Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Chimps more evolved

This is an interesting story suggesting that chimpanzees have evolved more than humans since the ape-human split 6-8 million years ago. The argument is that chimps had larger effective population sizes in the past than humans and that drift may have played a more prominent role. Not sure...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Discovery Institute Has a Blog

The Discovery Institute's blog, called Evolution News & Views, can be found here. It covers all things ID from that perspective. I would encourage visits and comments to the site.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Oh Canada!

Brian Alters is in the news again. If you remember, he is the one who applied for a grant to determine the effect of ID in Canadian schools and was turned down because the committee felt that there was not sufficient justification for the idea that "evolution, and not intelligent design theory, was correct."

In an article in the Toronto Star, Alters now warns that the problem is not relegated to small town America and that many school teachers simply do not teach evolution for fear of getting flak from parents. According to the story, 1/3 of public school teachers report getting requests to teach ID or creationism from parents. The story notes:

The situation has become such a concern to scientists that an international team of biologists has put together a new journal to help teachers prepare lesson plans on evolution.

"We've got to teach the teachers," says Daniel Brooks, a University of Toronto evolutionary biologist behind the journal, to be launched in the fall by European academic publishing giant Springer.

That sounds like a good idea. The article also quotes Kent Hovind, who argues that evolution should be taken out of the schools, even if ID cannot be taught. For those of you who are not familiar with Kent Hovind, go here and here. His web page, at DrDino.com is here. As Alters puts it:

"You can't teach biology without teaching the one thing that unifies the whole discipline."

Yup. Theodosius Dobzhansky was right.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Another Transitional Form!

Foxnews has an article on the skeletal remains of an aquatic lizard that had only nubs for front limbs, filling in the link between these animals and the snakes that followed them. Quotes the story:

"It adds to the picture we have of what was happening 100 million years ago," said lead researcher Michael Caldwell, a paleontologist at the University of Alberta. "We now know that losing limbs isn't a new thing and that lizards were doing it much earlier than we originally thought."

Odd questions remains, though.

"For some oddball reason, the forelimbs were lost before the rear limbs, when you would think it would be the opposite," Caldwell said. "The front limbs would be useful for holding onto dinner or digging a hole, but it must be developmentally easier to get rid of the forelimbs."

Still, this is a good example of a transitional form and at least one evolutionary path that lizards went down.

Equal Time Bill Losing Support in Tennessee?

By way of the NCSE comes this story about the Tennessee Senate Resolution 17, which argued for the teaching of ID in public schools and on which I commented on a bit back, is losing ground. According to the story, Senator Raymond Finney is not sure that going forward with the bill is the best course of action, despite the fact that the Attorney General of Tennessee found that the bill passes constitutional muster. The story notes:

Despite the attorney general's opinion, Finney told the Associated Press (March 14, 2007), "I'm not sure I'm going forward with that ... I'm probably going to reword it anyway. This may not be the time and place for that." Finney cited a heavy legislative workload, but also suggested that he worded the resolution infelicitously, saying, "I probably made a mistake in approaching it from a creation aspect, which raises red flags ... People get so sensitive about whether children might be exposed to any sort of religious thing." But in a story in the Marysville [sic] Daily Times (March 14, 2007), he was quoted as saying, "It's not as extremist as you think it is ...What is clearly demonstrable is that evolution can be disproven using statistical methods. I can't prove religion, but evolution can be disproved."

Evolution can be disproved? This I would like to see. In fact, I would like to see any scientific theory be "disproved." This is how a little bit of knowledge can lead to bad things. Finney has likely read only the writings of William Dembski and perhaps Michael Behe and has no evolutionary biology training. It is also the height of arrogance to suggest that you can overturn 150 years of scientific study with some statistics.

New Modern Human Remains in China!

Fragments of an individual dated to between 42 and 39 thousand years ago have been found in China, filling in a gap between the more recent remains and those of Dali and Mapa, which date to between 115 and 200 kya. Erik Trinkaus thinks that the remains, which show some archaic traits, reflect hybridization between the incoming moderns from Africa and the archaic groups that were there. He notes:

"The pattern we see across the Old World is basically a modern human in terms of its newly emerged characteristics, but also a minority of traits that are absent or lost in the earliest modern humans in East Africa," Professor Trinkaus told the BBC News website.

"The question is where did they get them from? Either they re-evolved them, which is not very likely, or, to some degree, they interbred with archaic groups."

Currently, the next best thing we have is the material from the Upper Cave at Zhoukoudian, dated to around 24-26 kya. China has notoriously been a hard place to determine the pattern of human evolution. This helps a lot.

Monday, April 02, 2007

ER 1470 Gets a Nosejob!

This is potentially quite big news. According to Foxnews, a team led by Tim Bromage at NYU is undertaking a reconstruction of the face of one of the most famous of African hominids, KNM-ER 1470, discovered by Richard Leakey in 1972. Lately, it has become the hypodigm of Homo rudolfensis and I was involved in a Journal of Human Evolution paper that evaluated whether or not the big forms of Homo habilis, represented by ER 1470 and the smaller ones, represented by ER 1813 could be attributed to the same species. We said they could but that alot of assumptions had to be made.

The skull dates to around 1.9 mya which is within the habilis range of dates but looks very different from the other forms represented. I am curious to see what Bromage and his team do to the face. To say that this a controversial undertaking is an understatement. Stay tuned.