“Obama's NASA selection is a boost for manned spaceflight” proclaimed the headline to the May 24 Los Angeles Times story. Apparently, “the choice of astronaut Charles Bolden as NASA administrator reassures many who feared that Obama was lukewarm on future manned missions,” and is being interpreted as supporting NASA’s goal of humans once again going to the moon by 2020.
Climate-change legislation has now officially become part of Washington policymaking with the approval on May 21 by the House Energy and Commerce Committee of a new bill designed to curb “greenhouse gas emissions” by imposing a cap-and-trade system on American industry. The significance of this quiet legislative event was not lost on those who brought it about. “I don't think it's too much of an exaggeration to say that this is a turning point, in the history of the United States and [its] energy sources,” Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), one of the bill's sponsors, said afterwards. “This is a day we've waited a long time on.”
"Fossil Ida: extraordinary find is 'missing link' in human evolution," ran the Guardian headline on May 19. The media was abuzz with excitement over the find. As the website of New Scientist magazine pointed out in “Why Ida fossil is not the missing link,” even "Google's homepage evolved, incorporating an image of the new fossil — nicknamed Ida — into the company's logo.” The fossil was nicknamed Ida by the paleontologist from Oslo University who assembled the scientific team to study it, Dr. Jørn Hurum. The Guardian mentioned that “Hurum chose Ida's nickname because the diminutive creature is at the equivalent stage of development as his six-year-old daughter,” who is, of course, named “Ida.”
As the Guardian tells the story, “Ida was originally discovered by an amateur fossil hunter in the summer of 1983 at Messel pit, a world renowned fossil site near Darmstadt in Germany. He kept it under wraps for over 20 years before deciding to sell it via a German fossil dealer called Thomas Perner. It was Perner who approached Hurum two years ago.” Hurum said, “I knew that the dealer had a world sensation in his hands. I could not sleep for 2 nights. I was just thinking about how to get this to an official museum so that it could be described and published for science.” While Hurum would not disclose the final price paid for the fossil, “the original asking price was $1 million.”
Strangely, according to the Guardian, Hurum “did not see the fossil before buying it — just three photographs, representing a huge gamble.” But he had a strong motivation to want the fossil to be authentic: “You need an icon or two in a museum to drag people in,” said Hurum. He believes "this is our Mona Lisa and it will be our Mona Lisa for the next 100 years.”
Quite a claim for something bought almost sight unseen, yet most of the media also bought into the hype. New Scientist brought things back down to earth: “Now that the first description of the fossil has been published, the task of sifting through the massive public relations campaign to understand the true significance of the new fossil can begin.” Ida does form “the basis for a new genus and species of adapiform primate, Darwinius massillae,” so named in honor of this year being the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. “The adapids are a branch of the primate tree that leads to modern lemurs.”
New Scientist goes on to ask: “What does Ida's anatomy tell us about her place on the family tree of humans and other primates? The fact that she retains primitive features that commonly occurred among all early primates, such as simple incisors rather than a full-fledged toothcomb, indicates that Ida belongs somewhere closer to the base of the tree than living lemurs do. But this does not necessarily make Ida a close relative of anthropoids — the group of primates that includes monkeys, apes — and humans. In order to establish that connection, Ida would have to have anthropoid-like features that evolved after anthropoids split away from lemurs and other early primates. Here, alas, Ida fails miserably.”
So, in New Scientist’s final analysis, while “Ida is a remarkably complete specimen that promises to teach us a great deal about the biology of some of the earliest and least human-like of all known primates, the Eocene adapiforms,” the fossil “is not a ‘missing link’ — at least not between anthropoids and more primitive primates. Further study may reveal her to be a missing link between other species of Eocene adapiforms, but this hardly solidifies her status as the “eighth wonder of the world.’ ”
To this, the Institute for Creation Research online article entitled “ ‘Missing Link’ Ida Is Just Media Hype” adds a few more caveats. “First, the environment in which the fossil was kept for 20 years is unclear.” This is a long time for a scientific specimen to be kept in unknown conditions. “Second, the purchaser’s stated motivation for obtaining the fossil seemed to emphasize business over research.” Hurum was looking for a “Mona Lisa,” and this may mean that he needed to find one in order to turn a profit. And, “third, the fossil was hailed as humanity’s missing evolutionary link before the technical details of the find were published.” This appears to have been perfectly calculated to forestall any impartial analysis by the scientific community and intentionally designed to stir up media hype — which is exactly what happened.
The Institute concludes that Ida “will undoubtedly join the growing collection of fossils that were once thought to be missing links, but that upon further study turned out to be extinct creatures with no transitional features.”
Clearly pandering to the green lobby, President Barack Obama proposed on May 19 “the highest auto fuel efficiency standards ever attempted in the United States,” according to an Environment News Service story posted online that same day. “A senior administration official told reporters Monday night that Obama's national program for higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy, CAFE, standards is scheduled to start in model year 2012. If the proposal is enacted, by 2016 the fleet average requirement would be 35.5 miles per gallon, said the official, who declined to be named. Currently the CAFE standard is 27.5 mpg for cars and 24 mpg for light trucks.”
As part of President Barack Obama’s stimulus package, “the Energy Department has begun releasing more than $6 billion in stimulus money to clean up 18 nuclear sites from New York to California, more than doubling the typical yearly funding for the program,” a May 18 Washington Post story recounts. The sites were involved in Cold War-era nuclear weapons production, and the cleanup will deal with radioactive and chemically hazardous waste. But it is another type of waste that is causing a concerned reaction and prompting “sharply worded warnings from some government officials and lawmakers who say the stimulus funding is ripe for abuse.”
Millions of Americans and others observed the 39th annual Earth Day on April 22 and President Barack Obama was no exception. The president traveled to Iowa to visit a the Trinity Structural Towers factory in the town of Newton, a suburb of Des Moines. The plant manufacturers towers that support wind turbines, a means of energy generation highly favored among environmentalists.
An outspoken advocate of adult stem-cell research and development is moving ahead with plans to raise $25 million for a not-for-profit adult stem-cell bank. Unlike embryonic stem cells, the use of adult stem cells to fight diseases does not entail the destruction of human life.
The EPA on April 17 proposed new regulations to control carbon dioxide (CO2) and five other “greenhouse gases” as “pollutants” under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act. While not mentioning what aspects of carbon-dioxide emissions will be regulated, the carbon dioxide emitted from automobiles and power plants is definitely on the regulation block. The first step toward costly and far-reaching regulations is that the EPA establish carbon dioxide as a regulatory “pollutant,” even though all plants need carbon dioxide for photosynthesis and all animals exhale carbon dioxide.
Introduced just last week in the Senate, rather quietly, was the new Cybersecurity Act of 2009. Proposed by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), the legislation, in part, calls for the establishment of a national cybersecurity adviser, a cyber czar as it were. But, it’s getting a big boost now.