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from current journals as of 2017 07 14
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Author:  setnahkt [ Fri Jul 14, 2017 8:35 pm ]
Post subject:  from current journals as of 2017 07 14

Skeptical Inquirer July-August 2017
Fire-breathing dinosaurs
I had no idea Young Earth Creationists had gone off this particular deep end. Since dinosaurs and humans were created on the same day, they must have encountered each other, so YECs have accepted various reports of dragons as descriptions of dinosaurs. Since the reports have dragons breathing fire, dinosaurs must have been able to breath fire; they appear so in a children’s book on dinosaurs (Dinosaurs: Those Terrible Lizards) by noted YEC Duane Gish, and in a 7th grade biology textbook (Life Science) by YEC authors Brad Batdorf and Thomas Porch. The YECs propose various mechanisms for fire-breathing – internal generation of methane, internal generation of some sort of pyrophoric chemical, or internal generation of hypergolic chemicals. Vertebrate paleontologist Philip Senter debunks the various proposals.
Did Australia’s aborigines see plesiosaurs? Yes – in a children’s book
In another article by Philip Senter, he takes on a YEC claim that an aboriginal painting shows the hunting and butchering of a plesiosaur. This is not an ancient aboriginal rock painting, but a modern painting that was done, at the request of a missionary, by a member of the Kuku Yalanji tribe of Queensland to illustrate a tribal legend of a monster called Yarru that lives in a water hole and swallows maidens. The YEC claim is the aborigines have no formal education and had never seen a depiction of a plesiosaur; therefore the painting must be an authentic representation of Yarru from tribal legends. The animal in the picture does look remarkably like a plesiosaur, and Senter notes this is because it was copied from a picture in the 1960 children’s book, The Giant Golden Book of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Reptiles.
Investigation of the Missing-411 Conspiracy
Another conspiracy theory I hadn’t heard of before. Missing 411 is the claim that there is a pattern of disappearances from national parks in the US and Canada, and rangers and government officials are covering them up. There is a whole series of books and a documentary, by David Paulides (who also has a Bigfoot book). The SI debunking article notes that Paulides practices the usual conspiracy theory stuff – linking together events bases on the most tenuous of premises: a woman named Amy disappears; years later a woman named Ann disappears; the fact that both their names begin with “A” and have only three letters is evidence. So is the observation that several of the people involved were collecting berries, or near berry bushes.

Nature 6 July 2017
Seven Days
Water Wars
The US Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA have decided that two large aqueduct tunnels will not harm the endanger Delta smelt. This has been going on for years. Municipal and regional agencies still must approve.
”Clean Coal” blow
Southern Company, owner of a power plant in Kemper County, Mississippi that was supposed to gasify lignite, has announced they are scrapping the gasifier project and will burn natural gas instead.
Plant patents
The European Patent Office will no longer allow patents on plants and animals produced by conventional breeding. It seems from the article that foreign patents will no longer be honored in the European Union as well, but I’m not sure.
News in focus
Harry Potter linked to rise in owl trade
The number of Indonesian owls illegally captured for the pet trade has risen sharply in the last 20 years, and observers blame it on Harry Potter. It’s estimated “a few hundred” owls were captured each year before 2001, while the 2016 count is around 13000. The Malay word for “owl” used to be burung hantu; it’s now burung harry potter. The Indonesian government did not respond to requests from Nature.

Geology June 2017
The fate of sediment, wood, and organic carbon eroded during an extreme flood, Colorado Front Range, USA
Of some local interest; the September 2013 event was a 200-year flood (it didn’t affect me that much but people north and west were hard hit). The flood carried 500K m³ of sediment and timber downstream. This particular study address Ralph Price Reservoir on North St. Vrain Creek, which got roughly 400 times its annual sedimentation rate, reducing its capacity by about 2%. It’s noted that about 40% of the sediment, wood, and organic carbon eroded by the flood is still stored in upper reaches of the rivers involved and will cause problems downstream for years.
Glendonites track methane seepage in Mesozoic polar seas
We’ve had a thread on glendonite before; this is a mineral pseudomorph of ikaite. Ikaite, in turn, is a hydrated calcium carbonate that only forms in cold water (< 7° C) and is metastable; warming it destroys it. However, the distinctive ikaite crystals can be replaced by other, more stable minerals – glendonite. Previously glendonites have been used as paleoenvironmental markers for cold water; the current paper argues that transformation of ikaite to glendonite also requires anaerobic oxidation of methane and thus glendonite deposits mark cold-water methane seeps.

Science 26 May 2017
News in Depth
The strange case of the orange petunias
In 1987 biologists at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne experimentally inserted a maize gene in petunias that produced the pigment pelargonidin and gave them a salmon color. The technology was licensed in 1995 by the Dutch company S&G Seeds, which created a more stable gene expression producing vivid orange petunias; however, S&G never sought market approval. In 2016, a plant biologist walking through a train station in Helsinki noted orange petunias in a planter. He later regretted his decision to take a sample and inform the Finnish Board for Gene Technology, which confirmed the petunias were the engineered variety. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service was alerted, and confirmed the petunias were originally created using the cauliflower mosaic virus and thus came under their jurisdiction (since the virus is a “plant pest”). The USDA and European regulators have ordered all the orange petunias destroyed. No one knows how the variety made it into the commercial marketplace, although the article speculated mergers and acquisitions by seed companies or breeders using competitor’s varieties may have been involved. All parties involved note that there is no threat to human health.
News Features
Fossil power, guilt free
Turbines can use CO₂ to cut CO₂
A startup company, NET Power, is using the Allam Cycle to generate power. This extracts pure oxygen from the atmosphere, mixes it with natural gas, and burns it. Instead of using the heat of combustion to generate power, the cycle pressurizes combustion carbon dioxide to the supercritical point and uses that to drive a gas turbine; the water from production is extracted and used for irrigation. The whole thing sounds a little like a perpetual motion machine but independent engineers think it will work and be competitive with natural gas turbines. The supercritical carbon dioxide turbines are much smaller and easier to build than natural gas or steam turbines and the system doesn’t require expensive boilers. A prototype Allam cycle plant is under construction near Houston. The usual people are skeptical. General article about the power company and a more detailed article about the cycle.
Do not publish
The authors, with the Australian National University, argue that information on the location of endangered or rare spices should be interdicted, citing examples of the pink-tailed worm lizard in Australia, where location information lead to trespass on farm lands by lizard collectors; and the Chinese cave gecko, where location information lead to extirpation of the species in the wild. I’m conflicted; interdiction of location information makes it difficult to reproduce studies, but I can certainly see the point.
How to fight corruption
The article, by economists at Boston University and UCLA, cites examples of the Law of Unintended Consequences and Perverse Incentives in efforts to fight corruption. The Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) gives monthly vouchers to pregnant women and mothers of young children to buy milk, eggs, and other staples. The vouchers of for quantities – a gallon of milk or a dozen eggs – rather than cash amounts. The first effect was small groceries in low income areas began raising prices for WIC items; the program allowed separate recording of WIC and non-WIC purchases and all the stores had to do for reimbursement was mail in the vouchers, not receipts. When this was discovered the government mandated electronic controls; cash register scanners had to compare prices for WIC and non-WIC purchases. The differential pricing fraud immediately disappeared; what happened instead is the expense of the technological fix caused may stores to drop WIC-eligible items altogether, and other to raise prices on them for everybody, not just WIC customers. The article cites a couple more examples, involved high school exam cheating in Romania and election fraud in Ghana; in both cases attempts to end corruption merely rearranged it.

Science 19 May 2017
India nears GM food crop approval
Mustard self-pollinates, making it difficult to breed using conventional techniques. The GM variety incorporates some genes from a soil bacterium. This is the first GM food crop approved for production in India, although 90% of the countries cotton is GM. The usual parties are expressing the usual outrage and various court challenges are expected.
Scientist sues FBI over profiling
Xiaoxing Xi was charged with attempting to transfer proprietary designs for a pocket heater to China. The charges were dropped after other specialists in superconducting thin films, Xi’s field, reported glaring scientific errors in the indictment. Xi is now suing the FBI, contending that special agent Andrew Haugen “intentionally, knowingly, and recklessly provided federal prosecutors with false scientific opinions”.
Plot to redefine kilogram nears climax
Le Grande K, the platinum-iridium cylinder defining the kilogram, should be replaced with a Kibble Balance, which defines the kilogram in terms of the electrical current necessary to magnetically balance a weight. After you get through all the equations, increasingly accurate values for the kilogram depend on increasingly accurate values for Planck’s Constant. Paradoxically, a Kibble balance is less precise than an ordinary balance (currently what’s used to check Le Grande K against national standards), thus the new standard kilogram will be more variable; however linking the kilogram with other SI standards will make up for that.
Sea trash traps face doubts
MSM had stories about a “brilliant young inventor” who had designed a device to remove plastic trash from the Great Pacific Gyre. The device used floating booms to funnel plastics to a central collector, which is periodically emptied. The device costs about $1M/unit and about 50 of them are calculated to remove all the trash in 5 years. Critics note it would make more sense to stop plastic from getting into the oceans in the first place, and to emplace smaller collectors closer to the shores of China and Indonesia, which are the major contributors of seagoing plastic trash.

Journal of Paleontology n3 2017
Silicified microbiota from the Paleoproterozoic Dahongyu Formation, Tianjin, China
More Proterozoic microfossils. There are a lot of filamentous things that are probably cyanobacteria and some coccoids. Nothing that could reasonably assigned to Eukaryota. They look practically identical to things I saw in the Gunflint Chert.
Carbonaceous and siliceous Neoproterozoic vase-shaped microfossils (Urucum Formation, Brazil) and the question of early protistan biomineralization
The Urucum Formation is age-constrained by basement rocks at 889±44 Ma below and manganese ore at 587±7 Ma above. The microfossils look like extant “testate amoebae”, which form silica shells; the fossils appear to have shells, too, except there’s a question if the shells are originally silica or silica replacement of organic material during fossilization. The oldest known protists are also testate amoebae, from Kazakhstan and dated to 766±7 Ma, so these are possibly older.
Exceptionally preserved conodont apparatuses with giant elements from the Middle Ordovician Winneshiek Konservat-Lagerstätte, Iowa, USA
We’ve had threads on both conodonts and the Winneshiek Shale before. Conodonts are microscopic things that look like teeth; although they have been known for years it wasn’t figured out that they the belonged to a chordate until recently; they are “teeth” in the sense that they show wear from occlusion but are not homologous to vertebrate teeth, and are located inside the animal and thus although the may be involved in feeding are not prey-capture related. Shortly after the discovery of isolated conodont elements it was realized that conodont elements of different shape fit together to form a “conodont apparatus”. The Winneshiek Shale has a fairly strange origin story; in the bottom of the Decorah Impact Crater. As mentioned previously the only known “surface” outcrop is in the bed of the Iowa River. Somehow – and having dealt with the Army Core of Engineers I’m amazed this was accomplished – the Iowa Geological Survey persuaded the ACOE to let them temporarily divert the Iowa river and excavate a couple of tons of Winneshiek Shale with a backhoe in 2010, and has been picking interesting fossils out of it ever since. This paper discusses “giant” conodont apparatuses – some of them are 20mm long – found here. There’s no sign of the originally animal, but preservation is good enough that the apparatuses are in life position; of the species most commonly found one has an apparatus made up of 6 elements and the other has 15. The jury is still out on exactly how these things worked, although the authors conclude the shape and symmetry of the apparatuses strongly suggest they were used in food handling.

The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 2016
(This is the most recent issue due to the torpid pace of Egyptological publishing)
Tell el-Amarna, 2016
We’ve had previous threads on Egyptologist Barry Kemp’s excavations at Tell el-Amarna. (Tell el-Amarna is the modern name; the ancient name was Akhetaten, capital of Egypt during the reign of the “heretic” pharaoh Akhenaten). Kemp’s previous excavations turned up some interesting if disturbing things in a “commoner’s” cemetery; a lot of the people buried there had injuries only explainable by hard labor and physical assault. This year’s studies in another “commoner” cemetery at the other end of the town are perhaps even more disturbing. Almost all the burials that could be aged were young; out of 77 individuals, 44 were “young subadults” (age 7.0-14.9) and 30 were “young adults” (age 15.0-24.9); the remaining three were an infant, an early subadult (age 3.0-6.9), and an adult (age 25+). Of the 31 adult individuals, 21 were female, two were males, and the others could not be assigned a sex. (None of the younger individuals were sexed because the skeletons are too similar before puberty). As in previous excavations, many of these skeletons had traumatic injuries; of the young adults and adults, 25.8% had spinal fractures, 12.9% had Schmorl’s nodes, and 9.8% had fractures other than spinal; of the subadults, 15.2% had spinal fractures, 13.0% had fractures other than the spine, and 4.3% had Schmorl’s nodes. So what’s going on here? It looks an awful lot like this part of Akhetaten was the burial place for girls who subject to brutal hard labor and died young.
Further evidence that Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep were twins
These two men have a joint 5th dynasty tomb at Saqqara. Although a tomb often contains several family members, they’re normally husband + wife + children; AFAIK this is the only tomb with two men. The pair is shown embracing and holding hands in the tomb paintings; they are sometimes shown with their wives and children but more often which each other. They share identical titles: “Manicurist to the King” and “Overseer of the Palace”. This has lead to speculation that they were homosexual lovers. The current authors argue instead that they were identical twins; they cite “mirroring” in the tomb – where each man is shown performing some action in mirror-image scenes – as evidence. It’s noted there’s no Egyptian word for “twin” until much later, and the men are never described as “brothers”.
The 2015 survey of the base of the Great Pyramid
Anything involving the Great Pyramid automatically raises suspicion of woowoo; in this case the research was funded by the Glen Dash Foundation for Archaeological Research and Ancient Egypt Research Associates. A little googling disclosed the GDFAR is funded by a former video game designer and specializes in accurate surveys of ancient monuments; the AERA is the research arm of Egyptologist Mark Lehner, who started his career as an Edgar Cayce devotee and transmogrified into a respected Egyptologist. Although antecedents are thus a little dicey, the measurements seem well done from both an Egyptological and surveying standpoint. A historical summary notes people have been making more or less careful measurements of the Great Pyramid since the 1870s. (A lot of woowoo books will contain the assertion that the ratio of the Great Pyramid’s height to its perimeter is exactly π, often citing an early Egyptologist as authority. The catch was the very top of the pyramid is missing and its base was covered in sand until the 1870s; thus a lot of the first European Egyptologists simply assumed the ratio was π and commented accordingly in their publications.) At any rate, the current team located monuments left by earlier measurers, found marks in the pavement around the pyramid marking the original edge of the casing stones, found 84 measurable points, and after considerable error analysis and work with a base station came up with the following dimensions in meters (numbers are minimum, mean, maximum):
  • North 230.256, 230.329, 230.402
  • East 230.295, 230.334, 230.373
  • South 230.329, 230.384, 230.439
  • West 230.378, 230.407, 230.436
Doubtless there’s some cosmic significance in there somewhere.

Nature 30 March 2017
This week
DNA justice
Everybody knows it’s possible to use DNA found at a crime scene as a “fingerprint” – to match with a particular suspect. It’s also possible to use DNA to tell you some characteristics of the person who left it – you can tell brown eyes from blue eyes with about 95% accuracy, and the continent of origin with about 99.9% accuracy. Although some European countries allow forensic DNA testing for biogeographical origin, Germany hasn’t (except for the presence of a Y chromosome). Until now – the high profile rape and murder of a medical student by an Afghan refugee has resulted in proposals to allow it. Nature generally approves but notes the circumstances are unfortunate and says the law must be carefully worded.
Millenia together
From a special section on animal health. The graphics show the United States has the largest pet population, with 70M dogs and 73M cats. Mexico and Argentina have the largest percentage of pet-owning households, at 80%; Argentina is the most dog-dense country, with 66% of households owning a dog. The Czech Republic has the most uncommon pets, with 15% of households having a small mammal, small reptile, or spider. Turkey has the largest percentage of bird owners, at 20% of households. Norwegians spend the most on dog food - $53.22/month. Russia has the most cat owners, with 57% of households. India has had a 58% growth in dog population in the last 5 years. In mainland China, 17% of households keep fish. South Korea has the fewest pet owners, 32% of households.

Nature 2 March 2017
(An older issue that slipped through the review cracks)
Seven Days
Space tourists
SpaceX, Elon Musk’s private space firm, will send two tourists around the Moon in late 2018 aboard a Dragon crew capsule launched by the firm’s Falcon Heavy rocket. This is a highly ambitious schedule, since the Falcon Heavy hasn’t been tested yet.
Nerve-agent attack
Kim Jong-nam, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s half brother, was killed at the Kuala Lumpur airport by two people who rubbed or sprayed a substance on his face; the substance was later identified as VX nerve agent. Because the attackers were not harmed, it is proposed the a binary agent was used – two relatively innocuous substances that combined to make VX when mixed.
News and Views
Subduction undone
We had a thread about ultrahigh pressure rocks before. The problem is there are scattered rock exposures with mineral assemblages characteristic of exposure to ultra high pressures. If the only process pressuring the rocks is burial, it’s difficult to explain how they got back to the surface again. It’s been proposed that nonlithostatic processes are involved: stress caused by subduction, and these could be up to twice lithostatic pressure; however other geologists have argued that such nonlithostatic pressures should not be possible. It’s also argued that the maximum pressures apparently recorded in the mineral assemblages are incorrect, and caused by a rapid change in the “stress state” at the onset of decompression rather than lithostatic pressure.
Evidence for early life in Earth’s oldest hydrothermal vent precipitates
From the Nuvvuagittuq belt in Quebec. The evidence is depletion in light carbon and filamentous structures made of hematite that might be bacterial remains. Dating for the rocks is 3770 Mya. There are older ((3830 Mya) structures in Greenland that have been interpreted as biological remnants, but non-biological interpretation is also possible.

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