Ardea alba


Photograph by John Trawick.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

Great egret
Ardea alba – great egret. The photographer writes, "A common and beautiful wading bird. This photograph was taken with a Nikon D7100 at Lake Murray Reservoir in San Diego, California. The reservoir is also part of Mission Trails Regional Park. In the winter, these are common, and I happened on this one on a weekend morning when I often walk around the lake. Egrets are predators and hunt in shallow water."

Happy birthday, Jean-Baptiste


Yesterday, the 1st of August was the 275th anniversary of the birth of Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck. Although often mistakenly regarded as a pseudoscientist, Lamarck was actually a great pioneer of invertebrate biology (he coined both the terms “invertebrate” and “biology”) and he was the first major evolutionary biologist. Admittedly, his theory accounting for adaptation was wrong. But that does not detract from his being the first major scientist to put forward a mechanism for evolving adaptations, and being one of the first to suggest common ancestry of many forms of life.

I have been accustomed to doing an annual post honoring Lamarck, so I will not try to summarize his life and works. But let me add a few biographical details that are lesser-known.

Tidal bore by moonlight

Tidal bore

À propos of nothing, I was in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia last week, touring the Bay of Fundy. The tides in the Bay of Fundy can reach several meters and cause rivers to essentially back up. The incoming tide reverses the direction of flow, and you can see a wave or waves propagating upstream. The wave is known as a tidal bore, from an Old Norse word.

Though there is a tidal bore every 12 or so hours, my schedule allowed me to see only one, at approximately 12:30 in the morning. We walked down to the Petitcodiac River in darkness, but the moon turned out to be very cooperative: low in the sky and directly across the river. Though I had only a monopod and no remote, I managed to stabilize my camera on a fence post and got the following pictures.

A dramatic new mathematical challenge?


This a rich one. The Hoover Institution at Stanford University is a center of scholarship and retirement for conservative intellectuals. It started as a place for retirement for former President Herbert Hoover, after the voters decided that his approach to coping with the Great Depression was not quite optimal (his replacement became a President of some note). In 1941 it erected(*) Hoover Tower, a startlingly visible landmark on the Stanford University campus. It has continued to associate itself with mostly conservative former politicians. Up until now, it has always cultivated an aura of respectability. Creationism was never its “thing”.

Now all that is changing. Some sharks seem to have been jumped. The Institution’s Peter Robinson, a former speechwriter and television host, has moderated a discussion between some of the intellectuals taken most seriously by the Discovery Institute, and presumably now by the Hoover Institution. They are Stephen Meyer, David Berlinski, and David Gelernter. The discussion is entitled “Mathematical Challenges To Darwin’s Theory Of Evolution, With David Berlinski, Stephen Meyer, And David Gelernter”. It is one hour long, and I have not yet been through it all. In case you end up hungry for more, there are longer videos expanding on the views of Meyer and Berlinski (here and here, and we very recently discussed an article by Gelernter here).

Gelernter-Meyer-Berlinski interview

(sorry for the size – I can’t figure out how to resize this video preview)

I need you to help me understand this dramatic new development.

Dragonfly Molting


Photograph by Al Denelsbeck.

Photography contest, Runner-Up.

Dragonfly molting
Dragonfly molting. The photographer writes, "Caught a dragonfly immediately after molting into final instar, still perched on its recently-vacated exoskeleton – there's something disconcerting with seeing how much an arthropod enlarges beyond its former body. I'm leaning towards this being a blue dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis, because that's the most common around here, but without coloration I couldn't confirm. The lack of coloration – in fact the near-total lack of pigmentation to the new exoskeleton – was the bit that drew my attention the most, because the wing muscles are plainly visible within."