Although the evolution of the eye is often pointed to by evolution's skeptics as evidence of design, biologists have been quick to point out evidence to the contrary. Today, Julian Partridge of Bristol University's Ecology of Vision Research Unit has brought to light evidence of a Pacific fish that has evolved biological mirrors for navigating murky water.
Bracing for Islamic Creationism (PDF). "To avoid a vast rejection of evolution in the Muslim world, scientists can present the theory as the bedrock of biology and can stress its practical applications." [Via]
Medical studies have indicated that high intelligence is often synonymous with the likelihood of alcoholism and suicidal tendencies. Animal studies have suggested that being smarter can actually be bad for animals...and it's not always an advantage for humans either. There should be a point here, but I'm a little fuzzy on what it is.
One of the classic arguments against evolution by natural selection is "what good is half an X?" where X is an eye, a wing or some other complex body part or system. Directly responding to the implicit challenge some researchers have been not just figuring out how X could have evolved, but actually evolving new complex machines (previously). The basic ideas are so simple that web versions (explanation and discussion) have been popping up.
The Orienting Stone. "A snowy white stone that gives shape to the universe: as it happens, we all carry within our skulls the vestige of such a thing, a kind of existentially reversed qibla (this one perspectival, the other metaphysical) that gives us our sense of being at the center of things, the sense that we are upright at the origin point of a three-dimensional space..." [Via]
“The Disappearing Male” is a one-hour documentary about one of the most important, and least publicized, issues facing the human species: the toxic threat to the male reproductive system. The whole documentary is on Google Video.
"We were looking for pretty animals that have eyes, are coloured, or glow in the dark; instead, the most interesting find was the organism that was blind, brainless, and completely covered in mud." Some of the oldest fossil records may need to be reconsidered: Dr. Mikhail Matz of the University of Texas has discovered Gromia Sphaerica, a species of protist, making tracks.... [more inside]
The longer the fish can stay out of the water the less likely a predator will catch it. Flying fish are showing up all over the world.
The "blind watchmaker" may not be as blind as we thought. A team of scientists at Princeton University discovers that organisms are not only evolving, they're evolving to evolve better, using a set of proteins to "steer the process of evolution toward improved fitness" by making tiny course corrections.
How far do you plan ahead? Are we careering towards another Dark Age? The Long Now Foundation (subject of many previous posts on Metafilter), has finally solved the technical problems in producing a modern day Rosetta Stone. Orders are now shipping. [more inside]
Evidence of a Global SuperOrganism. "My hypothesis is this: The rapidly increasing sum of all computational devices in the world connected online, including wirelessly, forms a superorganism of computation with its own emergent behaviors." [Via]
How We Evolve: "A growing number of scientists argue that human culture itself has become the foremost agent of biological change, making us — for the past 10,000 years or so — the inadvertent architects of our own future selves." [more inside]
"Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still." The comments are included on a Church of England website promoting the views of Charles Darwin to be launched on Monday.
The Cornell Evolution Project, which polls prominent evolutionary scientists about their religious beliefs, is part of a PhD thesis by evolutionary paleontologist and UCLA lecturer Greg Graffin. Mr. Graffin is also the lead singer of a band named Bad Religion, whose influential album Suffer turns 20 years old this week. [more inside]
Rethinking Evolution with Stuart Newman, The New Master Of Evolution? Video Interview: Evolution Politics. A reformulation of the theory of evolution. Susan Mazur presents most of the players in her latest e-book: Will the Real Theory of Evolution Please Stand Up? [more inside]
The Unofficial Stephen Jay Gould Archive, an online library dedicated to the Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002). Includes an excellent selection of videos. And The Official Stephen Jay Gould Archive [still under development], which includes two of his books and his Harvard course online. [more inside]
Sex at the Olympics. "I am often asked if the Olympic village . . . is the sex-fest it is cracked up to be. My answer is always the same: too right it is." Table tennis Olympian Matthew Syed dishes the dirt. (possibly NSFW, TimesOnline).
A New State of Mind. "New research is linking dopamine to complex social phenomena and changing neuroscience in the process."
Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em / And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
All cancers are parasitical, but most cancers aren't contagious. But some evolve to be. Most viruses parasite cells, but some then make their own "cells", and othr viruses evolve to parasite those. Evolution is stupidly clevererer. [more inside]
Osage orange, avocado, papaya, honey locust, paw paw, persimmon, and many more: fruits that have outlasted the gomphotheres and other megafauna. These "anachronistic fruits" can be a key to understanding their intended consumers. More. More. More. And even more.
The Victorian Web is your one-stop resource for England in the Victorian era (1837-1901). The site is much too extensive to give but a flavor. It is divided into 20 categories, including Technology, Gender Matters, Economic Contexts, Authors, Political History, Theater and Popular Entertainment, Science and Genre and Technique. Here are a few examples of the articles inside: Inventions in Alice in Wonderland, The Role of the Victorian Army, Earth Yenneps: Victorian Back Slang (and a glossary of same), Algernon Charles Swinburne and the Philosophy of Androgyny, Hermaphrodeity, and Victorian Sexual Mores, Evolution, progress and natural laws and, of course, Queen Victoria.
EO Wilson believes in
Darwinism group selection: "evolution as a multi-level process1 that can evolve adaptations above the level of individual organisms."
Festooning The Tree Of Life. Carl Zimmer describes new research on lateral gene transfer which makes the Tree of Life look more like a Gordian Knot.
A University of Chicago doctoral candidate has shown that the evolution of the flatfish was much more gradual than previously thought.
'Bad is good as a mating strategy' (NewScientist PDF | plain text). "Nice guys knew it, now two studies have confirmed it: bad boys get the most girls." Being slightly evil ensures a prolific sex life according to a survey of more than 35,000 people in 57 countries. (ABC News: Why Nice Guys Finish Last).
The Cosmic Womb: Recently published findings from researchers with the Imperial College London’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering seem to bolster the case for extra-terrestrial sources for the origins of life on Earth. (A PDF of the published results can be downloaded here, if you want the technical specifics.) [more inside]
In the 1980s, Richard Lenski hypothesized that his research team should be able to watch random mutations and natural selection taking place in a lab by observing a bacteria population over many generations. In 1988, beginning with a single bacterium, he started several replicate colonies. Recently, after 33,127 generations, his team has observed natural selection.
What Is A Species? "To this day, scientists struggle with that question. A better definition can influence which animals make the endangered list."
The aquatic ancestry of elephants Scientists believe they have discovered why elephants have trunks - they used them as underwater snorkels. New research suggests that the animals evolved from mammals like the sea cow. [more inside]
16% of US science teachers believe human beings have been created by God within the last 10,000 years. 25% of science teachers spend some time teaching about creationism or intelligent design. 12.5% teach it as a "valid, scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species". 2% say they do not cover evolution at all. Teachers who have taken more science courses themselves devote more time to evolution - "This may be because better-prepared teachers are more confident in dealing with students' questions about a sensitive subject."
The "Great Filter" is a hypothetical barrier to explain why civilisations are so unlikely to progress to the point of inter-stellar colonisation that we have not encountered any in 40 years of looking. Maybe humanity has already negotiated the filter - as some massive evolutionary improbability - or perhaps it lies in our future as an almost-certain threat to our existence? We should hold our breath as we look for evidence of life on Mars.
Rutgers professor of philosophy Jerry Fodor created a bit of a stir last October when he wrote an article for the London Review of Books arguing that natural selection may not be such a great theory after all, and that a "major revision of evolutionary theory... is in the offing." Not many fellow philosophers and academics agree, it seems. Fodor responds to his critics here and here. Six months later, it's still not entirely clear whether his argument is, as Justin E.H. Smith put it, "irresponsible and stupid or so subtle that none of his adversaries, defending a status quo interpretation of the theory of natural selection, have been able to get it yet."
Charles Darwin's blog "Well there I was minding my own business in the Cafe of the Natural History Museum…"
A new round of genetic tests has confirmed it: The 'big lizards' of our childhood fantasies were more likely 'big birds.' In fact, they probably even had feathers, and looked more like this than this. Mind blowing, I know, but I guess this demonstrates that, despite what some may think, science really doesn't have a problem admitting that it got something wrong when new evidence comes to light.
You Walk Wrong. "It took 4 million years of evolution to perfect the human foot. But we’re wrecking it with every step we take." [Via]
Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a pro-Intelligent Design, anti-evolution polemic, arrived in theaters Friday to overwhelmingly negative reviews and anemic ticket sales. In response to the claims made in the film comes Expelled Exposed, a website which seeks to "show you why this movie is not a documentary at all, but anti-science propaganda aimed at creating the appearance of controversy where there is none."
Suspending Life. "If almost every species on Earth was killed some 250 million years ago, how did our ancient ancestors survive and evolve into us?"
Biomimetics: Design by Nature. "Burs on a dog's coat led to the invention of Velcro. That's an example of biomimetics—the young science of adapting designs from nature to solve modern problems. Now it may be coming of age."
Public concern over ecological damage inflicted by human activity has led to growing recognition of the general importance of issues relating to biological science. Unfortunately, the dispute between creationists and upholders of the theory of evolution tends to overshadow public discussion of other more pertinent matters. Specifically, there are significant but relatively unpublicized initiatives underway to promote holistic approaches to biology. The Nature Institute in New York is one such initiative... [more inside]
Dinner With Darwin. Scientists from various disciplines weigh in on what kind of dinner conversation they envision themselves having with Charles Darwin. Via.
Any admixture would have to be driven by male Neanderthals. Two years ago we discussed morphological evidence of nontrivial interbreeding. Since then Neanderthal DNA has been examined for genetic support for this model of human evolution, largely contradicting the belief in Neanderthal contribution to modern humanity. Indeed any contribution from the Neanderthal gene pool to the evolution of modern humans might be very rare and indeed it appears that the best candidate gene thus (MC1R) far likely was a result of convergent evolution. [more inside]