Quote of the moment: Jonathan Weiner’s Pulitzer-winning explanation of mosquitoes developing immunity to DDT

April 30, 2010

When evolutionists study these worldwide resistance movements, they see four classes of adaptations arising, because an insect under attack has four possible routes to survival.

Jonathan Weiner, author of The Beak of the Finch

Jonathan Weiner, author of The Beak of the Finch, a story of evolution in our time

First, it can simply dodge. Strains of malarial mosquitoes in Africa used to fly into a hut, sting someone, and then land on the hut wall to digest their meals. In the 1950s and 1960s health workers began spraying hut walls with DDT. Unfortunately in every village there were always a few mosquitoes that would fly in through the window, bite, and fly right back out. Millions of mosquitoes died, but these few survived and multiplied. Within a short time almost all of the mosquitoes in the villages were hit-and-run mosquitoes.

Second, if an insect cannot dodge, it can evolve a way to keep the poison from getting under its cuticle. Some diamondback moths, if they land on a leaf that is tainted with pyrethroids, will fly off and leave their poisoned legs behind, an adaptive trick known as “legdrop.”

Third, if the insect can’t keep the poison out, it may evolve an antidote. A mosquito species called Culex pipiens can now survive massive doses of organophosphate insecticides. The mosquitoes actually digest the poison, using a suite of enzymes known as esterases. The genes that make these esterases are known as alleles B1 and B2. Many strains of Culex pipiens now carry as many as 250 copies of the B1 allele and 60 copies of the B2.

Because these genes are virtually identical, letter by letter, from continent to continent, it seems likely that they came from a single lucky mosquito. The mutant, the founder of this particular resistance movement, is thought to have lived in the 1960s, somewhere in Africa or Asia. The genes first appeared in Californian mosquitoes in 1984, in Italian mosquitoes in 1985, and in French mosquitoes in 1986.

Cover of Jonathan Weiner's book, The Beak of the Finch, a story of evolution in our time

Finally, if the insect can’t evolve an antidote,it can sometimes find an internal dodge. The poison has a target somewhere inside the insect’s body. The insect can shrink this target, or move it, or lose it. Of the four types of adaptations, the four survival strategies, this is the hardest for evolution to bring off — but [entomologist Martin] Taylor thinks this is how Heliothis [virescens, a cotton boll-eating moth] is evolving now.

“It always seems amazing to me that evolutionists pay so little attention to this kind of thing,” says Taylor. “And that cotton growers are having to deal with these pests in the very states whose legislatures are so hostile to the theory of evolution. Because it is evolution itself they are struggling against in their fields each season. These people are trying to ban the teaching of evolution while their own cotton crops are failing because of evolution. How can you be a creationist farmer any more?”

Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch, a story of evolution in our time, Alfred A. Knopf 1994, pp. 254-255. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction in 1995.


Airing the place out

March 22, 2010

Here’s a sign that that conservatives are — finally, but not quickly enough, if they are producing so much — drowning in their own bile.

Dr. Don Boudreaux at the Heritage Foundation

Dr. Don Boudreaux at the Heritage Foundation. Image copyright by Chas Geer

Over at Cafe Hayek (“Where orders emerge,” an economist’s joke), Don Boudreaux normally masquerades as a rational sort of guy.

But Sunday night?  He vents:

Watching tonight on television the charlatans who infest Pennsylvania Avenue gaudily pronounce their saintly motives and their deity-like powers to “guarantee world-class health care for every American” (as one creep put it to a NewsChannel 8 reporter here in DC) makes me want to vomit.

These people look like serious adults; the timber of their voices make them sound like serious adults; and their titles are ones that are assumed to be reserved for serious adults.  But, in fact, these people – from Obama to Pelosi to Hoyer to Reid – are nothing of the sort.

If they really believe even a quarter of the things they say, they’re imbeciles.  If they aren’t imbeciles, they’re scoundrels.  No third alternative is conceivable.

Either way, they’re an utterly detestable bunch.

He’s talking about elected officials.  He’s talking about the president of the United States.  He calls them “utterly detestable.”

Dialogue and thought lie broken down this much?  This is a rant one expects of certified lunatics like Orly Taitz.

Boudreaux, of course, comes from that class of the bourgeois where intellect is so congenital that it’s not even necessary to make a case for why one finds honorable people on the other side of an issue to be in error.  To Boudreaux, they’ve gone beyond error.  They are “detestable” people.  You know, abominable.  They are people worthy of hatred.

So, we might imagine, Boudreaux is untroubled by protesters calling Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) a “n—-r,” and spitting at him and on his colleague, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri).  Such racist actions are justified, if Lewis and Cleaver are truly worthy of hatred, no?  Boudreaux probably also finds victims of Parkinson’s disease “detestable,” and so would be untroubled by the mob in Columbus, Ohio, sharing Boudreaux’s views on health care, who mocked and tormented the Parkinson’s victim who expressed a different opinion and sat down.  “Communist!” they called him.

Demonization.  Dehumanization.  Objects worthy of hatred (a definition of “detestable) are not people who deserve respect.  We don’t need to offer them health care, we don’t need to listen to their views, we don’t need to honor their civil rights.

It’s conduct unbecoming.  Is Boudreaux so full of hubris that he cannot even entertain the idea that the bill is a good idea, the idea that Boudreaux may be a little bit in error?

We might also imagine that Don Boudreaux might get a good night’s sleep, wake up on Monday morning and rethink.

Somebody throw them a lifeline.  Maybe they can figure it out.  Churchill maybe put it best:  Democracy is the worst form of government conceived by the mind of man, except for all the others.  Sometimes you lose.  Sometimes you should lose.  Sometimes the people’s wisdom is greater than our own.


Climate skeptics right! A titanic win from leaked documents . . .

March 1, 2010

Titanic sinking, an artist's rendering

RMS Titanic sank? No one alive today saw it sink. According to Salt's site, iIntercepted memoranda raise doubts about alleged boat's alleged sinking, and alleged engineering and design errors.

Alun Salt has the full story:

I don’t know about you but I’ve been absolutely riveted by the recent release of records from a break-in at the White Star line. No really, it’s not just a stream of bilge from people who may not be experts but reckon something. Frankly I can’t get enough of hearing about the same claim that one memo by one of the workers on the Titanic project clearly confirms the ship was ‘unsinkable’. This should finally put to rest the biggest hoax of the 20th century, that the Titanic sunk in the North Atlantic. Still there’s always someone who isn’t going to find a bit of a memo quoted out-of-context convincing so it’s worth recapping the clear evidence that the ’sinking’ of the Titanic is a scam.

Specifics, with applause by Anthony Watts and Joanne Nova, at Archaeoastronomy.  (Well, no, not really;  neither Watts nor Nova would link to such a reasonable site as Salt’s.)


Mau-mauing the gullibles: Sirkin on DDT (again)

November 26, 2009

The hard core uneducables who make of the hard knot at the center of the anti-science and anti-environmental movement just refuses to jettison their adored myths about science, regardless how many times those myths are shown to be false.

It’s a religious exercise with them, and their faith in error and bad applications of science won’t be shaken.

Have you ever read Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic & Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers? Claiming Ruckelshaus an enemy of Africans and Rachel Carson a mass murderer is the new Radical Chic, and constant writing about it the new Mau-mauing.

Natalie Sirkin writes screeds for newspapers in Connecticut, I understand from an odd blog that collects these misdeeds, Don Pesci’s Connecticut Commentary:  Red Notes from a Blue State.

(Pesci has a particular fetish for DDT myths, and Sirkin’s been there, too.  He’s hard-core — no amount of information can sway him.)

Sirkin’s latest screed is “Myths for Fun and Profit,” and includes as one of the myths DDT’s ban in the U.S.  Her complaint is badly worded, but from the brief and grossly wrong explanation, we can see she thinks that DDT shouldn’t have been banned, and that map and calendar challenged, she thinks the ban on using DDT on cotton in the U.S. in 1972 somehow led to a rise in malaria in Africa in the 1980s. (Mosquitoes don’t travel that far, generally, either across the ocean from the U.S. to Africa, nor in time, from 1972 to 1980, nor the other way around.)

Sirkin wrote:

8….DDT, the most wonderful chemical ever. “It is estimated that in little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million deaths that would otherwise have been inevitable,” concluded the National Academy of Sciences in 1971, the year before EPA head William Ruckelshaus banned it. Thanks to Ruckelshaus, Rachel Carson, environmentalist extremists, and the WHO, millions of Africans including children are dying or disabled today.

Why, these irrational policy errors?

So I responded:

Banning DDT from agricultural use was an extremely rational act, as vouched for by the summary judgment against the DDT manufacturers in both of the cases brought against EPA for the ban, and as vouched for by the removal of the bald eagle and brown pelican from the Endangered Species List.

Sirkin wrote:  “DDT, the most wonderful chemical ever. ‘It is estimated that in little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million deaths that would otherwise have been inevitable,’ concluded the National Academy of Sciences in 1971, the year before EPA head William Ruckelshaus banned it.”

EPA relabeled DDT in 1972, not 1971, effectively banning the use of DDT on cotton.  Under that rule, DDT could be available to fight malaria in the U.S., and DDT was manufactured in the U.S. for export to anyone who wished to use it.  There has never been a ban on using DDT to fight malaria.

But DDT ceased to work well against malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the 1960s.  Africans are not stupid.  Had DDT been a panacea, I’m sure they would have used it.

But while I worry about your implicit denigration of Africans and Asians in suggesting they are somehow incapable of deciding for themselves to use an effective weapon against disease, I am more concerned at your erroneous characterization of DDT’s value.  The National Academy of Sciences made an editing error, so part of your error is understandable.  DDT was never credited with saving 500 million lives.  During the entire time DDT has been available to fight malaria, from 1946 to today, the death rate worldwide from malaria has never exceeded 4 million a year, and since the 1960s the death rate has been about a million year.  At 4 million deaths per year, to save 500 million lives, DDT would have had to have been used for 125 years prior to now.  Insecticidal properties of the stuff were discovered only in 1939, 70 years ago.

At about a million deaths per year, to save 500 million lives, DDT would have had to have been used for 500 years.

Clearly there was an error in math, or confusion in citations.  About 500 million people are afflicted with malaria annually, noted earlier in that NAS book, which is where I think the 500 million figure came from.

But let’s leave that aside for a moment.  That 1970 publication by the National Academy of Sciences was an evaluation of chemicals in the environment.  That sentence crediting DDT with saving so many lives, erroneous as it was, was in a call to ban DDT as quickly as possible, and to increase research to find alternatives to DDT in order to get DDT use completely stopped.

NAS recognized the value of DDT, but said it was too dangerous to keep using.

Don’t cite NAS’s credit to DDT without noting they said we must stop using it, because its dangers outweigh the benefits.

You can find a more thorough discussion of the NAS report at this blog. [You should go see, Dear Reader — neither Sirkin nor Pesci will likely ever bother.]

Sirkin wrote:
“Thanks to Ruckelshaus, Rachel Carson, environmentalist extremists, and the WHO, millions of Africans including children are dying or disabled today.”

With the great assistance of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and continued efforts of the World Health Organization, several African nations have cut malaria rates by 50% to 85% with the use of bednets and “integrated vector management” (IVM), usually known as integrated pest management (IPM) in the U.S.

Anyone who reads Carson’s astoundingly accurate book knows that she did not call for a ban on DDT, but instead called for the use of an integrated program of pest management.  Had we listened to Rachel Carson in 1962, we could have saved several million children from death, in Africa, from malaria alone.  It is scurrilous, calumnous, and inaccurate to the point of sin to blame Rachel Carson for deaths caused by failure to listen to her and heed her words.

Ruckelshaus acted with full knowledge of the National Academy of Science’s calling for an end to DDT use due to its harms, known and then unknown.  It is foolish to blame people for acting with hard evidence and careful, rational thought.  It’s particularly ungraceful to then accuse them of acting irrationally.

I doubt that either Pesci or Sirkin will ever change their tune.  They’d have to concede that science works, that scientists are not all evil, and that sometimes environmentalists, and even liberals, get things right.  More importantly, they’d have to concede they erred — and that would be like Baum’s Wicked Witch of the West taking a shower.


Creationist: Murdering Jews may be preferable to lying to prevent the murder

November 14, 2009

I’m cutting the monster a lot of slack with the headline.

P. Z. Myers publicized the e-mail exchange involving Bodie Hodge, a minor deity at the anti-science, creationist organization Answers in Genesis (AiG).  Myers was nice to the guy, contrary to the usual creationist cartoon of Myers as somehow immoral for being a non-worshipper of gods.  Well, he was nicer than I would have been.  But Myers expects Christians to exhibit no sense of shame, no common sense, and twisted morality.  I expect bettter of them.

A reader posed that age-old question to Hodge:  Is the Christian rule against lying so strong that a Christian should tell Nazi troops where Jewish families are hiding?  Hodge weasels later by saying he hopes he never has to make such a choice, and that he really doesn’t know how he’d act in that situation.  But this comes only after he says that telling  a lie to Nazis to save Jews will get one burned in hell.  And then he goes on to note it’s better to be in good with God than to act morally.

In other words, better to become an accomplice in the murder of Jews than to stand up against murderers.

I don’t get how these charlatans of religion, reason to such a point.

What would Jesus do?  We know.  When the crowd was threatening to stone to death a woman guilty of adultery and she sought refuge with Jesus, Jesus stood up to the mob and saved her life.  Just execution of Biblical law or shelter the accused, Jesus stood against the murder, even murder sanctioned by the religious rules of the community.

We also know that scripture endorses deception from time to time.  You know these AiG clowns are charlatans when they say stupid stuff like this.  Hodge tries to explain away another case of deception by inventing a scenario not found in scripture in which the lie doesn’t get told.

He’s forgotten the story of Jacob and Esau, and how Jacob and his mother conpsired to deceive Isaac in order to steal away Esau’s birthright (Esau and Jacob were twins, by the way).  Jacob got away with the deed, was then blessed by God.  He took a new name:  Israel.  He lived on to be the seed of Judaism, the religion Jesus followed and the foundation of Christianity.

To AiG, it appears that scripture is just a dusty old book, except when they can twist it to support their bigotry.  Here’s irony for you:  The story of Jacob is in Genesis.  You know, as in “Answers in Genesis.”  They don’t even know their own namesake book!

Here in America, as a nation we overcame that morality-or-religion problem with Huck Finn.  The ill-educated young teen, an absentee to grammar, faces the moral decision as he floats down the Mississippi with Jim, an escaped slave who has saved Huck’s life and is in other ways a very good friend.  Huck notes that the preachers are all agreed that Huck’s moral duty is to turn Jim in as an escaped slave, to condemn Jim to a continued life of slavery, should Jim survive the lashing.  Huck Finn puts the dilemma squarely:  Whether to obey God and turn in Jim to the authorities, or to burn in hell and let Jim live the life of a free man.  Huck agonizes, but decides:  He’ll burn in hell rather than give away his friend.

Myers wrote:

As a non-Bible believing amoral godless atheist, my first thought was that this is trivial: you lie your pants off. The ‘crime’ of telling a lie pales into insignificance against the crime of enabling the death of fellow human beings.

According to Bodie Hodge of AiG, though, I’m wrong. The good Christian should reject lies, Satan’s tools, in all circumstances, and should immediately ‘fess up the location of the Jews. He backs it up with Bible quotes, too.

If we love God, we should obey Him (John 14:15). To love God first means to obey Him first–before looking at our neighbor. So, is the greater good trusting God when He says not to lie or trusting in our fallible, sinful minds about the uncertain future?

Consider this carefully. In the situation of a Nazi beating on the door, we have assumed a lie would save a life, but really we don’t know. So, one would be opting to lie and disobey God without the certainty of saving a life–keeping in mind that all are ultimately condemned to die physically. Besides, whether one lied or not may not have stopped the Nazi solders from searching the house anyway.

As Christians, we need to keep in mind that Jesus Christ reigns. All authority has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18), and He sits on the throne of God at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33; Hebrews 8:1). Nothing can happen without His say. Even Satan could not touch Peter without Christ’s approval (Luke 22:31). Regardless, if one were to lie or not, Jesus Christ is in control of timing every person’s life and able to discern our motives. It is not for us to worry over what might become, but rather to place our faith and obedience in Christ and to let Him do the reigning. For we do not know the future, whereas God has been telling the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).

Gosh. I never thought of it that way. So…all those Christians who sheltered Jews during WWII are actually burning in hell right now for their sinful wickedness? That is so counterintuitive, it must be true!

One more time we should side with morality, and against creationist distortions of Christianity and morality.

With all the learning they get at that reeking cesspool the creationism museum, you’d think they could demonstrate the moral fiber of a tobacco-chewing, food-stealing, school-cutting runaway teen, Huckleberry Finn.

Full AiG post below the fold (I expect them to strike it down when they rethink; let all Christians pray to God they do rethink).

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Anti-Gore film’s producer tries tantrum to get publicity

October 13, 2009

Phelim McAleer, one of the producers of the anti-Al Gore film “Not Evil, Just Wrong,” sneaked into a Gore press event and threw a tantrum the other day.

Why is this relevant?  Oh, the tantrum was rude, but if you’re a hack film producer with a political screed whose film looks like a flop, you’ll do anything to get publicity for the film.  Perhaps we should not be too critical of publicity whores.

It’s not relevant because of that.

It’s relevant because one of the charges against Gore by the fruit-and-nut brigade is that Gore refuses to talk to the press.  How can they complain about Gore’s treatment of them when any mention of this event makes the Gore critics appear untruthful?


Use of evidence in science: Homeopathy and nutritionists take a laughable hit

October 9, 2009

Dara O’Briain?  Never heard of him before.

But he’s spot on here, isn’t he?

(Warning:  Not exactly safe for work or school — the “f” word is spoken aloud.]

An ironic tip of the old scrub brush to Gandolf, in comments at Dunamis Word, in an otherwise futile discussion with creationists who claim to have an ounce of rationality left in them.


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