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Author Topic: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"  (Read 5034 times)

justboatonic

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NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« on: December 01, 2010, 08:42:24 pm »

Apparently.

Hmmm. Wonder if Prof Colin Pilger (of the failed Beagle Mission) is feeling a little sheepish roundabout now after suggesting anyone looking for life living in arsenic was 'off their trolley'? Interestingly, this as yet unconfirmed find is one method Prof Paul Davies mentioned in his book, the eerie silence as an alternative indicator to the chances of exobiology.

I keenly await NASA's announcement.

The following are extracts from the article.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/8174040/Life-as-we-dont-know-it-discovery-could-prove-existence-of-aliens.html

In a press conference scheduled for tomorrow evening, researchers will unveil the discovery of a microbe that can live in an environment previously thought too poisonous for any life-form to survive.  The bacteria has been found at the bottom of Mono Lake in California's Yosemite National Park which is rich in arsenic – usually poisonous to life.

Dr Lewis Dartnell, an astrobiologist at the Centre for Planetary Sciences in London, said: "If these organisms use arsenic in their metabolism, it demonstrates that there are other forms of life to those we knew of.

"They're aliens, but aliens that share the same home as us."

The space agency will announce the full extent of the findings at a press conference titled “astrobiology finding which will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life”.

They believe the creature proves the existence of a second form of life that exists in tandem and before and after intelligent life blooms on planets across the universe.
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tobyker

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #1 on: December 01, 2010, 09:32:01 pm »

As they say, " Life, Jim, but not as we know it."

Sorry - couldn't resist!
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dodgy geezer

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #2 on: December 01, 2010, 11:23:11 pm »



... I keenly await NASA's announcement...



I share justboatonic's interest. The NASA announcement is here: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2010/nov/HQ_M10-167_Astrobiology.html , and it certainly suggests something new. But I'm not sure that the news that there are microbes undertaking arsenic metabolism in the arsenic-rich Mono Lake is novel - here is a paper describing them from 2004: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.160.5360&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Luckily, we do not have to wait for a long time to find out what is exciting NASA so much....

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dodgy geezer

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #3 on: December 02, 2010, 09:27:35 am »

Anyone interested in the possibilities of non-terrestrial bio-chemistry might also be interested in this recent snippet, which relates to possible methane-based life on Titan... http://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/titan20100603.html

I wonder if there might be more news from this source?
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dreadnought72

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2010, 01:02:00 pm »

I doubt, very strongly, a news release based on circumstantial, potential, evidence of methanogens on Titan (or Mars, for that matter) when there are non-living chemical reactions that might produce the same results. "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" as Carl Sagan once said. No-one in NASA can claim to have found that evidence. (Yet...)

No - this is almost certainly the arsenic-using "shadow life" as proposed by Paul Davies.

...Which is an absolutely stunning possibility, if true.

Consider: that there might be living things on Earth with no known link to the biosphere we know.

That raises a massive raft of questions.

Andy, living in exciting times.
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dodgy geezer

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #5 on: December 02, 2010, 03:09:19 pm »


No - this is almost certainly the arsenic-using "shadow life" as proposed by Paul Davies.

...Which is an absolutely stunning possibility, if true.


Stunning indeed, and that would certainly count as news. The paper I cited earlier does not give any indication that the Lake Mono arsenic-using microbes are a new form of life - they are identified as reasonably well-known bacteria. 'Shadow-life' would surely use a fundamentally different replication method to the Earth-based DNA-RNA Transcription process. If any life-forms have been found which are non-DNA, then that would have a major impact on our understanding of biogenesis.
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bigfella

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #6 on: December 03, 2010, 08:45:29 am »

Why do we presume that all life must resemble that of human beings. Just because we exist with the chemical balance that we do why does that make it the benchmark for life everywhere. Anything can evolve to suit its environment no matter what it is made of.

Regards David
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dodgy geezer

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #7 on: December 03, 2010, 10:33:30 am »

Why do we presume that all life must resemble that of human beings. Just because we exist with the chemical balance that we do why does that make it the benchmark for life everywhere. Anything can evolve to suit its environment no matter what it is made of.


Interesting, but not a Hen.... (apologies to Morland/Greene King...)

There are two distinct issues here which may easily be confused. The first is biogenesis, the creation of life, and the second is evolutionary adaption.

We know that life chemistry is quite complicated, and depends critically on the particular mix of chemicals and temperatures that exist on this planet. I imagine (justboatonic will correct me if I am wrong!) that this is one of the reasons that he believes that life (and in particular, intelligent life) is vanishingly rare. If life can only exist using these reactions then extra-terrestrial life forms are likely to be similar to ours, and it makes sense to look for them on 'Goldilocks zone' planets.

If other chemical approaches to life exist, then life might be able to start in other environments, and it might be more common. Silicon, for instance, has been suggested as a possible base to replace carbon, and arsenic might replace phosphorus. These are the 'shadow-life' forms which have been recently proposed, and, as Justboatonic says, laughed at by Colin Pilger.

In this case the bacteria living in Mono lake have been shown, not only to consume arsenates, but to actually incorporate them into their life chemistry, replacing phosphates. This is the first time that a life-form has been shown to exist which does not use exactly the same basic chemical mix as all other life-forms on this planet.

BUT (and it's a big but), this is NOT a separate and completely new 'other' life-form. It does not show that a different form of biogenesis is possible. What it shows is that evolutionary adaptation is so powerful that a standard earth-type life-form can actually change the basic chemicals it uses to live if a sufficient reason exists. The Gammaproteobacteria which were used for this experiment normally used phosphorus, could be forced to use arsenic, but preferred phosphorus if this was available, like any standard Earth creature.

So we now know that, once life has started in the standard Earth manner, it may be able to radically change its chemistry. But we do not know if life can START with any different chemical structure. This discovery has made discussion of shadow-life-forms less laughable, but has not shown that another path to creating life exists...
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bigfella

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #8 on: December 03, 2010, 09:27:37 pm »

Again why does life anywhere have to mirror that on Earth. Surely life will find a way through evolution and chemical reactions over millions of years, anything is possible.

Star Trek: Life but not as we know it

Star Trek IV: "Only human arrogance would assume..." (that all life would imitate man).

It would be rather arrogant to assume that in the vast universe that life of any kind is restricted to just one planet, Earth.

Regards David
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Umi_Ryuzuki

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #9 on: December 03, 2010, 10:50:56 pm »

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dodgy geezer

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #10 on: December 04, 2010, 12:07:32 am »


Again why does life anywhere have to mirror that on Earth. Surely life will find a way through evolution and chemical reactions over millions of years, anything is possible.


I also tend towards the belief that life 'will find a way'.  But that is a position based on faith rather than calculation.

We believe that the chemical properties of elements are universal throughout space, and so we can consider the possibility of other life forms based on our knowledge of chemical reactions which we can observe on Earth. A lot of speculation has been undertaken regarding 'exotic' life reactions - the wiki gives a flavour of this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypothetical_types_of_biochemistry

You will see some interesting proposals - silicon is a strong favourite for replacing carbon - boron is even better, though possibly a bit reactive, and not so common. But in all cases there are also problems with the proposals, and most current research assumes that the carbon-based chemistry we are familiar with will be the dominant chemistry for extra-terrestrial life-forms.

Apart from anything else, investigating paraffin-based life-forms in an ocean of hydrogen fluoride will probably be rather expensive.....

P.S.  love the xkcd...
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dodgy geezer

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Dekan

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #12 on: December 08, 2010, 10:24:40 am »

Oh dear ....

http://www.slate.com/id/2276919/

http://rrresearch.blogspot.com/2010/12/arsenic-associated-bacteria-nasas.html


Nasa are so desperate nowadays to improve their profile...

What with the end of shuttle flights and the Obama govenment's ignorance and suspicion of all things military or technicality...Would this sort of poor science be tolerated in better times. They have an up hill struggle on their hands..
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dodgy geezer

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #13 on: December 08, 2010, 11:10:10 am »


 Nasa are so desperate nowadays to improve their profile...


I think it's worse than that. For the last 50 years, governments have increasingly been 'running' science by providing grants. By now, there is very little science of any kind left which is free of the huge pressure to provide regular spectacular published findings to ensure their next years' funding. Such work is often very poor science, which is quietly binned after it has performed its primary task of ensuring publicity.

Climatology is a particularly egregious offender, where they don't seem to bin the bad science at all.... 
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Dekan

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #14 on: December 08, 2010, 03:04:51 pm »


Climatology is a particularly egregious offender, where they don't seem to bin the bad science at all.... 
How true...It's interesting how the same people seem to turn up as spokes persons or running these pressure groups..

When the CO2 bubble "bursts" and their bandwagon derails they will be onto the next "big issue" but I bet one thing it won't be the real problem, which IMO is excessive population levels..

Reduce the number of people on the planet and most of the earths current problems can be improved and in some cases halted...Less people less pollution, less waste etc.etc   
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bigfella

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #15 on: December 09, 2010, 11:40:48 pm »

Reduce the number of people on the planet and most of the earths current problems can be improved and in some cases halted...Less people less pollution, less waste etc.etc   

How would you go about doing it?? And where would you start? Africa, Europe, Asia, America? It all sounds easy until you realise that there are people involved and who knows what would happen once you chose where. It is a problem that has no feasible answer.

Regards David
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dodgy geezer

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #16 on: December 10, 2010, 10:20:45 am »

... which IMO is excessive population levels..

Reduce the number of people on the planet and most of the earths current problems can be improved and in some cases halted...


How would you go about doing it?? And where would you start? Africa, Europe, Asia, America? It all sounds easy until you realise that there are people involved and who knows what would happen once you chose where. It is a problem that has no feasible answer.



Then I have some good news for you both. The world's Total Fertility Rate (which needs to be at about 3.3 to maintain world population at a stable level) is currently around 2.5 and falling. Some societies (Japan, for instance) are running much below this, and are therefore on a path to extinction. In the UK our break-even TFR is 2.1 - we are currently managing 1.96, but this is falling as well. So humanity is shrinking across the planet, has been doing so for some time, and is predicted to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Better medical services are delaying the impact of the problem for a while, but over the next few centuries our species is going to suffer from a lack of people. Japan is already doing so...

There have been concerns and scares about overpopulation throughout recorded history. The earliest expressed worry that I know of occurs in the Atrahasis epic, a Babylonian poem of BC 1800ish, though Malthus (An Essay on the Principle of Population - 1798) and Erlich (The Population Bomb - 1968) are the two figures which most people are better acquainted with. All have been proven comprehensively wrong. The maths of population dynamics and the associated carrying capacity of land are complex and non-intuitive; you will find few environmental activists who understand them and even fewer willing to advertise the fact that human under-population is the current concern for many societies...

I would recommend a study of Julian Simon's works if you are still feeling despondent about the mass of humanity ...
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derekwarner

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #17 on: December 10, 2010, 10:43:04 am »

mmmm  <*< sorry DG...who said ...

"Then I have some good news for you both. The world's Total Fertility Rate (which needs to be at about 3.3 to maintain world population at a stable level) is currently around 2.5 and falling"

Simple mathematics would confirm if these rates continue >>:-( >>:-( >>:-( by 2060...38% of the remaining population will be Chinese ...& 32% Indian.....Derek.....
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dreadnought72

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #18 on: December 10, 2010, 11:54:44 am »

...human under-population is the current concern for many societies...

Maybe by this you mean modern technological societies, where the need for relentless growth entails the on-going destruction of the environment, the using up of non-renewable resources, and a requirement for constantly expanding markets for all goods and services. As the population ages there's a need for more young people in employment in order to pay for those increasing pensions and healthcare, and - of course - more young people are required to draw on those markets.

So this year you can buy and Ipad, last year you couldn't.

We call it progress: but however you look at it, it's clearly unsustainable.

Jared Diamond wrote an excellent book called Collapse which explains what happens when societies over-stretch their natural resource base.

Great book, but it's not pleasant.

Andy
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dodgy geezer

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #19 on: December 10, 2010, 01:16:14 pm »


Simple mathematics would confirm if these rates continue >>:-( >>:-( >>:-( by 2060...38% of the remaining population will be Chinese ...& 32% Indian.....


I would appreciate seeing the maths - demographic projections are rarely simple! I assume you are talking about world population? Remember that 'developing countries' (particularly China) often have skewed sex ratios which mean that the impact of the TFR needs to be adjusted. China, in fact, has one of the lowest TFRs - 1.8 last year dropping to 1.5 in 2010. This map may be of interest... http://www.indexmundi.com/map/?v=31 and here is a UN paper: http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/longrange2/WorldPop2300final.pdf



... the using up of non-renewable resources....We call it progress: but however you look at it, it's clearly unsustainable...

 

Arguing this would seem to fly in the face of human history, where humanity has sustained progression throughout the ages, while continually using natural resources. And throughout the last 4000 years we have people claiming that things are going to run out. But they rarely do, and when they do so, it is never a problem. For instance, there are now far fewer oak trees in the UK than there were in 1300. But that has not resulted in an oak shortage which limits our ship-building...



Jared Diamond wrote an excellent book called Collapse which explains what happens when societies over-stretch their natural resource base.

Great book, but it's not pleasant.

 

Neither, I believe, is it completely accurate. In particular, the Easter Island scenario is strongly contested by anthropologists.

I subscribe to Julian Simon's Cornucopia hypothesis, (partly because paradoxical arguments always appeal to me!). He holds, for instance, that natural resources are, in fact, infinite. The reason is that human technological progress develops new methods of exploiting resources as required - resources which were not even recognised as such in earlier times. You mentioned an Ipad - mediaeval scholars would not have thought that sand could be the critical part of such a consumer item!

It is true that, using classical technology, we would fail to support the population of AD 1900 - but we were not using classical technology in AD 1900. Erlich claimed in the 1960s that the world would die of starvation in 1980 - so it would have done if we had been exploiting natural resources in a 1960s way - but we weren't. At present I see no limits to our ability to exploit natural resources - recent technological advances have hugely increased our known oil and gas reserves, and when they do eventually shrink we will doubtless be using something else.

Simon has written many cogently-argued pieces, backed up with a host of well-researched data, showing that change is a fundamental feature of human society, that it is not liked by the people living through it, but that such change invariably leaves humanity better off. We have a better life than our parents did, and our children will have a better one still. All recorded history shows this happening, but oddly nobody seems to notice it.

One of his most famous quotes has him describing the strange capability that people have to believe the very worst about anything and everything; they "were immune to contrary evidence just as if they'd been medically vaccinated against the force of fact." Furthermore, there seemed to be a bizarre reverse-Cassandra effect operating in the universe: whereas the mythical Cassandra spoke the awful truth and was not believed, he saw "experts" speaking awful falsehoods, and they were believed. Repeatedly being wrong actually seemed to be an advantage, conferring some sort of puzzling magic glow upon the speaker.

This little essay gives quite a readable overview of his thinking:  http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/5.02/ffsimon_pr.html
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Dekan

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #20 on: December 10, 2010, 01:49:59 pm »

I  apologize to all concerned.... I had no intention of suggesting any kind of cull of mankind...All I was trying to say is that if there were less people there would be less pressure on the environment..

How we get to this position is anybodies guess...I have read some of the blogs and articles. None of them in my opinion take any account of human nature..which always wants change to happen to somebody else...

The planet can probably survive the stupidity of the human race, but it will be a "shame" if we continue to wipe out a lot of innocent creatures on our downward spiral...
 
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derekwarner

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dreadnought72

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #22 on: December 10, 2010, 03:03:51 pm »

...humanity has sustained progression throughout the ages, while continually using natural resources.

The "ages" haven't ever included over six billion people each attempting to reach the annual 4+ tonnes of oil energy equivalents of us in the west.

Quote

I subscribe to Julian Simon's Cornucopia hypothesis, (partly because paradoxical arguments always appeal to me!)

Quite.  %)

Quote
...recent technological advances have hugely increased our known oil and gas reserves, and when they do eventually shrink we will doubtless be using something else.

This is a case of head in the (tar) sands, I think.

Take a look at, for example, Saudi Arabia's oil reserves. They've stayed between 260 and 264 billion barrels for the past 18 years, while 60 billion barrels has been extracted. Is that magic, is it new technology or is it - perhaps - politics? (OPEC nations have production rates based on claimed reserves.)

As to glibly extracting and burning all the rest of the world's fossil fuels over the next few decades, until "something else" comes along, I despair at the naivety. People and particularly politicians are notoriously bad at engineering long-term solutions to obvious problems. To assume "it'll be fine" is just ludicrous. I suspect there were piles of people in the late Roman Empire saying the same sort of things.

Civilisation is a veneer - we have moments of being aware of this during snowy weather, or during fuel tanker strikes. There's been hardly any fresh bread in Airdrie since last weekend. We all live a few square meals away from rioting and, ultimately, barbarism. Our infrastructure (which Diamond talks about at length for other failed civilisations) is a vastly complicated construct, and one which can easily evolve and outgrow the ability of a society to keep it working - especially when the props (like cheap and accessible oil) are kicked away.

Andy
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dodgy geezer

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #23 on: December 10, 2010, 04:06:59 pm »

The "ages" haven't ever included over six billion people each attempting to reach the annual 4+ tonnes of oil energy equivalents of us in the west.

The "ages" didn't have the benefit of computer-analysed seismic surveys and deep drilling technology either. But I am talking about a much larger range of natural resources than oil, which has a hugely artificial set of prices and reserves foisted on it for political reasons. I would mention, however, that oil prices have stayed much the same (corrected for inflation) since 1950, apart from the two instances of Middle East war in the 1970s and 2000s. We are now dropping back to that price (approx £20 per barrel). The price graph does NOT show the gradual increase which would indicate a diminution of resources.


As to glibly extracting and burning all the rest of the world's fossil fuels over the next few decades, until "something else" comes along, I despair at the naivety. People and particularly politicians are notoriously bad at engineering long-term solutions to obvious problems. To assume "it'll be fine" is just ludicrous. I suspect there were piles of people in the late Roman Empire saying the same sort of things.

I see this as the central part of your rebuttal. You say that it is 'naive' to use oil 'until something else comes along'. But this is how progress operates. We used man-power until wind came along, wind until steam came along, steam until electricity came along... Your complaint would make more sense if oil reserves were shortly to fail - but they will not. We have reserves for centuries - even if nothing more was ever discovered it makes no sense to panic over our ability to generate energy in 2100, when we have no idea what technologies will be available...

"People and particularly politicians are notoriously bad at engineering long-term solutions to obvious problems." Politicians - there I agree with you. But people? Bad at long-term solutions to obvious problems? The whole of human history stands against you here....

"I suspect there were piles of people in the late Roman Empire saying the same sort of things." Actually, there weren't. Instead, there were many people saying exactly what you were saying. There were people complaining about everything - the shortage of decent staff, the lack of raw materials, the increase in population which will overwhelm us. This last was a common explanation for wars - cf Euripides Helena 38-41. And you know what? Humanity survived, and actually did rather well...
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dodgy geezer

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Re: NASA set to announce "astrobiology finding"
« Reply #24 on: December 10, 2010, 04:37:23 pm »

Light reading...........Derek {:-{

http://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=7&ved=0CEUQFjAG&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Ftopic.php%3Fuid%3D23054752272%26topic%3D4843&ei=OC8CTYWrN8LNrQfO3_WQDw&usg=AFQjCNHesoZIEhiJLDHQp_QRq7MP6fCBAQ

Thanks for that.

I note that your reference takes me to the National Policy Institute site, an American group whose stated aim is to defend the American 'historic majority' white population, and insists on receiving an e-mail before sending out any of its literature. Given my dodgy background, I have disposable identities for these purposes - if anyone would like a copy of their 'Global White Population to plummet' document without having to provide identification just send me a PM...

Their document uses the US Census Bureau prediction data to indicate that European human numbers will decline over the next 40 years, while African human numbers will climb. This is in accordance with current demographic thinking. They do not provide any calculations, and I have not checked any of their figures - it would be rather hard work, given that they only provide general references for how they make these distinctions.

Two points jump out. First, we believe that populations initially increase when living conditions improve, and then fertility drops and the population stabilises. This has happened in Western Europe, but not in Africa. Over the next 40 years we are expecting African living conditions to improve, so their population should temporarily increase, but then drop. Measuring demographics over the next 40 years will therefore show an increase in Africans over Europeans, who are already in the dip period, but this will be a temporary blip rather than a continual growth.
 
Their data is presented, not in absolute data form, but in percentage of world population form. This immediately makes me suspicious - if the world population falls (as it is expected to) then simply maintaining your population while others decrease makes you look as if you are expanding.   

Of more interest is the corollary that the NPI derives from these figures. These new Africans will require space, they say, and they will obviously come to the US. The paper suggests that barriers should be put in place. But there is a lot of room in Africa for expansion, and, as I suggest above, the actual figures for Africans are not given, just percentages compared with the US and Europe. African total population could fall, but if European population fell faster they would still increase in percentage terms against Europe. This would, however, provide no pressure for emigration...

So all the figures show is that African figures are expected to rise for a short time while European figures are falling. The original concern was that the Earth's population was rising excessively, but the data here show that the paper's concern is for falling population - the authors' preferred races falling faster that some other races. I submit that this does not show that the Earth is in danger from excessive population rises.... 
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