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Synthetic Cells and the Demiurge

There was quite a splash in the media in May concerning Craig Venter’s claims to have made a synthetic cell.

However, the media have not elucidated exactly what this ‘synthetic’ means, and Venter himself, in a blaze of self-promotion, used blatantly misleading language. He spoke of his ‘creation’ as “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer”, and of its genome having been synthesized “by a machine” entirely from “four bottles of chemicals” and its being “booted up” in a host organism.

Arthur Caplan, Professor of Bioethics, University of Pennsylvania was impressed and thought this one of the most important scientific achievements ever:

All…deeply entrenched metaphysical views are cast into doubt by the demonstration that life can be created from non-living parts, albeit those harvested from a cell. Venter’s achievement would seem to extinguish the argument that life requires a special force or power to exist. In my view, this makes it one of the most important scientific achievements in the history of mankind.

And Julian Savulescu, professor of practical ethics at Oxford University, would like to nominate Venter as the Demiurge:

Venter is creaking open the most profound door in humanity’s history, potentially peeking into its destiny. He is not merely copying life artificially…or modifying it radically by genetic engineering. He is going towards the role of a god: creating artificial life that could never have existed naturally.

As we will see, these ethicists have clearly misunderstood what Venter has achieved. More sane soundings have come from those who are expert in bioengineering, for example Jim Collins, Professor of biomedical engineering, Boston University:

Relax — media reports hyping this as a significant, alarming step forward in the creation of artificial forms of life can be discounted. The work reported by Venter and his colleagues is an important advance in our ability to re-engineer organisms; it does not represent the making of new life from scratch. The microorganism reported by the Venter team is synthetic in the sense that its DNA is synthesized, not in that a new life form has been created. Its genome is a stitched-together copy of the DNA of an organism that exists in nature, with a few small tweaks thrown in…Frankly, scientists do not know enough about biology to create life…Although some of us in synthetic biology may have delusions of grandeur, our goals are much more modest.

We will investigate what Venter has done, but we must be clear that although what he has done was technologically advanced, it amounts to no more than tinkering with existing life.

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The Atheist Delusion

There has been a torrent of books by the so-called New Atheists in recent years, diatribes from the pens of biologist Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, 2006), journalist Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great, 2007), writer Sam Harris (The End of Faith, 2004) and their ilk. Whatever their expertise in their specialisms, they have arrogantly marched forth into the fields of their own incompetence, and thereby done us all a great favour in showing that the New Atheism spawns intellectual pygmies of the philosophy of religion. As philosopher David B. Hart has remarked,

A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe.

Their writings have drawn back the curtain to reveal the clanking machinery, the hollowness and the intellectual bankruptcy of the New Atheism. For this we are forever grateful, and when their other ideas have been discarded and relegated to footnotes, historians will surely point to their feet of clay displayed by their poor judgment, their bias, nastiness, ignorance and inability to structure logical argument in their writings on religion. As Hart confirms:

The best that we can now hope for [from New Atheists] are arguments pursued at only the most vulgar of intellectual levels, couched in an infantile and carpingly pompous tone, and lacking all but the meagerest traces of historical erudition or syllogistic rigour: Richard Dawkins triumphantly adducing “philosophical” arguments that a college freshman midway through his first logic course could dismantle in a trice…

The author of The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker can never again be taken seriously as a clear thinker: he has well and truly shot his bolt and missed his target.

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UN IPCC: Rotting from the Head down


(Apologies to Stahler)

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is stinking like a dead fish, rotting from the head down. In what has been dubbed ‘Glaciergate’, the IPCC has been exposed as conspiring to present a tissue of lies about the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas, claiming with greater than 90% confidence that they would disappear by 2035 or sooner. There was never any scientific basis whatsoever for such claims, and the ‘source’ quoted was WWF, an avowed advocacy group. Both the IPCC and WWF have recently admitted that the claims were false, long after these claims have become embedded in countless papers, books and presentations and caused alarmism about the fate of hundreds of millions of people who rely on the rivers that run from the Himalayas. But the damage this has done goes very deep: not only were the claims in the IPCC Fourth Assessment report (AR4) based on lies, but the lies have for years been peddled by the head of the IPCC himself, who sought to belittle those who drew attention to the problem.

This post deals briefly with the extraordinarily arrogant, unprofessional and dishonest nature of Rajendra K Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC, but goes on to show in detail that the UN and the scientific community were well aware from 2004, as demonstrated in a work by a Himalayan expert, which was described in 2006 by the editor of the peer-reviewed Himalayan Journal of Sciences (HJS) as “probably the single most influential monograph ever published on Himalayan environmental issues”, and from an article that appeared in the HJS in 2005, that the claim of the disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers by 2035 or within 40 years was a lie propagated by advocacy groups and vested interests, and yet the IPCC deliberately incorporated the lie into the AR4 report in 2007. We show how the falsehood was embroidered stage by stage by advocacy groups, politicians and bent ‘scientists’ to appear as one of the most outrageous scientific claims in modern times.

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Climate Change and the Death of Science


[Note: the following was written on October 31 and updated November 3, before the ‘Climategate’ CRU email scandal broke, and it is all the more pertinent in the light of those disclosures. The CRU emails show how science has been perverted into a political movement, and how scientists conspired to serve a ‘post-normal’ agenda where truth is trampled – exactly as the proponents of ‘post-normal’ science had anticipated. With the association between ‘post-normal’ science developed by Ravetz and its application in climate science by Hulme now widely exposed by this present post, Ravetz and Hulme jointly authored an article, published by the BBC on December 1, entitled ‘Show Your Working’: What ‘ClimateGate’ means in which they sought to promote post-normal science further by capitalizing on the public disgust at the corruption of ‘normal’ science. This is cynical because normal science was corrupted by covertly introducing post-normal activities in the first place.]

What has become of science? We thought that science was about the pursuit of truth. Then we became perplexed at how quickly scientists have prostituted themselves in the service of political agendas. We have seen the unedifying spectacle of scientists refusing to share their data, fiddling their results, and resorting to ad hominem attacks on those who have exposed their work to be fraudulent. We have seen the Royal Society becoming a shamelessly crude advocacy society. We have seen President Obama choosing notorious climate alarmists and liars to be his personal advisors. We have seen the peer review process and journal editors colluding to prevent publication of results that do not serve the politically-correct agenda, and scientists refusing to consider results that demolish their pet theories. What is going on here?

What is going on is that science is no longer what we thought it was. It is now a tool in the hands of socialists, and the smart money is flowing into the pockets of ‘scientists’ who will serve their agenda. Follow the money. Whilst traditional physics and chemistry departments are closing in British universities, and there is a shortage of science teachers, there is an abundance of cash being poured into departments that will serve socialist ends, and no shortage of acolytes desirous to use this as a route to power. Once there was modern science, which was hard work; now we have postmodern science, where the quest for real, absolute truth is outdated, and ‘science’ is a wax nose that can be twisted in any direction to underpin the latest lying narrative in the pursuit of power. Except they didn’t call it ‘postmodern’ science because then we might smell a rat. They called it PNS (post-normal science) and hoped we wouldn’t notice. It was thus named and explicated by Silvio O. Funtowicz and philosopher Jerome R. Ravetz, who in 1991 wrote the paper A New Scientific Methodology for Global Environmental Issues, followed in 1992 by The good, the true and the postmodern, and in 1993 by Science for the post-normal age, where they promoted the idea that

…a new type of science – ‘post-normal’ – is emerging…in contrast to traditional problem-solving strategies, including core science, applied science, and professional consultancy…Post-normal science can provide a path to the democratization of science, and also a response to the current tendencies to post-modernity.

The ‘response’ wasn’t to be a reaction against postmodernism, but an embracing of it, and going beyond it. And it has sinister ramifications.

We had already been warned about Ravetz in the 1987 work Changing Boundaries of the Political, which stated

From the perspective of Anglo-American liberalism it seems easy enough to…point out that the old predictions of the British Marxist J.D. Bernal about the triumph of basic research under socialism have proved hopelessly wrong, and that the demands of J.R. Ravetz of the University of Leeds that science be made instrumental and moral will destroy the enterprise whatever its short-term benefits.

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Eco-Imperialism – every Environmentalist’s Dream


How do you like the government agency that makes official climate predictions, and pushes industry and local government to act on “climate change” to be headed up by a green alarmist and activist? It’s well known that in the USA the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies is headed up by the climate alarmist and activist James Hansen, who encourages criminal misdemeanours in USA and criminal damage in UK. But what of the UK? The situation is even worse. The UK Meteorological Office, whose Hadley Centre runs the IPCC scientific assessment (“Working Group 1”), is now a department of the UK Ministry of Defence. And its Chairman is none other than Robert Napier, a green activist and alarmist with tentacles into some of the world’s most powerful drivers of climate alarmism and social control.

Not only is he the chairman of the Met office, but Napier is Chairman of the Green Fiscal Commission, seeking to impose massive green taxation; he is Director of the Carbon Disclosure Project, which has built the largest database on corporate ‘carbon footprints’ as a basis for discrimination against those who don’t go along with the eco agenda; he is Chairman of the trustees of the World Centre of Monitoring of Conservation, which is bankrolled by the UN Environment Programme to push and ensure compliance with the Green agenda; and he is Chairman of the Homes and Communities Agency, which is seeking to grab land for ecotowns and determining compliance of housing to stringent Green standards. Other recent positions he has held include Chief Executive of WWF-UK, a vast malthusian political pressure group seeking to grab land and stop development around the world; a Director of The Climate Group, a huge international pressure group for the climate change agenda, which also manages the IIGCC, of which the BBC Pension Trust is a member; and a Director of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, a secular body seeking to infuse ‘Green’ values into all the major religions, and to designate land as ‘sacred’ to prohibit development, and galvanize religions as a powerful advocacy group for the eco agenda.

This web of organizations over which Napier exercises influence means that Napier is responsible for the generation of climate alarmism, input into the IPCC reports, powerful secular and religious eco advocacy, directing of investments exceeding $55 trillion towards the Green agenda, monitoring of eco compliance, manipulating government fiscal policy towards green taxes, and control of the built environment towards the green agenda. Napier is an eco-imperialist, and for him and his cronies it’s all about total social control for the green agenda – controlling all bases: investment, building, land, religion, government, taxes, propaganda, media, advocacy, monitoring, climate science and data.

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Filthy Dreamers

If you are the President’s chief scientific advisor then you have a duty to be informed and keep informed, and a duty to refrain from making indisputably false statements. Such responsibility is obviously too much for John Holdren, who has shown himself again as an inveterate liar (see earlier posts All who hate Me love Death and Growth of Crops, Weeds, CO2 and Lies). In a recent interview with New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert, Holdren repeats the litany of ‘evidences’ for anthropogenic global warming, which he must know are patently untrue if he has read any scientific literature over the past few years. Holdren said

We all talk about the acceleration of climate change in its impacts that we’re observing. One sees the incidence of wildfires going up more rapidly than people expected, the incidence of heat waves and droughts going up more rapidly, sea level is rising more rapidly… All of these indicators are moving more rapidly.

Wrong on all counts. It’s simply impossible for Holdren to be honestly mistaken here, because the data in some cases comes from US government agencies. Consider sea level rise. There is not the slightest evidence that “sea level is rising more rapidly”, that this represents an “acceleration of climate change in its impacts”. When Holdren says “One sees…” he cannot mean to ‘foresee’ as a ‘seer’ might do, since his previous statement makes it clear that this is one of the accelerating ‘impacts that we’re observing’. Well, it’s really very easy to determine Holdren’s integrity since we can simply look at the data that ‘we’re observing’. Do records show that sea level rise is accelerating, “rising more rapidly”? Not at all: sea level rise has been pretty steady over the last 100 years, except in the last few years when it has appeared to slow down significantly, even to the extent of appearing to show a declining trend since 2006. Wolfgang Scherer, Director of Australia’s National Tidal Facility correctly states

One definitive statement we can make is that there is no indication based on observations that sea level rise is accelerating.

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CO2 Enrichment and Plant Nutrition

It was noted in previous posts that for crops with C3 photosynthetic pathway the current levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide are limiting to plant growth. Crops are currently starved of CO2 in a similar way to being starved of water, nitrogen, phosphorus, light etc. Current atmospheric levels of CO2 can thus be regarded as a plant stress, which weakens them and makes them inefficient. At higher levels of CO2 this stress is reduced, and the plant copes better with all other types of stress, including heat and cold, atmospheric pollution, root pathogens, as well as shortages of water, minerals etc.

Sylvan Wittwer (Professor emeritus at Michigan State University, who directed the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station for 20 years and chaired the Board on Agriculture of the National Research Council) has remarked:

There has been and still remains, a great reluctance on the part of many climatologists and ecologists, and especially environmentalists, to accept the concept that the rising level of atmospheric CO2 could be more beneficial than harmful for plant growth, food production, and the overall biosphere…Yet the scientific evidence is overwhelming.

Summary data from 279 published studies is shown below in which plants of all types were grown under paired stress (red) and unstressed (blue) conditions. For resource-limited plants the benefits of increased CO2 are astounding.


Wittwer points out that of the hundreds of scientific reports documenting the benefits, Al Gore carefully selected five reports and a personal communication to emphasize possible negative aspects to enhanced CO2 on plants. Gore knew what he was doing, of course – he either deliberately rejected the facts, or gave instructions to researchers for his book only to cherry pick papers that support his alarmist agenda. Again we see him as a lying propagandist.

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