Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Good News for Old Guys

And for lots of other people, too:
A vaccine that destroys advanced prostate cancers while leaving healthy tissue untouched has been developed by scientists. In laboratory tests, the gene therapy jab successfully wiped out 80 per cent of cancers without causing serious side effects.

The British researchers behind its creation said it was a 'completely new approach' and predicted that it could start trials on people within a few years.

Although the jab has been tested on prostate tumors, they believe it could work on a range of other deadly cancers including breast, lung and pancreatic cancer.

Unlike a conventional vaccine which is given to prevent infection with a virus or bacteria, the new treatment is used after someone has contracted cancer.
See here for the rest of the article. It's not something you have to be an old guy to appreciate.

Palin Is Stupid, Obama Is Brilliant

The purpose of posting the following video is not to try and make Mr. Obama look stupid. Brain freezes, solecisms, and gaffes of various sorts are part of the human condition and afflict us all. Rather the purpose is to provoke us to wonder what it is about people that makes them say the most vicious, hurtful things about someone with whom they disagree, especially when they wouldn't dream of saying those things about someone who is equally as vulnerable to the criticisms but with whom they do agree:
I want to extend to both Sarah Palin and Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt, knowing that were I under the pressure they're under I'd probably be just as bollixed up as they, on occasion, find themselves.

Nevertheless, one cannot extend that benefit to the inexcusable, and inexcusable is what I think the president's remarks were last week when he blamed the difficulties of job creation in part on technological innovations like ATMs.

The president has been severely mocked for his belief that ATMs are an example of how technology is hurting job growth, and it is distressing that someone with so little understanding of how an economy works has been ensconced in the highest office of the land, but mocking is unkind. The proper response, perhaps, is dismay.

When the president delivered himself of this opinion people wondered how someone who is reputed to be so smart and so well-educated could say something which evinces such startling ignorance about job creation. That so many Americans depend upon his grasp of economics for their own livelihoods is profoundly alarming.

An ATM might displace one bank teller, but dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people are employed in designing, manufacturing, and servicing these machines.

ATMs are a large chunk of the business done by armored car companies like Dunbar and Brinks which employ drivers, guards, cash and coin handlers, etc. to support this business. These companies in turn lease facilities and purchase machinery and vehicles from other companies in order to service their ATM contracts. If ATMs were to disappear overnight, dozens of banks in a region might have to hire another teller, but hundreds of people would find themselves out of work altogether.

Moreover, the convenience to the customer of being able to access his cash 24 hours a day 7 days a week from an ATM rather than having to travel to his bank during working hours to make his transactions must also be taken into account. That convenience translates into greater economic productivity on the part of the customer.

It's as incredible as it is distressing that this is apparently all news to Mr. Obama.

On Accurately Depicting Intelligent Design

In a CNN report on Michelle Bachman's assertion that intelligent design should be taught in schools reporter Peter Hamby offered this definition of intelligent design:
Intelligent design suggests that the complexity of the universe cannot be explained by evolution alone, and must also be attributed to a creator or supernatural being.
Kairosfocus at Uncommon Descent takes issue with Hamby's portrayal, which is indeed a little misleading. It implies, for example, that ID is an argument from ignorance, an argument which asserts that since we can't explain the complexity of life therefore life must have a supernatural provenience. It also implies that ID is a religious hypothesis that invokes a God of some sort as the explanation for life. In fact, neither of these implications is correct.

Kairosfocus directs us to a much more satisfactory explanation of intelligent design at the New World Encyclopedia:
Intelligent design is the view that it is possible to infer from empirical evidence that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection”.

Intelligent design cannot be inferred from complexity alone, since complex patterns often happen by chance. ID focuses on just those sorts of complex patterns that in human experience are produced by a mind that conceives and executes a plan. According to adherents, intelligent design can be detected in the natural laws and structure of the cosmos; it also can be detected in at least some features of living things.
In other words, it's not that we can't explain complexity and must therefore conclude there's a divine creator. Rather, it's that the world manifests properties which, in our experience, are produced only by minds. One of these is the specified information found in DNA which is in many respects like computer software. Randomness and unguided chemistry don't produce the kind of specified complexity which constitutes semantic (meaningful) information and which we find in living things. Only minds, as far as we know, can do that.

The Encyclopedia goes on to give a more detailed description of ID:
Greater clarity on the topic may be gained from a discussion of what ID is not considered to be by its leading theorists. Intelligent design generally is not defined the same as creationism, with proponents maintaining that ID relies on scientific evidence rather than on Scripture or religious doctrines. ID makes no claims about biblical chronology, and technically a person does not have to believe in God to infer intelligent design in nature.

As a theory, ID also does not specify the identity or nature of the designer, so it is not the same as natural theology, which reasons from nature to the existence and attributes of God. ID does not claim that all species of living things were created in their present forms, and it does not claim to provide a complete account of the history of the universe or of living things.

ID also is not considered by its theorists to be an “argument from ignorance”; that is, intelligent design is not to be inferred simply on the basis that the cause of something is unknown (any more than a person accused of willful intent can be convicted without evidence). According to various adherents, ID does not claim that design must be optimal; something may be intelligently designed even if it is flawed (as are many objects made by humans).

ID may be considered to consist only of the minimal assertion that it is possible to infer from empirical evidence that some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent agent. It conflicts with views claiming that there is no real design in the cosmos (e.g., materialistic philosophy) or in living things (e.g., Darwinian evolution) or that design, though real, is undetectable (e.g., some forms of theistic evolution).
Perhaps nothing is more often mischaracterized in the popular press, or by its sophisticated despisers, than is the theory of intelligent design. It might be useful to bookmark this brief summary and consult it the next time you come across a story on ID.

Incidentally, Bachman's opinion on teaching ID in schools sounded pretty reasonable to me.