Irrationality Takes a Hit AND Three Big (at least to me) Scientific Discoveries Reported On Reality Day
May 22nd, 2011 is a special date. Anyone reading this likely knows why, so I'll spare you the elongated diatribe and say yay for Reality Day and down with paranoid ignorance, irrationality, fear mongering and pseudoscience. See, not only were the christians wrong (again) (and yes, it was specific sects, not all of them, I know) about the rapture, end of the world, yadayada, but on this awesome day known as Reality Day (as in, you're still here, welcome to reality, pal) science offers three MORE blows to specific assertions put forth by specific subsets of the religious community. Specifically, I am referring to assertions regarding mammalian brain size, contrarian positions regarding the expansion of the universe and dark energy, and lastly, contrarian positions regarding the idea of complexity arising out of simplicity without the guidance of some sentient intelligence.
So, what were these three reported findings?
1) Mammals' large brains evolved for smell.
Scientists used very high-resolution scanning to study the skulls of two of the earliest known mammal species.
Comparing the shape of their brain cases to those of slightly earlier animals, or "pre-mammals", revealed that the first brain areas to over-develop were those associated with the sense of smell.
The findings are published in Science.
An improved sense of smell may have allowed our tiny, furry ancestors to hunt at night.
2) New Scientific Method 'Confirms' Dark Energy
(Take this one as somewhat tentative, as well as the next, but don't get too excited, science deniers; science is an ongoing, self correcting process, so all findings are subject to further illumination).
First results from a major astronomical survey using a cutting-edge technique appear to have confirmed the existence of mysterious dark energy.Dark energy makes up some 74% of the Universe and its existence would explain why the Universe appears to be expanding at an accelerating rate.The finding was based on studies of more than 200,000 galaxies.One type of observation used by the astronomers involves measuring a pattern in how galaxies are distributed in space. This pattern is known by the term "baryon acoustic oscillations". The second type of observation involves measuring how quickly clusters of galaxies have formed over time. Both of these techniques confirmed the existence of dark energy and the acceleration in the expansion of the Universe.
3) Protein Flaws Responsible for Complex Life, Study Says
(So yes, rather than life being special, it's actually an aberration due to a flaw, LMAO!!!)
Tiny structural errors in proteins may have been responsible for changes that sparked complex life, researchers say.A comparison of proteins across 36 modern species suggests that protein flaws called "dehydrons" may have made proteins less stable in water.This would have made them more adhesive and more likely to end up working together, building up complex function.The Nature study adds weight to the idea that natural selection is not the only means by which complexity rises.
The suggestion is that it is the acquisition of these defects, with sticky proteins more likely to work together in ever-more complex protein-protein interactions, that nudged cellular complexity upward."We've tried to bridge the gap between protein structure and evolution and believe we've uncovered evidence that proteins develop mild defects in organisms with smaller population sizes, over the great divide from bacteria to unicellular eukaryotes to invertebrates up to us vertebrates," said Professor Lynch.These slight defects may decrease protein function even as they increase protein cooperation.The authors suggest then that other adaptations occur that "undo" the deleterious effects of the sticky proteins.For example, the protein haemoglobin that carries oxygen in our blood, is made of four identical subunits, each with a range of dehydron flaws; simpler organisms have globin molecules that accomplish the same job with just one subunit.But the overlap of the four subunits actually masks the flaws in each one.The authors stress that they are not arguing against natural selection as a process; they say rather that it can be aided by "non-adaptive" mechanisms."There's been this general feeling that complexity is a good thing and evolves for complexity's sake - that it's adaptive," Professor Lynch told BBC News."We've opened up the idea that the roots of complexity don't have to reside in purely adaptational arguments.Ford Doolittle of Dalhousie University agrees that this mechanism, separate from Darwin's vision of natural selection, is an important consideration.
"We tend to marvel at the Darwinian perfection of organisms now, saying 'this must have been highly selected for, it's a tuned and sophisticated machine'."In fact, it's a mess - there's so much unnecessary complexity."While he called the Nature study "important and interesting", he disagrees with the mechanism that allows organisms to recover from the protein flaws.He has long argued for a "presuppression" mechanism, in which some organisms may have a way to overcome the limited functionality of the slightly damaged proteins, and those that do survive best."He's putting the cart before the horse," Professor Doolittle said of Professor Lynch's idea that subsequent mutations solve the problems raised by the protein changes."But we both agree that much of complexity does not have an adaptive explanation."