Weekend Coffee: The Promise of In Vitro Meat


Earlier this month, the first ever lab-grown hamburger was eaten at a taste test in London. The tasters' reports were guardedly positive:Upon tasting the burger, Austrian food researcher Ms Ruetzler said: "I was expecting the texture to be more soft... there is quite some intense taste; it's close to meat, but it's not that juicy. The consistency is perfect, but I miss salt and pepper."This is meat to me. It's not falling apart."Food writer Mr Schonwald said: "The mouthfeel is like … [Read more...]

A Richness of Planets


I've been writing a lot lately about hatred and discrimination, about the small prejudices that keep humanity fractured and ignorant. It's important to fight for reason and equality, but I think it's equally important to remember why we're fighting these prejudices, and keep in mind the greater things that we can accomplish if we overcome them. Consider, then, this column about the real meaning of the exoplanet revolution by Caleb Scharf, director of astrobiology at Columbia University.The … [Read more...]



The webcomic xkcd is one of my daily reads, so I've been enjoying this article on Wired about its creator's most ambitious project yet.Most of xkcd's comics are one-panel jokes, but starting in March, he unveiled an astonishing comic called "Time" - an animation consisting of over 3,000 separate frames, posted gradually over a period of several months. What at first seems to be a simple story about two people building sandcastles on a beach shore and wondering about the origin of the sea is … [Read more...]

Critical Thinking vs. Victim-Blaming


This caught my skeptical eye: an article about police efforts to fight the "blessing scam" in Asian neighborhoods in New York City. The scam involves a con artist who approaches the mark, usually an elderly person, to convince them that their cash and valuables are tainted by bad luck that can be removed by a special blessing ritual. The victim is persuaded to put their valuables in a bag and hand them over, but during the ceremony, sleight-of-hand is used to switch the bag for an identical one … [Read more...]

Book Review: God and the Atom


(Author's Note: The following review was solicited and is written in accordance with this site's policy for such reviews.)Summary: Written at an expert level; ordinary readers won't be able to keep up.Victor Stenger is a professor of physics and the author of many atheist books such as God: The Failed Hypothesis. His new book God and the Atom brings these domains together by arguing for the importance of atomic theory in disproving theism.Stenger's aim is to show that scientists … [Read more...]

Book Review: Sex at Dusk

I just finished reading Sex at Dusk, independent scholar Lynn Saxon's reply to Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha's book Sex at Dawn, which I reviewed last month. This book fills in the biggest gap in my original review, so I wanted to say some more about it.When I originally read Dawn, I thought that Ryan and Jetha's strongest argument was the existence of the South American tribal societies that believe in partible paternity, the idea that a child can have more than one biological father. … [Read more...]

Book Review: Sex at Dawn, Part II

(See part 1 here.)Primitive WarfareAs part of the sex-as-social-glue hypothesis, SaD asserts that pre-state societies were universally peaceful. The book argues that in a hunter-gatherer society with no possessions and no fixed resource base, rival groups would have nothing to fight about [p.183].But this claim flies in the face of the evidence. As I wrote about in my review of The Better Angels of Our Nature, it's inevitable that evolution would produce creatures with the capacity … [Read more...]

Book Review: Sex at Dawn


Summary: An interesting but sloppy argument that would have been much improved by more careful use of evolutionary reasoning.Sex at Dawn, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, is a bestselling science book that sets out to present a radically new model of human prehistory. The authors' thesis is that, prior to the invention of agriculture, the human species lived in small, roaming hunter-gatherer bands that had no notion of personal property or privacy. In these tribal societies, they say, … [Read more...]

The Intellectual Sterility of Creationism


In honor of Darwin Day earlier this month, Slate ran a thorough article about the creationist movement in America and one of its leading evangelists, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis. As the article points out, the science is at best a secondary concern for them: their certainty is founded on a literal reading of the Bible (which explicitly trumps any evidence, according to their statements of faith). Their primary concern is that they believe acceptance of evolution leads to sin, like abortion and … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: Making the Blind See Again


As science marches on, the miraculous cures that past ages dreamed of are slowly becoming reality. We're gaining the ability to engineer new body parts, like windpipes and bladders, outside a person's body and successfully transplant them to replace a damaged or cancerous organ. Bionic exoskeletons to let paralyzed people walk again are becoming commercially available. And this month, the FDA approved the first artificial retina, designed to restore limited vision to people with certain kinds of … [Read more...]