March 6, 2005 - March 12, 2005 Archives

Good ol’ Career Day

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Mike Dunford’s post the other day reminded me of an event a few years ago.

I am married to a 4th grade teacher in southern California. Each year I do two days of “career day” for a total of around 600 kids from Kindergarden through 5th grade. I bring stone tools, and deer bones to pass around, and it is great fun.

I don’t teach archaeology to the kids- I talk about what archaeologists do for a living. Career day is supposed to show kids about different careers- thats why it is called Career Day. I also show them gadgets like a GPS, maps, etc… I also carry around a 500 page thick CRM report that nobody ever bothered to read.

Well, it’s better than boiling mud (1). One of the iconic images of Australia is the Merino sheep, an extremely woolly, arid-land adapted animal that is the backbone of our wool industry. One draw back of their wooliness is that urine and feces accumulate on the sheep’s wool between the hind legs. This attracts flies that lay eggs there, and when the maggots hatch they start eating the sheep alive.

To combat this “fly strike”, Australian farmers have surigally removed the wool-bearing skin between the sheep’s hind legs, a process called Mulesing. This is done without anaesthesia on farms, so the Animal rights group PETA has kicked up a fuss and there is a looming trade boycott on Australian wool.

However, just recently a group of mutant sheep were found on a remote property here in South Australia (listen to the audio presentation for full details). The sheep lack the wool and the folds of skin between the legs found on normal Merinos, and so are relatively immune to fly strike. It remains to be seen if this beneficial mutation can be bred into Australia’s herd successfully, but it would be amusing if the wrath of PETA was averted by mutant sheep.

(1) The title is taken from comedian John Clarke’s alternative national anthem “God Loves New Zealand, He gave us Boiling Mud”

Every now and then, I find myself so frustrated with the whole anti-evolution situation that I am tempted to simply wash my hands of the whole affair and walk away. After all, in the grand scheme of things, why does it really matter what kids get taught about biology. Most of them are never going to use the information when they grow up, and any creationism-induced knowledge deficits can be rectified later on in the education of those who are going to go on in fields related to the biological sciences. OK, so it’s nice to teach things that aren’t massively wrong, and all that, but is it really so important as to justify all this fuss?

Last week, I got a lesson on just exactly why all this really is so important.

Oliver Sacks has some nice reflections on the late Francis Crick. (Hat tip: AL Daily.)

How I spent my morning.

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A google search this morning turned up a right-wing, err “conservative voice” in the person of Fred Reed. Mr. Reed apparently failed as a chemistry student (hey Fred- I hit the P Chem wall too), and instead had a career in journalism. He is quite upset with science, and particularly evolution. Fredwin On Evolution. He attracted some dupes at a free “blogspace” (scan down to “Fred on evolution” posted on Tuesday).

Well, I asked myself, “Self, do you want to play with these guys?” And, myself replied, “The last fishing boat left an hour ago, no editors are particularly ticked off at you (at the moment), and it is better than poking out your eyes with sharp pointy sticks.”

But, I still wondered, “Are you sure that it is better than poking out our eyes with sharp pointy sticks.”

And myself settled the matter with an irrefutable argument, “Trust me! If you can’t trust your self, who can you trust?”

The Tangled Bank

Yay! Tangled Bank #23 is now online at Living the Scientific Life. It's a long one, so be prepared to spend a little time on it. I notice we also have a lot of first-timers in the list, so this is a good one for picking up on new and interesting weblogs.

If you want to join in and contribute to the party, the next edition will be on 23 March, at Syaffolee. Send links to S.Y. Affolee, PZ Myers, or

Check it out--proof of design! The David's Star appears in a cellular formation in the "Survivor Flower," (Ranunculus asiaticus). It's a miracle almost as impressive as John F. Kennedy's face in a hillside in Hawaii.

Ooo, pretty pictures!

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polychaete cartilage

Hmmm, it's awfully quiet around the Panda's Thumb today—everyone must be busy preparing thunderbolts of enlightenment to hurl at benighted creationists. While you're waiting for the fun to begin, I'll mention that I've just posted some information about comparative histology and invertebrate cartilage over at Pharyngula…come on over and look at the pretty pictures.

This essay has been called to life by Steve Reuland’s post to Panda’s Thumb titled “What good is half an underlying language structure?” ( ) which refers to Carl Zimmer’s posts to Loom (… and… ). One point touched upon in passing by Zimmer and by some comments’ writers, was the question of whether or not natural languages have all evolved from the same proto-language.

The Tangled Bank

Hey, gang, Wednesday is my birthday! I'm sure many of you have already made your reservations and are planning to show up at my house with armfuls of gifts and bottles of champagne for an evening of wild partying, but if you can't make it, no worries: there's another way you can celebrate. Write something, anything about science or the natural world and post it to your weblog, and then send a link to it to grrlscientist, me, or Then, on 9 March, after all the champagne has been drunk and the revelers have toddled home or passed out on the floor, I'll be able to pull up the laptop, aim my browser at Living the Scientific Life, and spend some pleasant time seeing what smart people say about science on The Tangled Bank.

C'mon. As a favor to an old man getting older.

The Discovery Institute Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture’s Media Complaints Division has a short whine by Robert Crowther about a column in Scientific American by Steve Mirsky. Mirsky made fun of disclaimers for textbooks, specifically mentioning the Selman v. Cobb County case decision.

There’s a general cluelessness about Crowther’s discussion of publications like Scientific American and their printing schedules. But an even more egregious bit from Crowther is a complaint about a lack of originality in Mirsky’s piece.

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