of their own. Do they not notice the misogyny dressed up as 'conservative feminism'? Do they willfully not notice the drug-dealing vandal son, the promiscuous and pregnant-out-of-wedlock daughter, the secessionist husband, the extramarital lover, the black pastor who believes in witches? Or can a politician get away with ANYTHING so long as she is 'born again'?

Peter Mellor

Two game wardens, seven hunters and a cow

Well, Sarah Palin knows the safety rules for handling a gun while out hunting!

NT posted Tuesday 7th October 2008 05:41 GMT @ Martin Yirrell:


<< No, actually [the Watchmaker Argument] isn't dead, despite (because of?) the efforts of Dawkins and his ilk. >>

It's nothing to do with Dawkins or his ilk. Even without their involvement, the argument simply doesn't stand up to scrutiny, for the reasons I've pointed out and am happy to point out for you again: the Watchmaker Argument relies on an arbitrary double standard. Its proponents claim that God can exist without a cause, yet deny that anything else could exist without a cause, and they reason that, that being the case, God is the only possible 'prime cause' of everything. Since there is no logical basis for making this distinction save for one's beliefs, the Watchmaker Argument negates itself in logic and stands as a matter of faith alone.

[Stuff from NT's message snipped.]

Of course, that's assuming we're arguing about God-as-independent-creator, rather than God-as-all-that-exists. In the latter case I wouldn't offer any argument - but the latter case wouldn't require the teaching of pseudo-Biblical creationism.


Well said, NT!

I'm always amazed that the superstitious fraternity try to blame us reasonable guys for driving them into irrationality.

Karen Armstrong said recently in an interview that the Muslim fundamentalists would be quite relaxed about "western" science if Richard Dawkins hadn't annoyed them so much with his rabid atheism. The fact that, after the defeat of the Mutazilites in the 13th Century, under the influence of Abû Hâmid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali (1058 - 1111 CE), Muslim science progressed hardly at all for the next 7 centuries, despite the tremendous advances in the preceding 5 centuries, seems somehow to have escaped her notice. The problem with "Islamic science", or the lack thereof, is Islam; and the problem with Islam is the Qur'an. In fact, there is no such thing as "western science" and "Islamic science". There is science, and there is superstition. During the relatively brief period of relative tolerance during the early years of the Arab empire, the Arabs practised science, and did so brilliantly. Once the dead hand of Al-Ghazali and Quranic orthodoxy were imposed, the Arab renaissance was doomed.

Science cannot progress where an ancient text is held to be inerrant and the sole source of "Truth" for all time. Sarah Palin, please note.

NT is quite right to point out the difference between "God-as-independent-creator", and "God-as-all-that-exists". I happen to believe in neither, but (as I stated in my posting that crossed with NT's) the latter is at least intellectually respectable. (See, for example, the writings of John Polkinghorne, eminent physicist and Anglican vicar.) Unfortunately, the evangelical Christians (OK, not all of them) and the Muslims (and here it is all of them, not just the extremists) believe in a permanently interfering God, who can abrogate the laws of nature at will. (H2O to C2H5OH, son, plus enough congeners to make it a reasonable facsimile of Chateauneuf du Pape? No problem for Yahweh! Zap!)

Dawkins' book "The Blind Watchmaker" is one of the most brilliant explanations of neo-Darwinism for the non-specialist reader that I have read. Among other things, he dissects in detail the corpse of the "watchmaker" argument by William Paley (1743 - 1805). It is amazing that the ghost of this defunct theory can still be kept in the realm of the undead by people like Martin Yirrel and his chums.

I make no apology for being an admirer of Dawkins. His understanding of his subject is unparalleled, and based on wide research in the field. (I mean, in the bush, not in his own subject area.) His abilities as a teacher and writer are second to none. In debate, he is rational, self-effacing, and honest (which is more than can be said for his creationist opponents). He is one of the leading thinkers on the subject of evolution (if not *the* leading thinker, following the sad death of his friend and colleague Steven Jay Gould).

It pisses me off to read time and time again the ramblings of intellectual pygmies who, at best, half understand the subject, and try to make out that Dawkins is the same sort of ignorant bigot that they obviously are.

I'm going to be away, so you kids will have to talk among yourselves for a while. I'll get back to you the week after next, but the thread will be closed by then.

To bring the discussion back to the lovely Sarah finally:

Q: Why can't a polar bear survive an encounter with Sarah Palin?

A: Because the State of Alaska won't enforce the constitutional amendment that allows Americans to arm bears!

Since this is a philosophical discussion, my coat's the one with the bottle of hemlock in the pocket!

Peter Mellor

Dawkins did NOT accuse Jesus of "conjuring tricks"

In either this thread, or the related one concerning the ban on Richard Dawkins' website in Turkey, someone wrote that, during the Channel 4 television programme "God Strikes Back" (the third in his trilogy "The Genius of Charles Darwin") he told the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, that Jesus' miracles were "conjuring tricks", citing this as an example of Dawkins' arrogance.

I have just watched this programme again, and Dawkins says nothing of the kind. The Archbishop uses the phrase "conjuring tricks" while they are discussing the nature of miracles, but this is without prompting from Dawkins, who is listening politely and who maintains a courteous demeanour throughout the discussion.

Don't believe me? Check out:

The Genius of Charles Darwin - God Strikes Back


Once again, Dawkins' detractors hear and see what they want to hear and see, paying no regard to any evidence.

Peter Mellor

Re: The chimp's extra chromosome (@@Junk DNA )

Martin Yirrell posted on Monday 6th October 2008 17:58 GMT:


You don’t address my point, that in a ‘god of the gaps’ way scientists assumed that because they didn’t know what parts of the genome for they, based on their evolutionary preconceptions, assumed they were ‘junk’ left over from evolutionary history. It would have been more scientific to assign them to “we don’t know yet what they are for”. In the same way, the concept of vestigial organs was invented, resulting in around 100 organs being so described. All of these organ have now identified purpose.


I think you will find that there are good reasons for thinking that significantly long DNA sequences in the genomes of most existing organisms whose genomes have been sequenced are, in fact, defunct, and have no effect on the phenotype (i.e., they can accurately be described as "junk"), but I do not have time to look up the details right now. I agree that several organs that were regarded as vestigial (i.e., no longer having any function in existing organisms) now appear to have some residual function (e.g., the human appendix) but I am not aware that this applies to *all* vestigial organs. (Do you have a reference?)

I guess that you are trying to argue that God would never create anything that was pointless, therefore *all* DNA and vestigial organs must have some purpose. I could make out a more rational argument that junk DNA and vestigial organs are evidence of evolution as opposed to design. (If you want a few examples of bad design of the human body, I can supply a few, starting with: "Why are the toilets in the middle of the playground?")


>The "God of the gaps" argument is silly and self-defeating.<

So why use the “god of the gaps” argument? I certainly don’t.


So what argument *are* you using?

You seem to be keen on rubbishing your opponents' arguments, but less happy to state clearly what you your own position is. I have often found that criticisms of science turn out to come from closet creationists who are unwilling to expose their own views in their entirety, and so incurring the risk of having them comprehensively demolished.


Wouldn’t it be nice if scientists actual used the scientific method as you describe it. I fact they don’t. Scientists come to their work, like anyone else, with preconceptions, they expect the world to work in so and so fashion. Scientists who believe in Evolution approach their work with that belief. If the experiment that they carry out does not give the result they expect they can do a number of things, reject the result, redefine the result in evolutionary terms, adjust the experiment so it gives the result expected. Any result that is published that cast doubt on Evolution is treated this way.


The fact that scientists bring their prejudices to work is totally unsurprising. The scientific method requires that hypotheses be *falsifiable* by observation, and a hypothesis only gains wide acceptance after being tested and found to stand up. The process of devising the hypothesis is irrelevant: it could be a "hunch", inspired guesswork, reasoning by analogy, or prejudice.

Your statement that scientists always reject any result that disagrees with their prejudices is rubbish (although I agree that a theory honed over an entire career is not one that they will discard lightly.

At Cambridge in the 1960s, I (along with several hundred other maths undergrads) was lectured on the theory of special relativity by the late great Denis Sciama. (I did not know it then, and the name would have meant nothing to me if I had, but Sciama was supervising a PhD thesis at the time by a certain Stephen Hawking.) Sciama was a dedicated supporter of the "steady state" theory, of which he had been one of the main architects along with Hermann Bondi and Fred Hoyle. It was Hoyle who coined the name "big bang" as an insult to the rival theory which he thought was absurd: the name has stuck.

The two theories could be tested: the "big bang" would leave a trace in the form of background radiation in the microwave region of the spectrum; the "steady state" theory predicted no such radiation. On the day after Penzias and Wilson published their crucial paper reporting their observation of the microwave background radiation, I went to a lecture by Sciama at the John Rae Society in St. John's College. Alerted by the new findings, he threw away the notes he had prepared and publicly retracted his support for the now untenable "steady state" theory. I read recently an article by another student of Sciama's from that time, who remembered him saying sorrowfully "But it was such a beautiful theory!"

That was a real scientist at work.

If you want to see real denial of observed facts and permanent self-delusion at work, have a look at the creationists!


Remember the discovery of haemoglobin in dinosaur bones? What a fuss! That is why, when Michael Reiss was misquoted, members of the Royal Society were up in arms against him.

Your story about how the science relating to chimp and human genetic similarity is a nice fiction. Actually what probably happened is that the scientists sat down with the information and trawled through it until they came up with some evidence. Incidentally, I mistyped, humans have telomeres about half the length of chimpanzees and other apes. Strange that.


The business about T. Rex's haemoglobin rang a bell, so I did a search, the most useful result of which was to tell me where you are "coming from".

I found:

Astonishing T. Rex soft tissue find seriously challenges evolution

Andrew Sibley 29th March 2005


which was linked from:

Science and Scripture

Philip Stott


Richard Milton

Scientific Censorship and Evolution


Evolution vs Creationism (arguments for young Earth):


I guess from these that you are a "young Earth" creationist (6000 year-old Earth, Noah's flood was real, etc., etc.). If I have guessed wrongly, please feel free to state what your viewpoint really is.

Note that the theory of evolution by natural selection is an interlocking set of fact factual observations backed up by sound physical and biological theory. When Sciama saw his pet cosmological theory overturned, he did not throw out the whole of general relativity and astronomy. He did not, for example, go back to the flat Earth view and decide that everything must have been created by God. Similarly, an isolated strange case such as T. Rex's haemoglobin is not enough to overthrow the whole of geology and palaeontology, unless the finding can be confirmed and found to be rock solid. We would first ask what was actually found (was there contamination of the sample; was it really a T. Rex thighbone; etc.?).

The following is a rebuttal of Milton's viewpoint (see above):

How can animals that appear similar have vastly different DNA?

(Discussion between a creationist and an evolutionist re Richard Milton.)


Please read it. It should put you right about chimps and people.

Milton had argued that an article of his had been suppressed by the THES because of a conspiracy by the atheists. The respondent in the discussion immediately above pointed out glaring stupid mistakes in his paper and suggested that it was rejected because it was tripe.

I also found:

The Genius of Charles Darwin (Series of three documentaries by Richard Dawkins)


Thanks for the opportunity to find that. The full videos are still available for viewing. Excellent!

The third video in the series:

The Genius of Charles Darwin - God Strikes Back


... is the one that is most relevant to the present debate.

Please watch it. It shows Dawkins at his best, arguing politely with dickheads whom he would probably have cheerfully throttled. There is a real peach of an Aussie evangelistic nutcase called McKay who preaches that we only die because we sin; people in the Bible really did live to be 1000 years old; there was no record of rain falling before the Flood. (I kid you not!)

I can respect the views of a religious person who believes in God as "essence" or "the ground of our being" (in Paul Tillich's phrase) and does not need to deny establish scientific facts, but I have less patience with idiots like McKay. Fundamentalists are fundamentally dishonest. They deny plain facts and claim that those who contradict their asinine views are in a sinister conspiracy to hide "the Truth". This last aspect is what makes them dangerous, rather than harmless eccentrics, and is why (to bring the discussion full circle back to Sarah Palin) why all rational people should fight for the voice of reason not to be suppressed.

Peter Mellor

@@MRSA has evolved, along with other stuff

Martin Yirrell posted Thursday 2nd October 2008 17:43 GMT, in response to Peter Mellor:


>I haven't the faintest idea what you mean by "loss of information",<

Genetic material is effectively information on the variable features of the form of life encoded in a highly efficient manner. Mutation is the result of damage to the material and is the loss of genetic information.


The genetic code represented in DNA defines the form of life (phenotype), including its "variable features". If the genome changes, then the expressed phenotypes changes also (generally speaking). The encoding is NOT done in a "highly efficient" manner, as several commentators have remarked. You have to define "efficient". (Human-designed codes require "redundant" bits of information in order to detect or correct errors. Does the inclusion of "redundant" bits render these codes "inefficient"?) There is now good evidence (see earlier postings) that the genomes of most species are inefficient, and include large quantities of "junk" which no longer have any discernible effect upon the phenotype.

Mutation can be due to damage (e.g., by radiation), or to imperfect copying of DNA during cell division (since no copying process can be guaranteed to be totally error-free).

Over millions of years, the DNA molecules in the cells of living organisms have accumulated information, rather than lost it, overall. They may have lost some information, but this has been replaced by a greater amount of different information.

Although many mutations are fatal for the organism (the resulting phenotype), a few are either neutral or beneficial (i.e., they do not impair, or improve, the probability that the organism will survive long enough to transmit its genes to the next generation).


>Note: "It has EVOLVED ..."<

No, actually it hasn't evolved, it is "a resistant variation of the common bacterium Staphylococcus aureus".

Just as people vary, so bacterium vary. Some people have genetic illnesses, some people have red hair, it is not evolution it is variation.


The existence of a "resistant variation" is the basis for the evolution of a resistant strain compared to the original non-resistant strain. This is the definition of "evolution". Variation between individual bacteria (in this case, being more resistant to, or less resistant to, being killed by methicillin) is acted upon by natural selection so as to favour the survival and reproduction of the more resistant individuals. In the presence of methicillin, the more resistant strain will more probably survive and produce offspring.

The *population* evolves (not the individual bacteria), as its gene pool is shifted by natural selection to include more copies of a "successful" gene and fewer copies of the related "unsuccessful" gene.

[BTW: The plural of "bacterium" is "bacteria". The plural may be used to denote many individuals of a single species or several different species.]


>MRSA is a classic example of evolution happening right under our noses. Antibiotics became widely used from the 1940s on. MRSA evolved its resistance in the 1990s (and is not the first species of bacterium to have evolved resistance to at least some antibiotics).<

Now I'm not sure about MRSA but I do know that bacteria resistant to modern antibiotics were found in the frozen corpses of members of an ill fated polar exploration. Selection occurs without Evolution occurring.


I would like to see the reference for the polar explorers.

Your statement "Selection occurs without Evolution occurring." is the totally wrong conclusion to draw here. What has most likely occurred, is *mutation* without *selection*, and hence without *evolution*. Natural selection drives the direction of evolution, acting upon existing genetic variation within the evolving populations.

The fact that bacteria mutated to be resistant to certain antibiotics before these were widely used as medicines, is not surprising.

Consider that bacteria and fungi have evolved together for millennia competing for the same food sources. One trick evolved by certain strains of fungi was to excrete substances (eventually named "antibiotics") which were toxic to bacteria. In response, certain strains of bacteria evolved a resistance to these toxins. This is almost identical to the familiar evolutionary "arms race" between predators and prey.

Long before Alexander Fleming noticed the blank patches in his culture dishes, and we began to splash antibiotics all over the environment, strains of bacteria that were resistant to any given fungal secretions must have arisen naturally.

It is the ubiquitous presence of certain antibiotics in the environment (or at least, some environments) that drives the evolution of resistant strains: whole populations of individual bacteria, each one of which carries the genes to enable it to survive the toxins. This ubiquitous presence has only come about with mankind's intervention. We had a magic bullet and we shot ourselves in the foot with it!


>Speciation arises from evolution<

No, speciation is quite different from Evolution and occurs when variation arises from the selection of information already existing in the genome. It is noteworthy that domestic dogs are considered one species despite a range of variation that, had it occurred naturally, would have resulted in a number of 'species'. Evolution, on the other hand requires the generation of new genetic features that did not previously exist - limbs for example from a form without limbs. Evolution has never been observed.


To deal with your last point first: evolution has been observed wherever living species have been observed. It occurs everywhere and at all times. The fact that it is (usually) a slow process may conceal its occurrence from us, unless we know what to look for. In some cases, we can only infer what has occurred in the past from indirect evidence (e.g., the fossil record) after the changes have occurred. The evidence is still real, however.

I have read "young Earth" creationists trying to argue that we cannot use radiometric dating based on long-lived isotopes, since we have not had time to measure their half-lives! These people cannot get their brains around the method by which a half-life of many thousands of years can be estimated by accurately measuring the decay of a sample over a few months.

The fact that evolution occurs (usually) slowly, by imperceptible increments, poses a similar problem. In particular, the emergence of separate species takes a long time, as does the "generation of new genetic features that did not previously exist". Limbs, eyes, and brains have arisen that did not previously exist, but natural selection takes millennia to do it, acting upon tiny variations between individuals, that are the expression of minor differences between their genomes, resulting in turn from random mutations. (See "Your Inner Fish" by Neil Shubin, to see how the anatomy of the human limb can be traced back to that of our watery ancestors.)

Speciation is the name given to a wide divergence between genetically separated populations. When the difference between them is such that they can't easily interbreed, we say that we have two different species, but the label is a man-made designation. There are countless cases that fall into a grey area, where there is an argument over whether two sub-species are variants of a single species, or separate species?

Appearances can be deceptive. Two species may look similar, but be unrelated. Sharks and dolphins have striking similarities of body shape, but one is a fish, the other a mammal. This can result from "convergent evolution". Conversely, some animals may appear totally different, but be close cousins. The hyrax (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyrax) is an animal the size of a large rabbit, but is thought to be fairly closely related to the elephant.

The classification system used by Linnaeus was based upon observable features. It is now being substantially revised in the light of modern genetics. (This knowledge was not available to Linnaeus or Darwin, but it is now totally accepted by scientists that genetic relatedness is the only sure basis of classification of species.)

Domestic dogs are not *regarded* as the same species; by the criterion of genetic relatedness they ARE the same species. The differences in appearance show how rapidly artificial (as opposed to natural) selection can produce changes, but all breeds are descended from the grey wolf (or a common ancestor with the wolf that was around when mankind began to domesticate them). A Yorkshire terrier can interbreed with a great dane: the problem lies in the logistics, not in the genetics! This is one example of appearances being deceptive.

Your statement that: "... speciation is quite different from Evolution and occurs when variation arises from the selection of information already existing in the genome." is completely false. You seem to be implying that different species have the same genome, which is nonsense. We know that different species have different genomes, and the greater the differences between the phenotypes, the more differences there are between the genomes.

Peter Mellor

The chimp's extra chromosome (@@Junk DNA )

Martin Yirrell posted on Friday 3rd October 2008 17:39 GMT, in reply to Mark:


>Nope. If it were, why is there so much junk DNA?<

Junk DNA was so called because it was not known what it was for. Pretty poor science, if you ask me, to call something junk if you don't know what it is for. Incidentally, purpose is being found for the 'junk'


Some sections of the human genome whose purpose was originally unknown are now turning out to have some subtle effects on the development of the individual, but a lot remains that has no obvious purpose. Also, it appears that some of this originated from encounters with retroviruses way back in the evolutionary past. The sources of apparently "pointless" DNA are under investigation. This is not "poor science". There are still unanswered questions, and scientists are attempting to answer them scientifically, instead of invoking "God" to explain all the gaps in our knowledge.

The "God of the gaps" argument is silly and self-defeating. If "God" is assumed to take action only where we do not YET understand a physical, chemical, or biological process, then that "God" is a miserable and inadequate thing, destined to change and shrink as gaps in knowledge are filled.


>If we aren't evolved from apes why do we have one less DNA strand and the one we have different is the same as two from chimps fused together AND has telomeres (which occur only at the ends of DNA stretches) in the middle.<

Have you noticed, there is some similarity between chimps and men? Could be something to do with it. There are a number of differences that are conveniently not included in the calculations of human/chimp similarity, among them that human telomeres are about the length of those in chimps. Like you, the scientists who claim this are dedicated followers of Evolution and find the evidence to back up their belief.


To summarise the scientific method VERY briefly, one devises a hypothesis to explain an observation. From the hypothesis, one deduces a prediction that can be tested by further observation. A hypothesis must be (in principle) testable by observation and so open to the possibility of being falsified, otherwise it does not count as a scientific hypothesis. If the prediction turns out to be correct (within the limits of experimental error, etc., etc.) then the hypothesis is confirmed. It is important to note a couple of points here:

a) The prediction does not necessarily concern the outcome of a future event. In many cases, it will concern the truth or falsity of a statement about an existing state of affairs which can be checked by observation. (The life cycles of stars of different types have been determined from predictions based on quantum physics and astronomical observation of the present state of the skies. We cannot watch a sample of stars for billions of years to see how they develop over time, but we can still check the predictions scientifically. See "Stardust" by John Gribben.)

b) The fact that a hypothesis has been confirmed does not mean that it has been "proved", in the sense of being true beyond all possible doubt. A better hypothesis may explain the observations more accurately (e.g., Einstein improved on Newton), or improved technology might make possible tests that were previously impractical, and these might falsify the hypothesis despite its earlier apparent confirmation.

c) Despite b), a hypothesis (or, rather, a set of mutually suporting hypotheses) that has stood up under repeated independent tests over time is regarded as an established theory. It is the closest we can get to "the truth" (at least for the time being) and denial of it in the face of evidence is irrational. The use of the word "theory" (as in "heliocentric theory") does not imply that it is dubious or tentative.

In the case of the chimp's extra chromosome:

1. Observation to be explained: A human being has 23 pairs of chromosomes, the chimpanzee has 24 pairs.

2. Hypothesis: After the separation of the chimp and human lines, two pairs of chromosomes in the human line combined with one another.

3. Prediction: Evidence of this early mutation will be visible, in that one of the human chromosomes should look like two chimp chromosomes "stuck together".

4. Further observations: Human chromosome 2 has the same pattern of bands that is found if we put chimp chromosomes 2p and 2q together end-to-end. (Each chromosome has a pattern of bands that is unique to it.) Telomere sequences (which normally occur only at the end of a DNA strand) are found in the middle of human chromosome 2. The sequence of genes in human chromosome 2 above the "join" is the same as that in chimp 2p, and below the join, the sequence is the same as that in chimp chromosome 2q.

5. Conclusion: Hypothesis in 2 above is accepted.

(There are many sources of such scientific information. One web site that I found just now with a Google search explains it rather well: http://basketofpuppies-billy.blogspot.com/2008/05/creationists-and-missing-chromosomes.html)

Note that, without a confirmed hypothesis to explain the different numbers of chromosomes in chimps and humans, the theory of chimp and human descent from a common ancestor could be called into question. (This little investigation was done within the context of the wider theory.)

You state that "there is some similarity between chimps and men". Of course there is. The scientific explanation for this is that it is due to the close similarities of their genomes, which arise from their having had a common ancestor some few millions of years ago.

You state that: "There are a number of differences that are conveniently not included in the calculations of human/chimp similarity, among them that human telomeres are about the length of those in chimps." Telomeres have the same function and a similar structure in all species. Your statement is correct, but totally irrelevant to any argument against chimps and humans having shared a common ancestor.

You end by stating: "Like you, the scientists who claim this are dedicated followers of Evolution and find the evidence to back up their belief." Are you seriously suggesting that the scientists who carried out this investigation reported "evidence" that is not there? Or that there is other evidence that contradicts the "joined chromosome" hypothesis that they suppressed or ignored? Any such attempt at deception would be discovered eventually, so would be pointless.

Science is based on evidence, and if its theories are contradicted by evidence, they are abandoned or changed. The case of the "missing chromosome", described above, is an example of the theory of human evolution being tested against evidence, showing that it is falsifiable (and hence a scientific theory, rather than an article of blind faith). The fact that it has passed all such tests is good reason to believe that it is true. It is also consistent with everything else that we know about chimp and human biology and explains much that cannot easily be explained otherwise.

To satirise your own statement:

Like you, the creationists who deny this are dedicated followers of Superstition, and will cling to their baseless belief in the teeth of any objective evidence to the contrary that is shown to them.

Peter Mellor

MRSA has evolved, along with other stuff (@Jon and @Badger by Martin Yirrel)

Martin Yirrell posted on Tuesday 30th September 2008 19:46 GMT:


>MRSA is a bacterium<

OOPs, thanks for the correction - however it still hasn't evolved and is still a bacterium. Interestingly most of the 'resistance' to drugs et al found in life is actually caused by loss of information. Much like the loss of information in sickle cell anaemia provides resistance to malaria.


I haven't the faintest idea what you mean by "loss of information", but for your information, read on.

Staphylococcus aureus (SA) is a species of bacterium which often colonises one's nose or skin without ill effects, but can cause boils, abscesses, and other nasty symptoms if it enters the body through broken skin. Such infections were, until recently, easily treated with antibiotics, but in the late 1990s cases of SA infection were seen which did not respond to the commonly used antibiotics. These were found to be due to a new type of SA which was named MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).



"MRSA is a resistant variation of the common bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. It has evolved an ability to survive treatment with beta-lactamase resistant beta-lactam antibiotics, including methicillin, dicloxacillin, nafcillin, and oxacillin."

(Quoted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methicillin-resistant_Staphylococcus_aureus)

Note: "It has EVOLVED ..." It has undergone a genetic mutation which gives it greater resistance compared to the original type of SA. The mutation arose at random, but the mutated strain reproduces true to type, and survives in preference to the original type, in the presence of increasing amounts of antibiotic drugs in its environment, hence the increasing number of cases reported.

Sickle cell anaemia is an inherited genetic defect, caused by a recessive gene (a gene that must be inherited from both parents for an individual to develop the condition). Researchers had been puzzled as to how such a destructive gene came to be so prevalent, until it was discovered that inheriting the gene from only ONE parent conferred on the individual an improved degree of immunity against malaria. Sure enough, sickle cell is endemic among populations who originate from areas where malaria is also endemic.

A couple of comments on @Badger by Martin Yirrell, posted Tuesday 30th September 2008 19:38 GMT:

"Another way of saying no one has ever seen Evolution happen - without actually admitting it."

MRSA is a classic example of evolution happening right under our noses. Antibiotics became widely used from the 1940s on. MRSA evolved its resistance in the 1990s (and is not the first species of bacterium to have evolved resistance to at least some antibiotics).

Sickle cell anaemia provides an example of how an understanding of the process of natural selection can yield insight into otherwise puzzling aspects of a disease that affects many thousands of people.

"Speciation is not Evolution since it is but the application of existing genetic variability in the genome."

Speciation arises from evolution. Different populations of the same original species can evolve into different species when geographically separated (and so prevented from interbreeding) and subjected to different environments (and so to different types of natural selection) for a long period.

If by "existing genetic variability in the genome" you mean the differences between the genomes of individuals of the same species, then the resulting minor differences in phenotype are exactly what natural selection acts upon to favour particular genotypes, so driving evolution.

If you would learn a bit of basic science, you would waste less of the time of El Reg readers in attempting to correct your confused diatribes (assuming we can make sense of them in the first place).

Peter Mellor

Re: Darwin - God - Who Cares?

Anonymous Coward posted on Tuesday 30th September 2008 08:55 GMT:

"Really, who gives a shit whether we are descended from amoeba or from some creator or other? There are more important things in this shitty life and on this shitty planet that we should be concerned about. I really don't think that the tens of thousands of children dying of disease and malnutrition everyday really give a shit, do you?"

Anyone who cares about the future of humanity and what we can rationally do about it, that's who "gives a shit". Anyone who would prefer the choices that now face us about climate change, overpopulation, Palestine, etc., etc., to be made by people with a reasonable understanding of reality, rather than by superstitious fuckwits.

The book "Hunting Deer with Jesus", that I recommended in my earlier posting, confirms that a high proportion of working class evangelical Christians in the USA are happy to let this Earth go to hell in a handcart because God is going to create a new one, just for them, after they have been removed from the surface of the Earth in the "rapture" and all of us "unsaved" sinners have perished in the battle of Armageddon. Add to this the beliefs of Zionist Jews that Jahweh "gave" them the land of Israel 3000 years ago, and of Iranian Shi'ite theocrats that the time is nigh when the "Hidden Imam" will reappear for the Islamic version of Armageddon. Then reflect that these various troglodytes have (or will soon have) nuclear weapons, and you might begin to appreciate the scale of the problems that ignorance can cause.

It *matters* that the best available scientific understanding of the world is taught in schools, and not supernatural fairy-tales.

I don't see any constructive suggestion from you as to what to do about the "tens of thousands of children dying of disease and malnutrition everyday". Obviously someone starving right now is preoccupied by where their next meal is coming from, to the exclusion of philosophical and scientific debate, but since you have the time and equipment to go blogging, I guess that the most important concern preoccupying your shitty brain is where to have lunch.

Peter Mellor

Evolution is a fact (@Martin Yirrell's Post @NT)

Martin Yirrell posted on Monday 29th September 2008 18:07 GMT:

"No, Evolution isn't a fact, it's never been observed and no one can demonstrate it. It is an idea, beloved of those who dislike the though of a God, which doesn't actually work when you test it."

Evolution *has* been observed very many times; it *is* a fact; it *has* been thoroughly tested and survived all the tests (i.e., it does "work" as a theory wherever it has been applied). I recommend:

"Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body" by Neil Shubin, Allen Lane (2008), £20, pp229

This book shows how anatomical features of the human body can be traced back through ancestral species all the way to fish and even farther. Shubin and his team of scientists earned fame recently for their discovery of the fossil Tiktaalik, a link between fish and land animals, with fins that have been partially modified to enable the animal to move about on land.

The fossil record is only a part of the evidence for evolution. The genetic basis of mutation is now well understood and mutations can be observed in the laboratory and in the wild. The 'flu virus is just one example of an organism that evolves in front of our eyes. Profound changes to larger organisms under the influence of natural selection take much longer than a human lifetime, so cannot be observed as they occur, although the results can be studied. For example, horses and donkeys share a common ancestor in prehistory which we can no longer observe other than as fossils, but the modern animals have not diverged so far that they cannot interbreed. However, the mules that are the offspring of their unions are sterile, so that an intermediate mule population is not viable, and horses and donkeys are classified as separate species.

A theory that has been as thoroughly tested as the theory of evolution and passed all of its tests is entitled to be regarded as a fact. The evidence for it is so overwhelming that no rational person seriously doubts it, any more than they would doubt that the Earth is round.

Evolution is not an idea "beloved of those who dislike the thought of a God". In fact, a lot of people who do believe in God also accept that evolution occurs and that it explains the variety of species that we find in the world. For example, the Catholic and Anglican churches officially accept evolution. For those (like me) who *do* "dislike the thought of a God", however, it disposes of the "argument from design" as a justification for belief in the supernatural.

Martin Yirrell continues:

"You are right about one thing, The Register is stirring it - the headline makes that obvious, using the discredited concept of dinosaurs being birds."

No scientist has ever said that dinosaurs were birds; such a "concept" was never around to be discredited. However, it is well-established (from intermediate forms in the fossil record) that birds are descended from some types of dinosaur. According to the latest theory (well supported by fossil evidence), some carnivorous bipedal species of theropod dinosaur evolved feathers through a series of intermediate steps. The initial advantage conferred by such mutations may have been more effective body temperature control. Later, species arose which used their feathers to assist flight, and eventually these evolved into birds. See:

"Which Came First, the Feather or the Bird?" by Richard O. Prum and Alan H. Bush, Scientific American, March 2003, pp60-69.

Peter Mellor
Paris Hilton

Deer Hunting with Jesus

To gain some insight into redneck culture, run, don't walk, to your neighbourhood bookshop and get:

"Deer Hunting with Jesus: Guns, Votes, Debt and Illusion in Redneck America" by Joe Bageant, Portobello Books Ltd., London (2008), ISBN 978 1 84627 152 6, paperback, 273 pp, £8.99

It will explain why the guns 'n religion conservatism in the flyover states means that Obama hasn't a cat in hell's chance of becoming the next President of the USA. It was first published in the USA in 2007, long before the current presidential campaign started, but shows why Palin is the darling of the Midwest. Bageant is a native of West Virginia, and his brother is an evangelical preacher, but he is unique in his family in having moved out in the 1960s and kept right on going, so that he returns with just a tad more perspective than the good ol' boys he left behind. At the same time, he writes about them and their economic plight with understanding and genuine sympathy.

I haven't time to write a full review of the book, but it is a great read. When Bageant isn't scaring the bejasus out of you with stuff like Chapter 5 "The Covert Kingdom" (the Rapture, Armageddon, and all that), or the statistics on functional illiteracy among the American working class, he'll have you rolling about laughing.

(Q: How does a redneck tell when the house trailer is level?

A: The snot runs out of both sides of the baby's nose at the same time.)

One of the interesting things is his description of the attitude of Midwesterners to their guns (hunting rifles, not handguns). He persuaded me that Sarah Palin bagging the odd moose should be the least of my concerns about her candidature.

(Paris, as she's the closest we've got to a picture of Sarah Palin.)


Fish snapped snacking at 4,200 fathoms

Peter Mellor

Re Interesting to note, by Nigel

By Matt Bradley Posted Tuesday 7th October 2008 17:19 GMT (@Nigel):


Because the water is also compressed, and therefore has more mass?

I dunno. Is this a trick question?


Water is not compressible, not even if 1600 elephants stand on it!


Turkish court bans Dawkins' website

Peter Mellor
Black Helicopters

A few facts about Adnan Oktar (alias Harun Yahya)

The comments on this article seem to have concentrated on Richard Dawkins (often slagging him off), largely to the exclusion of Adnan Oktar, who publishes under the pseudonym "Harun Yahya". (This nom-de-plume is an arabisation of "Aaron John".)

There are many items on the web by and about Oktar (or "Yahya"), including videos and transcripts of interviews, reviews, opinion pieces, etc., etc. The following facts are drawn from these and can be easily checked by anyone.

Oktar is an "old Earth" creationist. He accepts that the age of the Earth is several billion years, but completely rejects evolution. He asserts that Allah created all species in the forms in which we now observe them, and that there has been no divergence of species. (In one video interview, he claims that a fossil in his possession is of the skull of a lion, dating back to the age of the dinosaurs. This specimen has not been examined independently by a competent palaeontologist (unsurprisingly), and although it is not shown at all clearly in the video, from the glimpse that I caught of it, it looked reptilian.)

It is claimed that Oktar has written more than 250 books. A copy of his "Atlas of Creation" has been distributed free of charge and unsolicited to every school in France (and possibly to schools in other European countries and in America). This created an outcry among teachers in France, where the education system is rigorously secular. This was a free distribution of hundreds of thousands of copies (not the few hundred that an earlier post referred to). The production is lavish: hardback, large format, glossy, with colour illustrations. The cost of this operation alone must have been very considerable.

In person, he appears to be quite young (mid-40s, perhaps). He has a well-trimmed beard and moustache and black hair. His sartorial appearance indicates opulence, and he seems to spend a lot of time on yachts.

(He has fallen under a cloud regarding alleged sexual and financial improprieties, but I do not have time to check the facts right now, so will not try to expand on this.)

What follows is speculation on my part. (I wish to make this clear as an arse-covering ploy, to avoid a libel suit.)

From the sheer volume of his output, at a relatively early stage in his career, it is (to say the least) questionable that this is all Oktar's own work. A reasonable guess would be that "Harun Yahya" is a front for an Islamic creationist propaganda organisation, which outsources the writing to sympathetic universities (i.e., Islamic universities, in the main). The man Adnan Oktar is probably basically a Mr. Fixit who channels funds, rather than the eminent scientist that he claims to be.

As for the source of the funds, it is well known that Saudi Arabia (or certain organisations based there) are funding a massive Islamic (and specifically Sunni and Wahabist) propaganda exercise, including the building of mosques, running madrassas, training imams, etc., etc. A reasonable guess would be that Oktar's organisation is part of the "education" wing of this offensive.

The size of this exercise is measured in billions, rather than millions, of dollars. In this context, Oktar's free textbook scheme looks modest.

The nature of this propaganda offensive may be judged from the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary "Undercover Mosque". (When I last looked, this was still available on:


Oktar's rise from nowhere to mysterious eminence should be seen in this context. His litigious approach to justified criticism from a real scientist of genuine eminence should be seen in the context of the tactics actually employed by the Saudis: they have abused the notoriously lax libel laws in the UK to suppress publication of books critical of Islam. (See article by Nick Cohen in The Guardian a few months ago.)

I can hardly believe that so many of the commentators on this article in El Reg could have been so stupid as to attack Dawkins, who is arguably the best-qualified and highest-profile opponent of the wave of superstitious ignorance which the enemies of the open society wish to inflict on us.

[Black helicopters, since the Islamofascists are coming!]


Royal Society says goodbye to creationism row vicar

Peter Mellor

Re: The Badger

@Bob. Hitchen Posted Thursday 18th September 2008 20:07 GMT


Er medicine is about the here and now not all our yesterdays. I wouldn't take kindly to my doctor reading "the origin of the species" whilst treating me for some illness. He don't need to know much about evolution either. I already accepted that evolution was a process but so is the formation of elements; I suspect neither is random.


Organisms such as bacteria and viruses replicate very rapidly compared to organisms such as people. They also undergo genetic mutation more quickly. You can watch a population of disease-causing bacteria evolve **HERE AND NOW**. An example of such evolution is the development of resistance to drugs. That is why MRSA is such a problem. Penicillin was discovered in the mid-twentieth century, and within twenty years or so doctors were finding infections that did not respond to it. Doctors give patients an antibiotic, and the bacteria that survive the onslaught are those that have (randomly) mutated to be just that bit better at surviving in the presence of that drug. These more resistant bacteria give rise to the next round of infections. Repeat this for a few generations, and you have a population of bacteria against which your antibiotic has no effect.

You might be happy being treated by some ignoramus who does not understand this, but I prefer my doctors properly qualified, thanks, which means that they know that drug resistance in bacteria can (and will) occur, understand how it occurs, and so can act to avoid (or at least delay) it.

That is just ONE example of how an understanding of evolution is essential to a medical practioner.


btw most of life's little luxuries are done by engineers not scientists Oh and designers! Mostly scientists just observe things.


You mean like Alexander Fleming "just observing" some interesting empty patches in his petri dish? Obviously you think that not dying of septicemia after a minor scratch is a "little luxury". WTF are engineers and designers (and drug manufacturers, in the example I have used) supposed to base their work on if not on scientific understanding, and how are they supposed to develop or design anything if they cannot work in a scientific way?

I don't know which to fear most: superstitious bigots (whether Christian, Muslim, Scientologist, or whatever) for whom ignorance is a desirable quality to inculcate into children, or those like you who are too ignorant even to realise that knowledge matters.


Royal Society: Schools should show creationism 'respect'

Peter Mellor

Re: Hardly any mention of the "I" word?

Hello, Wayne. (If you want to post as "Anonymous Coward", why sign off with your real name at the foot of your messages? :-)

@Anonymous Coward Posted Tuesday 16th September 2008 12:32 GMT


"In January of this year, I was having dinner with my son and a friend of his who is a biology teacher. She told me that Muslim girls in her class thought that fossils were carved by scientists in order to deceive the faithful, and maintained this view even when presented with specimens."

Easy, if it is legal, take them on a field trip to somewhere with a board area of fossils, ask them to point in a direction and unearth a fossil, ask them a few more times and find more fossils.


An excellent suggestion. I will pass it on. However, fossils are not *quite* that easy to find in most areas, although I collected quite a few myself over the years. I like the "if it is legal" qualifier, though. When I was a kid back in the 1950's, Miss Tilson simply marched us down the road in a crocodile to go on a nature walk. The "Health & Safety" fascist was then a rare species! :-)


Something creationist go on about, and very justly, is the assumption of the constancy of events that are used for estimating age, and this includes states in environment (even constants). But if these are not so constant, then we have to ask what we are looking at. For a mechanism to be predictable it has to be constant, or at least change in a estimated/ble way, including physics. If we assume a certain rate of change in mutation but there has been some other unknown or historical effect at work, then the estimates can be wildly out.


I agree that assumptions need to be stated and subjected to confirmation/refutation, but you will find that scientists (including evolutionists) are well aware of this need and are well ahead of you and of creationists in general. For example, one piece of evidence by which we know that the Earth is around 4.5 billion years old, is that this is the age of the oldest known rocks in the Earth's crust, as determined by potassium-argon dating. The half-lives of most radioactive isotopes have been measured precisely in the laboratory, and the fact that nothing (but NOTHING) affects these, has been very well confirmed. Rates of radioactive decay have been shown to be constant under all environmental conditions, including variations of temperature, pressure, chemical combinations of the isotope, electrical and magnetic fields, etc., etc.

The constancy of radioactive decay, which is one basis for estimating the ages of rocks, fossils, artefacts, etc., is not an "assumption"; it is overwhelmingly supported by all of the evidence we have.

However, this is only *one* basis for age estimation. Many other bases can be adduced, and they are in mutual agreement. This agreement is, of course, "within the limits of experimental error", to quote the well-worn scientific phrase, but the error bound on the estimate of 4.5 billion years for the age of the Earth does not take you ANYWHERE NEAR the 6000 years which "young Earth" creationists would have us believe.


On the Islamic issue, you may not be aware, but the Quran makes irreconcilable statements and predictions greatly at variance and contradictory with Christianity and the Bible. So, Christianity and the bible are regarded as great threats to it's authenticity, and the standard way of dealing with this is to claim the bible is not authentic and is corrupted compared to the Quran. However, there is little good proof of this, and statement attesting to the authenticity of Christian and Jewish scriptures by Muhammad, and copies of compatible scriptures from before that age. I wonder how much of the very poor quality, and devious, modern theology biased against the bible, is coming from this direction. On the other side, the elite in Islam would probably not want the Quran was examined that way. There are major issues with both evolution and biased theological attempts supporting each other. The whole of the modern attitude to the debate is based on these, so keep an eye out for them.

There are other issues that you should be aware of, Christianity and Islam share different core beliefs not the issue of lying. This would take too long to go into here, as it requires some ground on the Islamic side (as there seems to be contrary views expressed). You might have guessed, I have read the Quran and done a bit of study on it.


So have I. In fact, my "bit of study" over the past two years has included reading the Qur'an (in several English translations), sizeable chunks of ahadith, several modern biographies of the Prophet (and I am currently ploughing through the Sira by ibn Ishaq), and loads of other stuff. I entirely agree with you about the contradictions between the Qur'an, and the Jewish and Christian scriptures. My immediate reaction to the Qur'an was that it is a second-hand, second-rate, garbled version of the earlier writings; just what you would expect from an illiterate camel train manager who had heard a few tales on his travels and only half-remembered them. Nothing I have read since has led me seriously to revise my opinion.

If you want to see how the Qur'an and ahadith can be quoted in support of terrorist atrocities, and in support of lying in the furtherance of such nefarious activities, read the "Al-Qaeda Training Manual". (As a reader of El Reg, you will know where to find a copy!)

Anyway, back to creationism. It is obvious from the Qur'an that Muhammad was clueless about astronomy and really did believe that the Earth is flat. I can't be bothered to cite sura and ayat, but if you Google "flat Earth Qur'an" you will be inundated with Quranic quotations to substantiate this. He also believed (literally) in a simplified and garbled version of Genesis and Revelations.

The problem lies precisely in taking the ancient myths literally.

Peter Mellor
Thumb Up

Hardly any mention of the "I" word?

I find it strange that, in 160-odd comments so far, I found only one passing mention of Islam.

In the USA, the main force behind creationism is fundamentalist Christianity. In Europe (and particularly the UK) it is Islam. A quick surf of Islamist web sites will confirm that they link to creationist sites set up by evangelical Christians.

A Turkish writer who publishes under the pen-name Harun Yahya has written 250 books "proving" that evolution is wrong. (He is an "old Earth" creationist: he goes along with the assertion that the Earth is around four and a half billion years old, but maintains that God (or Allah) created all species as we now observe them.) The volume of his output leads one to suspect that he is probably a front-man for a well-funded organisation, rather than a sole researcher. The funds available (think Saudi oil money) have enabled a copy of one of Yahya's main books to be distributed (as a glossy and lavishly illustrated hardback, but free of charge and unsolicited) to every school in France. Given the secular basis of French education, there was something of an outcry. I don't know if a similar stunt has been tried in the UK.

In January of this year, I was having dinner with my son and a friend of his who is a biology teacher. She told me that Muslim girls in her class thought that fossils were carved by scientists in order to deceive the faithful, and maintained this view even when presented with specimens.

The notion that science is a con-trick to undermine Islam, is a dangerous delusion, and cannot be allowed to persist, but it is supported by alarming amounts of Islamic money. To stave off this attack on reason by the forces of superstitious bigotry, science teachers had better be well prepared to debate with Muslim, rather than Christian, creationists. They also need to be aware that a cornerstone of Muslim belief is that the Qur'an is the unchanged and unchanging Word of Allah, that it is inerrant, and that it is valid for all time and in all places. Although only a small minority of Christians still argue that Genesis is a literal historical account of creation, any Muslim who does not profess the equivalent belief regarding the Qur'an, is not a real Muslim.

(In answer to the earlier comment that "no-one ever really believed the Earth is flat", the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa, based on his knowledge of the Qur'an, that it IS flat. This was not a medieval historical event, it occurred in the 1970s!)


Did we say you can read that?

Peter Mellor

What the Al-Qaeda Training Manual is REALLY useful for

I have waded through the Qur'an, sizeable chunks of the Hadith (traditions: sayings and acts of The Prophet), the Sirah (Life of the Prophet), plus assorted commentaries, etc.

I rapidly came to the conclusion that the main problem is not the insanity of a few fanatics on the fringes of Islam, but Islam itself, or, to be more specific, the Qur'an.

The Al-Qaeda Training Manual is useful because:

1. For every conceivable kind of atrocity or other shenanigans that the fanatics might get up to, it provides a supportive quotation from the Qur'an, Hadith, or both. Crimes that can be justified by appeal to Islamic scripture include (but are not restricted to): murder (or even mass murder), theft, banditry, deception (including denying that one is a Muslim), kidnapping, killing of hostages, and torture.

2. It clarifies the motives of the terrorists. These have little to do with the recent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and everything to do with imposing a world-wide caliphate, by outright force or more insidious means.

It contains little that is of much practical use to a terrorist, other than a few hints on cell organisation, counter-surveillance tactics, etc. (In fact the copy available from the US Dept. of Justice site has already been redacted to remove any information that would be directly useful.) However, for the insight that it gives into the terrorist mentality, and what they are likely to get up to, it is invaluable.

It should be compulsory reading for anyone who is in favour of an open society, instead of being regarded as subversive literature.


Is it safe to download al Qaeda manuals yet?

Peter Mellor
Black Helicopters

Re: Terror in a book? (by Anonymous Coward)

AC writes: "I haven't seen the book, but am pretty sure that I wouldn't find it a cause for amusement.

The government create laws to keep us all safe, including "against keeping information that could be used in terrorism". Why would anyone want to have these in their library ?"

I have read this dreaded manual (available from the US Attorney General's website, as El Reg has pointed out) and it is not particularly amusing, particularly when you realise that a fairly large crowd of murderous dingbats out there must find it inspiring.

It was translated by the US DoJ and used as evidence in an earlier trial of terrorists in New York, which is why it is now in the public domain. It has been redacted to some extent to remove information that might be of genuine practical help to any terrorist planning an atrocity. There is no practical advice on making poisons or explosives, for example (and judging by what is left, there probably never was).

There are a few useful tips on cell organisation, recruitment of agents, counter-surveillance measures, etc., but nothing very surprising, and most of this could probably be worked out by any reasonably smart undercover operator.

Where the AQT Manual is enormously useful is in providing insight into the psychopathology of the Islamists. Every terrorist tactic is justified by detailed quotations from the Koran and Hadith, such as the use of deception (including the denial of one's Muslim religion), infiltration of organisations for intelligence gathering and sabotage, targetted assassination, taking (and killing) of hostages, suicide bombing, use of AMD against civilian infrastructure, etc., etc.

The Manual makes it very clear that the aims of al-Qaeda have everything to do with the establishment of an Islamic version of the 1000-year Reich in the form of a world-wide Caliphate under which all non-Muslims (if not exterminated) would be second-class citizens, and hardly anything to do with contingent matters such as the plight of the Palestinians and the "occupation" of Iraq (as many western liberals have been deluded into believing).

It also makes it clear that the terrorist fringe have not "perverted" Islam, but merely carried the messages of its central scriptures to their extreme logical conclusions.

The Manual should therefore not merely not be banned, but should be compulsory reading for any sane person with the slightest concern about what we are up against in al-Qaeda and its sympathisers.

(Black helicopters, but I'm not sure whose!)


Aussie laser-pointer dazzle attacks on airliners: Bad

Peter Mellor

Red lasers safe (but green ones are obviously different)

When lecturing I used a red laser pointer on occasions. (I am now retired.) It was the usual little gadget about 3cm long that would fit on a key ring. When I was showing it to some friends in the pub one evening, a young lady shone it directly into my eye from just across the table. Having the whole of one side of my field of vision suddenly flooded with red light was startling, but there were NO after-effects, not even short-term dazzling.

I don't actually like laser pointers for lecturing. My hand is fairly steady, but the little red dot used to wobble about in a distracting way. Watching some of my colleagues trying to use them made me wonder if they had the alcoholic shakes, which was odd, since I thought I was the departmental lush!

The students had them as well. The favourite trick was to shine them on the projector screen in places where I didn't want to point while I was trying to use my own pointer. One of the little b*st*rds managed a direct hit on my eye from the back of the class. Again, no effect; it didn't even interrupt my flow, and I couldn't even tell who'd done it.

The best use for a red laser pointer is to aim it at the floor a few inches in front of a cat's nose, and keep it moving.

Obviously the high-powered green lasers that we see advertised are a different matter altogether.

"Boffin" since I used to be one.


Galaxy's smallest known black hole discovered

Peter Mellor

Sizes of black holes, plus confidence bounds

The size of the black hole under discussion seems to be about 1 Stevenage plus or minus a Hitchin. For the 2- and 3-standard deviation limits, include Letchworth and Baldock, too.


Teacher's head explodes due to Wi-Fi, mobe radiation

Peter Mellor

Believable April Fool jokes

Many years ago, The Guardian published a story about a new automated bus control system for London. All buses were to be driverless, and controlled remotely by operators who would view the traffic through a CCTV mounted in the driver's cab, connected in real time to a video screen in the control centre. One operator in the centre would be able to control up to five buses simultaneously, tests had shown.

I was so taken in, I nearly posted it to risks@csl.sri.com

A few years later, a net-friend who was an aviation specialist published a story that the flight crew on an Airbus A320 had experienced an outage of the flight control system on approach to landing. When they tried to restart the system, it gave a message saying "PIN not recognised". Apparently, this was due to Airbus using second-hand ATM chips to build their on-board systems.

The "incident" turned up a few months later in the final year undergraduate dissertation of one of my software engineering students, quoted without irony as an example of the risks from computer systems.

A few years after that, I broadcast my own story that Airbus had subcontracted the maintenance of the flight control software on the A320 to a third-party support firm. I had just just returned from a meeting in Copenhagen, and said I had seen the story in the Danish magazine "Godaj" ("Hello" in Danish). I said that the head of the third-party support firm was Wolf Larssen (the villain of "The Sea Wolf" by Jack London) and quoted him as saying that he was not worried that the original developers of the flight control system would not give him the source code, since his employees could download the binary and de-compile it.

At least three experts in safety-critical avionics were totally taken in and expressed their concern to the discussion group on which I had broadcast the story. I was still receiving concerned enquiries 5 years later from people who had read it in the archives, and hadn't noticed the date on it.

Moral: Make the spoofs believable, but perhaps not *too* believable! :-)


Jules Verne gets intimate with ISS

Peter Mellor

Russian pencils (Space program budget)

I have been to the NASA goodies shop and have my very own zero-G biro (with a spare refill). It surprises some people that a normal biro won't write (for long) on a vertical or inverted horizontal surface. The zero-G pen will, since it has a built-in micro-pump for the ink. Mind you, I cannot recall any occasion in the last 20 years when I absolutely had to write on a surface that wasn't roughly horizontal, but I suppose it's a good present for the man who has everything.

Now, the Russian "pencil" was not only a well-designed clutch pencil (no sharpener required, Colin) but it had a slide-rule attached in case the on-board computer went down. I *really* want one of those! Where can I get one?


Vote now for your fave sci-fi movie quote

Peter Mellor

Douglas Adams (again!) plus a little question about Dark Star

Ford Prefect: "We'll use the teleporter. It feels a bit like being drunk."

Arthur Dent: "But I quite like being drunk."

Ford Prefect: "Try telling that to a glass of water!"

Question: Are you sure the Dark Star quote is right? That isn't how I remember the argument between the lieutenant and the bomb.


Hefty black hole weighs in at 33 Suns

Peter Mellor

Re: Why do they call them "Black Holes"??? (By Pete Mallam)

Because it was once thought that they would be "black", i.e., give out no radiation at all.

In fact, when it was first realised that (theoretically, none having been observed) an object above a certain mass, without enough radiation pressure from within, must collapse into a singularity, such hypothetical objects were referred to as "frozen stars", for the following reasons:

- As the body shrank towards the "event horizon", defined by the Shwartzschild radius, time at the surface of the body would slow down (according to Einstein's theory of general relativity) until it stopped as the surface of the body reached the horizon. An observer on the surface of the body (and he or she would need to be pretty tough!) would observe the entire life of the universe pass before their eyes before they hit the horizon.

- The wavelength of any light emitted from the surface would become progressively longer until it reached infinity as the surface reached the event horizon. If our stout observer were sending out regular "beeps" on a signalling device, those receiving the signal from outside the horizon would see these signals getting progressively weaker, longer in wavelength, and at longer intervals. A signal sent from the event horizon would never reach them.

An intrepid traveller plunging into the event horizon of an already-formed frozen star would be hit by a blast of radiation consisting of all of the emissions from the star from the point at which it passed the horizon until infinity. The photons would be stuck on the surface at the event horizon and frozen in time like flies on fly-paper. (I'm guessing here: I've never seen this confirmed by a cosmologist.)

What happens inside the event horizon leaves my intuition rudderless. I have heard that "space becomes time and time becomes space". An observer must move inexorably (in space) to the singularity at the centre (just as time moves inexorably forward in the outside universe) but time is negotiable, and the observer could move around in it, just as we can move around in space.

Steven Hawking eventually realised that black holes are not really "black", since in a vacuum, particle/antiparticle pairs continually separate and rejoin to mutually annihilate each other, according to quantum uncertainty (Heisenberg). If the birth of the particle/antiparticle pair occurs close to the even horizon of a black hole, one of the pair might get sucked into the horizon and lose contact with the observable universe. Its partner would shoot off, and we would observe such particles as a steady glow of radiation (Hawking radiation) from the supposedly "black" surface. This would (from our external viewpoint) cause the black hole to gradually lose mass and shrink over "our" time.

However, time is an illusion: it all depends on how heavy you are and how fast you're moving. If you're a photon, time doesn't exist, as Einstein realised when he was just a kid.

Hope this helps.


Gov boffins to carry out simulated London dirty bombing

Peter Mellor

Remember the anthrax test?

I'm surprised that no-one has yet mentioned the test of an explosive device to spread anthrax spores in 1942. It was carried out on the island of Gruinard, just off the coast of Scotland. The detectors were live sheep in pens around ground zero, and registered their readings by dropping down dead, which they began to do three days after the explosion. The island was rendered inaccessible for 48 years. It was declared safe in 1990 after a massive decontamination exercise including the removal of most of the topsoil (to where, one wonders?).

The experiment was a "proof of concept" exercise to see if it was feasible for the Nazis to mount a biological attack against Allied cities. One school of thought was that any explosion powerful enough to disperse an infectious agent would also destroy the agent, so rendering the attack harmless. The Gruinard experiment proved this view wrong.

For details, see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/1457035.stm

A search on "anthrax island" will throw up lots of sources, and references to similar experiments.


Gilligan's bomb: Is it time to panic yet?

Peter Mellor

Why is everyone so fixated on TATP?

From the original article:


However, not being interested in bigging up a marginal threat, he also pointed out the many practical difficulties involved in mixing up viable, deadly TATP from (fairly) easily purchased peroxide and acetone - and correctly laughed to scorn the idea that it's feasible to do this in an airliner lavatory.

That's not to say that four or five terrorists couldn't pass through security carrying their precursors and patiently mix up a viable batch of TATP in some secluded airside spot - and anyway, gaining access to airside doesn't necessarily mean passing through passenger security. Once the charge is done, the actual suicide bomber takes it aboard the plane. Bingo.

Dr Alford, being a professional, may not have chosen to mix up something as volatile and dangerous as TATP - or if he did he may have taken steps to desensitise it somewhat, not wishing to foolishly blow himself up.


Neither the "on-board toilet" nor the "secluded airside spot" scenarios for preparing TATP are remotely feasible (unless the "secluded spot" was a portakabin containing a laboratory). Also, Dr. Alford would, indeed, probably have chosen a different substance.

The explosives used in the 7/7 attacks in London were described at the time as "acetone peroxide" (AP). Here's how you make it:


I saw this back on 15th July 2005. I looked it up out of curiosity, since I had never come across any such substance as "acetone peroxide" in my O-level chemistry studies and doubted its existence. (I suspected a bit of disinformation by the security services.)

AP is unstable and cannot be kept for more than two days. Note the disclaimer on the web page to the effect you are responsible for any criminal charges resulting from following this recipe, and if you kill yourself, don't try to sue the author.

AP (which I assume is the same as TATP) CANNOT be used without being very carefully prepared in advance.

However, there ARE commercially available liquid binary explosives, for example, FIXOR (TM). See http://www.mrel.com/FIXOR.html

This is manufactured by a reputable Canadian firm (MREL) who advertise it for use in clearance of land mines and unexploded ordnance. It has the following advantages (see MREL's publicity brochure):

1. Its two components are non-explosive when separate, and can be transported cheaply as safe material.

2. It is very simple to use: pour the contents of one bottle into the other, shake, shove a detonator through the cap of the bottle containing the mixture, and you're ready to blow.

3. If not detonated within two hours, the mixture spontaneously separates into its original constituents and is then no longer dangerous until given another shake. (A suicide bomber wouldn't leave it lying around for two hours, of course.)

4. Eco-friendly: does not leave toxic decomposition products (and so its separate constituents might not give off detectable fumes, but I am speculating here).

This seems ideal for the job, taken on board in Alcopops bottles by a few different volunteers, travelling separately, who meet up on board for a little party and to share their drinks. Watch out for the guy dropping his trousers to get the detonator out of his a***hole (except that he *would* do that in the toilet).

I'm surprised that someone with Lewis Page's qualifications isn't aware of such commercial explosives, and that El Reg commentators are so easily distracted into poo-pooing obviously infeasible plots.

(Skull and crossbones for sudden death.)


Airline pilot sacked for 777 Top Gun stunt

Peter Mellor

Re: Cathay Pacific has a fly-by POLICY ?

Since major airlines are often paid to do chartered fly-byes at air shows, etc., yes, they DO have fly-by policies, specifying safety procedures, etc.

The most famous fly-by (that wasn't quite a complete fly-by) was that of the A320 at Habsheim in 1998, flown by Michel Asseline. I studied that accident in great detail at the time. Air France did have such a policy. One thing that it required was that the pilots visit the airfield before the show and inspect it on foot for likely hazards. Due to pressure of other work, Asseline and his co-pilot did not do that, otherwise they might have been aware that a slow fly-by lower than the height of the trees at the end of the runway would have been inadvisable.

Q: What's the difference between an A320 and hedge-trimmer?

A: About 100 knots!

(Give me my coat before I come out with any more A320 jokes!)


Human rights group pleads for condemned Saudi 'witch'

Peter Mellor


JonB writes:

> Of course, if you're a muslim you know that jinn don't exist - for there is

> only one god. Therefore she can't possibly be guilty of recoursing to them,

> because they aren't there.

Not so, Jon. Have a look at the Q'ran; it's full of them. Allah made Adam out of a lump of clay, but made djinni out of "smokeless fire". (The word is usually transliterated as "djinn", plural "djinni", hence the "genies" that pop out of lamps and jars in the Tales of the Arabian Nights.) According to the Q'ran, shooting stars are bolts hurled by Allah to deter djinni who stray too close to heaven.

Folk belief in djinni is widespread in North Africa and the Middle East. An English author recently wrote a book about his experiences of doing up a house in Morocco. All the local workers were terrified of the djinni who they assumed would have taken up residence while the house was empty, and placated them with offerings of food, even going so far as to drop raw chicken down the well and making the whole family very ill.

Djinni can be helpful or mischievous, unlike angels, who run errands for Allah and cannot do other than obey His will. The Q'ran was dictated to the Prophet Mohammed by the archangel Jibreel (Gabriel in western traditions).

I asked Ed Hussain, author of the "The Islamist", at a book-signing, if he believed in djinni. He declined to be drawn directly, but did say that he believed in "spiritual beings".

("Alien", since I've no idea what a djinn looks like.)


US Army struggles with Windows to Linux overhaul

Peter Mellor

Windows vs Linux security: Register paper

On Friday 22nd October 2004 07:26 GMT, The Register published: "Security Report: Windows vs Linux" by Nicholas Petreley. (Sorry, I can't find be bothered to look for the URL, but I downloaded the paper at the time.)

The paper is well researched, and bases its conclusions on several measures of "security" (whose validity it discusses), as well as on a qualitative discussion of the relevant properties of the two operating systems. It concludes that there are sound objective reasons for thinking that Linux is genuinely more secure than Windows, and discounts (for stated reasons) as a myth the often-repeated claim that Windows needs more patches because it gets attacked more often.


Israel electric car project aims to wipe out oil

Peter Mellor

Re: Congrats to F-Zero ref.

> By Alex D

> Posted Tuesday 22nd January 2008 22:41 GMT

> Go


> - There's a whole lot of work being done on Lith-ion, lith-poly and the more exotic batteries which is making them much more efficient- maybe not quite Moors Law, but not too far off (I run a company selling lith-battery products). So the main argument against the electric vehicles will dwindle away as tech improves.

<End quote>

Err ... Do you mean "Moore's Law" ("The number of devices on a chip doubles every 18 months."), or is "Moors Law" some principle recognised by the Arabic conquerors of medieval Spain? If the latter, could you state this law?

Could it have something to do with the dependence of the western democracies on Middle-Eastern oil, and the consequent funding of Wahhabi propaganda by Saudi Arabia using oil revenues?

I think we should be told.

That's my burkha hanging up there!


US boffins create darkest material ever

Peter Mellor
Paris Hilton

Miscellaneous bits of black

A few random points, relevant to some of the earlier comments:

Current stealth technology depends mainly on the geometry of the aircraft: the surfaces are so angled that hardly any of them reflect back any part of a radar beam. Hence the weird non-aerodynamic shape of stealth fighters and bombers, and the need to have a computer to fly them, since they won't glide.

The radar signature of the average stealth aircraft is the size of an eagle's eye, not the whole eagle (a selling point strongly pushed by the Lockheed Skunkworks during development).

Lockheed nicked the basic idea from a technical paper published by a Soviet scientist who did the maths back in the 1950s (or early on, anyway) before computers were adequate to the job of keeping such a thing airborne.

If you change the geometry, you lose your invisibility. During the first Gulf War, a stealth pilot reported that his bomb bay jammed open, whereupon he was lit up like a Christmas tree and saw a radar-guided missile homing in on him. Fortunately, his bomb bay doors unjammed in the nick of time, and the missile careered off (muttering "Where'd he go?", presumably). Ultra-black paint would avoid the geometry problem, but you would then be faced with keeping it clean, since muck would clog the pores on the paint and make it reflective.

Regarding seeing a non-reflective object as a hole in the background: that is why stealth ships were not developed. The concept was tried, but there is significant radar reflection from waves at sea, and a stealth ship shows up nicely as a ship-shaped black hole in the radar background.

Furry cars were tried back in the 1970s (not sure of the precise date). The intention was novelty, not invisibility. They were covered with a special paint that used electrostatic charge to raise "hairs" on the surface after being sprayed on, giving a matt finish. The effect was disappointing. A car body is designed so that it reflects attractive highlights. Remove the reflection, and the result is just dull. Add to that the fact that the "hairs" wore off in patches. I saw one once, and it looked like a mangy beetle. (In fact, it was a Beetle.) Furry cars were a seven-day wonder. So much for civilian artistic uses.

Whoever said it would be good for the anarchist flag is forgetting that said flag is black and red. If you want pure black flags or shirts, join a slightly different party.

Paris Hilton since she looks better sprayed gold than matt black all over.


Plague: The new Black Death

Peter Mellor

Re: "Sanitation has really changed since the Midieval times"

> By Mike Lovell

> Posted Wednesday 16th January 2008 00:48 GMT


> Can someone please tell that to my neighbour, he insists on coming

> home drunk and taking a dump on my lawn!

Mmm ..

Reminds me of an old joke:

Fred is in the pub, and he and his mates are *very* drunk. Fred

throws up all down his suit.

"Oh No!" says Fred "What am I going to tell the missus?"

"Don't worry!" says his friend, "I'll put 20 quid in the breast pocket

of your jacket. When you get home, you say that some drunk threw

up all over you, and he gave you 20 quid to have your jacket cleaned."

"Great!" said Fred, and went home.

When Fred got home, his wife said: "You drunken sod! You are

totally despicable. You've thrown up all over your own suit!"

"No, I haven't!" said Fred. "It was someone else. And if you don't

believe me, here's his 20 quid to get my suit cleaned."

His wife looks in the breast pocket of his jacket, and says: "But there's

40 quid here!"

"Oh, I forgot to tell you." says Fred. "He shat in my pants as well."

<Gets coat and runs away very quickly.>


Boffins: Antimatter comes from black holes, neutron stars

Peter Mellor

I'm impressed, guys (and gals)

Less than 24 hours after El Reg reports an obscure cosmological discovery, 50 comments have been posted grappling with the possible explanations. Many of these are from people who seriously know what they are talking about. Several comments contain very good short descriptions of Hawking radiation and how it can lead to the "evaporation" of black holes, and speculating about mechanisms which might, just, explain how a black hole might spew out a cloud of anti-protons.

OK, a few made mistakes. A few thought that anti-matter behaves differently to "normal" matter under gravity, for example, but this was soon corrected in the debate.

This is what science is all about. We might never know "the truth" but we can get closer and closer to it with better and better theories, by debate based upon observed evidence (Popper!).

We seem to be mercifully free of creationism and intelligent design (CID) in this discussion. The CID squad are fairly relaxed about cosmology: the big bang fits some versions of their superstitions quite nicely. You need to point out that homo sapiens shared a common ancestor with the apes about 7 million years ago to make them go ape-shit. (Pun intended!)

There are (regrettably) theocratic states where the level of knowledge of advanced physics and cosmology shown in this discussion would be unimaginable.

I suppose I had better attach the "get my coat" logo to this posting and hunker down for the CID counter-blast.

Thanks for a great on-going discussion.


(Retired university lecturer. BTW, your standards of English grammar and spelling are still abysmal; please read your Lynn Truss! :-)


Bjork lays into NZ snapper

Peter Mellor

Re: No, wanton destruction, (flooding), on a scale unseen elsewhere on Earth

> By Jim Lewis

> Posted Tuesday 15th January 2008 12:00 GMT


> http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v21/i3/iceland.asp

Well, well ... the creationists even manage to get in their three-ha'p'th on an item about Bjorg ripping a photographer's shirt!

Sorry, Jim, although the "1996 volcanically induced glacial mega-flood in Iceland" (the subject of your URL) was a pretty impressive geological event, it ...

a) wasn't nearly enough to wipe out all life on the Earth's surface, and

b) wasn't God's vengeance on Iceland for one of their singers hitting a journalist.

It has no relevance to the behaviour of Bjork, nor to the myth of Noah.


Pope tells astronomers to pack up their telescopes

Peter Mellor

Re: Purges and genocide...

> By Anonymous Coward

> Posted Monday 7th January 2008 07:56 GMT


> Yeah, but remember, most people aren't cold blooded executioners unless

> they believe that they have God on their side, which has of course been

> used extensively by the masterminds of most purges and genocides.


> Stalin's a notable exception, of course. He probably would've found it

> easier to use religion, though, but, on the plus side, now we have millions

> of potentially brilliant minds not inflicted by the crippling mental illness

> that is religion!

Stalin was certainly not an exception. Please read your George Orwell. A dictator like Stalin seeks to supplant religion, not suppress it. Orwell pointed this out in his journalism back in the 1930s. In the case of Stalin (and Mao, Kim, etc., etc.) Marxism became the state religion, with the leader as the Prophet (or maybe God incarnate). For the second coming and the final judgement, substitute the class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat. For the suppression of the heliocentric model and the persecution of Galileo, substitute the imposition of the Lamarckian views of Trofim Lysenko and the imprisonment of genuine biologists and geneticists in the Gulag. Stalin did more to pervert science than any pope.

(I leave the working out of the parallels in the case of Hitler as an exercise for the reader.)

Karl Popper wrote in a similar vein in "The Poverty of Historicism".


US regulator raises Dreamliner hacker risk fear

Peter Mellor

B777, B787 and Airbus

> Reality

> By Anonymous Coward

> Posted Tuesday 8th January 2008 02:11 GMT

Thanks for the overview of the Boeing B787 Dreamliner computer architecture. I know a bit about the B777, which has been flying for some years and in which the architecture is similar, at least, it has a dual Common Computer Resource. When I first saw the design, I thought at the time that there was at least a prima facie possibility that the in-flight entertainment could mess up the flight control system, but apparently the main CCR box has an internal architecture which is supposed to provide cast-iron separation between partitions so that a partition providing a flight-critical service cannot be interfered with by a less critical process.

Even so, I am surprised that this has now surfaced as a potential problem with the B787 when it was not raised when the B777 was being certified.

The Airbus A320 family, up to and including the A340, and I would guess the A380 as well, has a modular architecture, with 5 physically separate computer boxes in the flight control system (7 if you count the two flight augmentation computers, or FAC) and the flight management and guidance system (FMGS) computer boxes are physically separate from all of these.


The Electric Car Conspiracy ... that never was

Peter Mellor

Coal gas (town gas) was not all that safe.


By Brian Lawther

Posted Thursday 3rd January 2008 13:57 GMT

"Mind you, the UK did have a hydrogen based economy in the late 1800s it was call town gas, piped into most houses, mostly hydrogen and made from coal, was fairly safe, as any leak the gas floated up, only in the last 50 years electric has taken over but most people still use natural gas, for heating. Actually it's more dangerous as it pools if leaking and will blow a house to pieces, prefer the old stuff."

What Brian has called "town gas" is actually better known as coal gas. A few facts:

It was (and maybe still is, in a few places) made locally, from coal. Each town had its "gas works" in which coal was heated in a furnace and the products captured. These are:

- Gas: a large proportion of hydrogen, but a *very* significant proportion of carbon monoxide, plus some methane and other odds and ends. (I can't be bothered to get out my school notebooks, and I'm writing from memory.)

- Oils: the liquid by-products of gas production could be fractionated to yield various useful liquid hydrocarbons.

- Coke: the solid residue after the coal has yielded up its more volatile compounds. This is almost pure carbon, with some other elements. It can be burned in stoves and was sold as a domestic fuel in its own right. It was also used in large quantities in the production of iron and steel.

The gas was held in those huge cylindrical gas holders (often incorrectly called "gasometers") that were part of every town's landscape, and piped to each home. The process was pretty efficient overall: almost all of the by-products of gas generation had commercial value, and when you cleaned out your coke-burning stove, you could spread the ash on your garden as a fertilizer.

Burning coal on a domestic fire was horrendously wasteful by comparison, and all those valuable chemicals went straight into the atmosphere as pollutants.

The main problem with coal gas was that carbon monoxide is a lethal and insidious poison even when mixed in low concentrations with air.

It kills by anoxia. When oxygen is inhaled into the lungs, it reacts with haemoglobin in the blood stream to form oxyhaemoglobin, a loosely bound compound that gives up its oxygen readily wherever this is required in the body to sustain metabolism. Carbon monoxide also reacts with haemoglobin, but forms carboxyhaemoglobin, which is stable and does not decompose, with the result that it gradually uses up all of the body's haemoglobin, leaving none to transport oxygen.

The body has no warning system for anoxia. [1] Instead, it has evolved to react to excess carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, which usually accompanies a lack of oxygen "in the wild", e.g., when holding one's breath or being strangled. Imperceptibly, anaesthesia creeps on, as the brain is starved of oxygen until unconsciousness supervenes suddenly, by which time irreparable brain damage may have occurred. [2]

"Sticking one's head in the gas oven" was a very common way of committing suicide in the days of coal gas.

Both carbon monoxide and hydrogen form explosive mixtures with air, so there is nothing to choose between coal gas and natural gas (which is mostly methane) in this respect, if they leak into a confined space. Coal gas (due to the impurities in it) has a strong characteristic smell, so leaks were more easily detected. An artificial smell has to be added to natural gas.


[1] This is a useful argument against "intelligent design" as an origin for the human species. No intelligent engineer would design a system which is crucially dependent on a supply of oxygen for survival and not include a warning device for a lack of oxygen which is triggered *by the lack of oxygen* rather than by a secondary effect which is not always present. If God exists, then He is an incompetent engineer, which rather messes up His claims to be omniscient and omnipotent.

[2] First-aid tip: Arterial blood is bright red, since it has been oxygenated, and oxyhaemoglobin is a lighter red than haemoglobin. Veinous blood is darker, since it has been deoxygenated by the time of its return from the body's periphery. In the case of anoxia due to strangulation, smothering, drowning, etc., the victim's lips turn blue. However, since carboxyhaemoglobin is also a light red, in a case of carbon monoxide poisoning, the victim's lips will be bright cherry red. (Not many people know that!)


NHS frets over Brits' genitalia

Peter Mellor

Wot no hair? Wot no balls?

The models depicted have no body hair, or even head hair, at all!

What is this supposed to mean?

Head hair (length, style, etc.) is a cultural matter.

Facial hair (beard, moustache, etc.) is cultural, but also genetic (e.g., native Americans and South American tribes do not grow facial hair). Chest hair and some other bits of hair vary between races.

I *think* we (common humanity) all have armpit hair and pubic hair (apart from young ladies currently living in London, who have neither, apart from, possibly, a "Brazilian landing strip").

If the NHS is so tortured about showing a realistic depiction of the human genitalia in what is supposed to be an anatomically correct diagram, why don't they just cover everyone's embarrassment with a merkin*?

This is utterly pathetic and contemptible. If they really want a good representative example of the English male genitalia, contact my manager.

(* Look it up on Google, you lazy sods! :-)


Turkey probes The God Delusion for 'insulting religion'

Peter Mellor

Religious scientists (Re: "tolerance" is also a cultural value)

Rick Brasche posted Wednesday 28th November 2007 21:01 GMT:

"Funny how history shows that many people who could actually design, perform, witness and understand the experiments to show how the universe really works, Einstein for example, were *still* strong in their faith."

There are scientists who possess a strong religious faith (for example the Rev. Polkinghorne, a distinguished professor emeritus of physics as well as an ordained Anglican minister), but Einstein was not one of them.

Although he was brought up in the Jewish faith and knew the scriptures well, when Einstein referred to "God" (as in "God does not play dice with the universe": a criticism of the probabilistic basis of quantum mechanics) he was speaking metaphorically. We know this because he said so when asked point-blank if he believed in a God.

His sense of wonder and awe when contemplating the universe inspired his research, and such feelings are also a source of inspiration to atheistic scientists such as Dawkins (as Dawkins himself tells us). A profound scientific insight is compatible with certain types of theistic belief (e.g., Fritjof Capra in "The Tao of Physics, to take a non-monotheistic example) but not with a crudely superstitious belief in a sky-god who helps mankind (or at least His "chosen people") with supernatural interventions.

(OK; there are the creationists, but the depth of their scientific understanding needs to be questioned; indeed, whether they are promulgating "science" at all.)

To get back on topic, the attitude of the Turkish state seems to be self-contradictory. Modern Turkey, as founded by Kemal Ataturk, is one of the most ferociously secular states in existence. The cited "Article 301" makes insulting *the state* illegal. It is obviously contrary to international human rights regarding freedom of speech, but has been invoked (fortunately unsuccessfully, as pointed out in the main article) in 2005 against the Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk for stating that the massacre of a million Armenians in the early 20th Century amounted to "genocide".

That massacre, of course, occurred under the Ottoman Empire, not under Ataturk's secular state that replaced it, so the Pamuk case was also bizarre.

It is quite reasonable of the EU to take the view that a member nation cannot have garbage like this on its statute books.


Public tracks down Gordon Bennett

Peter Mellor

Re: Surely (by Nigee)

> As for Glasgow Kiss, what about Liverpool? IIRC that was around a lot earlier.

I seem to remember the phrase "Kirkby kiss" for a head-butt, but then, I'm not from the right area, and I've never given nor received (to date, cross fingers) one.


Neanderthals had key speech gene, researchers say

Peter Mellor


< proving that our evolutionary cousins could speak is pretty much impossible, given the absence of contemporary sound recording equipment

Well: a load of jokes, but no serious comments.

Consider the findings that the tool-making skills of the Neanderthals were not too inferior to those of homo sapiens of the same period and that Neanderthals buried their dead, with tributes of flowers thrown into the graves (totally unlike the behaviour of the present-day great apes, who leave their dead to rot where they fall, and move on).

The findings indicate a culture, and this is not possible without language. In particular, the burial of the dead indicates that the Neanderthals were capable of comprehending death, and thinking beyond it: a facility not possessed by any animal other than modern homo sapiens (i.e., us).

The more I hear about Neanderthals, the more I admire them.


Preterite peter-out: How the end beginned

Peter Mellor

Re: Half life and other linguistic things

Edward Rose

Posted Thursday 11th October 2007 13:57 GMT


Not sure how long 'broke' has been accepted for broken, but it's one of my pet hates.


I agree, but I still think that "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." packs more punch than the grammatically correct version.


Re: Half life

By Ken HaganPosted Friday 12th October 2007 10:52 GMT English didn't exist 1000 years ago. To postulate that any of its elements might have a half-life in excess of that time-scale seems rather brave.


Yes, it did, but it was Anglo-Saxon, aka "Old English". It had at least four major dialects (Mercian, Northumbrian, and a couple of others), each sufficiently different to be almost a separate language. It had three genders of nouns (masculine, feminine, neuter: like modern German), more cases than Latin with which to decline nouns, and THREE numbers (I - singular, we two - dual, and we - plural: more than two of us) with correspondingly different verb forms. (I fancied learning Anglo-Saxon in my youth, but gave up in horror on page 5 of the grammar.)

After the Norman invasion in 1066 (and all that), the conquerors spoke Norman French, and the oppressed Anglo-Saxon peasants were second-class citizens in their own country. What eventually became English developed as a pidgin, then a creole, of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French, with an admixture of Latin from the priestly class. Much of the Anglo-Saxon grammar was ditched (pidgins tend to simplify grammar) and the language moved away from being highly inflected (like Latin) to being more dependent on prepositions and word order. (The terms "pidgin" and "creole" have precise definitions used by linguists who specialise in the evolution of language.)

Anglo-Saxon classic: Beowulf

By the mid-14th Century, after the great vowel shift (which changed the pronunciation completely, and whose cause is very imperfectly understood), we see what is called "Middle English".

Middle English classic: Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

Shakespeare is the best-known early author in "Modern English", but most modern readers (and audiences) have no problem with Ben Jonson, Andrew Marvell, etc.

Linguists know quite a lot about how languages develop, and to use a measurement such as a half-life for the persistence of a grammatical form seems to me to be interesting and quite reasonable.


Pilot sacked for footie star on flightdeck shocker

Peter Mellor

Oh for the good old days ...

... when one simply had to give one's business card to an air hostess (oops - member of cabin crew) and ask politely if she would ask the pilot if one could visit the cockpit. I have sat in a jump seat during cruise and for several landings in B747, B737, A300, A320, A330, and others. As I am a researcher into flight control systems, these experiences have been priceless.

The good old days are no more, alas. (As someone said, the terrorists have won.)


Lawmaker shows nudie pic to high school seniors

Peter Mellor

Celebrity nipples, biblical threesomes, and El Reg emoticons

To Les Matthew

Posted Sunday 7th October 2007 12:17 GMT

"Does anyone remember when Richard & Judy (British "celebrities") went up to get an award at some contrived show and Judy's nipple was hanging out?"

Richard and Judy are a married couple who hosted a breakfast TV programme in the UK for many years. I managed never to watch it, but I read that they were good. At any rate, they got a broadcasting award, and during their live televised acceptance speech, the top of Judy's dress fell down, revealing an all-concealing matronly bra: no nipples in sight. I saw the still photos in the papers the next day. Her wardrobe malfunction caused some hilarity, but there was no hint of the fuss there was about Janet Jackson, and no move to introduce a 5-second delay into "live" transmission, to allow instant censorship.

To Anonymous Coward

Posted Monday 8th October 2007 09:17 GMT

"The bible is chock-full of violence; murder, sacrifice, execution, warfare, torture and so on but there is not one hardcore threesome scene in the whole book."

Maybe, but there was Lot and his mates being invited out for a gay gang-bang in Sodom and offering to send his daughters down instead, handmaids standing in as surrogate wives, etc., etc.

Emoticons: Which one best expresses: "Why am I wasting my time amusing myself with this crap when I should be doing serious work?"


Tasmanian tumours blamed on inbreeding

Peter Mellor

Four transmissible cancers

Add to the list Burkitt lymphoma, described by the British surgeon Dennis Burkitt in 1956 while he was working in central Africa. This is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (which also causes glandular fever), and is common in African children whose immune systems have been weakened by malaria. (The virus does not cause cancer except where the immune system is weakened.)

Peter Mellor

Thylacines (again)

The reason that the thylacine became extinct in Tasmania was that it was regarded as a pest and the government offered a A$5 bounty for every one killed. It was a fearsome predator, with the widest jaw gape and most powerful bite for an animal of its size known to science. It liked sheep (hence the bounty) and could see off a dog (or a dingo) with no problem. It is also (misleadingly) known as the Tassie Tiger. (It had stripy hindquarters.) The last known thylacine died in captivity around 1930 and there are surviving photographs and even film of several of the animals in the zoo.

I bought a book on the thylacine the last time I was in Oz, but gave it to my daughter, so do not have it to hand to check my dates and other facts. The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs of thylacines in captivity, and was written by a journalist who has devoted much of his life to searching for survivors in remote places.