Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Another one bites the dust

To be fair, my skepticism of major announcements in the science section of major dailies isnt a criticism of science; it's really a criticism of the way science is reported in the media, which is mostly sensationalist, and with a materialist bent. But what can we do? We rely mostly on media reports and have very little access to the actual findings. But what do I know, right? Maybe media is merely reporting what scientists are telling them, the way they want them told. Anyway...

When I first read in the pop science media that chimp DNA was 98% similar to human DNA, it raised red flags. How do they know?, I asked myself. At that time the human genome hasnt even been mapped yet, let alone the chimp genome so I thought the 98% figure was pulled out of someone's ass. When the human and chimp genomes were finally mapped in 2005, I thought that finally we would get to the bottom of this 98%. And the findings? According to this article:

To compare the two genomes, the first thing we must do is to line up
the parts of each genome that are similar. When we do this alignment,
we discover that only 2400 million of the human genome’s 3164.7 million
’letters’ align with the chimpanzee genome - that is, 76% of the human
genome. Some scientists have argued that the 24% of the human genome
that does not line up with the chimpanzee genome is useless ”junk DNA”.
However, it now seems that this DNA could contain over 600
protein-coding genes, and also code for functional RNA molecules.

Looking closely at the chimpanzee-like 76% of the human genome, we
find that to make an exact alignment, we often have to introduce
artificial gaps in either the human or the chimp genome. These gaps
give another 3% difference. So now we have a 73% similarity between the
two genomes.

In the neatly aligned sequences we now find another form of
difference, where a single ’letter’ is different between the human and
chimp genomes. These provide another 1.23% difference between the two
genomes. Thus, the percentage difference is now at around 72%.

We also find places where two pieces of human genome align with only
one piece of chimp genome, or two pieces of chimp genome align with one
piece of human genome. This ”copy number variation” causes another 2.7%
difference between the two species. Therefore the total similarity of
the genomes could be below 70%.

And, the article continues, the only reason they got that 70% was because they used the human genome as a template to assemble the chimp genome. Blek. I suppose it's also a testament to the bias towards mainstream science, the one that says we're but a species of chimp, that these findings arent widely reported, or at least discussed.

In other news, mainstream science finally comes out and says it:
On the other hand, if there is no multiverse, where does that leave
physicists? “If there is only one universe,” [cosmologist Bernard] Carr says, “you might have
to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a
Which got me to thinking: In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, in what he calls The Ultimate 747 Gambit, argues that the universe is so complex it's improbable, therefore if a God created the universe, he would have to be more complex than the universe, and would therefore be more improbable. He bats for the multiverse theory obviously. But then you have to ask yourself: Which is more complex? An intelligent entity, whatever that is, or an infinite number of universes? Which is more improbable? One has to choose because the fine-tuning of the universe points to one or the other. Russian scientist Andrei Linde, a proponent of the multiverse theory, hedges his bets and thinks that our universe might have been created by some geek in a basement in another universe. But this begs the question: Where did that geek in the other universe come from?
Linde's theory gives scientific muscle to the notion of a universe
created by an intelligent being. It might be congenial to Gnostics, who
believe that the material world was fashioned not by a benevolent
supreme being but by an evil demiurge. More orthodox believers, on the
other hand, will seek refuge in the question, "But who created the
physicist hacker?" Let's hope it's not hackers all the way up.
At present, the multiverse is so much speculative fiction with a lot of math, only we have respected scientists proclaiming its merits. That's enough for some people to proclaim that the matter is settled. To be fair, scientists are dreaming up actual experiments to test whether the multiverse theory is true, although I remain skeptical even of these. For example, let's say they find 'evidence' that points to another universe, how does that prove that there are 'billions and billions' of them? But be that as it may, Im still a fan of science. Science as a tool, that is. It is when science is elevated as a worldview that I have problems with it. Not with science, but with those who espouse the science-as-worldview philosophy. Richard Dawkins, for example, is setting his sights on children's books by writing one of his own.
In an interview with Britain’s Channel 4, Dr. Dawkins said he was
working on a book that would explore children’s relationships with
fairy tales and encourage them to think about the world scientifically
rather than mythologically. “I would like to know whether there’s any
evidence that bringing children up to believe in spells and wizards and
magic wands and things turning into other things — it is unscientific,
I think it’s antiscientific,” Dr. Dawkins, left, told More4 News.
“Whether that has a pernicious effect, I don’t know.”
Wadapak!? I grew up with fairy tales and science fiction stories and superheroes,as Im sure most of us who actually read did. Did that make me insane? Dont answer that.


grifter said...

your multiverse counterpart visited me last night and he was so much more sane than you are right now. we were wondering if you could switch places with him, but that could blow up this whole thing.

Jego said...

It could. He's made of antimatter. And in his universe, Im made of antimatter.