January 10, 1946: Project Diana

Scientific advances from World War II revolutionized our world and beyond.  Sixty-one years ago the experiment of the United States Army Signal Corps, called Project Diana, in bouncing radar signals off the moon bore fruit.  Radar took 2.5 seconds to make the round trip of almost half a million miles.  Thus radar astronomy, along with the United States space program, was born.  Careful calculations had to be made each day to account for the Doppler effect.  Moonbounce radio communication is still used by some amateur radio operators.

E. King Stodola, the scientist who served as the technical director for the project, recalled it in 1979 during an interview conducted by his daughter, Cindy Stodola Pomerleau: Continue Reading


On the Moral Duty to Vaccinate Your Children

There is nothing quite as soul crushing as reading a thread on Facebook or social media regarding vaccinations, especially when well-intentioned but seriously misinformed Catholic parents express their outright refusal to vaccinate their children. This anti-vaccination fervor has been sparked by long-discredited studies as well as well as celebrities of shall we say less than dubious credentials.

Not all opposition to vaccination is based on groundless fears about autism or other health issues. Some Catholics also have concerns about the nature of vaccine research and the possibility that vaccines contain aborted fetal tissues. The Rational Catholic discussed this topic, and puts to rest some of the myths surrounding this line of attack, and he quotes from the National Catholic Bioethics Center:

Parents may vaccinate their children because by doing so, they are not involved in any illicit form of cooperation with the original abortion. Many Catholic experts concur that cooperation today is not really possible in an event that was over and done with many years ago. Because the abortion occurred long ago, and for reasons completely unrelated to vaccines, it is untenable to conclude that vaccine recipients today somehow cooperate in the original abortive event. Moreover, there is no ongoing use of recently aborted material for vaccine preparation; the lines obtained 30 or 40 years ago are the only abortion-derived lines being used currently for vaccine production. In sum, then, by vaccinating their children, parents do not illicitly cooperate in evil, nor otherwise engage in wrongdoing. If pharmaceutical companies or other agencies derive fetal cell lines from elective abortions, those companies or agencies, not the parents, are guilty of immoral cooperation in the evil of abortion.

The Rational Catholic has another pair of posts that delve deeper into vaccines, and goes so far as to argue that not can Catholic parents vaccinate their children, they have a moral obligation to do so. Again, quoting from the Catholic Bioethics Center:

Focusing in on your central question, there is indeed a moral duty to immunize one’s child and so help preserve the public good through the use of scientifically established and clearly beneficial programs of vaccination. The chickenpox vaccine may be an exception to this rule, as the risks resulting from this disease are not great. As for the rest, for example, measles, mumps, and rubella, these are important childhood vaccinations and parents have a special duty to care for and love their children. Children cannot make these decisions for themselves and so depend upon the prudential judgments of others.

Unfounded fears about possible adverse effects do not overcome the objective duty to make use of immunizations. To make a sound moral judgment, the individual Catholic must properly inform his or her conscience. That means that one must seek to determine whether fears are based in reason and fact, or they are instead merely — if I may put it this way — superstitions. A correctly formed conscience will come to the conclusion that immunization is a moral obligation.

For those who remain “invincibly ignorant,” and who refuse to acknowledge facts, they must follow their conscience even though it is ill formed.

Of course not everyone will be convinced on this issue, no matter what evidence is out before them. But hopefully all parents – Catholic or no – will at least mediate on the potential harm they are doing to their children and other people’s children by refusing to vaccinate them.


Popular “Science” Shuts Down Comments




Popular Science is shutting down comments.  Why?  Well I guess because robust debate can be bad for science:

A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to “debate” on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.

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Right, Left and Science

Daniel Sarewitz has a post at Nature in which he decries the trend among many scientists of acting as shrill Democrat partisans:

The US scientific community must decide if it wants to be a Democratic interest group or if it wants to reassert its value as an independent national asset. If scientists want to claim that their recommendations are independent of their political beliefs, they ought to be able to show that those recommendations have the support of scientists with conflicting beliefs. Expert panels advising the government on politically divisive issues could strengthen their authority by demonstrating political diversity. The National Academies, as well as many government agencies, already try to balance representation from the academic, non-governmental and private sectors on many science advisory panels; it would be only a small step to be equally explicit about ideological or political diversity. Such information could be given voluntarily.

To connect scientific advice to bipartisanship would benefit political debate. Volatile issues, such as the regulation of environmental and public-health risks, often lead to accusations of ‘junk science’ from opposing sides. Politicians would find it more difficult to attack science endorsed by avowedly bipartisan groups of scientists, and more difficult to justify their policy preferences by scientific claims that were contradicted by bipartisan panels.

Go here to read the rest.  The comments to the article are instructive and reveal the battle going on within the scientific community regarding partisanship: Continue Reading


Science Si! Scientism No!

Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defence against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch and see. There have been sad cases among the modern physicists. If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology; don’t let him get away from that invaluable “real life.” But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is “the results of modern investigation.” Do remember you are there to fuddle him. From the way some of you young fiends talk, anyone would suppose it was our job to teach!

                                        CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters


Austin L. Hughes at The New Atlantis has a first rate look at science and scientism:


An additional strength of the falsifiability criterion is that it makes possible a clear distinction between science properly speaking and the opinions of scientists on nonscientific subjects. We have seen in recent years a growing tendency to treat as “scientific” anything that scientists say or believe. The debates over stem cell research, for example, have often been described, both within the scientific community and in the mass media, as clashes between science and religion. It is true that many, but by no means all, of the most vocal defenders of embryonic stem cell research were scientists, and that many, but by no means all, of its most vocal opponents were religious. But in fact, there was little science being disputed: the central controversy was between two opposing views on a particular ethical dilemma, neither of which was inherently more scientific than the other. If we confine our definition of the scientific to the falsifiable, we clearly will not conclude that a particular ethical view is dictated by science just because it is the view of a substantial number of scientists. The same logic applies to the judgments of scientists on political, aesthetic, or other nonscientific issues. If a poll shows that a large majority of scientists prefers neutral colors in bathrooms, for example, it does not follow that this preference is “scientific.”

Popper’s falsifiability criterion and similar essentialist definitions of science highlight the distinct but vital roles of both science and philosophy. The definitions show the necessary role of philosophy in undergirding and justifying science — protecting it from its potential for excess and self-devolution by, among other things, proposing clear distinctions between legitimate scientific theories and pseudoscientific theories that masquerade as science.

By contrast to Popper, many thinkers have advanced understandings of philosophy and science that blur such distinctions, resulting in an inflated role for science and an ancillary one for philosophy. In part, philosophers have no one but themselves to blame for the low state to which their discipline has fallen — thanks especially to the logical positivist and analytic strain that has been dominant for about a century in the English-speaking world. Continue Reading


Well That Was Humbling

The Christian Science Monitor has a science quiz.  I found it rather rough.  I got 37 out of 50 right, and I am afraid quite a few of my correct answers were attributable to my knowledge of history, familiarity with Greek and Latin terms, and good guessing.  Go here to take it, and report back to us in the thread below with the results! Continue Reading


Faster Than Light?

We will see how all this plays out, but as of now there is a report that neutrinos have been observed traveling slightly faster than the speed of light:

Well, that simple fact may be in the form of the latest experiments at the largest particle accelerators in the world, based at CERN, outside Geneva. Physicists fired a beam of neutrinos (exotic, ghost-like particles that can penetrate even the densest of materials) from Switzerland to Italy, over a distance of 454 miles. Much to their amazement, after analyzing 15,000 neutrinos, they found that they traveled faster than the speed of light—one 60-billionth of a second faster, to be precise. In a billionth of a second, a beam of light travels about one foot. So a difference of 60 feet was quite astonishing.

Cracking the light barrier violated the core of Einstein’s theory. According to relativity, as you approach the speed of light, time slows down, you get heavier, and you also get flatter (all of which have been measured in the lab). But if you go faster than light, then the impossible happens. Time goes backward. You are lighter than nothing, and you have negative width. Since this is ridiculous, you cannot go faster than light, said Einstein. Continue Reading


Anne Rice Breaks Up With Christianity

I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of …Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

And with that announcement, Anne Rice publicly renounced her identity as a Christian on Facebook.

I’m compelled to wonder, however — who is the more preferable and honest of the two?

  • The “Anne Rice”‘s of the world — who recognize their open disagreement with traditional [Catholic / Orthodox] Christianity, and agree that they can no longer identify themselves as such because the moral positions they hold are fundamentally incompatible?
  • The “Nancy Pelosi”‘s of the world, who publicly repudiate various traditional moral positions of [Catholic / Orthodox] Christianity, yet simultaneously proclaim themselves “practicing Catholics” (up and including the reception of the Eucharist), and yet relegate their disagreements as “differences of opinion”?

Science and Technology in World History

Technological history is a unique point of view that always caught my eye.  David Deming of the American Thinker gives us a brief synopsis of his latest contribution in this genre.  Keep in mind how integral Christianity was to the recovery of Europe after the barbarian invasions and the safekeeping of knowledge by the monastic system that allowed Europe to recover and blossom into what we now call Western Civilization:

Both Greece and Rome made significant contributions to Western Civilization.  Greek knowledge was ascendant in philosophy, physics, chemistry, medicine, and mathematics for nearly two thousand years.  The Romans did not have the Greek temperament for philosophy and science, but they had a genius for law and civil administration.  The Romans were also great engineers and builders.  They invented concrete, perfected the arch, and constructed roads and bridges that remain in use today.  But neither the Greeks nor the Romans had much appreciation for technology.  As documented in my book, Science and Technology in World History, Vol. 2, the technological society that transformed the world was conceived by Europeans during the Middle Ages.

Greeks and Romans were notorious in their disdain for technology.  Aristotle noted that to be engaged in the mechanical arts was “illiberal and irksome.”  Seneca infamously characterized invention as something fit only for “the meanest slaves.”  The Roman Emperor Vespasian rejected technological innovation for fear it would lead to unemployment.

Greek and Roman economies were built on slavery.  Strabo described the slave market at Delos as capable of handling the sale of 10,000 slaves a day.  With an abundant supply of manual labor, the Romans had little incentive to develop artificial or mechanical power sources. Technical occupations such as blacksmithing came to be associated with the lower classes.

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Political Correctness Trumps Expertise in Gulf Oil Spill Response

During his press statement last week, President Obama said that in dealing with the recent oil spill in the Gulf, he was “examining every recommendation, every idea that’s out there, and making our best judgment as to whether these are the right steps to take, based on the best experts that we know of.”

That, however, is not entirely true:

A St. Louis scientist who was among a select group picked by the Obama administration to pursue a solution to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been removed from the group because of writings on his website, the U.S. Energy Department confirmed Wednesday.

Washington University physics professor Jonathan Katz was one of five top scientists chosen by the Department of Energy and attended meetings in Houston last week.

Though considered a leading scientist, Katz’s website postings often touch on social issues. Some of those writings have stirred anger in the past and include postings defending homophobia and questioning the value of racial diversity efforts.

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Time Lapse Evidence Shows an Increase in Carbon Dioxide Does Not Harm Vegetation

[Updates at the bottom of this post.]

Atmospheric CO2 is not a pollutant.

And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness: and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth.  And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.  And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth.  And God said: Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed upon the earth, and all trees that have in themselves seed of their own kind, to be your meat:  And to all beasts of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to all that move upon the earth, and wherein there is life, that they may have to feed upon. And it was so done.

–Book of Genesis 1:26-30

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Top 15 Misconceptions About Catholics

Karen L. Anderson of Online Christian Colleges wrote a timely piece on the many myths, misconceptions, and outlandish lies told about Catholics:

With nearly one quarter of the U.S. population Catholic, they make up a huge part of society and the largest Christian denomination. Yet with so many, how is it they are so misunderstood and characterized by films, television shows, etc.?

Failing to do the proper research explains a great deal of it. With a simple search on the internet, we were able to find many interesting answers to the top 15 misconceptions about Catholics. They are both from official sources, reporters, academics, and more.

1. Priests Are More Likely to be Pedophiles : The most dangerous of all myths concerning Catholics, this can lead to many negative and unfair consequences. Recently in a book entitled Pedophiles and Priests, an extensive study – and the only one of it kind – took a look at the pedophile statistics of over 2,200 priests. It found that only 0.3% of all Catholic clergy are involved in any pedophilia matter, guilty or not. This number is actually very low and according to Counter Pedophilia Investigative Unit, who reports that children are more likely to be victims of pedophile activity at school with nearly 14% of students estimated to be molested by a member of the school staff.

2. Everything in “The Da Vinci Code” is True : Even author Dan Brown himself doesn’t agree to this. In this free film from Hulu, Mr. Brown admits to writing his novel as a step in his own spiritual journey. As he confesses to being swayed by his extensive research, the experts behind the research weigh in with facts. Simon Cox is the author of “Cracking the Da Vinci Code” and tells more about his work in this documentary. If you don’t have 90 minutes to view it, you can get the real story behind Opus Dei, the villain organization in the novel, from ABC news.

3. Women Are Oppressed in the Catholic Church : Although women are still not eligible to become priests as explained by Pope John Paul II, they were still acknowledged as valued members of the church as far back as 1947. In a Papal Directive from then Pope Pius XII, he expressed his admiration of women “to take part in the battle: you have not sought to do so, but courageously you accept your new duties; not as resigned victims nor merely in a defensive spirit.” Also, in 2004 then Pope John Paul II historically appointed two women theologians to the International Theological Commission and named another as the president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

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Programmer Smack Talk and Global Warming

I’ve been amused to watch some of the arguments going on out in the blogsphere as discussion of the hacking of the climate change servers moves off into a discussion of the quality of the code being used by climate researchers to model global warming.


Commenter One: Much of the code in the academic world tends to be written by grad students that have taken a class in programming and get told to write it.

Commenter Two: This is totally untrue. I never took a class in programming before writing my crappy undocumented code.

There’s a certain wry self recognition for me here as well: I’ve never taken a class in programming, and I build mostly undocumented models to predict revenue and profits at specific price points based on past data. My results are directionally correct when you look at whole categories of products, but can be wildly off when projecting specific instances. (I try to make this clear to those who use my data, but people are always looking for certainty in life, even if they have to imagine it.)
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Why I Don't Believe in a Young Earth

Some time ago, someone asked me:

Suppose–just for the sake of argument–you were convinced that an honest reading of the Tradition of the Church required you to believe that the initial chapters of Genesis were historical. Would you be able to do it, or do you think that Darwinism is so irrefutable that you would have to abandon or radically redetermine your faith?

I think this is the question that worries a lot of Catholics without a strong scientific background as they watch the evolution/creationist/ID debate on Catholic blogs. Here are these otherwise solid Christians taking common cause with the likes of the Richard Dawkins against their brother Christians. What gives? Are these folks really Christian? Do they care more about science than about faith? Do they only accept Catholicism so long as it agrees with science?

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Ardi: Looking at the Latest Missing Link

Virtually everyone with any access to news last week probably heard about Ardi, a 4.4 million year old skeleton of a human ancestor found in Ethiopia. However, given the tendency of the mainstream media to cover every ancient primate discovery as “Scientists discover ‘missing link’ which ‘changes everything'” those who don’t track these things can easily become confused, or even rather suspicious of the whole thing.
So, what is Ardi, and why is this discovery a big deal?

Ardi is a 45% complete skeleton of a female individual from the hominin species Ardipithecus ramidus. This is not a new species: we’ve known about Ardipithecus ramidus since a small number of bones from a member of the species was found in 1992 and formally described and named in 1994. Living about 4.4 million years ago, Ardipithecus ramidus is also not the oldest human ancestor known or a common ancestor between humans and our apparent closest genetic living relatives, the chimps. However, the excitement about Ardi (found along with less complete remains of a number of other Ardipithecus ramidus individuals and also fossil evidence about the plants and animals present in their environment) is not just hype. It is a very important find. Here’s why:

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The Prudential Science

I ran into this quote going through an old EconTalk the other day, and thought it interesting:

As economists, we’re specialists in prudence only.

That, as you say, is not what Adam Smith recommended. Not at all. I and a number of other people would like to get back to a Smithian economics, which although it didn’t throw away the very numerous insights that we get from thinking of people as maximizers — maximizers in this narrow sense — acknowledges that temperence and justice and love and courage and hope and faith can change the way the economy works.

UIC Economist, Deirdre McCloskey

I’m trying to decide if I agree with it or not. I would certainly agree that economics basically only looks at certain prudential concerns, it doesn’t consider humanistic or theological questions. However, I’m not sure if economics should acknowledge those concerns, or if it is more the case that economists (and others dealing with the field) should clearly acknowledge that there is much more to any question than the question of what is most economically efficient.

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Intelligent Design: Science, Philosophy, Neither?

Intelligent design came up in a classroom discussion the other day, and it occurred to me that I have never gotten around to reading much about it. My uneducated impression is that it is a sort of plug-in-God approach to explaining any current limitations in evolutionary theory. I find this unappealing at first glance, but I should probably remedy my ignorance before passing judgment.

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