Thursday, June 30, 2005

Natural Selection and Random Mutations

Evolgen has a great post on the randomness of mutations. Check it out. Also 10 bonus points if you can name the anonymous troll! Hint: He used to comment a lot at The Panda's Thumb.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Kennewick Man

Study will, finally begin on the Kennewick skeletal material.
Preliminary examination will focus on taphonomic issues:

The researchers plan to do what is called a "taphonomic" examination of the skeleton, taking measurements and making observations about the processes that affect animal and plant remains as they become fossilized. Further study is planned based on the initial findings, Schneider said.

"Taphonomy is really a forensic examination," Schneider said. "You try to determine everything that has affected the skeleton from day of death until you study it."

This sounds to me like the AP writer doesn't know much about anthropology. Several studies have already been made of the skeleton in connexion with the court case and a complete inventory of the material has already been made, which doesn't preclude them from being done again.
Something like the following will probably happen. They will lay all the skletal material out, on a table, in anatomical positition. the bones will be inventoried. Then each bone will be examined for pathology and damage (animal gnawing, damage caused by the fossilization process, etc), then each bone will be measured and the measurements will be compared, later, with measurments in any number of databases. For example, the University of Tennessee houses a large amount of Arikira skeltal material. It also houses a large sample of modern forensic skeletal material. I have been meaning to do a post along these lines so sometime in the next couple of days I put something more indepth up.

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The Culture of Life Hates Pregnant Women, Unborn Babies and Children

Lets start with this:

The Bush administration lifted a moratorium imposed in 1998 by the Clinton administration on using human testing for pesticide approvals. Under the change, political appointees are refereeing on a case-by-case basis any ethical disputes over human testing.

The tests include a 2002-04 study by University of California-San Diego in which chloropicrin, an insecticide that during World War I was a chemical warfare agent, was administered to 127 young adults in doses that exceeded federal safety limits by 12 times.

New EPA rules under development envision permitting the agency to accept data from human tests on children, pregnant women, newborns, infants and fetuses. Even newborns of "uncertain viability" could be tested under the draft EPA rule.

Here's where the story gets a little complicated. A provision was introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer that would prevent such testing. The provision was approved by a 60-37 vote. But there is a problem:

Ordinarily, approval by both House and Senate would ensure the language is retained in the final version of the bill. But GOP floor manager Conrad Burns, R-Mont., opposed Boxer's amendment, and as lead Senate negotiator on the bill, is well-positioned to kill it in future talks with the House.

Burns countered with an amendment, adopted 57-40, in favor of human testing. It instructs the EPA to study whether human testing is conducted ethically whether the benefits outweigh the risks to volunteers.

50-47 that sounds almost like a straight party line vote to me. At any rate it sounds like the Culture of Life loving republicans are saying it's okay for pesticide makers to test pesticides on pregnant women and unborn children but abortions are out? Or did I miss something?

Here is the rest of the Story

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Harvard Survey

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

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The Culture of Life has Confusing Rules

Liberal hunting permit Posted by Hello

Creek Running North has a post about the above picture. He also links to a excellent post on the same subject by Orcinus

So, if I understand the rules correctly, Dick Durbin has to apologize for comparing torture at Gitmo to...well other folks who engage in torture. Yet the above kind of hatered and villification of liberals is okay?

P.S. afarensis is a bit of a fiesty liberal. His response is:

Anytime you think you are man enough come on and try to hunt this liberal!

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Anybody know anything about who or what this is:

Dear potential Speaker:

On behalf of the organizing committee, I would like to extend a cordial
invitation for you to attend one of the upcoming IPSI BgD multidisciplinary,
interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary conferences.

The first one will take place in the Venice, Italy:

Hotel Luna Baglioni (arrival: 9 November 05 / departure: 14 November 05)
New Deadlines: 1 July 05 (abstract) / 1 August 05 (full paper)

The second one will take place on the Bled lake, Slovenia:

Hotel Toplice (arrival: 8 December 05 / departure: 11 December 05)
New Deadlines: 10 July 05 (abstract) & 1 September 05 (full paper)

The third one will take place in New York City, NY, USA:

Hotel Beacon (arrival: 5 January 06 / departure: 8 January 06)
New Deadlines: 1 August 05 (abstract) & 1 October 05 (full paper)

All IPSI BgD conferences are non-profit. They bring together the elite of the
world science; so far, we have had seven Nobel Laureates speaking at the opening
ceremonies. The conferences always take place in some of the most attractive
places of the world. All those who come to IPSI conferences once, always love to
come back (because of the unique professional quality and the extremely creative
atmosphere); lists of past participants are on the web, as well as details of
future conferences.

These conferences are in line with the newest recommendations of the US National
Science Foundation and of the EU research sponsoring agencies, to stress
multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary research (M+I+T++
research). The speakers and activities at the conferences truly support this
type of scientific interaction.

One of the main topics of this conference is "E-education and E-business
with Special Emphasis on Semantic Web and Web Datamining"

Other topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

* Internet
* Computer Science and Engineering
* Mobile Communications/Computing for Science and Business
* Management and Business Administration
* Education
* e-Medicine
* e-Oriented Bio Engineering/Science and Molecular Engineering/Science
* Environmental Protection
* e-Economy
* e-Law
* Technology Based Art and Art to Inspire Technology Developments
* Internet Psychology

If you would like more information on either conference, please reply to this
e-mail message.

If you plan to submit an abstract and paper, please let us know immediately for
planning purposes. Note that you can submit your paper also to the IPSI
Transactions journal.

Sincerely Yours,

Prof. V. Milutinovic, Chairman,
IPSI BgD Conferences

Please let me know.

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A Little Help: Woodstock of Evolution

Somewhere in my Bloggy wanderings, today, I came across a blog that had an interesting discussion of a recent evolution conference on the Galopagos - which I now can't find (I was at work, it was lunch, I thought I would remember where I found it). It had a link to a Scientific American story about the event. If anyone knows this blog let me know.

Anyway the event in question was the "World Summit on Evolution" held in the Galopagos June 9th-12th. It was a star studded extravaganza featuring some of the biggest names in the study of evolution (William Calvin, Daniel Dennett, Niles Eldredge, Douglas Futuyma, Peter and Rosemary Grant, Antonio Lazcano, Lynn Margulis, William Provine, William Schopf, Frank Sulloway, Timothy White, and others.)

Here is a link to Michael Shermer's first hand account The Woodstock of Evolution.

A teaser:

Day One : General Vision of Evolution

With 210 people in attendance (in a healthy blend of graduate students and professors), the conference began on a hot and humid Wednesday night with a lecture on the geological history and biological diversity of the islands by Carlos Valle, the first resident of the Galapagos to ever earn a Ph.D. This was followed by Frank Sulloway’s visually stunning presentation on his research project to document the ecological changes in the islands from his first visit in 1968 to the present (in which Frank has painstakingly hiked to the exact spots he stood decades ago so that photo comparisons are accurate and meaningful). Through before and after photos it became clear just how much damaged has been caused by such introduced species as goats, who have deforested entire mountains on some islands, thereby robbing the native species of a natural resource.

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New Species of Catfish Discovered

A new species of catfish has been discovered in Mexico. The species represents a new family of catfish and is only the and is only the third new family of fish found in the last sixty years. From the article:

Lundberg, the Academy’s Curator of Ichthyology, said only about 30 of the fish have been found since the 1990s and only one specimen was collected in a recent five-day expedition. “The unexpected discovery of this enigmatic new family of fishes in one of the world's most biogeographically complex regions emphasizes how little we know about Mesoamerica's biotic legacy and conservation value,” Lundberg said. “This find reminds us that the most basic scientific inventory of Earth's biodiversity is woefully incomplete."
Anatomical studies aided by high-resolution computer images allowed researchers to pinpoint key differences from other species in the bone structure of the skull, the shape of the air bladder and the articulation of a barbel (the part that resembles a cat’s whisker). Studies also show the fish is the only member of an ancient group that may have arisen millions of years ago when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
“Realizing now that the Chiapas catfish is highly unusual, it is critical that we learn the details of its diet and habitat requirements and reproductive biology,” Lundberg said. “This will require a focused study of the species in its natural habitat."

That habitat is of concern to researchers, however. The fish was found in and around Montes Azules, a jungle reserve in a region threatened by logging, expansion of agriculture and cattle ranching and the damming of rivers.

From Catfish Bones

and this cool CT scan

Go here for more CT scans.

And here is something for the ID Creationist to think about. One species is a representitive of a family. What do you (ID Creationist) suppose it all means?

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Snail's Tales: Thanks for the Reminder

Darwin Statue at Shrewsbury Posted by Hello

Snail's Tales has a timely reminder. July 1st is the 147th anniversery of Darwin and Wallace presenting the theory of Natural Selection before the Linnean Society.

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Transitions News

DarkSyd at Unscrewing the Inscrutable has sent me a post on bird evolution for Transitions. Check it out! Thanks to DarkSyd - and everybody else who has participated, given me advice or mentioned it on their blog!

On a related note, one or more people (you ought to be ashamed of yourselves) tried to spam Transitions. Fortunately, Blogsome's anti-spam software caught it all.

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Monday, June 27, 2005

Can't Resist One Last Post

Optical Illusions and Visual Phenomena


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Halliburton Overcharges by 1.4 Billion Dollars

According to this article Halliburton has overcharged the troops by 1.4 billion dollars. Yet Karl Rove thinks liberals do not support the troops!

The breakdown:

According to the report, released Monday by Democrats Sen. Byron Dorgan, N.D., and Rep. Henry Waxman, Calif., the audits show Halliburton subsidiary KBR racked up $813 million in questioned costs on an $8.6 billion logistics contract providing food and shelter and other support services to troops; $219 million in questioned costs on an Iraqi oil contract, and a total of $442 million in unsupported costs on the two contracts.

Questionable costs, as defined by Defense Department auditors, are those that would seem unreasonable to the average person. Unsupported costs are those the company can not provide documentation for.

Note, Halliburton can't provide documentation on 442 million of it yet Durbin had to apologize for being unpatriotic. Sounds like a massive inversion of american moral values to me.

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Deep Ocean Photosynthesis in Bacteria

This is cool.

Most bacteria use photosynthesis, powered by sunlight to create sugars for fuel. Recently, a species of bactera was discovered that uses light given off by hydrothermic vents to power the photsynthetic reaction.

From the article:
The bacteria have a sophisticated antenna system that allows them to collect the low light emanating from hydrothermal vents, the researchers explain in a report published online this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This light energy is then transferred to the organism's reaction center, where photosynthesis takes place. "This shows that photosynthesis is something that is not limited only to the very surface of our planet," Blankenship says. "It lets you consider other places where you might find photosynthesis on Earth as well as on other planets."

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I'm having trouble going to Transitions. Can't get to Blogsome either. Anybody else having trouble?

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

A Post on Crocodile Evolution at Transitions

I have published a post on Crocodile evolution over at Transitions. Check it out. Also, if you wish to get in touch with me about Transitions related stuff you can email me at

Yes, I know its spelled with an extra "s" "transitions" was taken.

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Mammary Glands and Solenodon

One of the more interesting aspects of Solenodons is the locattion of their teats, which are located near the buttocks.
Generally, mammary glands are located in several regions. They can be located anteriorly (as in primates, elephants, sea cows and bats), posteriorly (as in horses, cows, sheep, and whales) or serially (as in litter bearing species such as dogs and cats). Anterior mamary glands are located in the thoracic region, whereas posterior mammary glands are located in the inguinal region.
In addition to supplying young Solenodon with nourishment, the teats provide a secondary function. Namely, they aid in the transport of solendon young. From an intersting article on Solenodons:

We observed a unique mode of maternal-young contact which we have referred to as 'teat transport'. This phenomenon is well known among some rodents (2), but unreported in insectivores. At seven weeks of age the youngster will accompany its mother on her foraging activities by clinging to one of the two inguinal teats. At this time the teats are very elongated, up to 2 cm in length, enabling the youngster to cling to a teat as it is dragged along close behind. As the infant grows it is able to assert its own locomotion and simply seize the teat and follow, moving when the mother moves, stopping when she stops. The 21/2 month old infant may still show this response and even scratch itself while standing behind the mother holding on to a teat. It would seem that if the solenodon has to change burrows from time to time, then such a teat-transport mechanism enables the female to move with still very dependent young, pulling them along behind her on her teats, rather than attempting to carry them in her mouth. Mouth transport, of course, is a wide-spread phenomenon in small insectivores; however, the solenodon's teat-transport mechanism is probably quite efficient since the young remain dependent for a long time. During this dependency period, the female can forage and be accompanied by the young.

This is similar to the function of inguinal teats in marsupials - the one difference being that in marsupials the teats used for transport do not produce milk. I could find no information on the actual anatomy of the Solenodon mammary gland so I can't compare it to, say, marsupials, cows, sheep, or humans. Although, since Solendon are pretty ancient (as a species - dating back to the ime of the dinosaurs) I would expect there to be some similarities with marsupials.
I also wonder if the teat transport might not explain why there are so few venomous mammals - most mammals transport their young by carrying them with their teeth. I have no data on the subject so this is pure speculation. One of the reasons Solenodon was free to evolve venom is that they used teat transport to move their young and wouldn't run the risk of accidently poisoning their young (incidently, nursing is one way mammals build up immunity so a possible test of this might be to examine young Solenodon's immunity to their own poison). Other mammals, then would have been precluded from developing venom because an alternative transport mechanism was not avialable for co-option. If I undestand Gould correctly, this would be a case of exaption.

An intersting link Comparitive Mammary Gland Anatomy

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Saturday, June 25, 2005

Playing with DSL

Just got DSL so I'm playing around. Uploaded this picture of a crocodile fossil that I am going to use for a post at Transistions. Way quicker than dile up!

Croc fossil Posted by Hello

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Friday, June 24, 2005

Welcome Pharyngulans and Panda's Thumbites

Feel free to look around. But please read this, this and this.

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Friday Solenodon Blogging

This falls under the category of "So ugly it's cute".

Solenodon Posted by Hello

Or maybe just "Soooo ugly"!

Solenodon 2 Posted by Hello

Solenodon are related to the insectivores and can be found in Hispaniola and Cuba. The Solenodons are small, nocturnal omnivores. They eat insects, grubs, small reptiles, fruit and other plant matter. They may produce two litters a year. How are the young fed? The female's two teats are placed on the edge of the buttocks near the tail.

Warning: Gratuitous Spider Sex Link
Now if I were PZ Myers that would be reason enough to talk about them. Maybe even try to find a picture of it and talk about the developmental genetics of it all. But I'm not.

So instead I'm going to talk about venomous mammals. Solendons are one of a few venomous mammals. The others being the duckbilled platypus and several species of shrew (including the North American Short Tailed Shrew) The saliva of a solenodon is venomous and is injected via narrow grooves on it's second lower incisor.

solenodon jaw Posted by Hello

Recent genetic research indicates that the solenodon lineage split off from that leading to moles, shrews and hedgehogs approximately 76 million years ago - somehow surving the event that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Curiously enough, a fossil has recently been found dating to about 60 million years ago.

Bisonalveus browni Posted by Hello

The fossils consisted of several mandibular fragments and a cranial fragment. Previous finds of this particular creature contained molars only but the new find also had canines - which contained grooves similar to the solenodon incisor (an interesting difference). The fossils have been named Bisonalveus browni and belong to a small shrew like mammal. Researchers have several hypothesis to explain the teeth:

"The likelihood that the saliva was toxic and was required to subdue active prey is high," he said. "But one must also consider that if the animal was a highly active forager … introduction of saliva for digestive reasons could also be important."

Did other mammals of the time have venom:

"The discovery that B. browni and, in all likelihood, a few other extinct mammals used venom to secure prey suggests that venomous mammals were more widespread in the past.
As the fossil record of mammals from B. browni's era improves ... even more venomous mammals will be discovered."

Why don't modern mammals have venom:
"... venom may be scarce among mammals today because predatory mammals use surprise, speed, and strength so efficiently in their attacks, and can inflict lethal damage with teeth and claws".
"The kill can be immediate ... whereas a venom, however sophisticated, takes time."

Added later: PZ Myers has a great post on Bisonalveus browni, including better pictures of the teeth.

It will be interesting to see how these issues are answered.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Microtubule Formation is Not Irreducibly Complex

From Science Daily comes The Making and Breaking of Microtubules .

From the article:

Microtubules are active protein polymers critical to the structure and function of cells and the process of cell division. In a living cell their growing ends constantly elongate and retreat in a thrashing frenzy of polymerization and depolymerization, like the writhing snakes of Medusa's hair. Known prosaically as "dynamic instability," this ongoing rapid growth and shrinkage is key to the diverse workings of microtubules in the cell.

Apparently, one of the key molecules driving microtubule formation is guanosine triphospate (GTP).

Microtubules are polymers whose basic units are pairs (dimers) of similar but not identical tubulin proteins, dubbed the alpha and beta forms. During polymerization the dimers stack end to end to make a protofilament. About thirteen protofilaments are arranged side by side, extending longitudinally, to form the walls of a cylindrical microtubule.

The so-called minus end of the microtubule grows slowly and is often anchored to a cellular structure. The other end, the plus end, is a hotbed of activity. In the presence of GTP the microtubule's protofilaments acquire more tubulin dimers, and the whole microtubule extends rapidly for many millionths of a meter before suddenly switching off and shrinking again.

Essentially, GTP causes microtubules to straighten out so the polymerization can proceed. The GTP molecule can undergo hydrolysis, to form GDP. GDP causes the microtubule to bend or curl preventing further polymerization:

...the contacts between the alpha and beta tubulins within and between dimers are both affected, although in significantly different ways, resulting in a curved protofilament that cannot form lateral contacts.

So microtubule formation is driven or stopped by a simple hydrolysis reaction - hardly the stuff irreducible complexity is made of. To add insult to injury the implications of this research for Well's centriole turbine conflation arn't good.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

New Post at Transitions

I have a new post up at Transitions. Check it out! As always I am looking for contributors or links for the site.

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The Red Knot Needs Your Help

Red Knot Posted by Hello

The Red Knot is a small bird the winters in Tierra del Fuego and Breeds in Canada. Along the way it stops in various places in North America where it feeds on horshoe crab eggs. Unfortunately:

These eggs are being harvested unsustainably (for use as bait for conch and eels), and unless an emergency moratorium on harvesting is implemented, the results could be disastrous for shorebirds, especially the Red Knot.

What can you do?

Go to bootstrap analysis and be educated on the issue, then follow the links and sign the petition - I did!

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Eocene Insect and Plant Diversity in South America

Since I have an anthropology background I dreally don't post that much on plants and insects (What, no bones? Inconceivable!) But I found this really fascinating.
Researchers collected over 3,500 fossils from from 25 quarries in Patagonia. Each fossil was examined for four types of insect damage:

The four feeding groups are those insects that feed on the external leaf, chewing holes, edges and other leaf parts; those insects that mine tissues inside the leaf; those that produce bulbous galls and those that pierce and suck the leaves. Because different insects chew, mine, gall and pierce in different ways, the researchers recognized 52 discrete damage types from the four feeding groups. They applied these categories to both bulk samples from single quarries and to individual leaf species.

Below is an example.

Insect Damage Posted by Hello

They were then compared to approximately 2700 fossils from three sites in North America. The results:

The researchers found that the number of damage types at each of the four major Patagonian quarries significantly exceeds each of the three North American samples. The number of functional feeding groups is also greater than all North American samples for three of the four major quarries. The diversity of damage types and feeding groups at the Patagonian sites for individual plant species hosts is also highest.

"Insect damage on leaves, the remains of insect meals, is uniquely valuable data," says Wilf. "While actual insect fossils can give us taxonomic information, leaf damage provides unique ecological data about which and how many kinds of insects were eating and interacting with ancient plant species in the deep past. Also, insect damage on fossil plants, which can be very abundant, can give us a great deal of information about insects at times and places with very few insect fossils."

The research design was extremely rigorous. The North American fossils were collected by the same team and members of that team helped collect the Patagonian fossils (to insure identicle collection methods). Two of the researchers scored all the insect damage (to insure consistancy in the scoring). Samples were then adjusted for size. All in all an impressive piece of research. Incidentally, if a creationist ever tells you we can't learn about the past because humans wern't around to witness it you can point them to this post - which shows, in a very convincing fashion, that we can.

Also, the same team published an earlier study which gives a few more details. You can find a summary of that earlier work here.

Here is a few paragraphs to tide you over till you get there:

Many Eocene fossil sites in North America have been collected 100 years or more. Laguna del Hunco, though known for 80 years, is now the first of this age from South America to be heavily and quantitatively sampled. Quantitative sampling, where every specimen is tallied and identified, allows sample size to be taken into account when comparing recovered diversity. The age of the deposit was also not well constrained.

The researchers collected more than 1,500 fossils and identified more than 100 different fossil leaf species including dicots, monocots, conifers, ginkgophytes, cycads and ferns. They also identified a variety of seeds, fruit and flowers. In total, they more than tripled the known diversity of the site in two weeks. Using paleomagnetic dating, which uses the Earth's magnetic pole reversals, and argon argon dating, which compares the amounts of two isotopes of argon one of which is produced by the natural radioactive decay of potassium, the researchers dated the fossils to a half million year interval between 52 and 53 million years ago. These are the first high-precision ages for the deposit, which now can be correlated anywhere in the world.

I will be republishing this, in a slighttly different form, over at Transitions this evening.

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Monday, June 20, 2005

How Not to Write an Article on Evolution

The subject matter itself is pretty interesting, but the way it was written was horrible.
Researchers at the University of Washington - Seattle examined a small section of chromosome 2 in humans, apes and old world monkeys. What they found was that old world monkeys did not have a series of duplications found in apes and humans - implying the duplications occurred after the last common ancestor of old worl monkeys, apes and humans (approximately 10-20 mya). An interesting finding is that the gene duplications occurred in a very short timespan. How does the article characterize the research ( Did Humans Evolve in Fits and Starts?)?

Humans may have evolved during a few rapid bursts of genetic change, according to a new study of the human genome, which challenges the popular theory that evolution is a gradual process.

It is unknown what effect the sudden duplication activity may have had on chromosome 2. Eichler theorises that it may have resulted in genes for increased brain size or pathogen evasion. If specific regions of chromosomes can have very punctuated events, it means our models based on gradual evolution are probably wrong,”he says.

You would think that New Scientist would do a better job of an interesting and important subject. The whole "popular theory of gradual evolution" is a bit overdone and makes it sound like evolution has been proven false. The theory of punctuated equilibrium has been around for long enough - and there is some evidence to suggest it has occurred in human evolution - that these kinds of spins on scientific research are unwarrented.

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

I'm Baaaaack!

Finally got back from the lake - got some great pictures and will do a post on that once I get them developed. Some interesting animals! I hope to have something new posted tomorrow - tonight I'm going to be catching up on what's been happening while I was away.

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Friday, June 17, 2005

Gone Sailing!

Finally getting ready to leave for the lake. In the meantime, Snail's Tales has an excellent post at Transitions. Check it out. I'll be back Saturday evening or Sunday morning - depending on the wind!

Gone Sailing Posted by Hello
I in the very back

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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Light Blogging

I will be taking my sailboat out to the lake tomorrow afternoon so I will probably not post anything else till Sunday evening. I am going to try to get one more here and one more at Transitions before I leave... but I don't know if I will get to it.

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Neanderthals and Skeletal Biology

Back in April I wrote this post on skeltal biolgy. The post was about how several different techniques, such as stable isotope analysis, could reveal a lot about skeletal material. In that post I talked about how stable isotope anlysis helped document slavery in South Africa. Here is another, admittedly old, example.

There has been a certain amount of controversy in the anthropological literature concerning Neanderthal hunting ability. Although Neanderthals were freqently found in associatation with spear points, and other artifacts, and various faunal assemblages there has been some doubt about whether they were hunters or scavengers.

Neanderthal Skull Posted by Hello

In 2000 specimens from Vindija cave in Croatia were being radiocarbon dated. Part of the process includes the assessment of stable isotopes. To refresh your memory, stable isotopic analysis of carbon can be used to detect terrestrial versus marine diets. Stable isotopic analysis of nitrogen can be used to determine trophic level of the food consumed.

Neanderthal and Human Skeleton Posted by Hello
Thanks for the picture Dharma Bums

The analysis indicated that Neanderthals were acting as top-level carnivores and were securing animal protein mainly through hunting rather than scavenging.

The article I took this from is Neanderthal diet at Vindija and Neanderthal predation: The evidence from stable isotopes. You can also find more information here Stable isotope evidence for increasing dietary breadth in the European mid-Upper Paleolithic.
Additional interesting articles:

Constructive Interactions among Nutrients and Bone-Active Pharmacologic Agents with Principal Emphasis on Calcium, Phosphorus, Vitamin D and Protein

Animal Source Foods and Human Health during Evolution

Paleoecological reconstruction of a lower Pleistocene large mammal community using biogeochemical ({delta}13C, {delta}15N, {delta}18O, Sr:Zn) and ecomorphological approaches

Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century. I'll have more to say about this article in a later post.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Leave No Child Behind Teach Evolution Carnival, or DarkSyd Comes Through!

DarkSyd has allowed me to post two of his finer efforts at Transitions: The Evolution of Life. Please go visit his site and thank him!
With that, as well as the post by John Wilkins at Evolving Thoughts, in mind I am, probably presumptuously, creating a new Carnival:

The carnival will be posted when I receive enough (two or more) submissions. The submissions should be along the following lines: the evolutionary history of a species, the simple example or explantaion of an evolutionary phenomena (natural selection and the beaks of Darwin's finches for example), links to interesting interactive websites concerning evolution, etc.
You can get them to me in any of three ways: leave a link on any post at this site, email the entire post to and I will post it (giving proper attribution to the author(s)), post them at Transitions (if interested email me and I will send you a username and password - but you would be under no obligation to be a regular contributor).

I would like to stress that these posts should be written in a manner easily understandable by junior high and high school students (and by people who are unfamiliar with evolution and science).

As I write this I have four other people who have signed up to contribute on a regular basis.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Culture of Life is for Racism

To follow up on a comment I made over at Dharma Buns below is a list of senators who did not sponsor the legislation to apologize to victems of lynching.

From Preposterous Universe

So, who are the Senators who bravely hold the pro-lynching position? Unfortunately it will probably be impossible to ever know for sure, unless the Senators themselves tell us. Not only was their a voice vote, but it's possible to add your name as a co-sponsor of a Senate resolution even after it's already been passed. From Kos, here's the list of non-sponsors:

Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Robert Bennett (R-UT)
Christopher Bond (R-MO)
Jim Bunning (R-KY)
Conrad Burns (R-MT)
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
Kent Conrad (D-ND)
John Cornyn (R-TX)
Michael Crapo (R-ID)
Michael Enzi (R-WY)
Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
Judd Gregg (R-NH)
Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Trent Lott (R-MS)
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Richard Shelby (R-AL)
John Sununu (R-NH)
Craig Thomas (R-WY)
George Voinovich (R-OH)

Yet the Republicans and the mainstream media howl in outrage when Howard Dean calls the Republicans a party of white christians.

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This and That

I don't stop by Chris Clarke's blog as often as I should, but when I do it is always a rewarding experience. His latest post Democrats are to Guantánamo as the GOP is to Kolyma is thought provoking.

OldWhiteLady has an interesting post on the Downing Street Memos (she also has an episode - brought on by overwork, apparently - on an open thread).

Las but not least Dharma Buns has a different slant on the Downing Street Memos.

Meanwhile, over at Transitions Dior has joined as a contributor. John Wilkins at Evolving Thoughts has allowed me to cross post his thoughtful article "Misunderstanding Evolution". Darksyd at Unscrewing the Inscrutable has said we can cross post two of his articles. One is on the evolution of the Felidae and the other is on the evolution of whales. As soon as the latter is up I have a link to an interactive site on the evolution of the whale that I will be posting about.

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Culture of Life Hates Fresh Fruit!

From an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Missouri Cuts Vouchers Used to Buy Produce At Farmers Markets:

The state has eliminated a program that gave low-income mothers and older adults vouchers to use on produce at farmers markets, affecting not just the people who lost the coupons, but farmers who say they've lost thousands of dollars in revenue.

This is the way it worked:

The program provided six $3 coupons to low-income mothers each summer and 10 $3 coupons to low-income older adults. Last summer, 37,700 Missourians bought more than $426,000 worth of produce using the coupons.

The state spent $110,000 on the program last year, Gonder said. In addition, $417,466 came from the federal government.

The idea was that people could take these vouchers to Farmers Markets and buy a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables than what one could buy at a grocery store.
What is going to take the place of the program?

...the hope is that the private sector will take it over.

In other words, nothing is going to take the place of the program. Apparently, the culture of life values embryos over the poor and heaven help those embryos that are born into poverty because the christians that are running Missouri won't!

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Monday, June 13, 2005

Dating the Mladec Skulls

This comes from a item in Science Daily

Mladec is an upper paleolithic site in central Europe. The material from the site was first descibed in 1925 by J. Szombathy. The site was dated to approximately 30,000-33,000 years BP based on archaeological grounds - which puts it as a contemporary of Skhul and Qafzeh. At least eight crania, some mandibles and postcrania have been discovered. Below is a picture of one of the crania (Mladec 1 if I'm not mistaken) and one of the fragments (part of a maxilla).

Mladec Crania Posted by Hello

Mladec is important in the debate concerning the origins of anatomically modern humans. The sample displays a wide degree of morphological variability. For example, the skull above has a moderate supraorbital torus (brow ridge), small mastoids and marked posterior cranial flattening. The supraorbital torus is into central and lateral parts by a slight groove at, approximately, the middle of each orbit. Below is a picture showing some of the anatomy of the cranium for reference.

Cranial Anatomy Posted by Hello

Mladec 2, on the other hand, lacks a supraorbital torus, has large mastoids and the back of the cranium is higher and rounder (I should mention that Mladec 1 and 2 are both females). Both skulls are quite robust compared to later upper Paleolithic skulls. The male skulls from Mladec are somewhat archaic in appearance. They have low braincases, thick cranial bones and large supraorbitals. They do, however have small mastoids (a characteristic of anatomically modern humans). (Correction added later: small mastoids are actually a characteristic of neanderthals not anatomically modern humans).They also have a certain amount of facial prognathism - approaching that of neanderthals. The nasal aperture is broad - a neanderthal characteristic also.

Recently the Mladec material was dated directly, via radiocarbon dating. Generally, when an artifact or skeletal material is dated it is indirectly. Usually organic material - such as charcoal - that is in association with the artifact or skeleton is dated. In this case some of the teeth were radiocarbon dated (to approximately 31,000 BP). Why is this important?

The Mladeč remains are universally accepted as those of early modern humans. However, there has been an ongoing debate as to whether they exhibit also distinctive archaic features, indicative of some degree of Neandertal ancestry, or are morphologically aligned solely with recent humans and therefore document only a dispersal of modern humans into Europe.

The radiocarbon dating of the Mladeč assemblage confirms that they derived from the time period of the middle to late Aurignacian of Central Europe. Given the presence of multiple individuals, males and females, adult and immature with cranial, dental and postcranial elements, the Mladeč assemblage becomes the oldest directly dated substantial assemblage of modern human remains in Europe

As Wolpoff (in the first edition of Paleoanthropology) puts it:

... a rather convincing case could be made for the hypothesis that the earliest modern sapiens samples represent a morphological transition between Neandertals and later sapiens populations. More recently eastern European authors...have suggested that the evolutionary sequences in this area can best be interpreted as the result of frequency changes in characteristics already present in Neandertal populations.

Essentially, Wolpoff is arguing that the kinds of things we see in other transitions - such as the dinosaur/bird or dinosaur/mammal transition also apply to human evolution. For example in the dinosaur/bird transition there were a wide variety of dinosaurs with traits that would later be characteristic of birds - but they were not all combined in one dinosaur. One could say the same about the dinosaur/mammal transition.
One of the other reasons that Mladec is important is that, as mentioned above, the skeletal material represents males, females, juveniles and adults. In other words it represents a population. Understanding populational variability will help us gain a better understanding of human evolution.

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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Dembski and Evolution

Dembski on Biology:

My own experience in reading the biological literature is that evolution has very little to do with nuts and bolts biology (e.g., genetics, biochemistry, anatomy and physiology). Biologists, by and large, try to understand existing systems and structures — what they’re made of, how they’re constructed, and how they function. How they evolved is largely beside the point.

So, then how do you explain this:
Human Evolutionary Biology Posted by Hello

and this:
Human Evolutionary Anatomy Posted by Hello

and this, and this
and this

From the last book:

This book introduces students to the groups of vertebrates and explores the anatomical evolution of vertebrates within the context of the functional interrelationships of organs and the changing environments to which vertebrates have adapted.

Ooops, I forgot genetics:

Here, definitely this one. Lets not forget Origin and Evolution of New Gene Functions

From the book:
Sixteen contributions from international researchers address the origin and evolution of new gene functions. Coverage includes the molecular mechanisms involved in the creation of new gene structures as well as those population genetic processes that cause them to spread across a species and continue changing. A sampling of topics includes transposable elements and vertebrate protein diversity; the birth of human-specific genes during primate evolution; and recent evidence for the Exon Theory of Genes.

Doesn't sound like evolution is "largely beside the point" to me!

Thoughts From Kansas addresses some of the other errors and distortions in Dembski's post and I'll be addressing one aspect in part 3 of Biology and the machine.

Added later: corrected one of the links and added correct picture.

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Two Posts on Evolution Are Up at Transistions

Over atTransitions two posts are up. The first, contibuted by Aydin at Snail's Tails concerns the evolution of Opossums. The second, by me, concerns the evolution of elephants. Check them out.

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Alaska Votes for Evolution

Randall Plant has forwarded me the following news story from the Anchorage Daily News.

Science Teaching Standards Evolve

The great debate on teaching evolution in Alaska's public schools was short and sweet Friday morning.

Short in that it took less than a minute at the start of the State Board of Education meeting for board member Shirley Holloway of Anchorage to propose adopting a controversial set of state science teaching standards and for board member Esther Cox, also of Anchorage, to move to strengthen the standard on evolution.

And sweet, in that Holloway quickly agreed, noting that a procession of scientists and educators who testified for such a change the day before were "respectful, professional and very helpful."

Specifically, Cox proposed dropping language advanced by the state Department of Education and Early Development that would have mentioned "evolution" only in parentheses at the end of a standard about life science.

Isn't it amazing that people with no preconceived ideological notions come to the same conclusion when presented with the evidence?

The amended standard, Cox said, would state: "A student should ... develop an understanding of how science explains changes in life forms over time, including genetics, heredity, the process of natural selection and biological evolution."

Like Holloway, she was persuaded toward the change, she said, by the thoughtful comments of several who testified. (emphasis mine)

That last part is something to keep in mind - it wouldn't have worked in Kansas though.

This is interesting as well:

The sudden light mood contrasted sharply with the angst over the same issue that filled the same room 12 years earlier, according to longtime Education Department spokesman Harry Gamble.

"Almost to the person, the only people who came out for the (1993) public hearing were people who testified one after another on behalf of creationism," Gamble said. "There must have been a few others who came out, but they were overwhelmingly outnumbered. And the board moved with that, you know, compromise language (on teaching evolution)."

This next bit should sound familiar:

During the 1993 hearing, the board appointed by former Republican Gov. Wally Hickel failed on a 3-3 vote to insert a requirement into the state's new science standards that required creationism to be taught along with evolution.

Critics then pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled six years earlier that teaching creationism was the same as teaching a religious doctrine in a public school and, therefore, unconstitutional. But proponents in Alaska argued that evolution was "only a theory," just like creationism.

While the creationism motion failed, the science standards the Hickel administration adopted exemplified some of the board's ambivalence toward teaching evolution. Its life science standard shied away from using the word "evolution" in favor of the euphemistic phrase "changes in life forms over time" and then reinserted "evolution" at the end of the sentence, in parentheses.

There's more that should ring a bell:

Initially, the department chose to eliminate the reference to evolution altogether, even though a majority of the educators and scientists who helped draft the first part of the standards favored using it.(emphasis mine

It is refreshing, after the farce in Kansas, to see one state board of education act in a sensible fashion. Great Job Alaska!

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Correction on the email address

The email address for people interested in contributing to the new blog is:

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New Evolution Blog for Students

As some of you may be aware I am currently trying to put together a new blog aimed, primarily at junior high and high school students (as well as anyone who is not familiar with evolution). Go here and here for more details. I have chosen a site on blogsome. It allows for multiple contributors and moderated comments among other things. The site is Transitions: The Evolution of Life

I am currently seeking the following:
1) Contributors (email me at and I will set you up as an author)
2) Links to interesting posts (can be oldies but goodies from your archives) or web sites - can include pictures or movies (see the post at Transitions on elephant shrews for examples)
3) Several people in the comments sections have mentioned interactive features - which sounds good to me so send me your suggestions or links on that as well
4) Advice from teachers, scientists and students and experienced bloggers (my youngest daughter has been assigned the task of talking to her friends at school to find out what would interest them, for example)
5) PR - it helps if people have heard of us. To that end I think some posts should be submitted to places like the Friday Ark from Transistions along with maybe some cross posting for various carnivals like the Tangled Bank
6) One commenter suggested a question of the week area so having a pool of people we can draw on for answers would be good
7) I have been playing around with some of the features of the software and will be doing the first official post tomorrow (on elephant evolution) so as of then we are "live"
Have I missed anything? Left anything out?

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Thinking About Intelligent Design

Added Later: I am going to keep this up at the top for a day or two.

In the last few days a legislator in Utah has introduced a bill requiring ID to be taught, a zoo in Tulsa is being forced to create a creationist display and in Virginia a teacher has been passing out creationist propaganda for years. I should also mention this idea (via Red State Rabble) to help high schools in Kansas that teach evolution. But what about the students who are not taught about evolution?
I try to contribute to the Friday Ark on a regular basis and when I do I always try to include something on the evolutionary history of whatever organism I'm posting on. It occured to me, given the emphasis of computers and internet research in high schools, that this might be a way to go. I don't mean we should all rush out and flood Modulator with posts about evolution. But maybe we could create a new "Evolution Ark" called something like "Transitions" where once or twice a week people could write up a post (with pictures and maybe links to a few places with more info) on the evolution of whatever critter they feel like. That way, high school students (and others) searching the net for info on animals, plants, etc will have a place to find out about evolution (and who knows some of those kids could be in schools that don't teach evolution so this would be their first exposure to real science).

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afarensis Needs You: More on the Blog Idea

I have created a site Transitions: The Evolution of Life. The blogging software is a little different than what Blogger uses, so I am still playing around with it. I do have one post up just as a test. As mentioned in the previous post, the site will be devoted to the evolutionary history of, well, life. The target audience will be junior high (or middle school) and high school students. The purpose is to help counteract the rising tide of creationism/intelligent design in our schools by giving students a place to go for information on evolution. That being the case, I am seeking input, advice and help - especially from teachers and scientists - although any one can contribute. I am looking for age appropriate posts (or links to them), links to interesting and creative sites on the web, interesting learning activities, field trips etc.
Feel free to contact me through the comments section of this blog or by email at:

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Bogus Gold: Confessions of a Sinner

A blogger named Bogus Gold has recently published a post called Some Thoughts on Evolution, Intelligent Design and Scientific Inquiry. The post didn't mesh with my experiences as an anthropology major so I thought I would do a post on it. Let me say at the outset that I have no wish deny that Bogus Gold was an anthropology major - but he certainly doesn't talk like one...

I majored in anthropology in college. It was a field that appealed to me on a lot of levels, allowing me to study all kinds of things – culture, physiology, primatology, archaeology, linguistics, etc. It was a small department, which was also a plus in a big state school where it was easy to get lost in the shuffle. All the department’s professors quickly knew me by name, and enough about my interests to strike up a conversation without having it feel forced. They were an excellent bunch of professors who chose to teach at this particular school because it allowed them to focus on teaching, whereas some of the larger research universities would have required them to spend far more time in research and publication.

A little background. The man largely responsible for the establishment of anthroplogy as an academic discipline in the US was Franz Boas. Boas was a german immigrant to the US - he fled Germany to escape the growing anti-semitism prior to WWI. In etablishing anthropology in US colleges and universities he instituted the four field system. Basically, he felt that anthropology consisted of physical anthropology, cultural anthropology, archaeology and anthropological linguistics. Most colleges and universities, to a greater or lesser extent, follow this model. At the University of Tennesse, where I received my B.A. and did two years of grad school, the department was equally divided between physical anthropologists, cultural anthropologists and archaeologists. Linguistics was represented by one of the cultural anthropologists who had a moderate interest in the subject and taught the odd class on it. Now granted, UT is a anthropological powerhouse and emphasized research and publications, but the teachers were still incredibly concerned with teaching excellence - the two go together. In other universities, however, the mix is different - especially at four year institutions. There you may find one field emphasized at the expense of the others. Some emphasizw archaeology or cultural anthropology or linguistic anthropology. At any rate, whatever department one finds oneself in one will rapidly get to know most of the professors in the department. Getting lost in the shuffle is pretty hard in most anthro departments. Really, this first paragraph is all part of the set up used by most creationist (YEC or ID).

Among the very best of the bunch was the professor in charge of the popular course Introduction to Physical Anthropology. We’ll call him Dr. PA. This was a course students majoring in other areas could take to fulfill some of the general liberal arts requirements necessary for graduation. One of the topics covered in the course was the theory of evolution, including the history of how it developed.

Okay, Time Out! I took Intro to Physical Anthropology at a community college. Class size was about 30 students. The teacher of the class, Dr. Givens, was incredibly concerned with the history of anthropology as well as evolutionary theory. He spent more time on history than any other teacher I had. That said, he spent one lecture on the history of how evolutionary theory. He mentioned Cuvier, Buffon, Lamarck and Darwin - in one lecture - then he moved on to other subjects. At UT the intro classes were large - up to 300-400 people and we had two different classes that would fulfill the liberal arts requirment. In neither class was there much discussion of Darwin or the history of evolutionary theory. There is just too much material to cover (Intro classes, as everyone well knows, are designed to give a broad overview rather than substantive detail) to give much more than a passing mention to Darwin (mainly mentioned for his hypothesis - since confirmed - that humans evolved first in Africa). There is some mention of evolution but "the history of how it developed" is out.

Through experience Dr. PA had learned that students’ religious background played a big role in their handling of this topic. Therefore he included a healthy dose of historical and contemporary religious perspectives on the issue. The theme he tried to get across was that the theory of evolution may or may not be at odds with particular religious beliefs – it simply depends what those religious beliefs are. Many Christian denominations did not see a conflict between evolution and their faith, while others did, and he provided examples of both. You weren’t required to believe one way or another to pass the class, you just needed to learn what was being taught.

I will go for the statement that "You weren’t required to believe one way or another to pass the class, you just needed to learn what was being taught." because most professors have better things to do than monitor the religious beliefs of a couple of hundred students - students who are there because they have to be if they want a degree. The rest I suspect is made up. I don't know of any teacher - outside of a religious studies class who would spend any time on historical and contemporary religious perspectives. You will find discussions of religion (mainly how they evolved) but I have never heard a discussion of any of the world's major religions (historical or contemporary) in a physical anthropology class. This is more of the set up.

My senior year I applied and was accepted for an under graduate teaching assistantship in the department. One of the duties of undergrad TA’s was to assist with a lab section for the Intro to Physical Anthropology class. This allowed students in the larger lecture class to have some one on one interaction with the professor (as well as cool things like getting to play with real fossils). Within the lab, the TA was there to answer questions, assist with assignments, and help the professor grade tests.

Some departments may have undergraduate TA's (UT didn't - they gave all the TA's to MA students to gain teaching experience and had the Ph.D students sub occasionally because teaching experience was part of the requirement for the Ph.D). For the rest all I can say is WTF? Let me see if I understand this. An unnamed professor in a small department (at a unnamed college) actually has money to send people out to do fieldwork and get fossils? And their letting intro students play with them? In a lab section with several hundred students. I'm sorry I don't buy it. I don't know of any intro to physical anthropology class that has a lab - I'm not even aware of any intro class of the size we are talking about that would have a lab. The logistics of scheduling lab time and the number of people required to carry something like that off would have to be huge - and in a small department no less. Then there is the whole fossil issue. At UT we did not have a large number of fossils in the anthro department (of course the main focus at UT was in forensic anthropology so we had a lot of human skeletal material - which we did not let intro students play with because of respect for the human life the skletons represented). For paleoanthropology we used casts. We did not let intro students play with those either (they can be quite expensive to replace) although some were brought into intro classes as demonstrations. Now granted I do not have experience with every anthro department in the country, but I highly doubt any department is going to let intro students play with priceless fossils - many of wich are quite fragile.

I knew from Dr. PA that I would encounter students of religious backgrounds who would reject evolution – a major lesson in the class – due to their particular religious beliefs. It was my job to get them to simply learn about it as it was taught without making them feel put upon to alter their personal beliefs. This turned out to be a breeze. (emphasis mine)Dr. PA’s style had almost entirely won those folks over before I ever had any one on one interaction with them. I did encounter a couple of students who told me they didn’t believe in the theory of evolution, but they didn’t seem to have any trouble understanding it well enough to pass the class.

In six years of taking anthropology classes I never once encountered anyone who needed this kind of mollycoddling or who objected due to religious beliefs. Most intro students are just trying to get through with a passing grade - becuase lets face it large intro classes are boaring.

But there was another kind of student I was unprepared for – the dogmatic evolutionist. These students accepted evolution for faith-based reasons, essentially ignoring the science and evidence behind it. This was a surprisingly frustrating kind of student to mentor on the topic. On one level they seemed to be the most enthusiastic about evolution, but they were also completely lacking in curiosity about it. They didn’t care how it worked, or what the evidence might be. They believed it already, so they seemed to take the attitude that there was no point in figuring out the whats and the hows of it.

So now we get to the punch line. The reasonable religious folks who "didn’t believe in the theory of evolution, but they didn’t seem to have any trouble understanding it well enough to pass the class" versus the dogmatic Darwinists who were "completely lacking in curiosity about it. They didn’t care how it worked, or what the evidence might be. They believed it already, so they seemed to take the attitude that there was no point in figuring out the whats and the hows of it." Of course, in order to accept evolution for "faith-based reasons" one kind of has to be exposed to it in the first place. So where did these "faith-based" "dogmatic evolutionists" come from?

I remember one such encounter, where I had to try to explain to a student that Darwin not only didn’t prove there was no God, but that the “God question” itself had nothing to do with Darwin’s work. We talked past one another for probably about fifteen minutes before I gave up. This wasn’t some abstract argument; he needed to understand the scope of Darwin’s work for some specific test questions. But I couldn’t get him to see that Darwin’s theory for what it actually was. To him it was something grand and mysterious that you simply accepted. And in his mind, part of this belief included the faith that evolution disproved God, and no amount of evidence would budge him from this idea. So much for science.

What specific test question would you ask on a physical anthropology test that would be relevent to Darwin and God? I do not know. As a matter of fact, the only people I know who make the arguement that Darwin proved that God doesn't exist are creationist (of both the YEC and ID varieties).

So let's take a step back and look at the post from a broader perspective. First, credentials are established to make the writer (and creationists in general) look all scientific and fair (which gets repeated throughout):

I majored in anthropology in college. It was a field that appealed to me on a lot of levels, allowing me to study all kinds of things – culture, physiology, primatology, archaeology, linguistics, etc.

My senior year I applied and was accepted for an under graduate teaching assistantship in the department. One of the duties of undergrad TA’s was to assist with a lab section for the Intro to Physical Anthropology class. This allowed students in the larger lecture class to have some one on one interaction with the professor (as well as cool things like getting to play with real fossils).

I knew from Dr. PA that I would encounter students of religious backgrounds who would reject evolution – a major lesson in the class – due to their particular religious beliefs.

I did encounter a couple of students who told me they didn’t believe in the theory of evolution, but they didn’t seem to have any trouble understanding it well enough to pass the class.

See how intellectually honest and properly scientific the religious folks are being?

But then the evil, mindless Darwinist show up:

the dogmatic evolutionist. These students accepted evolution for faith-based reasons, essentially ignoring the science and evidence behind it. This was a surprisingly frustrating kind of student to mentor on the topic. On one level they seemed to be the most enthusiastic about evolution, but they were also completely lacking in curiosity about it. They didn’t care how it worked, or what the evidence might be

To him it was something grand and mysterious that you simply accepted. And in his mind, part of this belief included the faith that evolution disproved God, and no amount of evidence would budge him from this idea. So much for science.

From here we get Nelson on Darwinian censorship. It all sounds like a perfect regurgitation of Discovery Institute talking points. You have the rational, truth seeking creationist following the evidence where ever it leads contrasted with the the dogmatic, ideological driven Darwinists who accept evolution for grand and mysterious reasons (apparently, evolution is the mysterium tremendum Otto talked about in "The Idea of the Holy"). Creationists have been claiming evolution was a religion for years and trying to portray themselves as noble scientists bravely following the evidence (straight to God, oops, the designer.

The post really reminded me of the revivalists who used to come to the churches I attended as a kid. You know the type. They would show up during the spring, summer and fall to reinvigorate the congregations faith in God by preaching hellfire and brimstone. They always had a conversion story. Went something like " I was a miserable sinner - enaged in all kinds of drugs, alcohol and debauchery. I didn't realize how depraved my life was until I stumbled across a bible in a motel room..."
This is the same kind of conversion story (just substitute evolution for fornication) - reasonable anthro student realizes evolution is a religion that scientists accept without evidence and sees the light. Halleluiah, praise God and pass the irreducible complexity!

I can't resist one last dig:

There are truly interesting questions being raised, and fascinating research being conducted.

Research? Really? Scientists have been asking for research from the ID crowd ever since Johnson first had his epiphany and foisted ID on us. It's been 14 years and we are still waiting...

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More on Salamanders

Dior, in comments to my recent post, asked about the role of hybridization in the California Tiger Salamander. I have done some checking and here is what I found.

From Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office

Other primary threats are hybridization, or interbreeding, with non-native salamanders, and predation by non-native species. The threat of hybridization is particularly severe in the Central Coast Range and the Bay Area, and to a lesser extent the Central Valley.
which indicates hybridization is a problem but doesn't speak to it's role in species formation.

From Evolution:

After an estimated five million years of independent evolution, the barred tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum mavortium) was introduced by bait dealers into the native range of the California tiger salamander (A. californiense). Hybridization and backcrossing have been occurring in central California for 50–60 years, or an estimated 15–30 generations. (from the article abstract)

Also from here:

For many years, the tiger salamanders were considered a single polytypic species, A. tigrinum, that had the most widespread geographic distribution of any salamander species in North America. Molecular genetic studies (Shaffer, 1984; Routman, 1993; Templeton et al., 1995; Shaffer and McKnight, 1996) indicate that the tiger salamanders cannot be considered a single species and that the formally recognized subspecies may not be valid taxonomic units. Furthermore, A. tigrinum as currently recognized is paraphyletic with respect to numerous Mexican species, many of which are perennibranchiate forms having restricted geographic distributions. Evolution of perennibranchiate forms probably has occurred numerous times from within the A. tigrinum complex.

This article has interesting info also.

Unfortunately, this hybridization has been used by the unscrupulous to avoid listing the California Tiger Salamander on the endangered species list. See here and here. This latter link is interesting in the way it distorts scientific research. If you regularly read Chris Mooney it will sound all too familiar.

Anyway, I hope that helps.

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Friday, June 10, 2005

No, Really What is the Deal with Black Widow Spiders, Brown Recluses and Cardinals Logos?

Seriously, I want to know. I'm dying of curiosity about it. Are we being invaded by brown recluses and black widows wearing Cardinals paraphenalia or what? Should I hide? Get out the bug spray? Root for the Cubs (like that will ever happen)? I need info people!

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Friday Elephant Shrew Blogging

Elephant Shrew Posted by Hello

The above critter may be related to an ancient order of mammals called condylarths.
From Geotimes:
The fossil, encased in hematite, was actually unearthed decades ago from the early-Eocene Willwood Formation in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming, says Shawn Zack, a graduate student in functional anatomy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md. But the bones were only recently rediscovered and identified by Zack and colleagues as belonging to Apheliscus chydaeus, a member of a group called condylarths, early hoofed mammals that were present in North America.

Working with Jonathan Bloch, assistant curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Zack’s team realized that some fossils in the Florida museum’s collection might be related as well. Comparing the leg and foot bones to those of living elephant shrews, they concluded that condylarths are closely related to modern elephant shrews, which they described in the March 24 Nature.

Other studies, based on jaws and teeth, had previously suggested a possible link between condylarths and modern elephant shrews, Zack says. But some are not convinced that the new fossil is actually an afrothere, saying that similarities could have evolved independently, a point the authors acknowledge.

The importance comes from:

New fossil finds are challenging the idea that six disparate orders of African mammals — elephants, sea cows, aardvarks, elephant shrews, hyraxes, and golden moles and tenrecs — all evolved from a single common ancestor isolated on the continent of Africa by the breakup of Gondwana about 100 million years ago.
The hypothesis, put forth in 1998, classifies the six mammalian orders as a “superorder” called Afrotheria, based on molecular biology studies that found many DNA sequences in common among modern members of the group. Most living “afrotheres” are endemic to Africa.


The new discovery also highlights an ongoing debate in paleontology over how best to determine evolutionary relationships. “Molecular phylogeny” determines relationships based on genetic similarities in DNA or proteins of modern descendants, while “morphological phylogeny” determines relationships by studying the anatomy of living and extinct animals.

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What is the Deal with Spiders?

I have had a bunch of people (upwards of 50) hit my blog within the past few days, looking for pictures of black widows and brown recluses. They come from all over the place. What's that about? Is there some kind of game or scavenger hunt or something? Really, I'm curious so if you stop by my blog looking for them let me know why. There has also been a rise in the number of people looking for St. Louis Cardinals logos. Can't explain that either.

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Friday Salamander Blogging

Spotted Salamander Posted by Hello

California Tiger Salamander Posted by Hello

Life Cycle Posted by Hello

Salamanders first appeared in the Jurassic. It is believed that they evolved from lpospondyles such as the microsauria. Salamanders are considered to be the least specialized of amphibians - mainly due to their conservative body plan. One interesting feature in salamander evolution is the secondary loss of bone and it's replacement with cartilage.

Cladogram Posted by Hello

Salamander 2 fossil Posted by Hello

Recently, a large number of salamander fossils have been found in volcanic ash in China. The preservation was excellent -including many details of soft tissue anatomy.

Salamander 1 fossil Posted by Hello

Amphibians and Reptiles in Great Lakes Wetlands

California Tiger Salamander

China Ash Yields Salamander Evolution Secrets


Evolution: Library: Ring Species: Salamanders

Evolution of salamander life cycles: A major effect QTL ...

Speciation, phylogeography and evolution of life history and ...

Evolving Before Our Eyes / Songbirds and salamanders bolster Darwin's theory that change in habitat can create 2 species from one

Major fossil find reveals Asian origins of salamanders

University of Chicago Hospitals: New species of earliest-known salamanders found in China

Article 1 - Evolution of Modern Amphibians, by Lenny Frank

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