October 2012 Archives

“The day the Mesozoic died”

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A press release we received from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute:

HHMI Premieres New Film Showcasing One of Science’s Greatest Detective Stories

Film to Debut at NABT Conference

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute will premiere, “The Day the Mesozoic Died,” a new film that chronicles one of science’s greatest detective stories, at this year’s National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) conference.

The film retraces the extraordinary investigative work behind the stunning discovery that an asteroid struck the Earth 66 million years ago, triggering the mass extinction of dinosaurs and many other species of animals, plants and microorganisms. The Mesozoic Era, sometimes referred to as the Age of Reptiles, lasted from approximately 250-66 million years ago.

[You may see 3 short clips here.]

Royal Society journals open access

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The Royal Society has made all its journals open access until November 29. I foresee an orgy of downloads!

Via Jerry Coyne’s blog

We received approximately 30 photographs from 14 photographers. Most of the pictures were excellent. We divided the entries into 2 categories, Lab Rats and General, though we had to fudge a little bit to populate both categories.

Choosing finalists was difficult. We considered what we thought were the scientific and pictorial qualities of the photographs, and also attempted to represent as many photographers and present as much variety as possible. The text was written by the photographers and lightly edited for consistency.

Here are the finalists in the Lab Rats category. Please look through them before voting for your favorite. You will have to be logged in to vote on the poll. We know it is possible to game these polls. Please be responsible and vote only once. If we think that the results are invalid, we will cancel the contest. The photos and poll are below the fold.

The winner in each category will receive an autographed copy of Among the Creationists, by Jason Rosenhouse, which received a very favorable review here. We are indebted to the author for his generosity in providing the books.

Acknowledgement: Reed Cartwright wrote the HTML code.

  • New species of orchids of the genus Teagueia, by Lou Jost—Volcan Tungurahua, Ecuador. The photographer and his students discovered a remarkable and completely unexpected evolutionary radiation of these plants, with up to 16 sympatric new species on a single mountain.
  • Two-headed Xenopus laevis tadpole generated by the injection of RNA encoding plakoglobin (g-catenin) into a fertilized egg, by Mike Klymkowsky. The melanocytes are contracted and extended pigment distributions in the two axes. More information.
  • Banded iron formation—Jasper Knob, Ishpeming, Michigan, Proterozoic eon, ~2.11 Ga, by James Kocher. Kodachrome 64, August, 1992.
  • E. coli by Ryan Kitko.—On the right, a test tube with Escherichia coli that appear green because they contain a plasmid to produce green fluorescent protein (GFP). The middle test tube contains the same bacteria but appears cloudy because it is missing the inducer arabinose. The left test tube is a control containing only growth medium.
  • Light bulb imploding inward, demonstrating that the pressure inside the bulb is less than atmospheric pressure, by Steve Switaj. Photograph was taken ~30 years ago on Kodacolor 100 with two flash units and an exposure of approximately 1/40,000 s.

Freshwater: His Reply Brief

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As those who follow the Freshwater affair know, John Freshwater appealed his termination as an 8th grade science teacher to the Ohio Supreme Court, filing a Memorandum in Support of Jurisdiction that induced the Court to accept his appeal, then a Merit Brief which laid out his argument for overturning the termination decision and which, not incidentally, made a different argument than that made in the Memorandum in Support; in effect, Freshwater pulled a bait and switch on the Court. The Board of Education filed a Memorandum in Response to Freshwater’s Merit Brief, and Freshwater has now filed a reply. I’ll describe some salient features of his reply below the fold.

Photo Contest IV: Finalists, General

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Update, noon, October 28: Voting is now closed. We will post the finalists in the Lab Rats category on Monday, October 29, at noon Mountain Daylight Time. We will formally announce the winners on Sunday, November 4.

1000 apologies for taking so long, but here are the finalists of the 2012 photography contest. We received approximately 30 photographs from 14 photographers. Most of the pictures were excellent. We divided the entries into 2 categories, Lab Rats and General, though we had to fudge a little bit to populate both categories.

Choosing finalists was difficult. We considered what we thought were the scientific and pictorial qualities of the photographs, and also attempted to represent as many photographers and present as much variety as possible. The text was written by the photographers and lightly edited for consistency.

Here are the finalists in the General category. Please look through them before voting for your favorite. You will have to be logged in to vote on the poll. We know it is possible to game these polls. Please be responsible and vote only once. If we think that the results are invalid, we will cancel the contest. The poll may be found below the fold.

The winner in each category will receive an autographed copy of Among the Creationists, by Jason Rosenhouse, which received a very favorable review here. We are indebted to the author for his generosity in providing the books.

Acknowledgement. Reed Cartwright wrote all the HTML code.

Carbon dating to 50,000 years

| 62 Comments

An article in Friday’s Science magazine details how a team of scientists provided a calibration for carbon dating accurately to 50,000 years, or about 10 times the age of the earth according to many creationists.

Until now, carbon dating was accurate only to about 13,000 years, or the ages of the oldest trees. The Science article is fairly dense, but Science has provided a helpful Perspective, and Popular Science has a nice article as well.

It turns out that the concentration of 14C in the atmosphere varies from year to year, so calculations of the age of a specimen need to be corrected for this yearly variation; uncorrected calculations are not wrong, but they may be in error by hundreds of years. Until now, we have had no detailed record of the 14C concentration beyond the age of the oldest trees. Now, however, a team led by Christopher Bronk Ramsey of the University of Oxford has examined sediments in a Japanese lake and extended carbon dating to approximately 50,000 years. The lake was chosen because the bed of the lake is anoxic and its sediments are thought to have been stable and untouched by ice-age glaciers. The new calibration will be significant to archeology and studies of climate change. Read the 2 articles I have cited for more detail.

Not an earthshaking discovery, to be sure, but it shows how science progresses, step-by-step, while creationism merely stagnates.

Acknowledgment. Thanks to Rolf Manne of the University of Bergen, Norway, for alerting me to the importance of Bronk Ramsey’s article.

Afarensis reviews “Science and Human Origins”

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Afarensis, a blogger on (mostly) paleontology, has started a series of posts reviewing the Disco ‘Tute’s “Science and Human Origins.” Recall that Paul McBride also did a chapter by chapter review that hammered the book a few months ago.

Argemone polyanthemos

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IMG_2901_PricklyPoppy_600.jpg

Argemone polyanthemos – prickly poppy, Walden Ponds, Boulder, Colorado.

The ducks are gonna get you

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Some poor young girl, deeply miseducated and misled, wrote into a newspaper with a letter trying to denounce homosexuality with a bad historical and biological argument. She's only 14, and her brain has already been poisoned by the cranks and liars in her own family…it's very sad. Here's the letter — I will say, it's a very creative argument that would be far more entertaining if it weren't wrong in every particular.

I've transcribed it below. I couldn't help myself, though, and had to, um, annotate it a bit.

Journal of Universal Rejection

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It’s here. Not only does this journal have the highest rejection rate of any journal; it has no page charges. You may submit your manuscript with no anxiety, since you know it will be rejected. Unfortunately, as a colleague of mine has pointed out, if the paper is rejected immediately, you may not leave it on your resume for long; it would be better if they held your paper under review forever.

You may buy a T-shirt at their store: they claim that they will not reject your money.

Finally, if you submit a paper to a journal that will never publish it, have you created any information?

Thanks to John Scales of the Colorado School of Mines for the link.

My friend and colleague at Berkeley Laurel Barchas has entered the blogging world with a post at Ed Brayton’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars. We mostly follow the creation/evolution fight here at PT, but the battles over things like climate change and stem cells seem to have become similarly politicized and religious-ized in recent years. And proponents of good science will sometimes get flack over it, as Laurel found out here (random example, although that guy spelled Berkeley as Berkely).

Laurel got in the game early on stem cell policy in California several years ago, and she is the Director of Academic Outreach for the Genetics Policy Institute, which is advertising the World Stem Cell Summit in December in Florida. See her post for an update.

Meanwhile, science rolls on, with a Nobel Prize today going for important discoveries in the history of stem cell research.

“Documentary” on Ark Park

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Dan Phelps, author of a recent PT article on the Creation “Museum”, sent us this link to a “documentary” on “replicating” the Ark. The “documentary” is a three-part series and has supposedly been produced for PBS stations.

Mr. Phelps says he could not find any PBS stations that are actually airing the “documentary.” Can any reader point to a PBS station that has shown it or plans to show it?

***Update, October 10: Joe Sonka, in an article for the Louisville newspaper LEO Weekly, reports that PBS has no knowledge of any documentary. He quotes Ken Ham, however, as saying that PBS had agreed to three documentaries. Perhaps Mr. Ham is exaggerating.

The director of the “documentary,” Johan Bos, incidentally, is associated with an oddball outfit that offers classes in film production and guarantees, “This class is a Christian safe environment. This class does not teach secular or worldly views.” A Christian-safe environment. I had no idea that Christianity was so fragile.***

Mystery fossil

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Photograph by Marilyn Susek.

SusekFossilWholeRock_600.jpg

Mystery fossil – Ms. Susek’s father found this fossil in a coal mine in or near Sheffield, England. The rock itself is 7-1/2 cm long x 3 cm wide. I have sent the picture to several knowledgeable people and asked if they could identify the specimen; I received several authoritative answers, not all mutually exclusive. The response I consider most authoritative is – um, never mind; we will save that for later. Can any reader identify the fossil?

Freshwater: The big guns come out

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The big guns are out in the Freshwater appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court. A slew of briefs–including the Board of Education’s merit brief and amicus briefs from the National Center for Science Education, the Dennis family, Americans United for Separation of Church and State with the Anti-Defamation League, and the American Humanist Association with the Secular Student Alliance, along with requests for permission for attorneys to appear representing several of those organizations–were filed yesterday with the Court.

It will take me a while to read all the material, but below the fold I’ll mention a few highlights from a fast first reading.

Introduction to Genetics and Evolution

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Mohamed Noor, who got his Ph.D. under Jerry Coyne, is teaching an online introduction to genetics and evolution. It starts Oct 10 and is free. Strongly recommended for FL and Byers.

Hat tip to Florida Citizens for Science

Amanita muscaria

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Photograph by David Young.

Amanita muscaria mushroom at Maroon Bells.jpg

Amanita muscaria – fly amanita, or fly agaric, Maroon Bells, Colorado.

Report on a Creation Evidence Expo

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On Biodork there’s a guest post reporting a visit by several skeptics/atheists to a Creation “Evidence” Expo held recently in Indianapolis. A couple of excerpts to entice you to read it all:

It turns out creationism is still alive and kicking. Okay, maybe not kicking so much as floundering so it doesn’t drown.

Of some note, creationists have already picked up the ENCODE project’s “80% of the genome is functional” meme that’s polluting mainstream media and the blogosphere. (See T. Ryan Gregory for a representative critique of the PR misrepresentations of the ENCODE papers, and Nature News for an overview of some of the critiques. And here’s Nature’s portal to the ENCODE data.) At the Creation “Evidence” Expo YEC Nuclear chemist Dr. Jay Wile is reported to have used ENCODE’s bogus ‘80% functional’ claim:

He began quoting biology books from 1989 and talking about “junk DNA”. He informed the audience that junk DNA doesn’t exist because god made us and that they now know 80% of what our DNA does.

Ewan Birney, lead coordinator of ENCODE, has a lot to answer for.

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