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Investigate magazine struck dumb by numerology of genetic code Grant Jacobs Mar 17

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A weekend peek at an… ‘unconventional’ research paper.

Investigate Daily, a part of local conspiracy theory magazine Investigate edited by creationist Ian Wishart,  earlier in the week released Scientists dumbstruck: signs of intelligent design in DNA code.

Investigate Daily concludes, “the study is groundbreaking in its implications.”

Sounds pretty definitive, right?

For a magazine titled Investigate, it ought to, well, investigate before announcing things as groundbreaking.

More disturbing, for me, is that this is published “science” nominally related to my own field, computational biology. More on that later.

The paper by shCherbaka and Makukovb published in an astrophysics journal, Icarus, the official publication of American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences and pushed by creationists as supporting ‘intelligent design’ claims to have found a ‘code’ within our DNA that indicates life on earth was designed by aliens.[1]

If you think the claim is far-fetched, the stuff of science fiction or fantasy novels, you’re right.

Looking for biochemical clues for the possibility that life once was present on Mars, as the Mars Rover is doing, is one thing. Using numerology hoping to discover a hidden, secret code within our genetic code left by ‘the ancients’ is quite another.

You don’t need to delve into the ‘science’ the paper offers to realise it isn’t up to anything useful either.

As ‘Diogene’ has pointed out in a comment to another blogger’s take on shCherbaka and Makukovb’s paper it rests on a false comparison of two options[2]:

  1. Created by random chance
  2. Created by space aliens

This is set up so that if the first is unlikely, the second “must” be right.

The setting is rigged because these two aren’t all the possibilities. There is at least one more:

  1. Created by a non-random natural process (e.g. evolved)

To declare any one the ‘preferred’ choice they’d have to investigate all three possibilities, then compare what was found. But they don’t: they only look at the first then declare the second as the ‘winner’ without ever looking at the third.[2]

My impression is that Wishart’s forte is (or was) political journalism.

Here’s it in a nutshell, using an election as an analogy:

This work is like an election with three candidates where the third is left off the ballot sheets. Obviously the third candidate cannot win, even if they were the favoured candidate. It’s even more unjust: the second is handed victory by a claim of a weak result from the first without inspecting how the second fared.

I’d like to think Wishart can see that’s one rigged election!

A point here is that considering the overall logic, without looking at details of the paper, this isn’t the “groundbreaking” finding Wishart claims it to be.

It suggests—to my reading—that Wishart hasn’t even looked the paper’s claims before making claims about it himself. I’d have thought that poor journalism.

Either way: time for publication of a retraction or errata by Investigate Daily, then?

Weekend shorts (including Japan earthquake links) Grant Jacobs Mar 12

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A collection of links and comments on articles and discussions elsewhere that might interest my readers. I hope there is something here for everyone.

This post has been overtaken by the massive earthquake in Japan last evening, hitting with over 1000 times the force of the Feb. 22nd Christchurch earthquake. An early collection of images can be seen on the LA Time website (who also brought an excellent photo collection for the Feb. 22nd Christchurch earthquake); another can be found at the Boston Globe. The tsunami is clearly a major disaster, and has breached whatever tsunami walls were present. Japanese rescue workers assisting at Christchurch are travelling back to Japan to assist.

For New Zealand, Civil Defence statements on television are that the tsunami will hopefully only have an impact in upper Northland and mainly on boaties (e.g. strong currents). Advice is to stay away from beaches and rivers near coastlines, not to go swimming (etc.) and not to go sightseeing. The full advisory is available at the Civil Defence website.

ScienceInsider explains that the event was larger than was expected to occur. (‘And Japan’s latest national seismic risk map gave a 99% chance of a magnitude-7.5 or greater quake occurring in that area in the next 30 years, Geller says.’) John Horgan writing at Scientific American offers a few words on earthquake prediction and warning.

My thoughts and best wishes for all those in Japan.

The remainder of this post was written prior to the Japan earthquake.

Drawing the map of life - cover

The Human Genome Project celebrated it’s tenth anniversary a little while ago. Michael Morgan’s review of the Victor McElheny’s book, Drawing the Map of Life, has itself a potted history of the early stages of the project, one well worth reading. (I admit to a slight vested interest: I was a student at the institute that John Sulston worked at, at the time.)

Still on the subject of genomes, Emily Willingham writes about her and her partner’s experience of personal genomics.

Discussions You could try an interactive involvement and encourage those uncertain about Ken Ring’s earthquake ‘predictions’ to look more closely at his claims on his Facebook page. (Be warned, though, that this Facebook group has an element of a ‘fan’ scene with a few individuals thinking it their job to muscle out those who offer constructive criticism or point to sources of information.)

Read the rest of this entry »

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