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9-11

First post I’ve written in a while. Two weeks abroad and food poisoning will sap your will to write, I can tell you.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one out there, but have you noticed on the TV that the tributes paid by the priests and religious are slightly ironic?

I don’t doubt that these people aren’t being genuine in terms of their remorse and horror at what happened; pretty much everyone, theists and atheists alike, are in agreement that this was a cowardly and despicable act that punished and killed thousands of innocent people as they went about their lives. It is not this sentiment I object to. What I do object to and find repulsive, is the religious trying to turn the events of 9-11 into something of meaning and purpose. There was no deep meaning, no higher purpose, and no divine or supernatural power at work that day. Only the sick and twisted machinations of people who were too brainwashed by their faith to know (or care) that what they were doing was evil.

The christians of America can rationalise it however they want, but at the end of the day what kind of god would allow such an atrocity to happen? A sick vengeful one? One guy I saw on TV who escaped the south tower said that god sent him a ‘guardian angel’ to guide him out of the tower. Oh yeah? And what about the 2,996 people who didn’t make it out? Where were their guardian angels? Why did they have to die? What about all the survivors who now have chronic lung disease but cause they inhaled the toxic dust left over from the collapse? Did your god think it necessary to draw out their deaths, prolonging their suffering? Fuck off. I think people need to wake up to the fact that religion is what caused these events to transpire in the first place. Religion has no place in a civilised society.

Religious faith is a massive liability, and I firmly believe that if our species is going to survive this century we must purge ourselves of it. I remember like it was yesterday when the towers came down. I was 14 and had just come home from school when I saw it all unfold live on TV. I remember feeling numb, like I was watching a movie or something, but knowing that it was all real; that when the towers fell people were dying.  All of the mourning and services that go on today will no doubt have a religious tone attached to them, but this is unnecessary and frankly insulting to the people that died that day. The idea that a god exists did not save those people, but it sure as hell killed them thanks to the deluded maniacs in those planes

I am a plant breeder. Many people have no idea what that entails and I don’t blame them; but it’s bloody frustrating not being able to convey exactly what the hell I do! So I thought I’d give it a go on here.

When you go to the supermarket and pick up a vegetable, a fruit, a nut – all of it has been bred (probably) to look and taste exactly as it is. Have you ever noticed how carrots or cabbages are all roughly the same size? Again, that’s because of people like me breeding new varieties for people to pick up and eat. People want their food to look nice and to look the same each time they buy it. The process can take years or even decades because of the length of many plant life-cycles. I’m personally quite lucky in that I breed salad crops mostly and these have very short generation times, typically 4-6 months. Carrots or parsnips take much longer; up to two years!

So how is it done? Well to oversimplify it a bit, we find a trait of interest such as a nice colour in one plant and disease resistance in another. Then we cross pollinate the two to introduce the characters into an offspring population. This can then either be screened for the best individuals that have the two traits together (repeatedly through a process called backcrossing, which is what takes up most of the time!) or if you are lazy, pick out the best plants and produce some seed to sell to farmers or small producers. You would not believe the amount of time and effort that goes into producing the broccoli stick you’re munching on, or the lettuce in your salad..

So if it’s so slow why bother? Well up until recently only massive companies could afford the technology to speed things up a bit. This mainly involves a process known as Marker Assisted Selection (MAS for short) where the genetics of plants are screened to ‘see’ what characteristics the plants are likely to take on when they are fully grown and on the supermarket shelf; such as taste or nutrition content. This means all the crap plants can be filtered out before any of them are more than a few inches tall. If it’s done well, this can save huge amounts of time and money. But this is NOT genetic modification! It wouldn’t be a bad thing if it were in my opinion, but many misinformed and/or ignorant individuals tar everything with their same deluded brush.

MAS looks at the genetics and does not alter it in any way. GM typically introduces only one or two genes into a plant population, amounting to little more than a few hundred base pairs (the small molecules that make up DNA). When you consider a plants’ genome is usually several billion base pairs in length this is nothing in comparison. Mutations in the genetic code happen all the time. They are happening in your body right now. Are you being genetically modified? No; this is a natural process that can be used as a tool for breeders to make better crops, and to feed more people with in a growing world. How is that a bad thing?

But GM can give you cancer right!? The loon on the TV said so!!

‘Fraid not. You’ve probably more chance of getting cancer from your computer screen right now than from GM crops. How anyone ever surmised that introducing a gene for higher yield is somehow connected to cancer I don’t know. There has been no rigorous study thus far that has made any such link to my knowledge. There’s nothing that goes into GM that isn’t there to begin with; the only difference is how the plant interprets the information that is in the form of those 4 magic letters A,T,C and G. That’s DNA baby.

Most places in the world are starting to use GM now, except Europe. But it’s not the only way to get ahead. Theres a new fandangled method using Zinc Finger Nucleases that looks very promising but I won’t bore you with that…

Suffice to say that whatever vegetable, fruit (or meat for that matter) you decide to eat, it has been ‘made’ by breeders to be that way, whether you like it or not. Some companies use GM, others use bees to cross-pollinate flowers. In the end it’s all pretty much the same result. So next time you’re at the shop thinking what greens to buy you might have some idea of what it is I do for a living.

Maybe…

Okay, here’s what not to do if you fancy doing some home-grown physics experiments: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-14406766

Most people would decide to play with magnets or build a model solar system… but this Swedish dude thought it would be a good idea to split the atom in his kitchen!! Not only that but he was dumb enough to ask the authorities if what he was doing was legal… erm, yes? Kudos to the guy though; he obviously has balls. But the nuclear material would likely make them sterile pretty quickly I would imagine…

In other news, scientists have apparently found water on Mars!! Sounds exciting, and will hopefully prove accurate. No doubt we will have far fetched dreams of rivers running freely there before long, but let’s not jump the gun on this one. It could just be god taking a piss down one of the Martian mountainsides…

Atheist Blogroll

Howdy. I have been added to The Atheist Blogroll. You can see the blogroll at http://atheistblogroll.blogspot.com. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information!

Okay, check this out. Classic religious insanity and cruelty on display here. A small boy was forced to write down on a piece of paper a list of his sins… and then told to eat it! How fucked up can you get?

http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2011/07/25/schoolboy-made-to-write-sorry-on-piece-of-paper-then-eat-it/

Hello,

Chances are if you’re reading this, my blog has been discovered absolutely randomly. You may be an atheist like me, or someone of religious faith. Either way it makes no difference to me; I just wanted a platform to express my take on the world. Everyone else seems to do it so why the hell can’t I?

My main reason for writing this is to scrutinise the world media and the way stories are presented therein. Being a scientist, I often read things in the paper or in the news that are scientifically baseless or just downright wrong. Sometimes stories and research gets twisted by the media to suit their political agendas. This pisses me off. I hope to use my blog as a means, not only for venting my frustration, but also to inform people less scientifically minded about the actual meaning behind science related stories.

I don’t think I’ll be limited to this remit, however. I have a notoriously nerdy sense of humour, so don’t be surprised if there are random references to Klingons, Jawas, Cylons or sandworms.

As I write, the top science news is that a 2007 Arctic wildfire has released large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, equivalent to that which is stored in the Arctic tundra in an entire year… So quite a lot then. The abstract and article can be found at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v475/n7357/full/nature10283.html. That amount of carbon came from an area roughly the size of Hong Kong. The authors suggest that this may be a positive feedback response from global warming. This would also coincide with the steady drop in Arctic sea ice over the last few decades (http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/). Climate change skeptics would argue that all of this is the result of natural processes taking out their natural course devoid of any influence by man. They would argue this despite the overwhelming volume of scientific data to the contrary. In 1950, the population of our planet was roughly 2.5 billion people; and in 60 years that figure has almost trebled after increasing at a steady rate for the previous 150 years (Earth had a population of approximately 1 billion people in 1800). Regardless of scientific evidence, common sense would tell any intelligent person that that number of people consuming resources like gas and oil is going to affect our planet in some way. But here’s where the political motivations come into play when reporting the science of things. The best example I can think of was in the last US presidential campaign, where Palin constantly promoted how oil was the key to America’s future. Here are just a few of her ridiculous statements:

“A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I’m not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.”

“When oil and gas prices went up dramatically and filled up the state treasury, I sent a large share of that revenue back where it belonged – directly to the people of Alaska.”

“Buck up or stay in the truck.”

Okay that last one was just funny; but as is plain for all to see, this woman is a dangerous idiot who either doesn’t understand the science or just chooses to ignore it; I am inclined to think it’s both to be honest, and if you ask me, had the Republicans won that election we may very well be looking at WWIII and our own extinction…

Everybody knows that Republicans largely ignore science in favour of their conservative (and outdated) views. This goes for politics and religion, if it’s even possible for them to separate the two… Politicians who largely have no clue at all about scientific processes and methods get to decide how the subject is presented to an audience that is probably even less well informed than them. And what do the press do? Get behind a candidate and back their views, denouncing the good work and names of those individuals that have worked for years to produce the figures in the first place. Is this right? If you ask me, it is not. I don’t have an answer on how to run things better, but I’ll keep you posted..

And so this is how the ‘climate change debate’ has come about; completely unnecessarily. Had science and common sense prevailed we would have a clear strategy for reducing our carbon emissions, but no. Politicians make meagre gestures to make it appear like something is being done, but its nowhere near enough. I believe  that in my lifetime civilisation as we know it will have changed beyond all recognition. In which direction I’m not sure, but it’s looking like the wrong one.

On that cheery note I’m going to bugger off.

Play safe campers.