Archive: June, 2011
Nobody really knows what color the dinosaurs were, but that could change soon. Scientists are using X-rays to reveal traces of pigments in ancient birds. Read the story here. It will also appear in tomorrow's Inquirer.
As a follow-up to yesterday's column on the word "belief" and the Miss USA contestants' views on evolution, I wanted to show this hilarious spoof that somebody created. In this case, the question substitutes math for evolution. The answers are more or less the same.
When the contestants in the Miss USA pageant last week were asked whether evolution should be taught in schools, many volunteered that they either "believed" or "didn't believe" in the concept.
"I don't believe in evolution," said Miss Alabama. "They should teach both sides since some people believe in evolution and some people believe in creation," said Miss Arizona. "It's something people believe in," said Miss Florida. "I believe in evolution ... and I like to believe in, like, the big bang theory," said Miss California, who won the crown.
Some scientists were not impressed, saying the use of the word belief as applied to evolution confused science with faith and discounted evolution's central role in biology.
Starting today, this blog will update much more often, and will begin to include new features as well as more regular discussion among readers. Today I'd like to post some back-and-forth generated by the column on evolving e-coli. Here's one of the responses:
Faye's column was informative. However, the whole column could have been written without ever using the word evolution or any derivative of this word. Certainly we are not talking about random mutations here or natural selection (the essence of neo-Darwinism). Evolution is forced onto the narrative because real examples of evolution (species to species transitions)is MIA. Evolutionists are mystics -- they believe in this mysterious force by which they explain everything. Give me an example of something about evolution that you know with certainty, and not just "evolution happened."
David Sanders, a biologist at Purdue University, says that accepting so-called microevolution, especially as it refers to microbes, but denying larger-scale "macroevolution", is like saying there's gravity in America but not in Asia.
When it comes to the popular "Paleo diets," it can be hard to know how exactly to eat like a caveman. Which cave? A good diet may depend on where your ancestors' digs were located.
And other crucial shifts have occurred over the millennia, both in our food and in ourselves. Some scientists contend that the biggest and perhaps most damaging change in our diets happened only in the last century with the explosion of a type of fat called omega-6.
New evidence is showing that humankind don't all contend with this fat equally, thanks to the way different human populations have evolved and adapted to local food sources over 50,000 years.
Today, our most fearsome natural enemies aren't big, fierce animals. They're microscopic invaders, with names like O104:H4. Their weapon is evolution.
O104:H4 is the label given to the strain of E. coli responsible for the food-borne outbreak currently sweeping through Europe. The organism is so good at infecting us that a deadly case could start with just 10 to 50 cells. Once ingested, this new E. coli multiplies into the billions, using various tricks to evade the immune system.
A benign form of E. coli inhabits all of us, but unlike these friendly bacteria, the new strain forms clumps that adhere to human intestines, where it secretes a deadly substance called Shiga toxin. In the worst cases, the toxin invades the bloodstream, where it massacres blood cells and eventually destroys the kidneys.
It looked - for a moment - like one of science's deepest questions was cracking open last December. That's when a NASA-funded team announced that it had found a completely new kind of life in California's arsenic-rich Mono Lake.
At a news conference, the researchers said they had discovered an arsenic-based organism - its very DNA infused with the toxic metal. In touting their own findings, they left many viewers with the impression that this bug had sprung from nonliving matter independent of all known life.
The finding of a second origin of life, if real, would have dramatically broadened the view of how life got here and whether it might arise spontaneously elsewhere in the universe.
Creationist response and other fallout from racist and sexist blog post:
In Monday’s column, I described a surprisingly mean-spirited, racist blog post by evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa. I tried put it into the context of a longer history of racism in science. If I’d had more space, I would also have discussed the sexism and general shallowness that’s inherent in the question he set out to answer: Which race has the most attractive women?
Since then, 68 academics - evolutionary psychologists, anthropologists, and related researchers - have publicly ganged up on Kanazawa, according to this story. And yet, Psychology Today continues to lend him credibility.