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Comments by SteveN

Go to: The God issue: New science of religion

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 8 by SteveN

Like it or not, religious belief is ingrained into human nature.

Well, I guess that makes me inhuman then.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 14:38:09 UTC | #928957

Go to: Drew Berry: Animations of unseeable biology

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 29 by SteveN

Comment 24 by drew_berry :

There is one project that I did solve the problem of creating random, brownian motion not look directed: My Apoptosis and Signal Transduction.

Words fail me. That was simply superb. The major thrust of my lab happens to be the induction of virus-specific cytotoxic T-cells, and I will never again look at the apparently static assay plates without visualising the franctic activity actually going on in there at the molecular level. Thank you.

Mon, 16 Jan 2012 06:38:36 UTC | #908778

Go to: Drew Berry: Animations of unseeable biology

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 23 by SteveN

Thanks for the clarification, Drew. I realise that "showing it like it really is" would just make it a big confusing mess and would defeat the whole point of the animation. It was just your statements about realism that set off some alarm bells for me.

I would also like to say that I am a huge admirer of your work and the similar works of others. I mentioned earlier that I dabble in 3D modelling of biological systems (using Blender) and have even had a picture (a 3D representation of HIV) used on a book cover. Having some hint of an idea of how difficult this is, I am therefore completely gobsmacked by the beauty, ingenuity and quality of works such as yours. As others have pointed out, their value in the education arena is probably enormous. I can imagine that seeing your animations during a high school biology class would inspire many to consider a career in the field. I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future.

Sun, 15 Jan 2012 08:04:15 UTC | #908469

Go to: Drew Berry: Animations of unseeable biology

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 18 by SteveN

Comment 17 by Quine :

Likewise, kinesin molecules don't have knees or leg muscles and don't really "walk" using gravity (as much as the Intelligent Design idiots will try to describe it that way). However, in a system where every lose molecule is flying all over in Brownian motion, you can get simple directional transport if you have any means that makes it harder to move backward, because then forward is for free. You don't get that from an animation that leaves out all the jiggling (beloved of Feynman), but if you could see that jiggling, you would understand how much, much, simpler (but slower and less efficient) means could have been there doing the job long ago in Evolution, i.e. no Irrefutable Perplexity.


Sat, 14 Jan 2012 09:04:40 UTC | #908143

Go to: Drew Berry: Animations of unseeable biology

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 14 by SteveN

Comment 12 by Red Dog :

IMO, we can't start playing those games. Ignorant people are going to distort science no matter what, its a waste of time to worry "if I present it this way then X will distort it like this..." Go for the most accurate representation and understanding and don't waste energy worrying about how people may mis-use it.

It's not the animation that I have a problem with. It was the speaker's repeated insistence that it was a true representation of reality. As Steve Zara pointed out, what we are seeing in the animations is nothing close to reality. They are extremely useful for education and for inducing awe in biological processes (which are awesome, of course), but I would personally prefer to see a little more objectivity from the speaker.

Fri, 13 Jan 2012 22:39:50 UTC | #908042

Go to: Drew Berry: Animations of unseeable biology

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 8 by SteveN

As a biologist who also likes to dabble in 3D graphics for presentations, articles etc I am always astounded by both the beauty of (and the effort required by) videos such as these. I do have one little quibble, however. The speaker kept stating that the animations were accurate representations of events at the molecular level. This is not quite true. Although the structures of the molecules are presumably accurate, their movement in the videos is made to look too intentional and purposeful. In reality, the dyneins walking along the microtubicle (for example) almost certainly happens in a 'three steps forward, two steps back' kind of way. Similarly, the molecules homing in like guided missiles to the DNA replication machinery does not really reflect reality. There will actually be thousands of the things all bumping around randomly and if one happens by chance to line up to its target in the right way, then it will bind and initiate an interaction.

I realise that for the sake of clarity it is better to keep things simple, but insisting that the animations are an accurate representation of reality unfortunately plays into the hands of the ID proponents. Ben Stein famously used a rip-off of a similar animation in 'Expelled' to show how complex and 'designed' the molecular machinery of the cell is: therefore God.

Fri, 13 Jan 2012 12:37:30 UTC | #907896

Go to: Photos from TAM, July 2011

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 5 by SteveN

Nice to see that of the 46 speakers, 23 are a women. Coincidence?

Maybe the organisors selected one speaker for each of the paternal and maternal chromosomes in human cells ;-)

Mon, 25 Jul 2011 10:40:43 UTC | #853760

Go to: [UPDATE] Maintenance update moved to tomorrow Wednesday 13-July 5pm Central time

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 14 by SteveN

If I remember correctly, the 'old' site had the option to switch between chronological and reverse chronological order. I tried using the reverse mode for threads I was checking frequently (to avoid having to navigate to the end) but found it very annoying to read a post and then have to scoll up through that post to find the start of the next. I would therefore be very much in favour of having the choice, or of maintaining the present system. I also second the request for a 'Select Page' option at the top as well as at the bottom of each comment page.

Tue, 12 Jul 2011 10:57:36 UTC | #848904

Go to: But can they suffer?

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 36 by SteveN

Like most people here, I have never understood those who claim that 'animals cannot suffer as humans do'. I can only assume that some individuals have never seen a sick or injured animal in their lives. I had assumed, however, that all mammals, for example, would suffer equally and the idea of an inverse correlation with 'intellect' had never occurred to me. Intriguing, but pure speculation at this point in time, I guess. However, I am uncertain whether 'equal opportunity suffering' applies to all animals: a sufficiently developed nervous system would seem to be a prerequisite. I imagine that there is a sliding scale from, for example, sponges to mammals (or large-brained cephalopods etc).

It also occurs to me that sterile eusocial insects may have de-evolved their sensitivity to suffering to allow them to make sacrifices for the good of the gene-bearing queen. I certainly hope so: I seem to remember as a very young child going on an ant-hunt with a magnifying glass (shudder).

Thu, 30 Jun 2011 13:04:00 UTC | #844810

Go to: The Fact of and Facts About Evolution

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 17 by SteveN

Just to emphasis Neodarwinian's point, evolution is both a fact and a theory in the same way that we have the 'fact' of gravitational effect and a 'theory' (albeit rather weak) of how it operates. I suspect that even if there had never been a Darwin or a Wallace and nobody else in the intervening 150 years had come up with their 'dangerous idea', we would still have the overwhelming evidence for the fact of evolution but no solid theory of the mechanism.

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 04:46:02 UTC | #529052

Go to: Jehovah’s Witnesses Mad That Atheists Won’t Keep Their Views to Themselves

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 34 by SteveN

Comment 20 by Eyerish :

Just for a laugh some atheists should dress up looking as geeky as possible (just like the JWs) and with a copy of the 'God Delusion' under their arms knock on the door of a kingdom hall and ask them if they have heard the good news - that god is a myth and you are all free.

This has (almost) been done. Mormons instead of JWs and 'Origin of Species' instead of TGD, but the same idea:

Tue, 07 Sep 2010 20:47:11 UTC | #513312

Go to: Are we living in a designer universe?

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 13 by SteveN

Comment 12 by jinmane :

...if you were to run the universe again from the beginning, 13.7 billion years later I'd be sitting here typing this. Maybe then, nothing about this universe could possibly be any different... Isn't that a spooky idea? I think so :)

Although something like the Uncertainty Principle might rule this out, I have often speculated that if one knew the precise location and properties of all the subatomic particles (or whatever) present at the time of the Big Bang, and if one knew precisely how these particles interact with eachother, then it would be possible to build a simulation able to model every future occurrence in the universe, including every thought and action of living entities. I guess by definition one would need a computer more complex than the universe itself to achieve this, but if the future of the universe is indeed set in stone at the moment of the Big Bang, that sure would put an end to the theist's constant moaning about 'free will'.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 13:57:11 UTC | #508552

Go to: Ireland's sons turn their backs on the priesthood

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 22 by SteveN

As alluded to by CaptainMandate (#4) one has to wonder whether the drop in recruits is due to "I now refuse to join an organisation that has shown itself to be corrupt and immoral" or whether it's "Damn, I can no longer expect to rape children with impunity"

Fri, 27 Aug 2010 14:00:14 UTC | #506464

Go to: Parents sacrifice 4-yr-old girl to become rich

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 24 by SteveN

Comment 15 by Richard Dawkins :

I wonder what they planned to do with their riches. Not pass them on to the next generation, it would seem.


Comment 22 by hairybreeks : Would they have been so keen if they had been told to sacrifice a son rather than a daughter?

Although the article does not say whether these monstrous child murderers have any other children, it is conceivable that they considered sacrificing their 'useless' daughter for the future benefit of their 'important' son a logical and reasonable thing to do to.

Updated: Fri, 20 Aug 2010 17:02:01 UTC | #503032

Go to: No more victories for Bin Laden

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 9 by SteveN

Thanks for the link, Michael (#8). Maybe there's hope yet. Although I agree with most others that they should not be banned from building whatever they want as long as it adheres to zoning regulations etc, it does seem a bit tasteless and unneccesarily provocative to simply build a mosque at that site.

Wed, 18 Aug 2010 12:08:23 UTC | #501765

Go to: No more victories for Bin Laden

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 6 by SteveN

It seems to me that one sensible option for those who own the piece of land in question would be to build, instead of a mosque, some sort of community centre aimed at bringing together people of different faiths. If these islamic US citizens were to openly admit and condemn the major role played by their faith in the horrors of 9/11 and work towards open discussion between the less fanatical members of both islam and christianity then perhaps something constructive could come of this debacle.

Of course, this is never going to happen, I know ;-(

Wed, 18 Aug 2010 11:34:21 UTC | #501752

Go to: Sarah Palin Wants the U.S. To Be a Theocracy

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 25 by SteveN

If eight years of Dubya were not enough, the prospect of Sarah Palin attaining a position of real power convinces me that democracy, despite being the best that we presently have, is fatally flawed as a system of governance.

If you aspire to become a doctor, a scientist, an electrician or a hairdresser, you have to gain the respective qualifications by hard work and study. In contrast, to become the most powerful individual in the world, with your finger on the nuclear button, you simply have to persuade a largely uninformed electorate to cast their vote in your favour. Why aren't politicians required to have a Ph.D or equivalent in politics, history, economics etc before before being eligible to run for office?

I, for one, look forward to having a benign and impartial megacomputer in charge of the Earth ;-)

Fri, 21 May 2010 17:53:31 UTC | #472140

Go to: AIDS denialism and scientific freedom of speech

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 32 by SteveN

Comment 31 by Aion

Why so shrill about it ?

As this is the accusation commonly leveled at Richard by creationists, I will take that as a compliment. Thank you.

In my first post in this thread I said "By the way, this thread is likely to attract a viscious attack by the denialists. In my experience they are worse than creationists when it comes to reasoned discussion."

I rest my case.

Tue, 11 May 2010 12:36:16 UTC | #468852

Go to: AIDS denialism and scientific freedom of speech

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 29 by SteveN

Linda TX

I said, "HIV is a virus that causes AIDS, but you are contagious when you are not symptomatic through bodily fluids." That means you can infect other people when you are not symptomatic. My actual point was that HIV is a virus that can be passed only through body fluids (I should have also said blood) and without symptoms. I’m adding this (the virus does its damage by directly infecting and killing cells) and the virus causes AIDS.

Sorry about that. I read your previous statement "...but you can’t infect others when you are not symptomatic" and didn't notice that you said basically the opposite right after.

The question is if a scientist thinks that the HIV virus could not cause all of this - do they think that there could be an undiscovered unknown factor. I said I don’t know I can’t ask them.

Well, I am one of those scientists and you can ask me. If you are genuinely interested in the subject I am more than happy to help out.

I said what is wrong with scientists asking questions even if they are wrong? The question really is should scientists make questions that are subject to controversy public?

I personally believe that a scientist should be free to question even the most established of dogma if she or he has data or an idea that contradicts that dogma. If Duesberg had presented his ideas, listened to the counter arguments (which were very persuasive even then, and are overwhelming now) and had then conceded that he was probably wrong, then he would still be a repected member of the community today. Instead, he has for the last two decades ignored any evidence that contradicts his views and he has cherry-picked and misrepresented data that in some way can be twisted and manipulated to undermine the HIV/AIDS connection in the minds of the public. He has, in other words, acted like a creationist.

We have no choice but to accept what is available for any illness concerning medical treatment. Scientists do question theories. Einstein developed the theory that replaced Newton’s principles of gravity. I do not think we know as much about AIDS as we do about evolution. We have been studying evolution for 200 years.

I agree entirely that we do not know much about the actual mechanism of AIDS (it's actually one of the things I work on). However, the role of HIV in inducing AIDS is supported by so many pieces of evidence from so many different fields that it can be considered to be a scientific fact. It's a bit like the role of mass in producing gravity: we know without doubt that mass exerts a gravitational field, but we don't know how (yet).

Mon, 10 May 2010 06:51:46 UTC | #468297

Go to: AIDS denialism and scientific freedom of speech

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 26 by SteveN

Linda, I don't know where you are getting your information, but a lot of what you wrote is simply wrong, I'm afraid. Assuming that you are genuinely interested in the subject, I will address your points individually.

I don’t have an opinion about what causes AIDS. I have not seen the scientific documentation either way.

The scientific documentation directly or indirectly supporting the fact that HIV causes AIDS runs into the many tens of thousands of peer-reviewed papers. There really is no doubt about this. If you would like to see a scientific rebuttal of the AIDS denialists, please check out the following link:

Peter Duesberg questioned a hypothesis and that caused the scientific community to reappraise a hypothesis.

No. He caused a storm in the media that prompted scientists to explain why he was wrong. The evidence was already overwhelming by the end of the 1980's and continued to accumulate exponentially thereafter.

Duesberg thinks that HIV does not cause AIDS, it is just a passenger virus. I’m speculating but that would mean that there is an unknown factor involved. Something carried by the HIV virus, but I can’t be sure because I can’t ask Duesberg.

If we inject purified DNA coding for SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) into macaques it will transfect cells and code for the production of viral particles that will then cause a full-blown infection and AIDS. This disproves the carrier hypothesis.

It is theoretically possible that HIV infection activates another unknown virus present in every human being, and that it is this virus that actually causes AIDS. The amount of this unknown virus would have to be direclty linked to the amount of HIV present (because HIV viral load correlates with disease and suppressing HIV replication prevents AIDS). If this were the case (and there is absolutely no reason to think it is) whether or not HIV would be said to 'cause' AIDS would be a matter of semantics, not science.

What’s wrong with raising questions?

Nothing at all. But the same could be said for raising questions about the validity of evolution, the germ theory of disease, heliocentrism etc etc. When the evidence is so overwhelmingly on one side, continuing to question the validity of a scientific fact as Duesberg does puts him into the ranks of a deluded crank. When others use his arguments to deny medical aid to untold thousands of people who then die a horrible, unnecessary death, there is something quite obviously wrong.

HIV is a virus and there is no known cure for any virus.

Well, that depends on your definition of 'cure'. Tamiflu, if given early enough can prevent flu symptoms and rid the virus from the body, possibly with the help of the immune system. Acyclovir will prevent herpesvirus replication. HAART in HIV infected patients keeps the level of viral replication below the detection limit (although nothing can yet eliminate the silent, integrated proviruses that can reemerge once HAART is stopped).

My question is why if you have a virus when it goes away you retain antibodies even when the symptoms are gone, but you can’t infect others when you are not symptomatic. HIV is a virus that causes AIDS, but you are contagious when you are not symptomatic thorough bodily fluids. That would mean this virus is like no other virus.

The immune system, of which antibodies are just a part, remains its memory of previous infections to prevent them occurring again, ideally for the entire life of the individual (hence the relative immunity of the elderly to the recent H1N1 swine flu). You most certainly can infect others with HIV when asymptomatic. That is actually the biggest problem with HIV - people can be unknowingly infected and contagious for many years before the immune system finally breaks down and AIDS symptoms start. This is true for many other viruses.

Most scientists affirm that HIV causes AIDS, but rigorous and independent assessment of other hypothesis have not occurred. There are treatments to prolong life but that’s about it.

A rigorous and independent assessment of what other hypotheses? There are none that I know of that are not glaringly false based on all the data we have. If you wish, please state what alternate hypothesis you find worthy of assessment and I'll try to explain why it would be a waste of time and resources to address it.

I think that scientists should question a lot of things. I question if chemo is the best cure for cancer. Especially since so many people are dying and there is no cure.

Scientists thrive on questioning a lot of things (that's our job) and the highest accolades are reserved for those who question the 'dogma' and turn out to be right (e.g. prions, plate tectonics etc). Chemo is for many forms of cancer the only game in town and for some forms of cancer such as childhood leukaemia the cure rate is actually extremely high.

Hope this all helps.


Sun, 09 May 2010 16:16:43 UTC | #468084

Go to: AIDS denialism and scientific freedom of speech

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 21 by SteveN

Linda TX said:

The controversy is about what really happens with AIDS and whether efforts should be spent on combating HIV when it is clear that there is at least some doubt.

That HIV is the cause of AIDS can be taken as a scientific fact. The evidence in favour is at the same level as that for evolution and heliocentrism. There is no valid controversy or doubt.

I read that some people with AIDS have latent or inactive HIV. Even one exception to any hypothesis is adequate to question it.

I don't think that is true. HIV infection is an ongoing acute infection with a rapid turnover of both virus and of infected cells. Some viral genomes will integrate but there is always active replication going on somewhere in the body. If you have a link to support this comment, I would be interested in taking a closer look at the evidence.

There are people with HIV that do not have AIDS - they have a normal T-cell count.

These rare 'Elite Controllers' are known to have a particular combination of MHC alleles that allow them to exert a much better control of the virus. This actually supports the fact that HIV is the cause of AIDS

Even if he turns out to be wrong,there is still no cure for AIDS.

It may not be possible to fully eliminate the virus from the body due to its ability to form integrated proviruses, but the modern antiretroviral drugs, when taken in combination, can keep an HIV infected person healthy for decades, perhaps for life.

Sun, 09 May 2010 06:15:29 UTC | #467957

Go to: AIDS denialism and scientific freedom of speech

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 8 by SteveN

Hmmm... The comment editor still appears to be buggy. It stripped out all my paragraph breaks, even after multiple attempts at correction.

Sat, 08 May 2010 15:57:44 UTC | #467797

Go to: AIDS denialism and scientific freedom of speech

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 7 by SteveN

As someone who has spent the last 23 years working on the development of AIDS vaccines and on aspects of AIDS pathogenesis, I have very little time or respect for scientists like Duesberg who have abondoned all vestiges of objective thought in order to promote their delusions. However, I also feel it would be wrong to censor scientists, no matter how deluded, if their views do not match the scientific consensus - the history of science is highlighted with too many such rebels who turned out to be right for this to be a good idea.

Duesberg has lost all credibility in the scientific community because of his stance and will be remembered as a rogue scientist who was indirectly (or even directly?) responsible for the unnecessary deaths of many thousands of people. That will be his legacy. It is the politicians like Mbeki who ignore the advice and downright pleadings of the overwhelming majority of real experts in the field to promote a personal agenda at the expense of his people that should be held accountable.

By the way, this thread is likely to attract a viscious attack by the denialists. In my experience they are worse than creationists when it comes to reasoned discussion. I once took part in a long and ulitimately fruitless thread on the old forum and vowed never to do so again.

Updated: Sat, 08 May 2010 15:48:31 UTC | #467793

Go to: Toward a Science of Morality

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 3 by SteveN

...I do disagree with this new additon to his thesis: Do monkeys suffer more than mice from medical experiments? (The answer is almost surely "yes.") --Sam Harris With respect to suffering of physical pain, I do not see any basis for how that could be determined. In fact, who is to say the mouse does not suffer more? It seems to me the mouse and monkey must be equally capable of experiencing physical pain. How about pyschological pain? Because of the cognitive differences that exist  between monkeys and mice, we might expect a difference, but I would not use the word "surely" as Harris has done. Terror and panic seem to be basic responses that even a mouse can experience.

Although I agree that Sam cannot know whether a monkey suffers more than a mouse, I expect that he is just generalising with regard to brain complexity. If I say that a mouse will suffer more than an amoeba, no-one will object (I assume). This is to accept that suffering is more or less dependent on the complexity of the organism. There is continuous sliding scale of complexity from amoeba to mouse, so where do we draw the line?

Of course, there may be something about the particular make-up of a mouse brain that renders it exquisitely sensitive to suffering despite being less complex than the primate brain, and Sam's comment would therefore be absolutely wrong. However, it seems to me that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, his point is justified.

Sat, 08 May 2010 06:35:39 UTC | #467707

Go to: Pope Nearly Endorses the Shroud of Turin, But Is It Real?

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 14 by SteveN

Off-topic question: how do I now edit my own posts? I would like to correct a typo I spotted just as I pressed 'create comment' but cannot figure out how to do it.

Wed, 05 May 2010 11:02:50 UTC | #466785

Go to: Pope Nearly Endorses the Shroud of Turin, But Is It Real?

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 11 by SteveN

I saw a documentary once suggesting that the Shroud of Turin was actually a hoax perputrated by Leonardo da Vinci using a crude form of photography (and that it is even his own face on the image). The evidence presented seemed fairly convincing at the time and the proponents of the theory managed to recreate a similar image using the techniques postulated to have been available to Leonardo. It would be so cool if this were to be true, but I believe that there is considerable reason to doubt the story. Another fine hypothesis destroyed by ugly facts!

Wed, 05 May 2010 10:53:57 UTC | #466782

Go to: Ayaan Hirsi Ali on CNN: Religion, Violence & South Park

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 6 by SteveN

3. Comment #482511 by neander

I think Richard was the only person lampooned on South PArk who didn't get upset.

Well, he might not have been upset, but I don't think he was very impressed:

...and I’m buggered if I like being portrayed as a cartoon character buggering a bald transvestite.

Thu, 22 Apr 2010 12:22:00 UTC | #461760

Go to: The mob should lay off. The pope is completely innocent

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 34 by SteveN

"The Pope is completely innocent"

Actually, I think that after having had Popes Innocent I through XIII, Ratzinger should change his official name from Pope Benedict XVI to 'Pope Guilty I'

Fri, 16 Apr 2010 12:31:00 UTC | #460199

Go to: Pope's No. 2: Pedophilia linked to homosexuality

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 31 by SteveN

Oops! While picking up the laptop to reach for my drink, I accidently flagged Comment #479471 by GodlessHeathen as 'offensive'. Sorry!! Please ignore this Admins!

(Shouldn't there be some sort of confirmation dialogue box to stop this rather frequent occurrence from happening?)

Tue, 13 Apr 2010 16:25:00 UTC | #458924

Go to: Mr. Deity and the Quitter

SteveN's Avatar Jump to comment 9 by SteveN

Comment #479363 by Neil Schipper

Does the team seriously think that fatuous self-satisfied humor necessarily serves clear-thinking?
Actually, in this case, yes. Ridicule is, in my opinion, one of the great weapons against the ridiculous. Whether or not 'Mr Deity' is humorous is, of course, a matter of opinion. I personally eagerly await each new episode and am somewhat concerned that, as noted earlier, this one cannot be accessed from Germany. Maybe it is too self-satisfied and fatuous for German tastes.

Tue, 13 Apr 2010 07:04:00 UTC | #458748