(Visited 53 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0 Count the hopeful “could” words in a speculative NASA Astrobiology myth.Origin-of-life (OOL) research is no nearer to its dreams of accounting for life’s emergence than it was in 1953, when Stanley Miller sparked the wrong gases. Back then, evolutionists, journalists and teachers became entranced with how life “could” happen. The only progress in the past six decades has been the growing sophistication of their ignorance. The field has divided into two major camps (genetics-first and metabolism-first) who routinely falsify each other’s latest claims (e.g., compare 1/06/08 with 2/15/07).It’s essential for the funders at NASA and NSF to keep hope alive. They do this with clever rhetorical tricks, including personification fallacies, sidestepping, visualization, the power of suggestion, half-truths and red herrings. All these are evident in a NASA Astrobiology puff piece about so-called “molecular midwives that gave birth to RNA” (pardon; your personification fallacy is showing). Elizabeth Powell, chief cheerleader, introduces the quarterback before the game:“The origin of RNA is something I’ve been working on for two decades,” said Nicholas Hud, head of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for Chemical Evolution, where researchers are attempting to figure out how life began. “It is easy to speculate that some other molecule came before RNA, but determining the structure of molecules that might actually have come before RNA is a major challenge for chemists.”But can he tackle the challenge after two decades of trying? Hud knows that RNA is unstable, so he works on “pre-RNA” or “proto-RNA” instead (5/10/16). The referees should call foul on each one of his plays:Proflavine can make RNA more stable, he says, but then admits that “proflavine is not a potentially prebiotic molecule“.The “RNA World” hypothesis gets a quick mention, but then we learn that “After decades of unsuccessful attempts to create RNA in model prebiotic (non-biological) reactions, many chemists that study the origin of life believe that there must have been some other RNA-like polymer before RNA.”RNA is “the product of evolution,” Howell suggests, but there can be no natural selection before accurate replication.Howell mentions a simpler molecule crafted by Krishnamurthy called “iso-GNA”, but it doesn’t form stable complexes without intercalators like proflavine (which, Hud said, is “not a potentially prebiotic molecule”). But no other “possible prebiotic polymers” are mentioned.Becoming broadminded can be a good thing, but Hud and Krishnamurthy find themselves needing to “broaden their view of which molecules might have come before RNA.“In short, they have nothing but hope that someday in the future somebody might find empirical evidence for things that are so far only “tempting to speculate” about.These two researchers and their co-workers are currently trying to find a possible ancestor of RNA that is able to spontaneously form from molecules that were present on the early Earth. They remain more open than ever to the idea that some molecules not seen in life today may have been necessary to get life started, perhaps molecules that we could view as the “midwives” that helped give “birth” to RNA.It’s impossible for a molecule to be a midwife, or for anything not alive to give birth. But even if RNA is “born,” it is not alive. What characterizes life is the genetic programming and molecular machinery that achieve homeostasis against the natural tendencies of chemistry. Membranes, for instance, oppose natural osmosis with cellular machines that perform active transport against concentration gradients. Genetic codes employ molecular machines to proofread and repair the natural tendencies of chemistry and thermodynamics to degrade information.The perhapsimaybecouldness index (PCI) in the article is off the charts.Could: 5x, as in “the first of these polymers could be called a ‘proto-RNA‘ and each evolutionary step between proto-RNA and current RNA is a ‘pre-RNA.’Might: 6x, as in “small molecules might have helped the synthesis of RNA, or the original ancestor of RNA, if RNA came later.”Possible: 5x, as in “These two researchers and their co-workers are currently trying to find a possible ancestor of RNA”.Potential: 4x, as in “RNA looks potentially older and more versatile than DNA, so many scientists believe that RNA came before DNA.”May: 3x, as in “Hud notes that proflavine is not a potentially prebiotic molecule, but was used in their study as a model for the type of intercalator molecules that may have been available on early Earth.”Perhaps: 1x, as in ‘perhaps molecules that we could view as the “midwives” that helped give “birth” to RNA.’Speculate: 1x, as in “It is easy to speculate that some other molecule came before RNA.”That’s 24 bet-hedging words out of 1,144 words in the short article, a whopping 2% PCI. Is it balanced by any observable, empirical, repeatable scientific work that directly bears on the question of OOL, or at least on the origin of RNA? We find that the words “lab” or “experiment” are completely absent. “Test” is used once in reference to a hypothetical situation that doesn’t matter in any plausible prebiotic conditions: “testing the ability of an intercalator to facilitate the pairing of Krishnamurthy’s molecule (iso-GNA) with RNA.” And the stem for “observe” appears only 3 times, all in connection with the same iso-GNA molecule, which is not implicated in the origin of life, but only looks “simpler” than RNA.Howell ends, “Funding for the research was provided by the National Science Foundation (which funds CCE more generally) and a grant from the NASA Astrobiology Institute element of the Astrobiology Program at NASA.”Yes, it is easy to speculate. Hud is speculating on taxpayer dollars. He speculates he can keep his job by looking busy accomplishing nothing at government expense (see 6/25/14 commentary). He gets away with it because non-naturalistic explanations for life have been ruled out from the start. What’s left is a playpen for childish notions of buildings without builders, machines without designers, and libraries without writers. Let your imagination go with those criteria, and the possibilities are endless.Good time to read what Steve Benner told Susan Mazur (see 12/31/13). Compare his honesty and call for transparency with the speculative mythmaking in Howell’s article.
Calvin AugustineThe world has changed over the last few months, as developed nations edge closer towards recession and world growth prospects begin to fade. But this reversal in world fortunes is in one sense a positive for Africa, and particularly South Africa, in the area of skills development and retention.People tend to follow opportunities, says Bobby Godsell, former head of mining multinational AngloGold Ashanti. He believes South Africa has a wealth of opportunities ready for the picking, and the country will not have a problem in attracting the scarce skills it needs.Godsell is an adviser to the Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition (Jipsa), the body created to tackle the country’s skills shortage. He says emerging markets such as South Africa will be on world investor’s list of choice destinations, as this is where growth is expected over the next five to 10 years.Through his interactions with international companies, particularly those in the West, Godsell notes that their sentiment towards Africa has never been more positive. “We’ve got massive infrastructure development underway, corporate governance is improving,” he says. “I’ve never seen sentiment as positive as this. I think we’re going to see a return of engineers.”South Africa’s Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka echoes this, saying that the opportunities in South Africa for people to advance are “quite attractive”. Speaking at the release of the Jipsa annual report in April, Mlambo-Ngcuka said that the government and the private sector are actively engaging in various initiatives to attract skills.Better working conditions and remuneration packages are critical in retaining and attracting highly skilled professionals for South Africa, she says. Jipsa is looking into these retention areas and the government would also continue to improve the conditions of service.Chief economist in the Office of the Presidency Alan Hirsch says that Jipsa’s interactions with town and regional planners, a scarce skill highly demanded by South African municipalities as they expand, have revealed that it is not that the country is not producing enough planners, but that people did not stay in the profession due to the poor conditions of service.To remedy this, professional standards have been designed for the town planning profession, the South African Council for Planners has now been strengthened and the registration of planners is being promoted to enhance the profession.Urgent attention has also been given to foreign skills recruitment. The government, through the Department of Home Affairs, is facilitating the easier importation of skills with a quota of work permits. The quotas enable foreign professionals in specific categories to apply for work permits without having already found jobs in the country.In addition, in the two years since the inception of Jipsa, great strides have been made in training up South Africans as engineers, artisans, technicians and educators.According to the Jipsa report, the 2007/08 service levels agreements – signed between the various sector education and training authorities and the labour department – a total of 18 879 artisans have been registered. An additional 20 000 will be registered for 2008/2009 and a total of 50 000 is expected to be achieved by 2010. Jipsa overshot its engineering training targets with its target of graduating 1 000 engineers a year being topped by 500 last year; the body hopes to increase this to 2 000 a year by 2010.But Mlambo-Ncguka says South Africa will still need to improve skills development if the country wants to keep abreast with the rest of the world.“It is important to highlight that in the area of skills, since we started the world has changed,” she says. “The scale of the problem is bigger; it’s now time to up our game.”While the brain drain remains a concern, one solution is for South Africa to produce more skills than it requires. Another is the Jipsa Work Placement Programme, which fast-tracks deployment and improves productivity of qualified young people with scarce skills.This programme includes the placement of unemployed graduates both locally and internationally. Both local and international companies have responded to the call, with more than 20 000 offers received for graduates and about 15 000 already being placed. Eskom, Transnet, Microsoft, Shoprite, Old Mutual and Xstrata have taken several hundred, as well as the American Chamber of Commerce.Jipsa records that a few companies have recruited matriculants so far, but will in future focus more on these new entrants to the work force as well as semi-skilled people with potential for training. Foreign missions in South Africa have embraced the programme, with China, Canada, the US, UK, Cuba, Brazil, Singapore and Malaysia so far committed to the programme.The mandate period for the Jipsa secretariat has been extended by another 18 months. In its second phase of operation, the body will focus more on research and evaluation.Do you have queries or comments about this article? Email [email protected]
Johannesburg, Tuesday 10 November – Brand South Africa and a range of stakeholders in the North West will come together in Mahikeng on Wednesday 11 November 2015 to deliberate on the province’s competitive strengths.The North West programme is part of Brand South Africa’s provincial programme which aims to assess the ways in which provinces contribute to national competitiveness. In this regard, Brand South Africa has been engaging with various other provincial role players in the past year.The discussions in Mahikeng will be attended by representatives of government, business and civil society.Brand South Africa will also share with participants the nation brand corporate identity toolkit to enable a cohesive image of South Africa to be projected on a range of communication platforms.All inputs from the workshop will contribute to Brand South Africa’s efforts to position the country as a competitive investment destination.Media are invited to attend the workshop as follows:Date: Wednesday 11 NovemberTime: 09h00Venue: Mmabatho Palms Hotel, Nelson Mandela Drive, MahikengEnquiries/RVSP: Manusha Pillai on [email protected] 082 389 3587Follow the conversation on #CompetitiveSA