Chemistry re-written… again!

A while back, I asked whether creationists had ever gone after chemistry as much as they try (and fail) to tackle biology and physics. Yes, came the unfortunate answer – and lead me to doing a quick write-up on it.

To cut it as short as I can, Artem Oganov and co. from Stony Brook University managed to make some unusual sodium chloride compounds. NaCl is common table salt, and is a classic example of how an ionic solid is created, and stabilised, by transferring one electron from where there’s an excess (in sodium) to where it’s needed (in chlorine) because that gives them 8 electrons each – the “octet rule”. Oganov’s team, however, managed to make a lot of new and strange combinations that should, on the face of it, violate this neat little principle – such as Na3Cl, Na3Cl2 and NaCl3.

To chemists, this was cool but mostly unsurprising. Solid state structures aren’t exactly known for following such arcane rules on covalency. Sodium metal itself, for instance, violates a strict and literal interpretation of the octet rule by being made purely of atoms with apparently 1 valance electron each. But to the popular press (driven by a rather naughty university press office, IMHO), this was chemistry “overturned”. A fundamental rule had been violated, chemistry must be rewritten, everything we know is wrong… and so, up steps the Discovery Institute, who declared “If chemistry is wrong, then so could evolution!

Fast forward a few years, and Oganov has done it again, and gone one better. He’s made solid state compounds of helium. Helium – the last bastion of noble gases, since xenon and krypton (and even argon, now) have known compounds.  Absurdly high pressures are needed, of course, to get helium to form a solid state structure, but the data support the compound’s existence. As with the sodium chloride, this used an evolutionary algorithm coupled to some theoretical predictions to find a structure that should, in theory, be possible before then going ahead and making the thing!

A rewrite of chemistry is needed, again, declares some of the press articles on it.

Then again, maybe not. Helium compounds are quite well known, and even a trimer of helium is known to exist at ridonkulously low temperatures where van der Waals forces will hold it together more strongly than heat can tear it apart. It’s just a case of finding the conditions where these compounds will be stable, and sufficient heat and pressure will overcome most energy barriers eventually – the activation energy to convert graphite into diamond is immense, yet natural or synthetic diamonds can still be made if we shove sufficient energy into it.

So, as before, it’s not that textbooks need re-written. The textbooks were probably wrong to start with…

Actually, not even that. I don’t recall a textbook that says all of this is outright impossible, just that it doesn’t happen easily, or in ambient conditions, with just any old reactants. Which, despite Oganov’s fantastic work, still remains shockingly true and is highly unlikely to be overturned any time… ever.

Anyway… the final question – do I want to go through the Discovery Institute looking for them misrepresenting this story?

Every argument I ever see on the internet…

A: “Gloobs are the worst, they’re wrong.”

B: “But it isn’t a Gloob, it fargles.”

A: “You’re wrong, it is a Gloob, because Gloob’s bargle.”

B: “But it fargles, so it isn’t a Gloob by definition. And that’s fine.”

A: “No, it’s a Gloob. The definition includes how it bargles. And bargling is bad because Gloobs do it.”

B: “Then it’s fine because it’s not a Gloob. So it’s good.”

A: “But bargling is a bad.”

B: “Yes, bargling is bad, but it’s not a Gloob so it’s okay, it’s good.”

A: “Even though it bargles?”

B: “No, it fargles.”

A: “What’s fargle got to do with it?”

B: “Because it fargles.”

A: “Yes, I know it fargles, but it’s a Gloob.”

B: “But it’s not a Gloob.”

A: “Yes it is. So it’s bad.”

B: “But it fargles.”

A: “I think you find it bargles.”

B: “But that doesn’t make it a Gloob.”

Confused? Follow that? Possibly not. In fact, I hope not – because honest-to-fuck, people, this is what reading most of your crap sounds like to me. Well, not your crap, other peoples’ crap because you’re an intelligent rational being, and everyone else is an unenlightened sheep, QED.

“But it’s racist!” “No it isn’t!”, “It’s sexist!” “It’s not sexist!!!”…really, it’s inanity personified. You’re not fighting over what something is, you’re fighting over what to call it. And what’s more, you want to call it something because that controls what you can do with it and what you’re allowed to think about it afterward.

Okay, fine, let’s add in actual example since the above comes across as abstract nonsense.

Is an unborn baby a “life”?

“YES! And YES some more!” screams the pro-life crowd… and I’ll stick to and pick this one apart because the pro-choice argument mostly doesn’t make the identical but opposite argument of “no”.

When the pro-life crowd argue that a fetus is a “life”, they don’t care about that question. “Life” is an arbitrary concept, it separates the inanimate world of objects that we can’t eat and can’t eat us from the objects that we can eat or could eat us – and when examined in more rigorous detail, it repeatedly fails to find any real edge to it, the fuzzes away to nothing, as a continued spectrum. At no single point does “not-life” become “life” – because life is a process, not an event. Whether something “is” or “isn’t” life has little relevance to reality, only our social responses to it. Anyway, I don’t want to unpack this any further – if you disagree with this assessment, go ahead and assume that you’re just plain and simply wrong, it’ll save time later.

Instead, the question pro-life crowd are really asking is “should we be allowed to abort that pregnancy?” They want the answer to that to be a resounding “no” – but they don’t want to just come out and admit to that. Gods forbid, that might require some self-reflection.

The answer to abortion question is the reason they want the “is it a life?” question answered. Because it lets them treat abortion one way, rather than another – in other words, this is their motivation for the answer to be “yes” or “no”. The problem of whether someone is motivated toward one answer or another taints the question with an ulterior motive. In this case, and many others, it stops anyone realising the objective truth: the question is nonsensical.

(And not least it’s problematic for any pro-choice proponent who buys into this narrative and is forced to haphazardly argue the opposite. This makes it a very effective rhetorical strategy on the pro-life side. The only option open to refuting it is to clumsily go along with it and argue that the answer is “no”, or pick it back to the bare bones and convince them of the irrelevance of the question. The latter just isn’t going to happen ever.)

What about a different track… is something sexist?

Well, the thing itself is the thing itself, that’s not going to change. But if we get to slap the “sexist” label on it, it’s Bad. If we don’t, well, we can safely let it continue.

So, a woman working in a recruitment agency spots a man’s CV, and then throws it immediately into the discard pile because “why would a man want that job?”

“Sexist!!” cry one side. “She actively discriminated against someone because of their gender, that’s sexist by definition.”

“Not sexist!!” cries the other. “That doesn’t have a systematic bias against men as a class because sexism by definition requires power.”

Well, duh. It fargles and it bargles. But it’s only bad if we call it a Gloob. And Gloobs fargle, but they also don’t bargle, by definition, what are we to make of something that does both or neither?

Ultimately, these arguments are as absurd as arguing whether a blue ball is a round object xor a blue object.

For And Against Article 50 – What I’ve Seen So Far

There have been speeches presented in Parliament recently based around whether MPs should vote for an Act of Parliament to trigger the Article 50 process with the EU – and so start the process of leaving it. That Parliament should have this decision is a democratic and legal no-brainer, only opposed by complete idiots who have been suckered in by fascist newspapers. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s as fair an assessment as I can muster.

So, what are the for/against arguments?

Based on some of the speeches and comments I’ve read so far, the arguments basically boil down to the following:

Arguments for MPs to vote against an Act of Parliament to invoke Article 50 Arguments for MPs to vote for an Act of Parliament to invoke Article 50
  • Consider the rights, views and future of 15 million people too young to vote
  • Consider the rights and views of 72% of the population that didn’t vote for this
  • Consider long term strategic stability of the country over the short-term points scoring of the government
  • Consider the lack of a strong democratic mandate from a supermajority for a major constitutional change
  • Consider that the Leave campaign on the referendum was built on many lies
  • Consider the number of people voting Leave only as a protest vote and have since changed their mind
  • Consider a lack of clear communication and planning from HM Government on the details of leaving the EU
  • Consider the lack of trained negotiators in order to continue the 2-year Article 50 process
  • Consider the effect of the US election on the world, leaving us only with a proto-fascist to trade with
  • Consider economic changes since June, including the strength of the pound
  • There was a vote, so shut up!

Pretty conclusive in favour of leaving hard and fast, I suppose.

Here’s an image version if you’d like, since apparently JPEG is now the standard format for communicating text.