The magnificent science of 2013.

January 7, 2014

Two extremely bright stars illuminate a greenish mist in this and other images from the new GLIMPSE360 survey.

2013 was a wonderful year for science. Thousands of breakthroughs in medical science, in space science, in technology, and genetics changed human understanding of ourselves and the universe that we inhabit, forever. We are now far closer to treating disease, to understanding our evolutionary journey, and to exploring the cosmos on a scale far greater than we were just twelve months ago. Each breakthrough deserves articles for themselves, but I thought I’d present a few here in snippets, with links to articles that describe the astonishing scientific breakthroughs of 2013 in greater detail. Here is a brief year in science:

January:
After a severe gout infection in his hand, Mark Cahill became the first man in the UK to undergo a successful hand transplant. Here.

In early January a study from Caltech in Pasadena estimated that each star in the Milky Way galaxy alone, contains at least one planet. This further estimates that our galaxy is home to at least 100 billion planets. In just one galaxy. In 1999 the Hubble Space Telescope estimated that there exists 125 billion galaxies. Here.

Also in the UK, a team of experts cured blindness in mice. The treatment – which includes injecting light sensitive cells into the eye and rebuilding light sensitivity – could in future be the launching pad for treating retinitis pigmentosa in humans. Here.

In Bolivia, a team of researchers discovered that injecting certain engineered stem cells in the minutes immediately following a stroke, could significantly aid recovery. The discovery was made after rats suffering a stroke were found to regain completely normal brain function within two weeks, after stem cell treatment. Here.

February:
In early February, researchers made a significant breakthrough in the development of potential treatments for both Parkinson’s and Alzheimers, by finding a way to overcome the problem caused by the blood-brain barrier – a barrier between the blood and the brain that blocks drugs from entering blood tissue. This is a remarkable step forward for the treatment of neurological disorders in humans. Here.

Scientists from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have managed to engineer 3D printing techniques to create stem cells. The researchers believe it could be the first step in creating brand new organs, without the need for organ donation. Here.

Nasa’s Curiosity Mars rover became the first human machine to drill a hole into the Martian surface, and recover samples for analysis in order to discover whether the planet ever held conditions for supporting life. In March, results showed that the rocks contain oxygen, carbon dioxide and water. A clear indication that life may have once existed on the Martian surface. Here.

Researchers at Barcelona’s Universitat Autonoma successfully cured type 1 diabetes in dogs using a method of gene therapy. To achieve this, a new gene is coded and used to replace a damaged gene. Here.

March:
My particular favourite – red wine makes you live longer. So if any of my readers appreciate me continuing to exist, you should send me red wine. Here.

In March, stem cells taken from mice and humans were successfully used to create new teeth to replace damaged teeth in mice, leading to the possibility of stem cells being used to create new teeth for humans in the future. Here.

In Leipzig, for the first time the full genome of Neanderthal was published, using a toe bone found in Siberia. By understanding Neanderthal’s genome, we get a clearer picture of the genetic divergence between modern humans, and our cousins. Neanderthal’s genome is a window into the history of humanity. Here.

The genetics of oesophageal cancer were more thoroughly understood, in March. Mutations in a number of genes were located that directly match those required for the development of the cancer. This is key to developing treatments to target the horrific disease that kills 400,000 World wide, every year. Here.

April:
Researchers discovered in April, the genetic mutation that can lead to the build up of certain proteins responsible for Alzheimer’s Disease. This discovery significantly aids researchers in developing treatments that target those areas of the brain with a view to understanding, treating and preventing Alzheimer’s on a far more targeted manner. Here.

Kidneys are the organ most in demand across the planet, for transplants. Scientists in April successfully created a lab grown kidney and transplanted it into animals, using stem cell technology. Whilst still in its early stages, this is a major breakthrough in stem cell research. Here.

A safer and easier technique of transforming bone marrow stem cells into healthy, functioning brain cells was produced by the Scripps Research Institute in April. This leads to far better treatment for stroke, and spinal injuries. Here.

May:
Energy efficiency in low grade silicon was improved greatly in 2013. UNSW in Australia developed a technique to better control hydrogen atoms, improving electrical efficiency from 19% to 23%. By October of 2013, the team was aiming at silicon solar cells with 29% targeted efficiency. This also helps to lower costs. Here.

Scientists at UC San Francisco successfully cured epilepsy in mice, opening the way for treatment for the prevention of the causes of epilepsy in humans. Here.

Fossils found in south west Tanzania seem to confirm earlier DNA analysis showing that monkeys and apes diverged 25 to 30 million years ago. By 25 million years ago, the fossils suggest old World monkeys and apes had separated. Here.

Neuroscientists at Lund University successfully prevented early symptoms of Huntington’s Disease in mice, by switching off a mutated protein in the brain. Treatments for Huntington’s is currently lacking, but this research provides the basis for future experiments and eventually treatments for Huntington’s in humans, by showing that symptoms can be controlled by dealing with the mutated protein. Here.

June:
In June the US Supreme Court ruled that a company could not patent genes. It sounds obvious. But that’s exactly what Myriad Genetics in Utah attempted to do. The company attempted to patent isolated DNA connected to ovarian and breast cancer, which in turn meant other groups had vital research frustrated and threatened. The Supreme Court rightfully ruled against Myriad, and research and treatment costs are now expected to fall. Here.

Researchers in London pioneered hologram technology to be used to lecture theatres across the World designed to make is easier for students to understand – through visuals – the huge amount of information they study. The effect is one in which a study subject – such as the kidney – appears to be floating in mid-air and can be manipulated for teaching purposes. Here.

The Israeli company NeuroDerm – a company supported by the Michael J.Fox Foundation – has developed a skin-administered treatment for Parkinson’s Disease, and initial reports are very promising. Here.

In June this year, Bristol-Myers Squibb working on therapies for metastatic melanoma and with a new drug, found that a third of patients were still alive three years later. This is a major breakthrough, because almost 100% of those suffering from the advanced disease in the past, do not survive. The therapy was said to lead to rapid regression of the tumour. Treatments are currently undergoing greater research into why it only seems to help around a third of patients. But the advancement in cancer immunotherapy was named the breakthrough of the year, in December this year. Here.

July:
The London Array. The World’s largest offshore wind farm – with 175 turbines – opens in the Thames estuary in London. It is set to reduce annual Co2 emissions by 900,000 tons; equivalent of 300,000 passenger cars. Here.

New research can now be opened for Down’s Syndrome, after US scientists managed to isolate and silence the chromosome that causes Down’s Syndrome, raising the possibility of future treatment for common symptoms. Here.

One in ten suffer from cat allergies. In July, researchers discovered a protein from cat dandruff that causes cat allergies in humans, and hope to develop a cure within five years. Here.

August:
Perhaps one of the biggest breakthroughs in 2013, came with the clearance of a simple skin patch that works to slowly feed a drug into the bloodstream and regulate blood pressure stability on a level never seen before. The patch has the potential to save millions of lives a year. Here.

Researchers have finally discovered certain processes that lead to mutational factors prevalent in most types of cancer, previously unknown. By understanding the genetic development of particular cancers, researchers in 2013 have opened the doors into future research for treatments. Here.

Using 3D printing technology for stem cells, researchers in Australia have developed lab-grown cartilage, leading to hopes that by 2025, brand new functioning, patient-specific organs will be produced in much the same way. Here.

September:
Scientists announced that a universal vaccine for flu could be available within five years. The flu virus mutates constantly and so is particularly difficult to immunise, but scientists have discovered what they term a ‘blue print’ that could eradicate all forms of the virus. Here.

The World’s first mind controlled prosthetic leg was developed in September. Here.

In New York, cotton-top Tamarins were observed and recorded making whisper-like behaviour The evidence suggests the Tamarins were investigating the threat level from the zoo supervisor, and communicating that information with other Tamarins via whisper. Here.

October:
Researchers at the Stem Cell Institute at the University of Cambridge, and the University of Copenhagen discovered gut stem cells that repair the damage caused by inflammatory bowel disease when transplanted into mice. Here.

A 17 year old girl in China with serious facial disfiguration due to terrible burns had a new face using pioneering technology that used tissue from her chest to craft a new face. She told reporters that the best part of this whole process, was that she could smile again. Here.

A huge leap in harnessing fusion for the benefit of unlimited energy was taken by US scientists in October. The amount of energy created by the reaction exceeded the amount used to cause the reaction. This is a World first. Here.

November:
A brand new way of scanning the heart for early signs of the causes of heart attacks was developed passed early tests. It highlights dangerous areas of the heart most at risk, in far greater detail than ever before. Here.

Researchers at Sheffield University discovered a method to reduce nuclear waste by up to 90%, and safely. Here.

December:
In Montreal, a team of researchers discovered a certain protein responsible for anxiety and emotional memory disorders in humans. They then tested drugs on mice and noted a significant improvement in those suffering with certain anxiety issues. Here.

New research using gut microbes taken from the human gut was found to help reverse behavioural issues associated with autism-like symptoms and reduce gastrointestinal issues that usually accompany autism, when tested on mice. The implication being a greater understanding of autism, and potential future treatment in humans. Here.

Researchers have found the most convincing evidence so far, that Neanderthal buried their dead in Europe, 50,000 years before modern humans came to the continent. Here.

New research found that a drug not yet approved for availability on the NHS is far more effective at preventing breast cancer than any others. The drug is said to halve the likelihood of those considered most at risk, from ever developing breast cancer. Here.

——- In truth, this is all really a very small sample of a few incredible scientific advancements and additions to the library of human knowledge provided by some of the World’s most wonderful minds over the past year. The magnificent science of 2013.


Usama Hasan – A hero to the Islamic World.

November 12, 2011

On Wednesday, I met Jesus.
He is a shop lifter from Poland.
He lives in London now.
And his mother is from Stoke.
And yet, amusingly, this isn’t the most ridiculous religious nonsense I have been subjected to this week.

My Atheist entries are usually aimed at either Theism as a whole, or Christianity. I am not usually one to take a shot at Islam, because for some odd reason, I associate anti-Islam sentiment, as being pro-EDL racist nonsense. This worry has faded recently, as I’m happy to admit I dislike Nationalism, and religion in equal amounts. Modern Islam is in crises, which poses a crises for the entire World; this needs to be discussed and debated. We must never be afraid to cause offence through reasoned questioning. Islam is a religion that tends to demand our respect, despite in the large part, not deserving our respect.

On the 28th February, the enemy of critical thought and free inquiry (thus, the enemy of humanity) Islamicawakening.com praised the Masjid al-Tawhid in London, for dismissing the Imam of the Mosque; a man named Usama Hasan.

Mr Hasan was dismissed, for the following reasons:

– He was dismissed, for free thought and critical inquiry. He was dismissed for embracing 21st Century intellectual reasoning, and fact. This, is why religion is dangerous in the modern World. The Mosque would rather indoctrinate its congregation, in 7th Century myths. A Warring-tribesman like mentality. A mentality that holds the concept of Jihad, at its very core. Jihad, is often noted to be a war in defence of Islam. It is a little bit misleading, in that the overriding goal of that rather regressive form of Islam, is defence, by conquest. Close all avenues of critical reasoning within the education system, to perpetuate a single way of thinking; the Islamic way. If people dissent, threaten them. This is “defence”. Let’s take a look at certain Hadith:

Paradise is in the shadow of the swords

– Conquest, central to the passing into Paradise.

Anas b. Malik reported that a person said: Allah’s Messenger, how the non-believers would be made to assemble on the Day of Resurrection (by crawling) on their faces? Thereupon he said: Is He Who is powerfnl to make them walk on their feet is not powerful enough to make them (crawl) upon their faces on the Day of Resurrection? Qatada said: Of conrse, it is so. (He adjured): By the might of our Lord.

– Utter contempt, promoted through fear, for anyone who doesn’t believe. Religion is just a man, with a knife threatening you until you give in.

Someone asked, “O Allah’s Apostle This (ordinary) fire would have been sufficient (to torture the unbelievers),” Allah’s Apostle said, “The (Hell) Fire has 69 parts more than the ordinary (worldly) fire, each part is as hot as this (worldly) fire.”

– Here’s that fear thing again. Fire isn’t hot enough for us non-believers (and we’re still supposed to respect this?)

Islam, if it is to demand respect, needs to modernise. It is at a crossroads right now. There are certainly forward thinking Muslims (Usama Hasan for example) who recognise that dialogue with the Secular World, as well as other religions, and embracing scientific truth, is the way that we progress. Islam can be a source of great scholarly pursuit, as it has in the past, but only if it wins over the minds of those who shout the loudest; the fundamentalists (of which, the number is pretty high). There are two roads; regressive literal Islam, or progressive allegorical Islam fit for the 21st Century. Christianity took a long time to note that its cosmology was vastly mistaken. The Earth is not the centre of the galaxy. It took a long time for Christianity to admit it is wrong. I wonder how long it’ll take Islam to admit that its weak dismissal of Evolution, is based entirely on misplaced belief rather than any sort of evidence. We all have a duty to question, to inquire, to be suspicious of authority and challenge it. That is how humanity moves forward. Islam is working in the opposite direction.

Hasan has had death threats because of his position on evolution. Fatwa’s issued against him. And all the while, it is he who people are condemning. Much like the Danish cartoonists who drew the Muhammad. People tend to blame the cartoonists for being “disrespectful” or Hasan for stirring up trouble or Salman Rushdie for writing a book. Those of us who believe in the methods of the Enlightenment need to stand up and point the finger of blame at the moronic sect of Islamic fundamentalists who seem to be so insecure in their irrational delusions, that they respond to any form of criticism, from a cartoon to actual fact based inquiry like that of Hasan, as a disgraceful attack worthy of death. A writer of a book is not worthy of death. A cartoonist should not be threatened for drawing a picture. We should not be afraid to cause ‘offence’. Offence, in this instance, is a by-word for progression. Hasan has the opportunity to bring Islamic thought into the 21st Century. But apparently, this is unacceptable.

A Kufr was issued against Hasan, which can be seen here. It comes across as a childish prank. It takes a while for a reasonable human being to realise that this is written by grown men. By adults. All because one man actually takes the fact of evolution seriously. One of favourite lines from the Kufr is:

The belief that the origin of man was the apes then this is disbelief in Allah
because it involves rejecting the Quran and what the Muslims have agreed upon, nay, what the humanity has agreed upon, because it is now clear that this view is utterly false devoid of any truth.

– It is clear that belief in a God, nay, belief in a personal God, who stays silent for 200,000 years of human history, and then intervenes by giving a book to illiterate Middle Eastern Tribesman, full of inaccuracies and mistakes, 198,000 years later, and then sits back for 2000 years as competing fairy tales over the nature his existence and his expectations, like a dictator in the sky, like a Kim Jong-Il nutcase, is utterly false and devoid of any truth. To claim that of evolution, and pass that dismissal off as “clear”, is a disgrace. It is beyond stupidity. Why on Earth should I be expected to respect this?

They quote Ibn Uthaymin, to give some sort of credit, or precedence to the issue:

“If he cannot be stopped except by this method, and he further
becomes an active caller to this atheism and disbelief then it is obligatory to execute him because he is an apostate.
And apostate must be executed.”

– This putrid form of Islam must be fought, argued against, and destroyed. It is a cancer. Thankfully, Ibn Uthaymin is now dead. The World is better off without him. The World would be even more better off, without the bile that he represented.

One of the more disturbing features of the Kufr, from Uthaymin:

It is incumbent upon the headmaster to refer his case to his superiors so that he could be kept away from education. It is also obligatory to monitor him outside the school to make sure that he does not mislead others.

– You might be mistaken for thinking this is the edict against Gallileo in the 17th Century, for proving that the Earth is not the centre of the Universe, flying in the face of religious dogma. But no, it is modern day Islam. Do not think for yourself. Do not question. Do not teach children any different to what Islam teaches them. It stinks of insecurity; that, maybe, if left to their own thoughts, humans will shake off the crippling shackles and thorned crowns of organised religion for good. This is unacceptable to organised religion.

One more criticism from the Kufr, is:


Usama Hasan spoke at the launch of two separate secular initiatives, 1) the infamous Quilliam Foundation (headed
by Ed Husain and Majid Nawaz) and 2) British Muslim for Secular Democracy. While at the first launch he
championed what he called ‘Islamic-Secularism’, at the second launch he clearly stated, “Muslims have no problem with political secularism. But we reject a metaphysical secularism that says or pretends that God does not exist” In other words, his Islam has no problems with doing away with the Islamic laws pertaining to marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc, so long as one believes in a God. Hence, his denial of the obligation of Hijab, the punishment for apostasy, and promotion of a new ‘modernised’ marriage contract which neither requires a Wali nor witnesses as stipulated by Islam – the very marriage contract which was referred to, by Sh Haytham al-Haddad, as the ‘Zina contract’.

– What this seems to be suggesting, is that personal belief is a great evil. It must be dogmatic, and forced. Islam, according to certain “scholars”, should rule your life. You shouldn’t attempt to question or hold your own personal belief. It is rigid, an ideology that requires full docile indoctrination and robotic like acquiescence. How vile.

Long gone are the days when Islam was the beacon of scholarly endeavor and innovative ideas. The days when Islam introduced Greek texts to a Latin audience facilitating the Renaissance. Or translating and introducing the thoughts of Aristotle into Islamic philosophy. Or translating the cosmological argument into Arabic. Or introducing us to Algebra whilst Christianity decided it was all heresy (much like Islam is doing now). These days no longer exist. What exists now, is dogma.

When I’m sat in a Church, and I hear the Catholic congregation repeat phrases, or sit in prayer, I get the unnerving sense that this is all just one big horrendous cult, like a dream. I get the same uneasy feeling, when Muslims use the phrase “Mohammad…(peace be upon him)”. It seems robotic, and something I’d expect from the old Roman cults. It is no different, in its essence, to when Aztecs would sacrifice an animal (or sometimes, a human) every morning to make sure the sun rises. This is where it all starts; silly little word games.

Islam today, is like a kicking and screaming child in a supermarket, who wont take no for an answer. It doesn’t like to be challenged. Or told it is wrong, when it is quite obviously wrong.

There are voices of reason though, that must be promoted. Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, a leading Muslim scholar in Britain, showed his support for Hasan, by saying that it is unnerving that people can quite happily denounce someone as a “non muslim” for simply challenging orthodoxy. He is correct. The death threats have to stop.

British Muslims for Secular Democracy set up a facebook group pronouncing their support for Hasan. They have 900 members on Facebook for their own page, which is great. These are the progressive voices of Modern Islam, that need to be heard, and yet are increasingly silenced by the loud, uneducated, vicious voices.

A very helpful post on the Islamicawakening forum explains the Islamic issue with evolutionary theory:


No matter what the case is, the origin of Bani Adam is not a monkey, it does not go back to the monkey. This is a contradiction to what Allah has informed us about Adam in the Quran, Adam’s creation was very detailed and all of his details in his creation was given to us, it is complete. Nothing about monkeys was mentioned. His creation was clear, he was a human being and all his descendents for 10 generations were human beings. Nothing was mentioned about developing or evolving from monkeys.

So my question is, do we abandon these definitive information, which is no doubt about (from the ulema), about how Adam was created? Do we abandon that because someone (Darwin) said this theory? If someone tells you there is no city called London or Makkah, you wouldn’t entertain him because you know that it exists. So Allah Azza wa jal tells us Adam was from dirt with His own two Hands. The ulema have no doubt about that, the intelligent (the uqela) have no doubt about this whatsoever.

– Allow me to attempt to address this line by line (or there abouts).

“No matter what the case is, the origin of Bani Adam is not a monkey, it does not go back to the monkey.”
– All this, from a religion that claims to preach ‘modesty’. What horrid bullshit. We are not the descendants of any type of modern ‘monkey’. We share a common ancestor. We can go back further, and say we share a common ancestor with absolutely every vertebrate on the planet through the unlikely survival of Pikaia Gracilens (the first vertebrate). This is all important; it progresses our understanding. Evolution is fact. It needs to be taught as fact. I doubt any Muslim would argue that gravity is not true. To argue that evolution is not a fact, is the same as arguing that things wont fall to the ground when dropped. It is absurd. It is ignored for harmful superstition and delusions.The story of human evolution, is also the story of modern biology and genetics. I’d advise any Muslim who strongly believes that Darwin’s beautiful idea is wrong, to pray when you get sick rather than seek medical advice. The great Ukranian geneticist, whom dedicated his life to the study of genetics and evolutionary biology (and so certainly knows more about the way humans work, than the piss poor attempt by the guy above) once correctly observed that:

“nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

– So I reiterate; if you truly disbelieve evolutionary theory, then stay out of the hospitals and the GPs office when you get sick. Sit at home, and pray. Otherwise, shut up and accept you’re wrong. Very very wrong.

“If someone tells you there is no city called London or Makkah, you wouldn’t entertain him because you know that it exists.”
– Exactly right. How ironic. His religion is telling me, metaphorically that London doesn’t exist. And then using that argument, to make a very weak suggestion. We know that evolution is a fact just as we know that London exists. To say London doesn’t exist, even though it quite clearly does, is exactly what Islam, Christianity, Judaism, are doing, and forcefully.

“Allah has informed us about Adam in the Quran, Adam’s creation was very detailed and all of his details in his creation was given to us, it is complete. Nothing about monkeys was mentioned. His creation was clear, he was a human being and all his descendents for 10 generations were human beings. Nothing was mentioned about developing or evolving from monkeys.”
– Then “Allah” is wrong. More specifically, whoever wrote the Koran is wrong. Allah doesn’t exist. So it would be absurd for me to suggest he is wrong. The desert tribesman of the Middle East, whom wrote the book, were wrong. And unsurprisingly, given that they were writing at a time when the Earth was the centre of the universe, flat, and no one really understood what the hell was going on.

“So my question is, do we abandon these definitive information, which is no doubt about (from the ulema), about how Adam was created?”
– It isn’t definitive information. But he’s right; there is no doubt about how Adam was created. He (along with all other homosapiens) evolved. Absolutely no doubt whatsoever in that one.

We can of course point to this adolescent and miserable time in Islamic history, as a product of Western Imperialism’s support for dangerous dictators who used Islam as a way to control a population and controlled dissent with a steal fist. Or we can blame Israel. Blame can be thrown in any direction. The problem is, that by its very nature, by the words of its book, it is dangerous. If we take Israeli aggression out of the question, if we look at the hypocrisy and downright disingenuous bullshit of British muslims who refer to Iraqi muslims as “brothers and sisters”, the nature of the Koran is war and spreading its message through war. The only way this kind of regressive ideological nightmare can be stopped, is if, as Sam Harris puts it;

Muslims learn to ignore most of their Canon, as most Christians have learned to do.

– Islam really does have a choice to make. It either sticks to the fundamental regressive nonsense of the Koran as literal truth, or it does what much of the Christian West has done, and try to justify hatefilled verses, by claiming that really, they’re just analogies and full of love. Either way, they’re losing.

The form of Islam perpetuated by what is now termed “Islamists”, is simply holding back free inquiry, which progresses human understanding, because it wishes to cling onto an outdated and violent tribal imperialism codified in its Holy book. This requires a backlash from the secular and Atheistic World. It is the reason I am a member of the British Humanist Association. “Islamist” nonsense should be argued against and ridiculed at every possible opportunity.

The sort of religion perpetuated by the Masjid al-Tawhid in London is not personal and it is not about spirituality. It is the dogmatic type, that forces its dangerous fairy tales on its followers and deals harshly with dissenting voices regardless of how sane and correct those dissenting voices are. It is the type of religion that tells people in Uganda that condoms cause AIDs. It throws rockets across arbitrary lines over who should rightfully control Jerusalem. It flies planes into buildings. It cuts pieces of skin off of a little baby’s genitals. It perpetuates the myth that Homosexuality is unnatural (by the way, homosexual behaviour has been noted in around 150 species – including the grayling, the domestic chicken, the African elephant, and the common racoon…… homophobia and the need for ‘Gods’ has only been noted in one species – you tell me which the most ‘unnatural’). It indoctinates at a young age. It held back the enlightenment. It is a fucking curse on humanity.

When one walks through a mental institution and hears men talking to imaginary friends, one thinks “this guy is insane”. But when it involves more than one man, and can issue fatwa’s and make a defiant attempt to block any form of free thought and human progress on pain of death unless it glorifies their dictator of a God, then we’re apparently supposed to give it some credit, respect it, and point the finger of blame at anyone who ‘insults’ it.

Insult it, ridicule it, question it, fight it.

Muslims like Usama Hasan should be held up as heroes of Islam and organised religion, in a modern World. Whilst we may disagree with his belief in a God, we must appreciate that he is supporting a version of Islam based on personal belief, rather than its current guise; conquest.