Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ardi Shook Science to its Roots

Ardi Shook Science To Its Roots

by Bill Allin, author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to understand all the ways children develop, not just intellectually. People have problems when they don't know.

"From studying Ardipithecus ramidus, or Ardi, we learn that we cannot understand or model human evolution from chimps and gorillas."
- Owen Lovejoy, a lead author of one of the 11 studies of Ardi that appeared in the journal Science.

Science labelled the discovery of Ardi (more accurately, the revelations of study results of Ardi) the biggest scientific breakthrough of 2009.

At this stage, the study of Ardi and the ramifications of the changes of thinking that will come from it are just beginning. This article will add a few important observations to what we in the general public should learn from the whole exercise. Different information to ponder.

First and foremost is that the lead author of a respected scientific study admitted that the theory (that human evolutionary models could be devised from ape models) that was cherished so long it became thought of as fact, was wrong.

As much as we look somewhat like apes, especially so in the case of young chimpanzees, we differ significantly. The theory claimed that our prehistoric and prehuman ancestors lived in trees and only emerged from the African jungle to walk upright, learn to run and hunt on the savannah.

Cats and birds, for examples, live in trees (at least cats are as comfortable in trees as they are on the ground). Cats and birds can hang upside down from a tree branch and their brains will adjust to the orientation so that they can understand the scene as well as if they were standing upright.

Humans cannot. Stand up now, spread your legs and bend your head down so you look between your legs at the scene behind you. It simply doesn't make as much sense as it would if you were standing upright even though you know the components of the scene you are trying to look at. Your brain cannot adapt to what it understands as a scene that is non-conventional, that is not oriented to the way it wants to understand a floor or ground level scene.

Can you not bend that far? Interesting. Cats and birds can do that for their whole lives. Most can also keep their bodies steady and turn their heads almost completely around to face behind them (some can even do it more than 180 degrees). That would be useful for animals that spend a great deal of time in trees.

If you have observed a pet cat--perhaps one climbing on you--then you have likely seen it hang upside down (at least its head would be upside down according to common orientation) and yet have no trouble understanding everything in the scene. Birds can do the same. To a cat or a bird, there is no upside down, only different orientations of the head, to which their brains easily adapt and adjust immediately.

Monkeys and their kin can do the same. You may have seen one in a zoo, on television or in a movie hanging upside by a foot, or even by its tail. They understand the scenes around them no matter what orientation their heads have to view the scene.

We humans can't. No matter how practiced we become, viewing a scene from a non-conventional perspective is always "not right" to us.

Why? If we did indeed once live in trees, we had no reason to lose what was once a critically important ability. We may lose body parts because we have no use for them (prehensile tail of the human fetus that disappears after the fifth month, wisdom teeth that will soon not appear in future generations, useless organs we can have removed and easily live without), but there is no example of humans or other animals losing inherent skills or abilities they once had.

We may no longer be able to do things we once did because our bodies have changed shape or configuration slightly, but we don't lose the skill within our brain should we ever need it. The potential is still there. Yet we still can't understand a scene that is "upside down" to our brain.

Even the reason science gives for humans losing their body hair is lame. The claim is that humans lost their body hair because it would have been too hot to run around the plains hunting in a fur coat. So we lost our fur coats so we could expose our bare skin to ultraviolet radiation from the sun (more direct, thus damaging, in Africa than in temperate zones) so we could contract skin cancer more easily?

That doesn't make sense. Evolution has never been shown to work to create more health risk in any animal. That would be counter to natural selection. Besides, do monkeys not get hot from swinging around in the trees? I would, if I had that ability and strength, hairy or naked. But I don't now and I didn't as a child, though I climbed awkwardly (by ape standards) in some trees.

The claim that hair in the crotch and armpits helps to dispel sweat, which is why we still grow it in those places, would apply as well to hair anywhere else on the body. Sweat would evaporate more quickly from crotch and armpits without hair to slow down the movement of air across them. If not, then women who shave those places today would be sweatier than women who let their hair grow. I'm not an expert, but I have never heard of that being a problem of women who shave.

Why do we retain head hair? To protect us from the sun? That argument should give more reason why we should retain all-body hair, not lose it. We can wash hair and skin (cooling off in the water at the same time), but we can't slough off melanoma.

Why do we like water so much? Never mind that most of our bodies consist of water as that applies to all animals and plants. Archaeologists looking for ancient human habitation almost always look near water. Or they look near where water once was in the prehistoric past.

Why? We can get enough water into our bodies the way monkeys and other animals do.

We also swim differently from most land animals that spend part of their lives in water. A dog swims using the dog paddle (elephants, excellent swimmers, swim the same way). A dog swims this way so easily because its face and nose are, compared to the locations of our own, on top of their heads. A dog doesn't have to lift its head to swim because its nose is already above water as it floats.

That convenient location of the nose and eyes for dogs did not cause them to lose their fur because they hunt and basically live on land. Elephants, on the other hand, are naked, can find food in the water, and they have webbing between their toes like a duck.

It seems highly likely that our prehuman ancestors--in the Pliocene period--spent a good deal of time in the water. There we lost our body hair, retained it in crotch and armpits for warmth and on the head so our babies could hold onto it. Ever held out your finger to a young baby and had it grasp the finger naturally? For more on this see Elaine Morgan's The Descent of Woman.

If the experts that study the history of our own species are so careless, so inexact, so arrogant about teaching theory that doesn't even meet the criterion of common sense examination, as if it were established fact, how much confidence can we place in any scientific claims made with the certainty of experts?

Theory is not fact, by its very definition, though theory is often taught as if it were fact. Even the laws of physics bear questioning. Remember reading about when light was believed to travel in straight lines, when time and space were linear, when the earth was the centre of the universe and when an object was in one place it couldn't be anywhere else? Not anymore. Evidence proves that these "facts" of science were wrong.

We may be wrong to adopt fantastic stories masquerading as religion (my story is always better and truer than yours), but we would be equally as mistaken to accept all statements by science as fact, no matter how confidently and passionately the statements are made.

We humans do not really know as much as we claim we do. We just act as if we know more, as if we are always right. It's called hubris. We teach it to our kids.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to understand all the ways children develop, not just intellectually. People have problems when they don't know.
Learn more at

Friday, December 18, 2009

Big Business Manipulates the Climate Change Debate

Big Business Manipulates the Climate Change Debate

by Bill Allin, author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to grow children who can think instead of simply accepting life as it imposes itself on them.

We allow our ignorance to prevail upon us and make us think we can survive alone, alone in patches, alone in groups, alone in races, even alone in genders.
- Maya Angelou, American educator, autobiographer and poet (b. 1928)

manufactroversy n. (neologism) A contrived or non-existent controversy, manufactured by political ideologues or interest groups who use deception and specious arguments to make their case.

Is the temperature of the planet really warming? No. The dirt and rock are not getting warmer.

Is the average temperature of the atmosphere above our planet warming? That's the core of the debate. Is climate change real and based solely on human activity or simply a cyclical feature of nature? That's the issue.

The arguments for climate change are based on computer models, which are based on sketchy facts from the past and questionable data from the present. Sketchy facts from the past because today's technology was not available more than a few years ago.

Questionable data? A Canadian blogger discovered a simple arithmetic error in the calculations by NASA based on its satellite readings, making the atmosphere seem a fraction of a degree warmer than it actually was. NASA satellite readings form the core of most computer climate model inputs.

Read that story here. But don't expect to find either the correction of NASA's data or conclusions on its web site or an admission that it made the error. You won't.

No one can doubt that the ice cap over the Arctic Ocean is thinning. Travelling by ship through the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific, through northern Canada, is possible now. That trip that caused the deaths of so many explorers and their shipmates over past centuries of our history has not been possible for over a thousand years. Yes, the Northwest Passage was open in the distant past.

No one can doubt that some countries that usually experience hot seasons are having it hotter than ever, with a few actually desertifying, especially in the Middle East and the Sahel around the Sahara in Africa.

However, ask the people who live in Edmonton, Canada, how much warmer they feel. One Saturday night in mid December 2009 their overnight low temperature was -46.1 degrees Celsius. (At that temperature Celsius and Fahrenheit have almost similar numbers.) That record cold was 10 degrees lower than the previous record cold night. Not one or two degrees colder, but 10.

Edmonton is the capital city of a Canadian province, not a northern territory. It's not sub-Arctic. It's province, Alberta, hit new power usage records in two successive weeks as Albertans tried to keep from freezing. The whole Canadian west was a deep freeze for the first part of the winter of 2009.

Eastern Canada was different. Maritimers had their summer in 2009, but it only lasted three days. The whole of spring, summer and autumn were cool and very wet. The previous two winters had old timers claiming they had never seen so much snow, so many storms, so much rainfall in a single season.

Cool and wet. Exactly what the climate models should predict when the air warms. Warm air collects more moisture from the oceans, which results in more cloud (less sun to warm the earth) and more rain.

In the 1970s the prediction was that we might have a new Ice Age based on the same data being used today, but different climate models. Canada's weather over the past two years would support that claim, though two years can never constitute a trend.

No one can doubt that those who believe in climate change feel strongly enough about it to fight for grants to study climate models and data more than their opponents. No one should doubt that some people, including a number of well respected scientists, believe that climate shift is natural and cyclical. Their work is available on the internet.

Why is there debate? The simplest conclusion is that there is money to be made. From scientific study of climate, not from climate change itself.

While few among us may know that industries puff out half a million different chemicals into the air, we all seem to know that carbon dioxide is the worst culprit for the greenhouse effect that eventually warms the atmosphere. We all know that breathing too much carbon dioxide is unhealthy, may even kill some of us.

We have not put together what we know, let alone figured out the debate most of us can't understand. While we argue over whether or not global temperatures are rising, whether or not our atmosphere is warming, whether human industries and habits directly affect that change or not, industries and government continue to pour extraordinary amounts of carbon dioxide into the air we breathe.

They have no need to spend on changing anything so long as we fight over whether the atmospheric temperature might change by a portion of one degree over a few decades.

We continue to breathe poisonous air. Industries and government owned power plants puff out obscene amounts of poisonous gases into our air. And nothing changes because we are arguing over whether global temperatures are rising or staying steady.

Who wins that scenario?

Those who believe that nothing should change in nature are wrong. History is full of examples. The Mediterranean Sea used to be a plain and the Sahara Desert used to be a giant lake. That's change. Tropical beasts used to roam what is now the north of Canada, Russia and Alaska until the last Ice Age arrived a few thousands years ago. That's change. Changes that happened not so long ago by historical standards.

History should teach us that nature changes by itself. It doesn't need our help. It will change with or without us.

Our own limited knowledge should tell us that we should not be arguing over whether climate is changing while we ignore manufacturing facilities putting millions of tons of poisonous gases into the air we breathe.

No one should doubt that life on earth today is different than it was before the Industrial Revolution. The main difference is not a small change in atmospheric temperature, but a huge increase in diseases that have never before been a problem on earth and the poisonous air we breathe that has caused them since the Industrial Revolution began.

While we debate a small change in atmospheric temperature, we continue to breathe poisonous air. Industries that are fundamentally sociopathic in their quest for profits benefit from our debate because they don't have to change anything.

We continue to get sick. We continue to die. We continue to argue over climate change when the issue is massive poisoning on a global scale.

Who wins? Who benefits while we argue?

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to grow children who can think instead of simply accepting life as it imposes itself on them.
Learn more at

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why Coughing Into Your Elbow Is Wrong

Why Coughing Into Your Elbow Is Wrong

You likely grew up, as I did, being told to cover your mouth and nose with your hand when you cough or sneeze. That has changed.

We are now told to cough or sneeze into the elbow of a sleeve. One commercial currently on television shows a woman carrying a laundry basket and coughing into her shoulder. All in the aid of avoiding the spread of "germs."

Here's the problem. Rather, a combination of them. Let's begin with the objective, confining germs that would normally be spread into the air by coughing or sneezing.

When you cover your mouth and nose with your hand, you prevent most of what comes out of them from reaching anyone else. Witness the fact that sometimes your hand got a bit wet. (I know, the subject is unpleasant, but the title should have warned you.) When you cough or sneeze into your sleeve elbow, a good deal of what comes out of your mouth or nose will miss the fabric.

When you cover your mouth with your hand to cough or sneeze, you can wash your hand. You should wash them anyway, several times a day, so that should not be an imposition. If you have a cold or cough, you can carry disposable tissues.

When you cough or sneeze into your sleeve, it's highly unlikely you will change your clothing until a much later time. What is highly likely is that you will cough or sneeze again and use the same sleeve. When you cough or sneeze, the immediate reflex is to inhale to replace the expelled air. You do that before turning away from your sleeve, which means that you then inhale your own germs.

The whole purpose of using disposable tissues rather than the old style handkerchief was so you could avoid breathing in the same germs you blew into the handkerchief last time. Most of us got that message: don't inhale the germs you sneezed or coughed out last time.

As the saying goes, do the math. Coughing or sneezing into your sleeve causes as much as 90 percent of germs that may exit your mouth or nose to escape into the air around you. Always at least 50 percent escapes.

If you have a colleague who smokes, ask that person to inhale from a cigarette then blow the smoke back out again into their sleeve, as a person would when sneezing or coughing. It may shock you how little smoke sticks to the fabric and how much makes its way into the air. The example isn't perfect, but it will serve its purpose.

People in North America were asked to switch from cloth handkerchiefs to disposable paper tissues a few decades ago to avoid having us breathe our own germs when we coughed or sneezed into handkerchiefs. The same thinking still applies.

The more often a person with a cold or cough expels air into their sleeve, believing that they are doing right by those around them, the more people will catch colds and coughs from them. And the more often those same people may re-infect themselves. The more people get colds and coughs, the more OTC (over the counter) medications the drug manufacturers will sell.

When we learn our health habits from the people who make medicines, we must understand that these companies have far less interest in our health than in our cash, their bottom lines.

We have good reason to believe that coughing or sneezing into our own sleeves may cause more disease than it avoids. Who wins with that scenario?

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, an easy to read guidebook for teachers and parents who want to teach the right lessons to their children at the best possible times to aid their development.
Learn more at

Saturday, December 12, 2009

When The Experts Are Just Plain Wrong

When The Experts Are Just Plain Wrong

'I doubt that the imagination can be suppressed. If you truly eradicated it in a child, he would grow up to be an eggplant.'
- Ursula K. Le Guin, American author (b. 1929)

'You must not change one thing, one pebble, one grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on that act. The world is in balance, in Equilibrium.'
- Ursula K. Le Guin, American author (b. 1929)

If these two quotes give evidence of one thing, it's that just because a person is an expert in one thing does not give him the right to believe that he is on every subject.

By virtue of the needs of his art, a writer must be a thinker. However, there is no requirement that the thinking be clear, orderly, logical or that the material presented must be truthful. We need only follow the spoutings of pastors and politicians to show that.

Members of other professions, experienced with receiving respect for their knowledge and skills within the context of their work, often come to believe that their thinking must be correct on all subjects. Engineers and architects, for example, seldom admit they don't know something. We call it arrogance when they act as if others don't know what they are talking about and hubris when they can't imagine being wrong.

As admirable as Le Guin's writings are, especially her utopian science fiction, I can't help taking issue with the two quotes that began this article. They are based on her thinking, her understanding of the world. On the subjects of education (child development) and ecology, her understanding may be of questionable value to the rest of us.

First, it's true that children do not grow into eggplants. However, many grow into adults with precious little imagination and ability to think for themselves. Consider that the average American, for example, has his television running more than five hours a day. Television, the great stupidifier, encourages people to not think by providing them with whatever the producer wants his audience to know and believe. Viewers are not allowed to think for themselves if they follow the producer's intentions.

Look at the lineup of television programs that grace (or disgrace) the screen these days and you will find faked reality shows, home videos that show people at their absolute stupidest, soap operas that demonstrate the worst in human morals and compassion and advertising designed to convince simple minds that they should become poor and unhealthy by buying the products advertised.

Not eggplants, no. But television is doing its best to bring human intelligence down to the level close to at least a smart eggplant. When the computer is the entertainment of choice, we have YouTube to show us that many people have reached that level of intelligence already.

Ursula Le Guin seems to live in a world protected from the realities of entertainment by the average person. For one thing, she reads, which gives her perspectives that non-readers never experience. Reading stimulates the imagination as television, the internet, movies and video games never can. She can't conceive of people not having an imagination. She is sadly mistaken.

As an educator who has taught young children as well as older ones, I can tell you that imagination has been all but eliminated (at least channeled) in many of them before they leave primary school. As I classroom teacher I found it hard to stimulate children to be creative in non-traditional ways.

As for ecology, Le Guin is correct that the universe is in equilibrium. However, she is dead wrong that nothing should change. Nature itself is the greatest force for change.

When one factor changes or many change as a result of natural disaster or human tragedy, nature regroups and establishes a new equilibrium.

Look what happened after the disaster 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs disappeared. Whether an asteroid struck our planet or climate change eliminated the food dinosaurs ate matters little now. What matters is that mammals succeeded them, and here we are.

Look what happened 225 million years ago when as much as 97 percent of life on land and 85 percent of life in the oceans were wiped out.

Nature adjusts. The universe establishes equilibrium with whatever conditions exist at the time. No matter if we destroyed ourselves, nature would adjust to a new equilibrium.

When Le Guin recommends that we "must not change one thing" for fear of upsetting the equilibrium she fails to understand the concept. In fact, we must change what we do that is destructive, at the least.

We need to consider as many consequences of what we do as we can possibly conceive. We will never know them all, positive or negative. We will always make mistakes and have some successes.

What's more important is that we must not let those who will profit in the future from mistakes we allow to be made today convince us that we are doing the right thing by ignoring the negative consequences of the action. As the saying goes: if something looks too good to be true, it likely is.

US wars in Iraq and Vietnam spring to mind, events costing millions of lives and trillions of dollars. With nothing gained from either but obscene wealth for suppliers of war materials and fuels. Education, meanwhile, suffers as teachers must do without more and more.

Demanding that politicians tell us the truth and the whole truth will never work. The only thing that will work is to educate all people, all children, and to promote diligence and civic responsibility actively.

Doing nothing out of fear of making mistakes and allowing the imaginations of our children to be destroyed through rigid teaching methods and strict control (consider the tragedies of Zero Tolerance, for example) do nothing to make the world a better place.

Denying the truth simply makes it worse. We teach and learn or we suffer the consequences.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to know what to teach children that will help their development, and when.
Learn more at