Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Jeffrey Schwartz: Darwin's theory not evolved enough

Pitt anthropologist Jeffrey Schwartz is the subject of an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Schwartz has always been somewhat of a maverick in the palaeoanthro community. This short article gives you an indication of why.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Intelligent Judging

George Annas writes an article for the New England Journal of Medicine called "Intelligent judging--evolution in the classroom and the courtroom," in which he argues that the science community needs to be prepared for a "fourth wave" of creationism in the future, to take a different form. According to Annas, the first three waves were: outlawing evolution education, creationism, and intelligent design. He believes that the fourth wave will show up in the form of the "teach the controversy" argument. As has been pointed out by many different writers, this unwittingly elevates the merits of the ID position to be on equal footing as mainstream science. As Annas notes:

Requiring public-school science teachers to teach specific religion-based alternatives to Darwin's theory of evolution is just as bad, in the words of political comedian Bill Maher, as requiring obstetricians to teach medical students the alternative theory that storks deliver babies.

Indeed. Hat tip to Marilyn Savitt-Kring.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Genetics, Ya Gotta Love It!!

That last two weeks have been somewhat hellish for the Kidder family. Two weeks ago, during a routine 4-year-old check up, our pediatrician discovered a supraclavicular lump on the left side of my daughter Madeline's neck. Concerned, he did the normal blood work to see if anything was going on internally. The bloodwork came back clean, so he referred us to an orthopaedic specialist. When we got there, the specialist said "right church, wrong pew." It was his opinion that it was a lymphatic adenopathy and he set up an appointment for an MRI.

Enlarged lymph nodes under your chin are not usually a problem. Enlarged lymph nodes in your abdomen are not usually a problem. These usually reflect some kind of infection but nothing usually serious. Enlarged supraclavicular lymph nodes ALMOST ALWAYS reflect something very serious going on. If the lump is on the right side, it almost always means lymphoma.

The MRI was done last Thursday and we spent the weekend not knowing what was going on. In the meantime, my daughter played happily and was perfectly norrmal. Monday afternoon, we got the news. When they aimed the cameras at the lump, the reflection came back as healthy normal bone, but not where bone ought to be. At the follow-up visit with the orthopaedic surgeon, everybody sat down and had a good laugh.

My daughter has a cervical rib. Ordinarily, you have seven cervical vertebrae, twelve thoracic vertebrae and five lumbar vertebrae. Sometimes someone will have a sixth lumbar vertebra but that is rare. The ribs usually begin with the first thoracic vertebra. In 0.5% of the population, however, a rib grows out of the seventh cervical vertebra. That is what is going on with Madeline. So, long story short, she is fine. It is something we will have to watch to make sure it doesn't interfere with her range of motion or cause nerve damage, but all's well that ends well.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Not Quite a Clean Break

Two news outlets, the WaPo and the BBC, report on new studies involving the ape-human split. According to the story, new DNA analysis indicates that the human female X sex chromosome is 1.2 million years younger than the other human chromosomes. The money quote in the WaPo article, written by David Brown, is:

If this theory proves correct, it will mean modern people are descended from something akin to chimp-human hybrids. That is a new idea, and it challenges the prevailing view that hybrids tend to die out.

From the BBC article comes this gem:

A US team says its results hint at the possibility that interbreeding occurred between the two lines for thousands, even millions, of years. This hybridisation would have been important in swapping genes for traits that allowed the emerging species to survive in their environments, explain the scientists affiliated to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the Harvard Medical School.

I think a lot of this pretty speculative and will wait for the Nature article. It certainly is provacative, however.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Tattersall's Take on the Road to Humanity

Writing in the journal Nature, Ian Tattersall reviews a new book by Ann Gibbons, called The First Human: The Race to Discover Our Earliest Ancestors. In the review, he notes the following:

But to complicate matters further, palaeoanthropology is too often seen as a sort of zero-sum game, with the result that published specimens are often vigorously defended from the eyes of rival scientists, making it impossible to test the describer's published assertions. What other branch of science keeps it primary data secret?

It is this that certainly spurs on YECs like Marvin Lubenow, who argue that we deal in a world of illusory evidence. Not good.

Friday, May 12, 2006

"Evolution's Bottom Line"

Holden Thorp in an op-ed for the NYT writes of the far-reaching consequences of evolutionary theory. Two things leap off the page. One addresses the ongoing work in genetics:

Since evolution has been the dominant theory of biology for more than a century, it's a safe statement that all of the wonderful innovations in medicine and agriculture that we derive from biological research stem from the theory of evolution. Recent, exciting examples are humanized antibodies like Remicade for inflammation and Herceptin for breast cancer, both initially made in mice. Without our knowledge of the evolution of mice and humans and their immune systems, we wouldn't have such life-saving and life-improving technologies.

The other, the consequences of the debate in schools:

One Kansas biology teacher, a past president of the National Association of Biology Teachers, told Popular Science magazine that students from Kansas now face tougher scrutiny when seeking admission to medical schools. And companies seeking to innovate in the life sciences could perhaps be excused for giving the Sunflower State a miss: one Web site that lists companies looking for workers in biotechnology has more than 600 hiring scientists in California and more than 240 in Massachusetts. Kansas has 11.

Its time to wake up and smell the coffee.

Hat tip to RL Macklin.

Evolution: the Lighter Side

Scott Feschuk writes for MacCleans that Evolution Theory Always Comes Back to Van Halen. An example:

Item: a massive star that exploded soon after the dawn of time has been detected and viewed by astronomers, even though the event took place 12.8 billion years ago (or, for those who hold a creationist view, last Wednesday).

He notes that this is an ongoing series. Hopefully so!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Case in Point

Back in a previous post, I mentioned an article by Dick Fischer titled Young-earth creationism: a literal mistake. In it, he noted,

Why have so many conservative Christians adopted young-earth creationism? The answer lies in this: while YECs can be criticized for using flawed logic in this particular area, in other areas of Christian doctrine, in general, their theology is quite sound.

That particular perspective was brought home to me today when I received an advert for a new Ann Coulter book titled Godless: the Church of Liberalism," in which she reportedly tackles "Darwinism." Now, I have a tendency to enjoy Ann Coulter's columns, if nothing else because they are thought-provoking, even if I might find some of her conclusions suspect. However, as good a political analyst as she may be, I am reasonably sure that she is not an evolutionary biologist, nor does she work in the field. I probably ought to read the book before I make a snap judgment, but every blinkin' time I encounter a non-scientist tackling evolutionary biology, it goes badly. This is why I don't write about politics.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Answers in Creation web site

I have come across a huge web site called Answers in Creation. The self-proclaimed viewpoint is as follows:

The purpose of this index is to list all the claims of young earth creationists, and provide rebuttals to those claims. Although the idea for this index came from the TalkOrigins.org listing of creationist claims, this index differs in that it answers the arguments from an old earth creationist perspective.

The gentleman who runs the site is Greg Nyman, a member of the
Affiliation of Christian Geologists. Many of the articles are written by Mr. Nyman, although he links to other writers, such as Hugh Ross, Glenn Morton and Kevin Henke. There is a wealth of information here.