Friday, November 16, 2007
The glee with which many of the faithful pounce on breathless tales of
deathbed conversions by famous atheists, from Thomas Paine and George
Washington to Charles Darwin, can be humorous. The just released, "There
Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind," by
Anthony Flew with Roy Abraham Varghese (HarperCollins, 2007) breaks new
ground in the deathbed conversion genre. Varghese composed Flew's
conversion for him without waiting for the inevitable. In the New York
Times Magazine, Mark Oppenheimer says Flew, 84, is suffering aphasia. His
conversion to deism is attributed by Flew to new findings about DNA: He
can't see where the first DNA came from. Neither can anybody else - yet.
Who voted Flew "the world's most notorious atheist" anyway?
Nature magazine yesterday carried the report of an Oregon group that
created the world's first cloned primate embryos from skin cells, allowing
embryonic stem cells to be harvested. This had previously been achieved
only in the mouse, and after years of failure, some thought it would not
be possible in humans. There are practical problems, such as the need for
human eggs, but it has increased optimism in the field. Since the stem
cells can only replace tissue in the donor, it should not rouse ethical
concerns, but of course it will - witness yesterday's defeat of the stem-
cell initiative in New Jersey.
"Pain," hospital staffs are told, "is what the patient says it is." But
the placebo effect and people faking it make the lack of a good metric a
major obstacle in medical treatment and research. That may be about to
change. According to Nature, researchers at the University of Oxford
reported at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego last week
that they've found a neural signal that correlates with pain. Low-
frequency brainwaves picked up by electrodes positioned in the thalamus
and the periaqueductal grey area seem to provide an objective measure of
pain that correlates with subjective judgment.
Warming is caused by atmospheric contaminants that change the energy
balance with the sun. Last week an "elite" group talked about sending up
vast amounts of other contaminants to make it go the other way. Yes, they
really did. Before we do that, maybe we should launch DSCOVR to measure
the energy balance. Built and paid for, the Bush administration is hiding
it in a Greenbelt, MD warehouse.