On April 23, 2009 Natalia Rybczynski, Mary R. Dawson, and Richard H. Tedford published their paper "A semi-aquatic Arctic mammalian carnivore from the Miocene epoch and origin of Pinnipedia" in the journal, Nature, detailing their 2007 discovery of the species they have named Puijila darwini. The carnivorous marine mammal, which lived about 21 to 24 million years ago, was discovered practically by accident, but as a "transitional fossil" is re-writing our understanding of pinniped evolution. It could also be noted that it was most likely cute as all get out, and is already the star of it's own mini documentary.
This is a fun little atheistic distraction: The interactive Blind Watchmaker applet demonstrates how random mutation followed by non-random selection can lead to interesting, complex forms. The Blind Watchmaker algorithm was conceived by Richard Dawkins and is described in his book of the same name. The resultant forms (which can begin to look like plants and bugs) are called "biomorphs," visual representations of a set of genes. [more inside]
Jared Diamond on the Evolution of Religions. (SLYT)
Richard Dawkins was recently invited to speak at the University of Oklahoma’s Darwin 2009 series of lectures on March 6th, 2009. The speech to be entitled "The Purpose of Purpose" quickly grew in popularity and even had to be moved to a larger venue to accommodate the quickly increasing crowd. Of course, word eventually reached Todd Thompson. Friction ensues. [more inside]
For most of us, science arrives in our lives packaged neatly as fact. But how did it get that way? Science is an active process of observation and investigation. Evidence: How Do We Know What We Know? [HTML version, Flash version also available] examines that process, revealing the ways in which ideas and information become knowledge and understanding. In this case study in human origins, the folks from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology explore how scientific evidence is being used to shape our current understanding of ourselves: What makes us human—and how did we get this way?
How To Be A Bat [Life in Motion] Carl Zimmer has a lengthy post about Bats over at Discover magazine's website. Several slow motion videos of bat flight including a cool matlabish model of a bat flight vortex. As with all flying takoffs are optional and landings are mandatory so they also have slow motion video of two point and four point landings as well as well as some more pedestrian videos.
When and if the dinochicken is created, Horner looks forward to bringing it out on a leash during lectures. (book)
Why would an evolutionary biologist study words? It turns out there is an astonishing parallel between the evolution of words in a lexicon and the evolution of genes in an organism. The word two, for example, has been around much longer than most, and will likely be with us for millennia, whereas the comparatively rare and recent word dirty has undergone many mutations, and will probably be extinct in a few hundred years. Professor Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading, UK, tells us why on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's program As It Happens. Pull slider to 16:00 to start the seven minute interview.
Juan Enriquez: Tech evolution will eclipse the financial crisis. "Even as mega-banks topple, Juan Enriquez says the big reboot is yet to come. But don't look for it on your ballot -- or in the stock exchange. It'll come from science labs, and it promises keener bodies and minds. Our kids are going to be ... different."
What Invasive Species Are Trying to Tell Us. "Walking snakeheads, carnivorous snails, and the superpredator from the reef: The invasion has begun." [Via]
What is the future of capitalism?
b) Canada* (,)
c) 'smart growth' (viz.)
d) none of the above** [more inside]
b) Canada* (,)
c) 'smart growth' (viz.)
d) none of the above** [more inside]
Why music? Music is a human universal, but why did we evolve a desire to create, perform, and enjoy it? From a biological standpoint, does it contribute to survival or, more likely, mate selection and reproduction?
30 years ago the BBC celebrated the anniversary of Charles Darwin with the drama series The Voyage of Charles Darwin depicting his life. The whole thing is now on Youtube. ) [more inside]
Dawkins on Darwin | A Peek into the Life of Darwin with Jon Amiel, Director of Creation | Six scientific hot spots for modern Darwins | 'Why Evolution Is True,' by Jerry A. Coyne
Darwin the abolitionist. "The theory of evolution is regarded as a triumph of disinterested scientific reason. Yet, on the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species, new research reveals that Darwin was driven to the idea of common descent by a great moral cause." [Via]
On Truth and Reality. Despite several thousand years of failure to correctly understand physical reality (hence the current postmodern view that this is impossible) it is actually very simple to work out how matter exists and moves about in Space. The rules of Science (Occam's Razor / Simplicity) and Metaphysics (Dynamic Unity of Reality) require that reality be described from only one single source existing, as Leibniz wrote: "because of the interconnection of all things with one another." [more inside]
Seeing and Believing: The never-ending attempt to reconcile science and religion, and why it is doomed to fail. [Via Pharyngula]
Billionaires have more grandchildren through their sons than through their daughters, because the status advantage is more reproductively valuable to the sons. Therefore, it would be adaptive for the mothers of their children to bear more sons than daughters. But surely that can't be; mothers can't control the sex of their children. Oh but so it is: billionaires have 60% male children. [more inside]
How Google Is Making Us Smarter: Humans are "natural-born cyborgs," and the Internet is our giant "extended mind."
In a breathless, passionate, yet level-headed 15 part series, YouTube user, paleontologist, ex-Christian, and potential Space Coyote impersonator AronRa presents an uncommonly well-written and presented argument against what he identifies as the 14 "Fundamental Falsehoods of Creationism." [more inside]
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.