August 2014 Archives

Giant panda fakes pregnancy

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The Xinhua news agency reported the other day that a giant panda, Ai Hin, had faked pregnancy, possibly in order to receive better treatment in the form of a private room, air conditioning, and luscious bamboo. This observant and inventive panda is, of course, a distant relative of Professor Steve Steve.

Another case of … erm … Darwinist censorship

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[sarcasm] Jeff Shallit calls attention to an egregious case of Darwinian censorship. [/sarcasm].

I think the “atheistic leaning neo-Darwinist blog” is Panda’s Thumb. Recall Nick Matzke’s critique here.

Tradescantia occidentalis

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Photograph by Rob Dullien.

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Tradescantia occidentalis – prairie or western spiderwort, near Coyote Buttes, Arizona, May, 2014.

Panda cub is 1 year old

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That cub is Bao Bao, the cub born at the National Zoo in Washington. See here for a short video or here for still photos. Bao Bao is the second panda to have been born at the zoo and survived to her first birthday. She is, of course, a distant cousin, once removed, of Professor Steve Steve.

Ohio: Here we go again

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Ohio is in the process of considering the Common Core standards to guide public education in a range of disciplines from English language arts to math and science. Ohio’s State Board of Education adopted the Common Core in June of 2010, and local districts have been creating curriculum materials under the Common Core for implementation this year. Now two state legislators, Republican Andy Thompson of Medina and Republican Matt Huffman of Lima have filed a bill, House Bill 597, that would abandon the Common Core and eviscerate those curricula, wasting the work of hundreds of Ohio educators. House Bill 597 also contains a deadly form of anti-science propaganda. It is a lovely example of right wing ignorance of science.

Lonicera X bella

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Honeysuckle, by Richard Meiss.

Photography contest, Finalist.

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Lonicera X bella – Asian bush honeysuckle. Mr. Meiss writes, “This photo shows the coexisting ripe berries and new flowers of the Asian bush honeysuckle, an invasive species in the American midwest. This ‘second flowering’ in mid-September was induced by the very hot and dry summer of 2012. The phenomenon, an adaptation to environmental stress, was also widely noted in the British Isles; its prevalence is likely related to global warming. In this case, it may give a ‘leg up’ to an already-troublesome invasive species.”

The scare quotes are my gloss, but that is the headline of a credulous Dallas Morning News article on the “research” being conducted at the Institute for Creation “Research.” The article quotes Pat Robertson to the effect that it is silly – or, rather, looks silly – to deny the clear geologic record, but mostly the author appears to take the “research” seriously. Indeed, he makes the point that Charity Navigator gives ICR a 3-star rating, which, to my mind, means only that they waste contributions efficiently.

Buried at the tail end of the article, no doubt for “balance” (using a lot of scare quotes today; sorry), the author interviews Ron Wetherington, an anthropologist at Southern Methodist University. Professor Wetherington observes, correctly, that ICR puts the cart before the horse:

The problem is, they’re not scientists. They cherry-pick data in order to use it to justify the Genesis account of creation.

Sure enough, the ICR scientists claim that spiral galaxies, ocean salinity, and the (surprising) existence of soft tissue in dinosaur bones are clear evidence against what they call evolutionary naturalism. Real scientists, notes Prof. Wetherington, constantly test their hypotheses, rather than simply “line up facts to support a hypothesis.”

Professor Wetherington is careful not to disparage anyone else’s religion, which I suppose is a laudable position. But frankly when a scientist’s religion teaches something that is contrary to known fact and by his own admission prevents that scientist from getting a real job in a real research laboratory, then maybe it is time to admit that it is the religious view, not the science, that needs drastic modification.

Acknowledgment. Thanks are due again to Alert Reader for providing the link.

A dam at a toxic waste pond burst last week and spilled 10 Mm3 of water and about half as much presumably toxic sludge into a tributary of the Fraser River in British Columbia. If you want to see what 10 Mm3 of water looks like, watch the video posted by The Guardian.

The Fraser River empties into the newly named Salish Sea at Vancouver, B. C.

The Guardian article barely mentions salmon, but the Seattle Post-Intelligencer calls it British Columbia’s Exxon Valdez and suggests that over 2.5 million salmon could be affected. Although the water is apparently safe to drink now, no one knows what the long-term effects might be, after the toxic sludge enters the food chain. NBC news reports that the spill has already destroyed spawning beds for endangered Coho salmon, and there is fear that chinook and sockeye salmon, which are running upstream right now, may also be in danger.

The Provincial government is minimizing the danger.

The Cartwright Lab at Arizona State University is looking for a Software Application Associate to design, construct, test, document, and maintain software packages. We currently have software development projects involving phylogenomics, mutational genomics, and evolution.

Essential Duties

Work in a collaborative environment to design, construct, test, document, and maintain software packages. Typical projects involve implementing high-performance algorithms for the statistical analysis of large genomic datasets for studying questions related to evolution and population genetics. Ability to translate software prototypes from Perl, Python, Java, etc. into C/C++ is preferred.

Minimum Qualifications

Bachelor’s degree in Statistics, Mathematics, Computer Science or related field AND two years of experience in software application development, including writing computer code in one or more programming languages; OR, any equivalent combination of experience and/or education from which comparable knowledge, skills and abilities have been achieved.

To Apply

See the full ad: http://phoenix.jobing.com/software-[…]/job/4746091

Eclipse

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Photograph by Keith Barkley.

Photography contest, Finalist.

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Solar eclipse, May 20, 2012. Mr. Barkley writes, “I lucked out that the eclipse was still going on during local sunset. One of the few eclipse images you will see that was taken without a sun-viewing filter on the lens.”

A blogger in the Daily Kos reports that Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks people should “chill out” regarding genetically modified food. Tyson argues, as I have for years, that all our food is genetically modified, but it took on the order of 10,000 years to get where we are now.

The pseudonymous blogger, SkepticalRaptor, notes that GM foods are to many on the left as global warming is to many on the right: It is an article of faith that genetic modification is bad, and no amount of evidence can be adduced to change that opinion.

I would add, though, that there are valid reasons to oppose at least some genetic modifications, such as corn that is immune to glyphosate (Roundup) or plants laced with insecticide (Bt). Additionally, you could reasonably argue (as does SkepticalRaptor) that, whereas it may be legal to sell seeds that cannot reproduce themselves, it is certainly immoral to sell them to farmers in developing countries. Finally, I seem to recall that there have been occasional problems introducing, say, fish genes into tomatoes. None of these problems speaks against genetically modified food in general, though they surely militate in favor of considerable caution.

SkepticalRaptor concludes with the observation that Tyson is correct in following the evidence to its conclusion rather than denying the evidence in order to support a preordained conclusion. I could not agree more.

Aeshna multicolor

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Photograph by David Cox.

Photography contest, Finalist.

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Aeshna multicolor – blue-eyed darner.

Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet was born on 1 August 1744 in Bazentin-le-Petit, Picardy, France. He was from a family of impoverished nobility, so he came to have the title Chevalier de Lamarck. He died at the age of 85 on 18 December 1829.

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He was probably the greatest invertebrate biologist, clarifying the classification of invertebrates greatly. For that matter he is the one who coined the terms “invertebrate” and “biology”. He also was the first major evolutionary biologist, arguing that species had evolved from common ancestors and putting forward his own theory of the mechanisms – an inherent complexifying force combined with inherited effects of use and disuse of organs. One thing he did not do was introduce the notion of inheritance of acquired characters. Everyone already believed it; he just made use of it. So it should not be called “Lamarckian inheritance”.

Happy birthday to Lamarck, not a crackpot, not a quack, but a great evolutionary biologist.

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