Category Archives: science

Dan Brown TheOrigin – a book for the wistfully educated sceptic


Dan Brown, The Origin

This is one of the best-selling novel  at present and follows the usual Dan Brown formula; easily written, a bit far-fetched, and chimes in with the upper end of pop culture. It’s a very easy read and you feel sucked into it. Yet here, as in the Da Vinci Code, Brown brings out his subtle and not so subtle misrepresentations of Christianity. In The Origin refers to the supposed conflict of science religion with various misunderstandings of Galileo and Darwin. This appeals to much of pop culture.

After all, it is God or science! Nobody ever told Galileo or Darwin.
Yet despite his rejection of Christianity and other religions he has some religious feeling but looks elsewhere than main churches encouraging odd spiritualities!!
There is more that we could write on the corruption and failures of the church. And so the book races on for 450 pages and culminates with a murderous encounter in the gaudy Gaudi Sagrada Familia in Barcelona!


Brown throws out so many half-digested ideas and despite his rejection of the corrupt old religions such as Christianity, he gives the impression there is something more than materialism and an anti-spiritual life. He never defines what that is, but seems to accept there is “something more”.
It ends with a climax and an anti-climax.

The climax is the way Artificial Intelligence is taking over, but that is presented in hyped-up manner. In other words, science has cruelly defeated religion.
The anti-climax is that all religions cannot cope with all these new ideas of science. That is simply nonsense as most scientists do not see the problem! But somehow Brown seems to imply there needs to be an unspecified spiritual dimension. But then he leaves his readers in the air, maybe to convince themselves that they are spiritual! But he leaves us with the thought

“The dark religions must depart, so sweet science can reign.”

It is clear that Christianity to Brown is a dark religion so we have his racy rejection, wrapped up in his pseudo-intellectual view that religion is opposed to science. The popularity of Brown’s books show how these ideas have pervaded our culture and result in a scepticism of the Christian Faith.
We need to ask WHAT a spiritual dimension could be and one which doesn’t just give us a cosy feeling, but actually helps us to live our lives in all its complexities, joys and sadness.
Here some ancient carpenter is far better a guide than a pot-boiling novelist. He never wrote a book, but said and did some good things.

Or was he a builder?


Fracked Gas is worse than Coal. Whoops, another paper claiming that is retracted!!

Coal-power-plant-sunset-retire-XL_721_420_80_s_c1So often we are told fracked gas is worse than coal for emissions. Here is a peer-reviewed article which claims just that.

Oh dear, it has been retracted for errors which showed just the opposite

Retraction of Peer Reviewed Report Indicates Need for Smear Review
Posted on March 4, 2018 by Tom Shepstone
penneast pipeline – Tom Shepstone ReportsTom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.

A retracted study that had been peer reviewed indicates the danger in relying on it to ensure sound science when it comes to fractivist applauded reports.

Back in 2015, this is how an Akron, Ohio newspaper headlined some methane leakage research then being conducted by the University of Maryland:

Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Natural Gas Wells
Are Increasing & Traveling Far Downwind



A new University of Maryland study shows a steep rise in greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas wells produced by fracking in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The emitted gases travel far downwind from the producing states, suggesting the need for regional cooperation in monitoring and reducing emissions from natural gas production, say the authors.

The preliminary reporting turned into a study released in April, 2017 as a peer reviewed document. Now, the study has been retracted. It’s a lesson in the risk of depending on the words “peer reviewed” as a measure of credibility.



Here’s more from the early reporting on the preliminary research conducted by the same University of Maryland team that produced the subsequent retracted study:

Emissions linked to hydraulic fracturing, the method of drilling for natural gas commonly known as “fracking,” can be detected hundreds of miles away in states that that forbid or strictly control the practice, according to a new paper published in the journal Atmospheric Environment. The study, conducted at the University of Maryland (UMD), is among the latest data presented in the ongoing debate over fracking’s long-term effects on the environment.

The team used years’ worth of hourly measurements from photochemical assessment monitoring stations (PAMS) in the Baltimore, Md., and Washington, D.C., areas to identify the sources of organic carbons in the region’s air. Starting in 2010, the data didn’t seem to make sense…

Preliminary research revealed that there was nothing happening in Maryland that could account for the steep increase. Maryland does not currently permit fracking, but when Ehrman’s team compared the rise in ethane to the extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus shale play in neighboring states, they found a month-to-month correlation. After running a wind rose analysis – a tool used by meteorologists to track the wind direction, distribution and speed in a specified area – they felt even more confident that Maryland was receiving the tail end of emissions originating from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio…

“The question you start to ask yourself is, if ethane levels are going up this much, and it’s only a small percentage of all natural gas, how much methane and other, more reactive emissions are escaping from these wells?” says Ph.D. student Tim Vinciguerra, the paper’s lead author. “Following the fracturing process, the well undergoes completion venting to clear out fluid and debris before production. A substantial amount of hydrocarbons are emitted as a result of this flowback procedure.”

These new findings on natural gas emissions also are consistent with established findings by University of Maryland scientists showing westerly winds can carry power plant emissions and other pollution from states like Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania to the Washington, D.C., region and elsewhere on the East Coast of the U.S.

Thus was a false story born. The University of Maryland team that effectively generated it went on to conclude, in the retracted report, the following (emphasis added):

We estimate the mean ± 1σ CH4 leak rate from O&NG operations as 3.9 ± 0.4% with a lower limit of 1.5% and an upper limit of 6.3%… Although recent regulations requiring capture of gas from the completion venting step of the hydraulic fracturing appear to have reduced losses, our study suggests that for a 20 year time scale, energy derived from the combustion of natural gas extracted from this region will require further controls before it can exert a net climate benefit compared to coal.

There was just one problem; the University of Maryland team had made a critical error, revealed, to their credit, by themselves in the subsequent retraction:

The article… has been retracted by the authors because of an error in wind measurements used to calculate methane emissions in the southwestern Marcellus Shale region. The error was discovered by the authors in October 2017 upon their installation of an improved, differential GPS, wind measurement system onto the aircraft used in this study. The original wind measurements led to an overestimate of methane emissions from oil and natural gas operations.

A reanalysis with corrected winds reduced the total estimated emissions by about a factor of 1.7, with a correspondingly larger reduction in emissions of methane attributed to oil and natural gas in the southwestern Marcellus Shale area.

This is expected to reverse a conclusion of the paper, which had asserted that leakage from oil and natural gas extraction in this region results in a climate penalty compared to the use of coal.

The authors are in the process of submitting a new manuscript based on an updated analysis that will describe the process to correct the erroneous wind measurements used in the original manuscript, provide a more accurate estimate of the methane emissions, and assess the implications of the fossil fuel production from the Marcellus Shale.

If your wondered whether the Akron Beacon Journal covered the retraction with the same enthusiasm as the original research, the unsurprising answer is a simple “no.” That almost never happens, of course. The public was told something that was blatantly wrong and it is now ingrained in memory as part of a big picture on fracking that is one gigantic distortion because of a rush to judgment in a mad dash for political correct publicity and research dollars. Correcting the false impression, as usual, is no easy task and will require years of explanation.

Who’s at fault? Well, we can blame lots of folks, but most of the discredit has to go those who gave the 2017 a peer reviewed imprimatur. Here’s how Tim Benson at the Heartland Institute summed it up:

Jordan McGillis, a policy analyst at the Institute for Energy Research, says with so much potential to affect public policy, it’s troubling the initial paper passed peer review.

“That an error of this magnitude made it through the publication process is unfortunate,” said McGillis. “It is not difficult to imagine the paper’s startling conclusions influenced the public against hydraulic fracturing, against gas infrastructure, and against gas generally.

“Misinformation perpetuates anti-energy bias in our culture and can result in real harm,” McGillis said.

McGillis says state governments in two regions near Marcellus energy operations have limited pipeline development because of environmental activists’ opposition.

“Consider the fact the New York and New England regions should be benefiting from the Marcellus Shale’s proximity but are instead hamstrung by pipeline opposition,” said McGillis. “Just this winter, ISO New England [the regional electric power transmission provider] produced a report citing insufficient gas infrastructure as a leading factor in their prediction of future fuel insecurity and operator-imposed blackouts.”

And, who were those peers? We’ll never know because their names aren’t provided. There’s no accountability with much of peer review today and these are the fruits of such lax publication and university policies. Peer review today now requires smear reviews to get to the truth.



Evolutions in Trust, Part 2: Blockchain (Citizen) Science

The serious problem of citizen science, when so often measurements are made by thosue who haven’t a clue

The Risk-Monger

In Part 1 of this blockchain series, the idea of “blockchain trust” was introduced. We no longer trust our experts, institutions and authorities but will happily get into a car with a stranger or rent out our sofa-bed to people we have never met based on widely shared reviews, believed to be transparent and objective. This is the world of blockchain trust – where everyone is watching and reviewing everyone else forming an anonymous, decentralised consensus (chain) of affirmation. Authority is determined by all parts of the chain who participate (and are allowed) on the chain.

The Risk-Monger has long ago been voted off the island.

As most scientists have also been voted off (or given merely one voice among the chain), we need to focus on how this blockchain trust tool functions for environmental health policy decisions that should be evidence-driven. This is the purpose of Part…

View original post 3,588 more words

Some philosophy of science behind all the geology

Are the principles of geology justified? Some think all claims of vast ages and geological time are speculaltive.


This blog by Paul Bratermann looks at the issues.

It is interesting he consulted three “God-botherer” geologists!!


Unconformity in the Grand Canyon

Source: 3quarksdaily: In praise of fallibility: why science needs philosophy

Take the Pro-Truth Pledge (because we’re all fallible)

Not all like signing pleadges like this, but it very relevant today.

LPolitics is plagued by fakenews and post-truth as it seems politicians compete with each other to spew out the most blantant post-truth aka lies.

It is equally bad when science impinges on daily lives. We all know of the post-truth of Creationists, which is often deliberate. But we see the same on GMOs and glyphosphate. On climate change we have the fake news and post-truth from the extreme climate deniers to the radical activists like Bill McKibbin, Friends of the Earth and Christian groups like Operation Noah. I don’t who are the worst

And then there is fracking, and antifrackers have got post-truth down to fine art.

Read and enjoy, but only after you have marked, learned and inwardly digested

Even if you do not sign the pledge, make sure that you carry it out by sharing, honouring and encouraging truth and show no quarter to those who persistently do not

This is another pertinent post from Paul Braterman

Primate's Progress

Pro-Truth Pledge LogoI  learnt about this pledge from the Skeptic Reading Room. And while I generally loathe public pledges (too much virtue signalling for my liking), I am making an exception for this one, in response to our exceptional times. And the fine print makes admirable reading. Besides,  several hundred public figures and organizations have signed it, including Steven Pinker and Peter Singer, and what’s good enough for them is good enough for me. Many dozens of politicians have signed it as well, and one of the aims is to persuade more to do so, and hold them accountable.

Truth matters. Propagating untruth is big business and big politics. The traditional guardians of truth have abdicated, are compromised, or lack traction. By default, the job of protecting truth falls to us. We need to take our responsibility seriously.

We are all drawn towards confirmation bias, group think (our own group, of course!)…

View original post 250 more words

A N Wilson gains Darwin Award for Historians

After producing an awful biography of Darwin and shooting his pen off about Darwin’s bogus science practised at Downe House, I was disappointed to see that Wilson’s biography of Queen Victoria was used in the TV series Victoria. That may explain the fictitious aspects of Drummond on screen. He died three years before the repeal of the Corn Laws – the time of his murder in the TV series – and there is no evidence of a gay relationship. Having read a few of Wilson’s historical studies I have no respect for him as a historical scholar. I read his God’s Funeral twenty years ago and no longer have my copy. I wonder why.

I do think Wilson is worthy of the Darwin award for historians and this was confirmed when I dipped into his Victoria today. For interest I went to the index and looked up Darwin and this is what I found.


The three lines on Lyell and Darwin are simply historical codswollop. Yes, Lyell was a great geologist and in 1864 was rightly knighted for that. In 22 words Wilson simply got everything wrong. Yes, it is a popularly held view and especially by those who consider themselves educated that it was Lyell who shattered the views of the church over the age of the earth. But it is wrong on so many accounts.


First, before November 1797, when Lyell was born, most scientists and savants had concluded that the earth was ancient and its age was either hundreds of thousands or many millions of years old. The former was the view of the great Swiss geologist Andre de Luc snr and the latter of William Hutton. Most educated Christians throughout Europe also accepted the vast age of the earth, even if many preferred de Luc. However 100,000 years completely undermines a literal Genesis. There were also those like Lhwyd and Ray who were thinking about an older earth by 1690.

Secondly, when Lyell published his Principles of Geology in 1831, many leading British geologists were clergy e.g. Sedgwick, Buckland, Coneybeare, Henslow and many lesser ones. Within the churches there were not seen as either heretics or way-out liberals, but rather as orthodox Christians with the full backing of church leaders from Archbishops and Bishops to country parsons. In fact, when the American creationist and employee of Answersingenesis  wrote his Ph.D.  (and book The Great Turning Point) on “Scriptural Geologists” from 1820 to 1850, he could only find 20 to 30 and I haven’t found many more. These so-called Scriptural Geologists were singularly ineffective in convincing the rising numbers of Victorian evangelicals, who were happy to accept the findings of geology.

Thirdly, by the time Darwin came along – effectively after 1840 – after his Beagle voyage, the vast age of the earth could be almost taken for granted. By 1859 few educated cChristians or clergy held to a six day creation and thus in all the responses to Darwin in the 1860s I have only found one which did not accept geology and that was by the Plymouth Brother B.W. Newton in his Remarks on a Mosaic Cosmogony, which was a hostile response to Essays and Reviews.

I could was lyrical on this, but have surveyed it in my book Evangelicals and Science, where I focus only on evangelicals and develop the ideas here on  Genesis and geology unearthed




Wilson has aggravated many on his biography of Darwin, which seems to be very jaundiced to him. Reviews have been largely negative and his atricles in the press show that he has little grasp of Darwin’s science and seems now after his re-conversion to be leaning to creationism or Intelligent Design

Sadly many will read Wilson as a serious historian and accept his wrong and outmoded views not only of Darwin but also the relationship of Christian and Science – so often epitomised as the bible vs Darwin

Why Christian Aid, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth & other NGOs are wrong to oppose GMOs. They will help starvation

I am baffled why so many NGOs who claim to care about starvation and malnutrition in the world should be so opposed to GMOs. It is as if they give with one hand and take with the other.


Meme made by Peter Hess, author of Catholics and Science.

The official policy of Christian Aid is hostile to GMOs, though slightly muted from 15 years ago. They seem unwilling to accept that MOs, Modifed Organisms, have enabled greater productivity in farming for millenia. Of course, this was at the whole animal or plant level as with Lord Delamere in Kenya in the days of Happy Valley. The local cattle were not very productive so he did experiments crossing local cattle with British ones and produced more productive cattle. GMO is only a scientific extension of selective breeding.

Thus we have GM papaya in Hawaii saving a devastated industry, yet  attempts to introduce golden rice have been thwarted.

It seems odd that these groups accept the science of climate change and then want to adopt extreme measures which will do more harm than good, yet reject the science of GMOs and do their damnedest to thwart them.

This article about Uganda brought it home to me, having spent nearly a year there many moons ago. As I was an exploration geologist I lived in the back of beyond, miles from anything like electricity. I mostly ate local and soon learnt how to find the local butcher. You went into a village or town, looked up to see where vultures were circling and then driving to be right below them. Sure enough there was a shacked with cows being hacked up. The waste bits were thrown outside and the vultures did their duty. The meat was cheap, but as I asked for no bones I paid twice the going rate. It was a bargain. However my workers could not afford meat. I had no fridge and once my “cow” went off, so my cook stewed it for himself. To him it was wonderful, but I will never forget the smell. My workers were better fed than most and I went past some “shambas” (subsistence allotments) were the food available was minimal.

Clearly more food is needed and agricultural research and innovation is needed.

This article describes anti-GM groups including   Climate Action Network-Uganda (CAN-U). This is part of the international  Climate Action Network, and members of the the Europe section include Friends of the Earth , Greenpeace, Christian Aid, tear Fund, RSPB, Oxfam and CAFOD.

What GMOs have to do with Climate Change I do not know.

However this is a serious matter and I wonder how many supported of the development NGOs I listed above are aware that they oppose scientifically base agricultural improvements.

I find it shocking.

The food and famine crisis is finally bringing to a head the clash between anti-GMO activists, mostly European based, and the science and farming communities.

Source: Uganda: From scorching drought to ravaging worms, poor pay the price for missing out on a biotech solution

Uganda: From scorching drought to ravaging worms, poor pay the price for missing out on a biotech solution




Over 1.3 Million Ugandans are experiencing some form of hunger as a result of prolonged drought that has caused massive crop failure leading to famine. Hardly had the sight of flourishing new crops brought hope to the subsistence hungry Ugandan households when the armyworms, a corn pest, struck. These worms are not the ordinary armyworms that come and go in a week. It is the fall armyworm, a type not seen before that causes extreme damage to a crop, more than the usual worms–attacking both the young shoots and the hardened leaves.

Billions of shillings from Uganda’s budget have been diverted to fighting hunger and now to controlling these worms. Government programs, for examples, elections of local leaders; and providing provisions of sanitary towels to poor girls to keep them at school have been suspended. Sections who feel aggrieved for the diversion of resources towards addressing hunger are pushing the government to the edge.

Drought tolerant crops perhaps could not have addressed the issues of prolonged drought but insect resistant transgenic maize is seen flourishing beside ravaged local maize varieties. The problem is that these resistant varieties are still confined in guarded fields because the Catargena Protocol that Uganda ratified demands there must be a biosafety law in place before farmers can access the insect resistant varieties. The Anti GMO activists have fought a battle to keep the legislators from enacting the biosafety law so that farmers may not access these “evil crops” that could save farmers from famine. Will Uganda be able to resist the activists’ assault designed to prevent the adoption of a regulatory framework.

Ugandan anti GMO activists and scientists agree on key clauses of the Biosafety Bill

Uganda is one of the leading biotechnology research companies in Africa. Despite years of research work by scientists, there has not been a comprehensive Biosafety law that would enable commercialization of GM products. The anti GM activists believed enactment of the law would open doors for GM cultivation–something they wouldn’t want. Most members of the activists group believed the bill was meant to promote GMOs and needed to be overhauled.

The committee of science and technologies of the Uganda’s Parliament has been collecting views of various stakeholders on the Biosafety Bill. After meeting the stakeholders they convened a meeting of both pro and anti GM activists, scientists, legislators and policy makers. The meeting was meant to generate consensus on key clauses of the bill.

The anti GM civil society organizations represented were: Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI); Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM); Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE); Pan-African Club; and Climate Action Network-Uganda (CAN-U).

The pro or neutral organizations included: National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO); Cotton Development Organization (CDO); National Environment Management Authority (NEMA); Makerere University; Pharmaceutical Society of Uganda (PSU); National Drug Authority (NDA); African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE), Uganda National Council for Science and Technology Uganda Biotechnology (UNCST); and Uganda Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium (UBBC).


The major areas that the anti GM activists had issues with included; the title of the bill, which they wanted changed from the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill; The Competent Authority to be different from the current one proposed in the draft bill, which is the Uganda National Council of Science and Technology; and the content of the bill to cover other forms of biotechnology other than GMOs; and labeling. The two sides agreed to maintain the title of the bill but that where there is GMO in the Bill should be replaced with Modern Biotechnology or targeted Biotechnology; to have the newly created Ministry of Science and Technology become a competent authority on issues of biosafety to oversee the National Biosafety Committee; the national Focal Point which acts as link between the country and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) would remain the Ministry of Environment.

Status of Uganda’s Biosafety law process

Uganda passed a national Biotechnology and Biosafetyy Policy in 2008with a main objective of harnessing benefits of biotechnology in all the sectors. Uganda then went on to draft regulatory framework 10 year later (2012). Since 2012 up to now, Ugandan legislators have not yet enacted this law and farmers cannot access the transgenic crops that could help address the current issues of drounght and insect. There has been several consultations and counter consultations on why Uganda should and should not embrace biotechnology. The role of collecting views have been that of the parliamentary committee for science and technology. These committees have done lots of consultations that included benchmarking with countries like Brazil, India and South Africa that have grown GM crops for years. There last activity on consultations was bridging the gap between issues that were being raised by those who thought the Biosafety Bill was so bad and was meant to promote all sorts of GM products.

Prime Ministers suggestions to activism challenges

Speaking at a the same consensus building roundtable meeting, the Prime Minister pointed out at the two major obstacles that are responsible for the delay of GM crops adoption: the Innocent Ignorant farmers and “Some groups who want Uganda to remain backward and dependent”. He continued to say the latter category’s dominance in Africa is threatened and that they do not wish Africa well.

Uganda’s premier’s suggested two solutions to these challenges. The solution to those that do not wish Uganda and Africa well was that Africa must be ready for such people and must confront and stop them. He however did not delve into how the “stopping” would be carried out. The ignorant innocent farmers are to be senstized.

Whether the Prime Minister will confront the issues by mobilizing members of his party which are a majority in the house will soon be seen, since the committee is ready with its report. The President has also on several occasions publicly endorsed the need to make biotech crops availability to farmers. As we wait for this, Over a million subsistence farmers are becoming hopeless as they see their crops eaten away by the unique armyworm. Their plight will eventually result in the reallocation of finances from other key sector like health and education, and is likely to cause both social and  political unrest.

Isaac Ongu is an agriculturist, science writer and an advocate for science based interventions in solving agricultural challenges in Africa. Follow Isaac on twitter @onguisaac