PZ Myers posted Entry 2105 on March 10, 2006 11:26 AM.
Trackback URL: http://degas.fdisk.net/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.cgi/2100


Last year, a new and unusual species of rodent was discovered in Laos, called Laonastes aenigmamus, or kha-nyou. Photos of the skull and an 11 million year old fossil can be found in "Laonastes/Diatomys/kha-nyou/rat-squirrel", on Pharyngula.

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Comment #85757

Posted by wamba on March 10, 2006 11:42 AM (e)

This thing needs a better name. How would you like to go through life being named for two other species?

Let’s have some suggestions for names.

Comment #85763

Posted by k.e. on March 10, 2006 12:26 PM (e)

Bruce or if your Chinese …dinner :)

Comment #85766

Posted by ben on March 10, 2006 12:37 PM (e)

Losangelestes Fafarmanus IDioticus, commonly known as the “Larry Rat.” Never mind, that would be redundant.

Comment #85768

Posted by Raging Bee on March 10, 2006 12:46 PM (e)

This creature can’t possibly be related to Larry Farfromaman: it’s too cute.

Comment #85770

Posted by wamba on March 10, 2006 12:53 PM (e)

Help please from anyone east of the pond - what is GCSE?

The BBC says:
Creationism to be in GCSE papers

Creationist theories about how the world was made are to be debated in GCSE science lessons in mainstream secondary schools in England….
Critics say the matter should only be discussed in R.E. because there is a danger of elevating religious theories to the status of scientific ones.

The government insists creationism is not being taught as a subject….

Also, what is “R.E.”? Journalists: Define your TLAs!

Comment #85771

Posted by Jason on March 10, 2006 12:54 PM (e)

I think the Intelligent Designer decided that Laotians were missing out on a tasty treat for too long.

Comment #85773

Posted by Don Baccus on March 10, 2006 01:06 PM (e)

“R.E” stands for Religious Education. Not exactly sure what GCSE stands for, I’m sure a Brit will help us out. It’s a national standard curriculum for secondary education, apparently.

Comment #85776

Posted by Rolf Manne on March 10, 2006 01:22 PM (e)

I didn’t know either and googled. This is what I found:

GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education.
It is explained here.

Comment #85779

Posted by Corkscrew on March 10, 2006 01:50 PM (e)

The UK school system is as follows:

1) Primary school from age 5 to 11 - no important exams

2) Secondary school from 11 to 16, culminating in GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education). Most people take about 8 GCSEs iirc

3) Sixth form or college from 16 to 18, culminating in A-levels (Advanced Levels). Most people take about 4 A-levels.

4) University from 18 to whenever.

Just to shake things up, recently they’ve introduced a new set of exams at age 17, called A/S levels (Advanced Subsidiary Levels). Two A/S levels = one A-level. It’s all a bit confusing and generally results in kids being horribly over-examined.

Comment #85793

Posted by Don Baccus on March 10, 2006 02:30 PM (e)

rolf wrote:

I didn’t know either and googled.

Heh. I googled, too, but the first page of links led me to lots of pages that said “GCSE this!” or “GCSE that!” (lot of sites with study aids, etc) without spelling out the acronym!

Thanks …

Comment #85796

Posted by Peter Henderson on March 10, 2006 02:51 PM (e)

I notice that this species isn’t called a “living fossil” as creationist orginisations usually like to put it. I’m positive over the next few days AIG will have an article on their website about this find presenting a problem for evolutionists. Have a look at their views on the Jurassic beaver story which was covered here a week or so ago.

RE. GCSE. When I was a teenager in the 1970’s they were called GCE’s then and there was no such thing as AS levels just O and A levels. A pass at O level then was a grade between 1-6 with 7,8 and U (ungraded) being fails. A level grades were A,B,C, O and F with A,B, and C being passes and F a fail. An O grade, while not being a pass was still useful because some third level courses required a subject to be studied to A level but did not necessarily ask for a pass. How times have changed.

I think my geology teacher would have been horrified, if he where still alive, at the thought of “flood geology” even being discussed in class. I’m sure he would have refused.

Comment #85797

Posted by Bruce Thompson GQ on March 10, 2006 03:06 PM (e)

Offering names, k.e.suggests: Bruce or if your Chinese …dinner :)

Which Bruce? Or are you suggesting Bruce is some species of marsupial? Although pouches are handy for carrying 6 packs of beer the extra ice required to keep them cold would become uncomfortable. Anyway Bruce is male.

Or is this some sort of extension of Phrenology applied to Bruce’s teeth. Perhaps a comparison of all Bruce’s (including those who participate here) might lead to a better understanding of the relationships within this group of organisms.

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

Comment #85799

Posted by Dizzy on March 10, 2006 03:17 PM (e)

k.e. wrote:

Bruce or if your Chinese …dinner :)

Whoa, that’s creepy. I took one look at that thing and said, “Oo, looks tasty.”

Comment #85817

Posted by Henry J on March 10, 2006 04:35 PM (e)

The name of this topic doesn’t fit too well in the “Recent Comments” box on the main page - that long string of nonblank characters causes it to run outside the box.

Comment #85820

Posted by Henry J on March 10, 2006 04:44 PM (e)

Re “or if your Chinese …dinner”

Does it taste like chicken? :)

Comment #85832

Posted by Just lurkin' on March 10, 2006 05:20 PM (e)

From comment 85796: “ I’m positive over the next few days AIG will have an article on their website about this find”

These guys beat them to it


Comment #85845

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on March 10, 2006 07:43 PM (e)

I’m positive over the next few days AIG will have an article on their website about this find presenting a problem for evolutionists. Have a look at their views on the Jurassic beaver story which was covered here a week or so ago.

Other than the oldtime YEC nutters, does anyone even pay any attention any more to what AiG or ICR say? About anything?

Comment #85851

Posted by the pro from dover on March 10, 2006 07:55 PM (e)

how about “scandentoid” (looks like a tree shrew)?

Comment #85874

Posted by John Wilkins on March 10, 2006 10:07 PM (e)

A couple of points about the journalism reporting this:

1. The species was not found in the fossil record 11 million years ago, other members of the “family” were. “Family” is a Linnean rank that has absolutely no objective significance whatsoever. It just means that the evolutionary group of which this species is a member had relatively close sister taxa that some biologist or paleontologist found similar enough to group that way.

2. Even if the same “species” were identified as being around 11 million years ago as the one found today, that doesn’t make it the same species. Let me explain. There is a problem identifying reproductively isolated species from fossil taxa because the biological properties that make one population isolated from another do not fossilise. It may very well be that the fossil form was a distinct biological species even if the two are similar enough to call the same “paleospecies” or “chronospecies”. Form is one indicator, but not a sufficiently rich one, to identify actual isolated reproductive pools.

Off to curmudgeon about something else now…

Comment #85880

Posted by RBH on March 10, 2006 10:50 PM (e)

John WIlkins wrote

Off to curmudgeon about something else now…

And here I thought the verb form of “curmudgeon” was “to curmudge”. Live and learn …


Comment #85925

Posted by Dean Morrison on March 11, 2006 10:00 AM (e)

Hi guys!

re the GCSE, RE thing.

Some of us British Readers - inspired by the Panda’s Thumb have set up a ‘sister’ forum in the UK:


Our ‘Science, Just Science’ group also has a website - although it’s still in early stage of development:


GCSE’s are certificated examinations taken at age sixteen which are required to progress further in the education system. Two examination boards have opted to include discussion of evolution/creationism in a sort of ‘science and society’ module of science examinations. However our concern is that the tiny but growing number of state-sponsored evangelical schools in the UK will use this as further excuse to undermine teaching of evolution.

Our science teaching is in general terms dictated by the ‘national curriculum’ (like your federal standards for those in the US) which state this about the teaching of evolution:

Sc2 Life processes and living things
Knowledge, skills and understanding

Variation, inheritance and evolution
4) Students should be taught:


1. that the fossil record is evidence for evolution
2. how variation and selection may lead to evolution or to extinction.

Not much - but it doesn’t mandate the teaching of ID or Creationism. However we know certain schools don’t interpret this statement that way and don’t restrict the teaching of creationism to RE (Religious Education) lessons. Of course we have no church/state seperation in the UK - but by and large we are a sensible lot - and most people have not time for ‘god-botherers’.

Can someone please discover a weasel so we can name it after Dembski?

Comment #85926

Posted by Dean Morrison on March 11, 2006 10:03 AM (e)

More on this development in the UK from the Guardian:


Comment #85928

Posted by Dean Morrison on March 11, 2006 10:29 AM (e)

Sorry I should also have pointed out that the UK National Curriculum for Sciencealso has the following general requirement:

deas and evidence in science
1) Students should be taught:

1. how scientific ideas are presented, evaluated and disseminated [for example, by publication, review by other scientists]Click to view notes
2. how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence [for example, Darwin’s theory of evolution]
3. ways in which scientific work may be affected by the contexts in which it takes place [for example, social, historical, moral, spiritual], and how these contexts may affect whether or not ideas are accepted
4. to consider the power and limitations of science in addressing industrial, social and environmental questions, including the kinds of questions science can and cannot answer, uncertainties in scientific knowledge, and the ethical issues involved.

which are quite laudable educational aims - but are sadly being abused in schools which hve been taken over by evangelicals. Of course we know there is no’empirical evidence’ for creationism or ID - but that doesn’t stop them from pretending that there is.
Less this sounds to alarmist we are probably talking about a handful of schools in the UK - but with the predicted rise of ‘faith schools’ favoured by Tony Blair - which also include Islamic Schools - we are worried that these are on the increase.

Sorry to hijack this thread again - anyone found a new kind of polecat we could name after Bill?

Comment #85929

Posted by Peter Henderson on March 11, 2006 10:45 AM (e)

Re John’s comment 85874. I was going to say something similar but not having done biology I decided to refrain from doing so.

I’ve read a number of articles that basically say the same thing John i.e. that the so called term “living fossil”,that creationists often use to describe a discovery such as this, is really a misleading one. For instance the fossilised coelacanths (another example) were an entirely different species to the ones that were discovered alive a few decades ago. I wonder how many creationist followers realise this ?

Comment #85937

Posted by Flitcraft on March 11, 2006 12:46 PM (e)

The Guardian piece you link to and the coverage of this story in the media in general has been pretty useless. It seems to boil down to people being unable to tell the difference between teaching Creationism and teaching history of science.

Here is the actual syllabus that sparked the story

The relevant bits are pp.34-35. It covers things like debunking Lamarckism and examining the reception Darwin got at the time. All very handy stuff. The exam board itself is very clear:

Creationism and ‘intelligent design’ are not regarded by OCR as scientific theories. They are beliefs that do not lie within scientific understanding.


I’m a bit concerned that people are going off half-cock over this and that it may lead to them being taken less seriously when they address real threats like the Vardy Schools.

Comment #85941

Posted by Dean Morrison on March 11, 2006 01:57 PM (e)

I tend to agree with you Flitcraft - but you can understand that people are sceptical when this story broke just one day after this (ambiguous) parliamentary answer:


On 27th February, Jacqui Smith answered a parliamentary question tabled by MP Keith Vaz.

His question was: ‘To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what her policy is on the teaching of creationism as a subject in schools; and if she will make a statement.’

In her reply, the minister said that pupils should “be taught about “how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence”. Also, the biblical view of creation can be taught in RE lessons, where pupils are taught to consider opposing theories and come to their own, reasoned conclusions. Therefore, although creationism and intelligent design are not part of the national curriculum, they could be covered in these contexts.”

Click here for her full answer.

The BHA has written to DfES ministers Jacqui Smith and Lord Adonis asking whether the Government really considers “that creationism and ‘intelligent design’ are examples of scientific theories based on empirical evidence within the meaning of the national curriculum.”

The letter explains that this is the BHA’s specific concern in Ms Smith’s written answer:

“Our specific concern is your interpretation of the phrase ‘how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence’ in the national curriculum programme of study for science at key stage 4. You say that creationism and ‘intelligent design’ “could be covered in these contexts.

“From discussions with science teachers, the BHA had understood that the controversies covered under this section over evolution specifically were only those with some claim to being genuinely scientific, such as the discredited Lamarckian theory. We are concerned, therefore, to hear the government endorsing the view of religious extremists that, firstly, a scientific controversy to do with creationism actually exists, and secondly that it could be taught in a state-funded school.”

For the full letter click here

Andrew Copson, education officer at the BHA said, “It seems inconceivable that the government should give even tacit approval to the teaching of creationism as a scientific theory. That they should approve its teaching within the national curriculum for science is outrageous.”

and people do have concerns about this ‘confusing’ pupils as to what science is, and of course being misused by the evangos. I think at that age (16) getting kids to understand how evolution works is an achievement.


- I really think we are being unfair to the poor old Rat Squirrel thingy - any chance of starting a ‘News from the UK thread’?

Comment #85944

Posted by Dean Morrison on March 11, 2006 02:14 PM (e)

Flitcraft - I’ve read through the syllabus you mentioned and it seems fine to me.

In fact it’s better than the old one which specifically mentions creationism (as a historical position)

I’m confused to see how this story got started - and the OCR have given a pretty clear clarification:

OCR rejection of Creationism and Intelligent Design

Comment #85949

Posted by Flitcraft on March 11, 2006 03:52 PM (e)

Dean - It seems to have broken in the Murdoch press a day earlier than everywhere else: in ‘The Times’ and ‘The Sun’ of March 9th (those are the dates given for those stories on Google News). Looks like a straightforward case of bad reporting there, followed by lazy reporting as the rest of the media followed suit. They were probably trying to dig something up in the wake of the Jacqui Smith statement, and ended up manufacturing a story to fit.

My apologies to the rat-squirrel, since he has such a big chewing muscle, perhaps he should be called Chewie? Then obviously he would be the Chewbacca squirrel.

“R2, I suggest a different tactic - let the squirrel win!”