Photography contest in one week ...


… June 18 – July 2. That is, we will accept entries from noon, June 18, to noon, July 2, where noon is defined by the Panda’s Thumb server, which thinks it is in Mountain Standard Time, or UTC(GMT) – 7 h. The rules will be essentially the same as previous years’ and will be posted next week.

If we receive enough entries, we may choose 2 or 3 categories. In the past, we have used such categories as animal, mineral, and vegetable; small, medium, and large; land, sea, and sky; and general, threatened, and invasive. Unfortunately, we are fresh out of ideas for new categories (fish, flesh, fowl, and good red herring does not seem inclusive enough), but we will gratefully accept suggestions. Jokes, of course, will also be entertained. Please use the comment box for either purpose.

So get out your camera, scan your slides, comb your archives, or do all of the above – the contest will begin in 6 days (yeah, we know the head said 1 week), and you will have 2 weeks within which to submit up to 3 entries per person.

Smerinthus ocellatus


Photograph by Marilyn Susek.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

Smerinthus ocellatus – caterpillar of eyed hawk moth. The photographer writes, "Photographed in my garden underneath a Kilmarnock willow (Salix caprea). At first I mistook it for a leaf. I had a problem identifying this as it is similar to the caterpillar found in America."

Who gets to define "theory"?


Our colleague, Mike Klymkowsky of the University of Colorado, the other day posted an interesting article, Ideas are cheap, theories are hard, in the Plos blog Sci-Ed. In the article, Professor Klymkowsky inveighed against the public’s supposed misuse of the term theory.

Merriam-Webster (according to my antique, 1993 Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition) lists senses (meanings) of the word in approximately chronological order. It gives the earliest sense of theory as “a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena.” This definition dates from the 1600’s. The word later came to mean “a hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation,” or “an unproven assumption,” or a conjecture. There are other senses which we need not go into. The online version of Merriam-Webster, incidentally, includes 2 short articles, “The difference between hypothesis and theory” and “Two related, yet distinct, meanings of theory.” They note, in particular, that in nonscientific use, hypothesis and theory may be used interchangeably with “idea, speculation, or hunch.”

Tenodera sinensis


Photograph by Al Denelsbeck.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

Tenodera_sinensis_sinensis – Chinese praying mantis. Mr. Denelsbeck writes that the mantis is "consuming an unidentified katydid, family Tettigoniidae, on a butterfly bush. The flash batteries had pegged out, so I shot wide open at F/4 under light overcast skies for this image, producing a focus effect I rather liked. Determining whether it's art or not is up to the viewer."

‘How cancer evolves within our bodies’

Book cover

James DeGregori is a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Deputy Director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center.  His lab studies the evolution of cancer, in the context of their Adaptive Oncogenesis model, with a focus on how aging and other insults influence cancer initiation. His lab has developed this cancer model based on classic evolutionary principles and substantiated this model by theoretical, experimental, and computational studies. This model is described in his recent book, Adaptive Oncogenesis: A New Understanding of How Cancer Evolves inside Us (Harvard University Press). The following is the introduction to that book. Matt Young will serve as moderator of this thread.

Why do we get diseases like cancer, and why do we get them mostly when we are old? Why do children get cancer? Why do we age? These may seem like existential questions, but there are answers, even if we do not know all of them. If you go to your doctor, you will get proximate explanations, which consider the causes of processes and diseases like aging and cancer within us. You may be told that aging is the result of a lifelong accumulation of damage to your tissues, both from errors that occur as your body maintains itself and from the damaging exposures that we experience during life. Analogously, you will be told that cancer is the result of a lifetime’s accumulation of genetic alterations (mutations) and that the accumulation by chance of a certain set of cancer-promoting mutations explains the increased risk of cancer late in life. Similarly, exposures to carcinogens, such as through smoking, are said to cause cancer by inducing mutations that change normal cells into cancer cells. But the more informative and more useful answers lie in an evolutionary understanding of life history and disease. As the great evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr said, “No biological problem is solved until both the proximate and the evolutionary causation has been elucidated.”

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in industrialized countries: about 40 percent of people in those countries will develop cancer, and close to half of these individuals will die from their disease. Cancer is largely a disease of old age, with over 90 percent of cancers occurring in individuals over fifty. Other causes of cancer include cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, sun exposure, pollution exposure, infections, and obesity. The medical and research communities have primarily ascribed associations between aging or exposures and cancer to enhanced mutation accumulation, despite strong evidence challenging such simple relationships.