The Xinhua news agency reported the other day that a giant panda, Ai Hin, had faked pregnancy, possibly in order to receive better treatment in the form of a private room, air conditioning, and luscious bamboo. This observant and inventive panda is, of course, a distant relative of Professor Steve Steve.
Ohio is in the process of considering the Common Core standards to guide public education in a range of disciplines from English language arts to math and science. Ohio’s State Board of Education adopted the Common Core in June of 2010, and local districts have been creating curriculum materials under the Common Core for implementation this year. Now two state legislators, Republican Andy Thompson of Medina and Republican Matt Huffman of Lima have filed a bill, House Bill 597, that would abandon the Common Core and eviscerate those curricula, wasting the work of hundreds of Ohio educators. House Bill 597 also contains a deadly form of anti-science propaganda. It is a lovely example of right wing ignorance of science.
Honeysuckle, by Richard Meiss.
Photography contest, Finalist.
Lonicera X bella – Asian bush honeysuckle. Mr. Meiss writes, “This photo shows the coexisting ripe berries and new flowers of the Asian bush honeysuckle, an invasive species in the American midwest. This ‘second flowering’ in mid-September was induced by the very hot and dry summer of 2012. The phenomenon, an adaptation to environmental stress, was also widely noted in the British Isles; its prevalence is likely related to global warming. In this case, it may give a ‘leg up’ to an already-troublesome invasive species.”
The scare quotes are my gloss, but that is the headline of a credulous Dallas Morning News article on the “research” being conducted at the Institute for Creation “Research.” The article quotes Pat Robertson to the effect that it is silly – or, rather, looks silly – to deny the clear geologic record, but mostly the author appears to take the “research” seriously. Indeed, he makes the point that Charity Navigator gives ICR a 3-star rating, which, to my mind, means only that they waste contributions efficiently.
Buried at the tail end of the article, no doubt for “balance” (using a lot of scare quotes today; sorry), the author interviews Ron Wetherington, an anthropologist at Southern Methodist University. Professor Wetherington observes, correctly, that ICR puts the cart before the horse:
The problem is, they’re not scientists. They cherry-pick data in order to use it to justify the Genesis account of creation.
Sure enough, the ICR scientists claim that spiral galaxies, ocean salinity, and the (surprising) existence of soft tissue in dinosaur bones are clear evidence against what they call evolutionary naturalism. Real scientists, notes Prof. Wetherington, constantly test their hypotheses, rather than simply “line up facts to support a hypothesis.”
Professor Wetherington is careful not to disparage anyone else’s religion, which I suppose is a laudable position. But frankly when a scientist’s religion teaches something that is contrary to known fact and by his own admission prevents that scientist from getting a real job in a real research laboratory, then maybe it is time to admit that it is the religious view, not the science, that needs drastic modification.
Acknowledgment. Thanks are due again to Alert Reader for providing the link.
A dam at a toxic waste pond burst last week and spilled 10 Mm3 of water and about half as much presumably toxic sludge into a tributary of the Fraser River in British Columbia. If you want to see what 10 Mm3 of water looks like, watch the video posted by The Guardian.
The Fraser River empties into the newly named Salish Sea at Vancouver, B. C.
The Guardian article barely mentions salmon, but the Seattle Post-Intelligencer calls it British Columbia’s Exxon Valdez and suggests that over 2.5 million salmon could be affected. Although the water is apparently safe to drink now, no one knows what the long-term effects might be, after the toxic sludge enters the food chain. NBC news reports that the spill has already destroyed spawning beds for endangered Coho salmon, and there is fear that chinook and sockeye salmon, which are running upstream right now, may also be in danger.
The Provincial government is minimizing the danger.
The Cartwright Lab at Arizona State University is looking for a Software Application Associate to design, construct, test, document, and maintain software packages. We currently have software development projects involving phylogenomics, mutational genomics, and evolution.
Work in a collaborative environment to design, construct, test, document, and maintain software packages. Typical projects involve implementing high-performance algorithms for the statistical analysis of large genomic datasets for studying questions related to evolution and population genetics. Ability to translate software prototypes from Perl, Python, Java, etc. into C/C++ is preferred.
Bachelor’s degree in Statistics, Mathematics, Computer Science or related field AND two years of experience in software application development, including writing computer code in one or more programming languages; OR, any equivalent combination of experience and/or education from which comparable knowledge, skills and abilities have been achieved.
See the full ad: http://phoenix.jobing.com/software-[…]/job/4746091
Photograph by Keith Barkley.
Photography contest, Finalist.
Solar eclipse, May 20, 2012. Mr. Barkley writes, “I lucked out that the eclipse was still going on during local sunset. One of the few eclipse images you will see that was taken without a sun-viewing filter on the lens.”
A blogger in the Daily Kos reports that Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks people should “chill out” regarding genetically modified food. Tyson argues, as I have for years, that all our food is genetically modified, but it took on the order of 10,000 years to get where we are now.
The pseudonymous blogger, SkepticalRaptor, notes that GM foods are to many on the left as global warming is to many on the right: It is an article of faith that genetic modification is bad, and no amount of evidence can be adduced to change that opinion.
I would add, though, that there are valid reasons to oppose at least some genetic modifications, such as corn that is immune to glyphosate (Roundup) or plants laced with insecticide (Bt). Additionally, you could reasonably argue (as does SkepticalRaptor) that, whereas it may be legal to sell seeds that cannot reproduce themselves, it is certainly immoral to sell them to farmers in developing countries. Finally, I seem to recall that there have been occasional problems introducing, say, fish genes into tomatoes. None of these problems speaks against genetically modified food in general, though they surely militate in favor of considerable caution.
SkepticalRaptor concludes with the observation that Tyson is correct in following the evidence to its conclusion rather than denying the evidence in order to support a preordained conclusion. I could not agree more.
Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet was born on 1 August 1744 in Bazentin-le-Petit, Picardy, France. He was from a family of impoverished nobility, so he came to have the title Chevalier de Lamarck. He died at the age of 85 on 18 December 1829.
He was probably the greatest invertebrate biologist, clarifying the classification of invertebrates greatly. For that matter he is the one who coined the terms “invertebrate” and “biology”. He also was the first major evolutionary biologist, arguing that species had evolved from common ancestors and putting forward his own theory of the mechanisms – an inherent complexifying force combined with inherited effects of use and disuse of organs. One thing he did not do was introduce the notion of inheritance of acquired characters. Everyone already believed it; he just made use of it. So it should not be called “Lamarckian inheritance”.
Happy birthday to Lamarck, not a crackpot, not a quack, but a great evolutionary biologist.
In what you might call an unusual piece of reverse evolution, Lawrence O’Donnell last night made a monkey of Ken Ham, Biblical literalists, and the Tourism Authority. The “tape” is 8 min long and worth every moment.
Unfortunately, it will not be the last word on the Ark Park.
Photograph by Dan Moore.
Photography contest, Second Place.
Phalacrocorax harrisi – flightless Galápagos cormorant. Mr. Moore writes, “Having made its way to a small set of islands we now call the Galápagos and given sufficient food and no predators, the cormorant had no need to fly, so over the years lost its full-feathered wings. Its bright-orange companion is Grapsus grapsus – the Sally Lightfoot crab.”
What we got from NCSE:
We’re gearing up for this month’s webinar, which will cover how to use online petitions as an organizing tactic, and how to make the most of them. We’ll demo some of the software people use, talk about how to write a great petition, and talk about how to use the resulting list of supporters to grow your groups and fight science denial. We’ll talk a bit about building and maintaining email lists, and converting those contacts into more active participants.
You can find more info and register here.
It’ll be Wednesday, at 2PM Eastern, 11 Pacific. I hope you can join, or watch online afterward. And please do share that information with your groups.
A big story in the press today. Scientists – mechanical engineers and physicists, one working for Boeing with his office only a few miles from my home – show that the evolution of airplanes works the same way as the evolution of organisms:
The evolution of airplanes
A. Bejan, J. D. Charles and S. Lorente
J. Appl. Phys. 116, 044901 (2014);
(fortunately this paper can be downloaded for free).
They make allometric plots of features of new airplane models, log-log plots over many orders of magnitude. The airplanes show allometry: did you know that a 20-foot-long airplane won’t have 100-foot-long wings? That you need more fuel to carry a bigger load?
But permit me a curmudgeonly point: This paper would have been rejected in any evolutionary biology journal. Most of its central citations to biological allometry are to 1980s papers on allometry that failed to take the the phylogeny of the organisms into account. The points plotted in those old papers are thus not independently sampled, a requirement of the statistics used. (More precisely, their error residuals are correlated). Furthermore, cultural artifacts such as airplanes do not necessarily have a phylogeny, as they can borrow features from each other in massive “horizontal meme transfer”. In either case, phylogeny or genealogical network, statistical analysis requires us to understand whether the points plotted are independent.
The paper has impressive graphs that seem to show trends. But looking more closely we notice that neither axis is actually time. If I interpreted the graphs as trends, I would conclude that birds are getting bigger and bigger, and that nobody is introducing new models of small airplanes.
At least we may rejoice that the authors are not overly shy. They make dramatic statements on the implications for biology:
The engine mass is proportional to the body size: this scaling is analogous to animal design, where the mass of the motive organs (muscle, heart, lung) is proportional to the body size. Large or small, airplanes exhibit a proportionality between wing span and fuselage length, and between fuel load and body size. The animal-design counterparts of these features are evident. The view that emerges is that the evolution phenomenon is broader than biological evolution. The evolution of technology, river basins, and animal design is one phenomenon, and it belongs in physics.
Evolution means a flow organization (design) that changes over time.
Thanks, now I finally know what evolution is. And that biologists should go home and leave its study to the physicists and engineers.
[Note: I will pa-troll the comments as aggressively as I can and send trolling and troll-chasing to the Bathroom Wall.]
Contrails, in the general direction of Denver International Airport, as seen from Boulder, Colorado, August, 2011. Jeff Mitton, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, in an article in the Boulder Daily Camera, reminds us that contrails reduce diurnal temperature fluctuations and may have a significant effect on climate.
By David MacMillan.
8. New perspective. I think there are several different varieties of creationism activists. Some are obsessed with the presumed negative effects of evolution and secular humanism. Some are driven by suspicion for science and the certainty that a conspiracy must be afoot. Some use creationist apologetics to make themselves feel smarter and better-informed than the general public. Some are genuinely interested in science and want to know the truth.
I’d be lying if I said my motivations for arguing creationism were firmly in the last camp. I wasn’t much of a conspiracy theorist, but I certainly believed that there were inevitable negative consequences from the acceptance of evolution. I was definitely stuck-up about my “special” expertise. But deep down, I really did want to know the truth about the world. I loved being right, but I loved learning new things more.
Photograph by Al Denelsbeck.
Photography contest, Winner.
Our congratulations to Al Denelsbeck, the winner of the latest Panda’s Thumb photography contest with his remarkable photograph “Parasitized moth larva.” “Flightless cormorant,” by Dan Moore, was second. We will award Mr. Deneslbeck a book generously supplied by NCSE.
Acharia stimulea – saddleback caterpillar moth larva, which has been parasitized by a species of Braconid wasp, of the superfamily Ichneumonoidea. Mr. Denelsbeck writes, “Darwin, of course, made a comment in a letter to a colleague regarding the nasty life cycle of the Ichneumon family. The wasp has laid eggs in either the caterpillar itself, or in the eggs that would hatch the caterpillar, and the wasp’s larva hatched and commenced eating the caterpillar from the inside. Seen here, the larva have come to the surface and spun their cocoons outside the caterpillar’s body to pupate within, soon to emerge outside as adults. The caterpillar, already ravaged internally, will live only a few more days.
“Also of note is the normal appearance of the caterpillar, an example of aposematic coloration, or ‘keepaway’ signals. The spikes are assisted by a significant irritant, and the combination of the two traits serves to protect the caterpillar from predators such as birds; the irritant chases them off, while the coloration is memorable enough to form the association in the unlucky bird’s mind so they will not make another attempt on any member of the species. This mechanism, however, doesn’t impress the wasps.”