The 2014 Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses, or BAHFest, is a month away. If you're not sure what is in store, you can watch the entire festival (1 hr 32 min), or jump to the winning presentation: Tomer Ullman: The Crying Game (Q&A), or why babies are so annoying and the competitive advantage crying babies likely gave to warriors from times past. "I don't want to get too much into the technical details, so let's not." [more inside]
You invest so much in it, don't you? It's what elevates you above the beasts of the field, it's what makes you special. Homo sapiens, you call yourself. Wise Man. Do you even know what it is, this consciousness you cite in your own exaltation? Do you even know what it's for?Dr. Peter Watts is no stranger to MetaFilter. But look past his sardonic nuptials, heartbreaking eulogies, and agonizing run-ins with fascists (and fasciitis) and you'll find one of the most brilliant, compelling, and disquieting science fiction authors at work today. A marine biologist skilled at deep background research, his acclaimed 2006 novel Blindsight [full text] -- a cerebral "first contact" tale led by a diverse crew of bleeding-edge post-humans -- is diamond-hard and deeply horrifying, wringing profound existential dread from such abstruse concepts as the Chinese Room, the Philosophical Zombie, Chernoff faces, and the myriad quirks and blind spots that haunt the human mind. But Blindsight's last, shattering insight is not the end of the story -- along with crew/ship/"Firefall" notes, a blackly funny in-universe lecture on resurrecting sociopathic vampirism (PDF - prev.), and a rigorously-cited (and spoiler-laden) reference section, tomorrow will see the release of
Your body is home to about 100 trillion bacteria and other microbes, collectively known as your microbiome. Naturalists first became aware of our invisible lodgers in the 1600s, but it wasn’t until the past few years that we’ve become really familiar with them. This recent research has given the microbiome a cuddly kind of fame. We’ve come to appreciate how beneficial our microbes are — breaking down our food, fighting off infections and nurturing our immune system. It’s a lovely, invisible garden we should be tending for our own well-being. But in the journal Bioessays, a team of scientists has raised a creepier possibility. Perhaps our menagerie of germs is also influencing our behavior in order to advance its own evolutionary success — giving us cravings for certain foods, for example.[more inside]
Koryos, who previously explained how cats got domesticated using tumblr, now explains why homosexual pair-bonding can be a successful reproductive stratagem. Also, Coot Parenting Tips, Queen Cowbird Of The Brood Parasites , There's No Such Thing As An Alpha Wolf, and Can Animals Have Pets?
With growing fascination for the large land vertebratomorphs that are so startlingly diverse on Tatooine, I secured Imperial funding for an expedition to Tatooine, to survey the exotic megafauna and search for fossils of Tyrannodraconis that might further illuminate their evolution. My ensuing report summarizes my trilogy of investigations and discoveries from this “holiday in the suns." [more inside]
Carlos Slim calls for a three-day working week "We've got it all wrong, says Carlos Slim, the Mexican telecoms tycoon and world's second-richest man: we should be working only three days a week." also btw: The four-day work week (previously)
The more things change, the more they stay the same: "Your great555m grandfather was a sponge and spent his life bored as fuck."
For the first time, Primatologists have observed chimps in the wild spreading a cultural fad through their troop.
Some people stick with the traditional, feeling struck by the epic beauty or blown away by the insane scale of the universe. Personally, I go for the old “existential meltdown followed by acting weird for the next half hour.” But everyone feels something. Physicist Enrico Fermi felt something too—”Where is everybody?” It turns out that when it comes to the fate of humankind, this question is very important. Depending on where The Great Filter occurs, we’re left with three possible realities: We’re rare, we’re first, or we’re fucked.
Dimetrodon is not a dinosaur! Sorry to ruin your childhood yet again, but it's not even a reptile. It's a synapsid, which makes it one of our cousins. [more inside]
Élisabeth Daynès and John Gurche (not connected in any way, AFAIK) are among a few paleoartists who specialize in sculpting models of ancient hominin species, such as Sahelanthropus tchadensis (Daynes), Australopithecus boisei (Gurche), Australopithecus africanus (Daynes), Homo floresiensis (Gurche), and charismatic favorite Homo neanderthalensis (Daynes, Gurche). [more inside]
"Peter and Rosemary Grant are members of a very small scientific tribe: people who have seen evolution happen right before their eyes."
Dr. Suzanne Sadedin answers the question "What is the evolutionary or biological purpose of having periods?" on Quora with the best type of science-based storytelling.
Evolutionary biologists at Northumbria University have used science to figure out "attractive human dance moves" that demonstrate optimum genotypic and phenotypic health to prospective mates. "Cutting-edge motion capture technology" was used to record good and bad dancing. (Technoviking was reportedly unpleased.)
As an antidote to the "economic calculator" view of behavior, OWS's Graeber offers a counter principle: "The free exercise of an entity’s most complex powers or capacities tends to become an end in itself."
Bill Nye is debating the head of the Creation Museum tomorrow. Ken Ham, founder of Northern Kentucky tourist attraction "Answers in Genesis" Creation Museum, has challenged Science Guy Bill Nye to a duel, errr, a debate. Nye, while tolerant of Ham's religious beliefs, draws the line at creationism creeping into science curriculum. More pre-event throwdowns are here. [more inside]
After a species goes extinct, in some cases its "ghost" may linger in the ecosystem it leaves behind in the form of evolutionary anachronisms. [more inside]
The selfish gene is one of the most successful science metaphors ever invented. Unfortunately, it’s wrong.
"Now, I don't write many short stories these days, but I'm a sucker for the right kind of charity approach. And besides, I had a hypothesis I wanted to test: that every short story can be improved by adding dinosaurs and sodomy." SF author Charles Stross (metafilter's own) shares a short shaggy dog story he wrote back in 2011 containing sex, waterfowl, and reverse-engineering evolution: "A Bird In Hand."
This 419-Million-Year-Old Fish Has the World’s Oldest Known Face What makes it remarkable is everything that’s come after it: It’s the oldest known creature with a face, and may have given rise to virtually all the faces that have followed in the hundreds of millions of years since, including our own.
In March 2012, inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture uncovered a problem in Elgin, Texas. Beef sausage from a small family-run meat processor appeared to have been contaminated with a nasty bacterium called Listeria monocytogenes. The bug can make people sick and, in rare cases, be deadly. The processor had to recall more than a ton of sausage. It’s the kind of story that strikes terror in the hearts of other sausage peddlers, including Mike Satzow, so he uses phages to keep his small company's sausages safe to eat.
Unleashing Genetic Algorithms on the iOS 7 Icon - In the pursuit of something just a bit tighter than Marc Edwards' superellipse approximation, Mike Swanson applies genetic algorithms to the task of making a better button-making script.
"The majority of fossil discoveries worth publishing about can either strengthen previous studies or dish out little parcels of new data. These allow us to slowly piece together the history of life on Earth, but do not significantly rock the boat. But every now and then you are confronted with a jaw-dropping specimen, a fossil that says, “forget the textbooks, THIS is how it happened…” Momentous discoveries like Lucy the Australopithecus and the first batch of Chinese feathered dinosaurs that unleashed a tsunami of new information, bringing sudden clarity to our view of the distant past, and forcing us to rethink what we thought we knew about evolution. Now joining their ranks is a little armoured fish called Entelognathus, described in Nature by an international team of researchers led by Prof. Zhu Min at IVPP, Beijing." [more inside]
The Year Of Wallace (who wasn't Darwin) is pretty well-covered on MeFi. But there's news, history keeps evolving: First, a 17-year-old pupil rediscovered Wallace's butterfly collection at the Oxford University Museum. Second, a new book details how evolution was discovered. [samples here and here | both links link to .pdf files, the second one a biggie] And finally, The Darwin-Wallace mystery solved.
What, really, is a wolf-dog?? Wolf-dogs already blur the line between dog and wolf - BUT things get really muddy if dogs are proven to have evolved themselves : "The evolutionarily correct way to state all this is that human beings, with their campfires and garbage heaps and hunting practices, but above all with their social interactions, represented an ecological niche ripe for exploitation by wolves."
Selfish traits not favoured by evolution, study shows "Evolution does not favour selfish people, according to new research. This challenges a previous theory which suggested it was preferable to put yourself first. Instead, it pays to be co-operative, shown in a model of "the prisoner's dilemma", a scenario of game theory - the study of strategic decision-making. Published in Nature Communications, the team says their work shows that exhibiting only selfish traits would have made us become extinct. "
Are human beings the descendants of chimpanzee/pig hybrids? This radical theory might seem easy to disprove, but "decent arguments against the hybrid origins theory are surprisingly hard to find."
The results of the Cambrian explosion are well documented in the fossil record, but its cause -- why and when it happened, and perhaps why nothing similar has happened since -- has been a mystery. Now a recent paper in Nature (abstract) suggests that the answer may lie in a second geological curiosity -- a dramatic boundary, known as the Great Unconformity, between ancient igneous and metamorphic rocks and younger sediments.
"For nearly two centuries, biologists have been struck by a mystery of geography and biodiversity peculiar to Europe. As Edward Forbes pointed out as far back as 1846, there are a number of life forms (including the Kerry slug, a particular species of strawberry tree and the Pyrenean glass snail) that are found in two specific distant places—Ireland and the Iberian Peninsula—but few areas in between." -- How did a specific snail species from the Pyrenees end up in Ireland but nowhere else?
The evolution of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" is an excellent interpretation of their latest single through different decades.
Cocks (almost) don't have a penis, a trait common to 97% of bird species, but they can grow one when the expression of the Bmp4 gene is prevented. The expression of this gene causes the percursor of the phallus in the chick embryo to undergo apoptosis (cell death) and Bmp genes are also involved in 3 other bird traits: feather development, toothlessness and beak shape. In penis-less bird species, copulation requires a sex maneuver nicknamed the cloacal kiss (in French) which requires a full cooperation of the female (3 min of tender parrot sex). In species where males have a penis, like ducks, females are less lucky: the coevolution of the rather convoluted morphology of male and female genitalia has been hypothezised to occur through sexual conflict [many previouslies]. The evolutionary mechanisms that drove phallus reduction in most birds species are still unknown.
In the past few days, the Internet has been filled with commentary on whether the National Science Foundation should have paid for my study on duck genitalia, and 88.7 percent of respondents to a Fox news online poll agreed that studying duck genitalia is wasteful government spending. The commentary supporting and decrying the study continues to grow. As the lead investigator in this research, I would like to weigh in on the controversy and offer some insights into the process of research funding by the NSF.
Come for the passionate defense of basic science, stay for the explosive eversion of a duck penis.[more inside]
With incisor-like claws that can tunnel beneath your skin in seconds, ticks are rapidly establishing themselves as the Swiss Army knife of disease vectors. Carl Zimmer walks into the woods to find out why these tiny beasts appear to be skyrocketing in number – and outsmarting environmental scientists trying to control them with every bite.
Social Evolution - The Ritual Animal "Praying, fighting, dancing, chanting — human rituals could illuminate the growth of community and the origins of civilization." [more inside]
Researchers have found that size does matter as it relates to overall proportions of the male body (PNAS link, PDF)