February 6, 2005 - February 12, 2005 Archives

Alberts on Behe

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Behe's op-ed piece in the NY Times of 7 February, which was rebuked here earlier, has been given an even more stinging setback. One of the authorities Behe cited, Bruce Alberts, has also come out in the pages of the NY Times with a forceful response.

The pro-science side of the blogosphere responds with fierce glee, with comments at Lloydletta's Nooz and Comments, EvolutionBlog, and Pharyngula. It's the perfect fillip for our Darwin's Day celebrations.


Carl Zimmer also weighs in.

We’re a Koufax Award finalist

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The Panda's Thumb has made it into the final voting for Best Group Blog. If you're a fan of evolution, leave a message to vote.

P.S. You can also vote for Pharyngula in the Best Expert Blog category.

Evolving spots

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Here's what seems to be a relatively simple problem in evolution. Within the Drosophila genus (and in diverse insects in general), species have evolved patterned spots on their wings, which seem to be important in species-specific courtship. Gompel et al. have been exploring in depth one particular problem, illustrated below: how did a spot-free ancestral fly species acquire that distinctive dark patch near the front tip of the wing in Drosophila biarmipes? Their answer involves dissecting the molecular regulators of pattern in the fly wing, doing comparative sequence analyses and identifying the specific stretches of DNA involved in turning on the pigment pattern, and testing their models experimentally by expressing novel gene constructs in different species of flies.

gompel et al.

The particular gene of interests is calledl yellow (y), which is required for the production of black pigments (why is a gene for black pigments called yellow? Because genes are often named for their effect when mutated. Break the yellow gene with a mutation, and the resulting mutant animal can't make dark pigments, and looks yellowish.) Yellow is normally turned on at a low level everywhere in the fruit fly wing, pigmenting the wing an overall light gray. In D. biarmipes, there is an additional patch of elevated yellow expression in one corner of the wing. What activates this gene in just that one place?

Continue reading "Evolving spots" (on Pharyngula)

Extra kudos to Ben Fulton of the Salt Lake City Weekly for his perceptive op-ed piece, “The E Word.” Many op-eds have pointed out that “intelligent design” is simply creationism with a new coat of paint, that ID proponents are trying to “cut in line” and get ID into the public schools before it gains scientific acceptance, that there is no ID research program, no “ID theory”, and that it is really all one big misguided exercise in conservative evangelical Christian apologetics.

However, Fulton puts his finger exactly on the point that really drives most of us science fans at PT:

Just imagine that, for every question you presented to someone in power, they answered with the words, “We don’t really know. It’s a mystery.” Now imagine if you or your child asked a question about the origin of the human species in a science class, only to have a learned instructor tell you, “We don’t really know. It’s a mystery.” Would anyone dare call that education?Ben Fulton, “The E Word,” Salt Lake City Weekly

From the [u]Biology is Cool[/u] division at the Thumb. According to [Enable javascript to see this email address.]:

Canopy-dwelling ants in the tropical forests of the Americas have adopted a neat way of averting disaster should they fall from their perch. They glide to safety, steering towards their home trunk rather than plummeting to the ground, where they might never see their nest-mates again.[Enable javascript to see this email address.]

If you don’t believe it, read the news article, the far-too uncreatively-named Nature paper “Directed aerial descent in canopy ants“, or better yet, watch the video.

How was this fascinating discovery made?

The discovery was an accident, [Stephen] Yanoviak recalls. “About two years ago I was climbing trees to collect mosquitoes when I was attacked by these ants. I brushed 20 or 30 of them off; they fell down and made a nice J-shaped curve back to the tree.”[Enable javascript to see this email address.]

Thus a Nature paper was born…

Since you asked, Stephen P. Yanoviak is indeed a Project Steve Steve.

Today in Kansas the creationist majority on the state BOE brought an unannounced resolution, which they passed 6-4, that created a special Board committee to hold as yet unspecified hearings “to investigate the merits of the two opposing views [evolution and presumably some form of Intelligent Design/creationism] offered by the Kansas Science Curriculum Writing Committee.”

This action bypasses the established procedures already in place (the writing committee itself and the public hearings now going on), and gives the creationists a special forum to air there views. The resolution appointed Board chair Steve Abrams as well as Board members Connie Morris and Kathy Martin to the Hearing Committee. All are creationists, and Abrams was the Board member who secretly collaborated with the creationists back in 1999 to produce those infamous standards.

You can see the resolution itself at www.kcfs.org

The Board also voted to link to the ID/creationists minority report (which has already been voted down by the writing committee) on the state website here for public discussion.

Bailey bashes Behe

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An excellent article from Ronald Bailey on Michael Behe, and the creationism battle in general.

Barbara Forrest, a philosopher at Southeastern Louisiana University and co-author of Creationism’s Trojan Horse, reviews Darwin, Design, and Public Education, an ID anthology that was published as part of Michigan State University’s “Rhetoric and Public Affairs” series.

Her extensive review is available for free at RedNova.com, which is nice because the original publication of the review, in the journal Integrative and Comparative Biology, requires a subscription. You should get the pdf from the journal if you want the authoritative text, since it looks like the RedNova text was scraped from the pdf and therefore has a few conversion errors.

Tangled Bank turns 21

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The Tangled Bank

Lots of links to science writing can be found at Tangled Bank #21 on About Town today.

The next edition will be at The Scientific Indian on 23 February. Send your science links to Selva Kumar, me, or host@tangledbank.net.

Crux magazine is a new publication with a virtual who's who of ID advocates as contributors and editors. It also has three blogs associated with it, with contributions from those same people. While declaring itself the "last bastion of Truth" (yes, they even capitalized it), their contributors seem to have a little difficulty grasping the non-capitalized variety of truth in two articles about the Sternberg/Smithsonian situation. The first, written by Crux senior editor Bobby Maddex, repeats the accusations in the David Klinghoffer WSJ piece as gospel truth, but adds one bit of falsehood to it:

Though still an employee of the museum, Sternberg, who is not even an advocate of Intelligent Design himself, has since been shunned by former colleagues throughout the United States, and his office still sits empty as "unclaimed space."

Don’t forget: Tangled Bank tomorrow

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The Tangled Bank

This is your last chance to beat the deadline: send your science-related links to me, to host@tangledbank.net, or to Xavier if you want your weblog to get mentioned in the Tangled Bank at About Town tomorrow.

PT Spam Blocker

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Salvador is making some noise on ARN about a comment of his being rejected by our spam filter. This post is to clarify things.

Spammers target blogs with comments. These attacks can be harsh. At times spammers will go through every single post in the blog and post three comments containing scores of links advertising every thing from child rape to internet bingo.

To counter such horrid spam, we employ a blacklist plugin that searches every comment for certain patterns and rejects any that fit. Unfortunately sometimes non-spam also gets blocked. Users are sent a message informing them of the bad content so they can change the post. (Robotic spammers ignore such messages.)

Our typical cycle of spam control went like this:

  • Spam gets through the filter.
  • We recognize the spam.
  • Add the urls from the spam to the blacklist.
  • Delete the messages that got through.

Of course, the time between 1 and 4 can be hours or days, which can lead to a lot of naughty messages sitting around the blog for a while.

I finally got fed up with this reactionary technique a few months ago, and decided if there was a better option. I tried the explanatory filter but it was unable to detect links designed by spammers. So I had to fall back to old methodology and took links from our blacklist, which I already knew had been designed by spammers, and tried to deduce some megarules from them. I ended up deciding to block urls that contained multiple hyphens, since about 75% of the spammers’ urls went something like “hot-chicks-want-to-hottub-with-you.ruky.net.” (I also blocked all .info addresses since we were only getting spam from them.)

The multi-hyphen megarule has worked very well. However, it is still experimental and has been modified more than once. If you have a problem with getting a url past the spam blocker, you can simply use tinyurl.com to create a replacement url. That is what Wesley did in this comment to link to ISCID. (Contrary to some claims we did not change the blacklist for Wesley.)

We do make our blacklist publicly available, blacklist.txt, so anyone can check if we are banning sites critical towards us. Sorry, would-be martyrs, we do not censor your favorite sites from comments, unless you’re into mature mamas or something. Besides if we wanted to censor you, we’d ban your IP, not add you to our spam blocker.

Today’s Guardian has an article on creationism in American public schools. Most of the article will be familiar to those versed in the subject matter, but what turned my stomach was this quote:

But the largest applause of the evening was reserved for a silver-haired gentleman in a navy blue blazer. “I have a question: if man comes from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”

You poor, poor Kansans…At least they should supply your creationists with some new material every now and then.

The article further fleshes out the reasoning behind the attacks on evolution:

“They believe that the naturalistic bias of science is in fact atheistic, and that if we don’t change science, we can’t believe in God. And so this is really an attack on all of science. Evolution is just the weak link.”

I’m always surprised when they say this type of thing. Evolution is more strongly supported than many other theories in science. I’ve said before that religionists ought to target the germ theory of disease instead: the mere existence of a carrier state could have been used as the death knell to Koch’s postulates, for example. But I’ve not yet seen any takers. At least they must see the absurdity in challenging some well-established theories. For now.

Behe jumps the shark

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Nick Matzke has also commented on this, but the op-ed is so bad I can't resist piling on. From the very first sentence, Michael Behe's op-ed in today's NY Times is an exercise in unwarranted hubris.

In the wake of the recent lawsuits over the teaching of Darwinian evolution, there has been a rush to debate the merits of the rival theory of intelligent design.

And it's all downhill from there.

An editorial by Mike Behe is in the Monday New York Times – you remember, that liberal legacy media we were all supposed to forget about.

None of the claims are new, but at least the text is (commonly not the case in ID op-eds). The op-ed is short, so my reply is interspersed.

Michael Ruse on Ernst Mayr

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Over on the Philosophy of Biology blog Michael Ruse has just written an extensive eulogy of Ernst Mayr. It includes an excellent summary of the importance of Mayr as well as many entertaining anecdotes.

I recently expressed the view that I would be proud to be kicked by Ernst Mayr. It seems that Ruse felt the same way:

But Mayr had many more years of active life. Even last year he was scrounging one of my books from our shared publisher, Harvard University Press, so that he could put the boot into me one more time before he was done. Michael Ruse, Ernst Mayr Eulogy

I have quoted some of the important points and good bits below, but you should really read the whole thing.

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