Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hard to believe this is the first time we've seen this...

According to a story in the WaPo, chimpanzees have been found to be making sharp weapons, which they are using to hunt small animals. According to the story,

The multistep spearmaking practice, documented by researchers in Senegal who spent years gaining the chimpanzees' trust, adds credence to the idea that human forebears fashioned similar tools millions of years ago.
The landmark observation also supports the long-debated proposition that females -- the main makers and users of spears among the Senegalese chimps -- tend to be the innovators and creative problem solvers in primate culture.
Using their hands and teeth, the chimpanzees were repeatedly seen tearing the side branches off long, straight sticks, peeling back the bark and sharpening one end. Then, grasping the weapons in a "power grip," they jabbed them into tree-branch hollows where bush babies -- small, monkeylike mammals -- sleep during the day.

This has probably been going on for a long time and we just finally observed it. Neat.

Sorry about the light posting

I have been fighting an infection in the back of my neck for the last week and it seems to have reared its ugly head once again. This stems from the golf ball they pulled out two weeks ago. I will try to do better.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


ABC news reports that Kansas has rewritten their education guidelines to reflect the changing demographics of the school board, which is largely evolution-friendly right now. The key paragraph is:

Some scientists and science groups believed the board's latest action was significant because it turned back a subtle attack on evolution that encouraged schools to teach about an evolution "controversy," rather than mandating that creationism or intelligent design be taught. Intelligent design says an intelligent cause is the best way to explain some complex and orderly features of the universe.

The catch is that there is no controversy. From a scientific perspective, there are mountains of evidence supporting both microevolution and macroevolution and no evidence supporting any other model. The ball is in ID's court. If there is a mechanism that can be postulated that would explain current and past biotic diversity, why have they not presented it? You cannot teach a controversy in a vacuum. Teaching the "controversy" is a smokescreen and most scientists can see through it.

The marvels of Modern Medicine

Well, after quite a bit of pain over the weekend and a very fat neck, i went back to the surgeon yesterday, who confirmed my fears that an infection had set in at the incision site. Without going into a lot of detail, when the surgeon removed the top stitch, the wound "popped." Think: adolescence and you will get the idea. I was sent home with some very high-powered antibiotics and pain killers. It feels better now but is still draining...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Good ol' Genetics

I just had a benign tumor removed from the back of my neck the size of a golf ball! How did this happen? I am not a tree and it is not a burl. Nor am I an oyster and it a pearl. It is just simply a tumor that my body thought to grow at that location. Nice. I'd forgotten what surgical pain was like.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Didn't See This Coming

Foxnews reports that Kenyan Christians are complaining and organizing against the Kenya National Museum's public display of the Turkana Boy (known to the palaeoanthropological community as KNM WT15000) and its evolutionary conclusions.

"I did not evolve from Turkana Boy or anything like it," says Bishop Boniface Adoyo, head of Kenya's 35 evangelical denominations, which he claims have 10 million followers. "These sorts of silly views are killing our faith."

Richard Leakey is just as adamant:

"Whether the bishop likes it or not, Turkana Boy is a distant relation of his," Leakey, who founded the museum's prehistory department, told The Associated Press. "The bishop is descended from the apes and these fossils tell how he evolved."

A more conciliatory approach is taken by head of palaeontology at the museum, Emma Mbua:

Mbua, a Protestant, is a little taken aback at the controversy but has no problems reconciling her own faith to the scientific evidence. "Evolution is a fact," adds Mbua, who has run the department for the last five years. "Turkana Boy is our jewel," she said. "For the first time, we will be taking him out of the strong room and showing our heritage to the world."

I am still waiting for a creationist to come along and explain just what, exactly, KNM WT15000 is, since it obviously ain't modern human and just as obviously ain't an ape.

Monday, February 05, 2007

First its microcephalic, now its not! Or is it?

A new article on the H. floresiensis remains by Dean Falk and colleagues indicates that the remains that the press have dubbed "Hobbits" from the island of Flores in Indonesia are actually not microcephalic, after all. It is just plain strange:

While the new technique suggests LB1 was not a microcephalic, it does not rule out that it was not a Homo sapiens.

As evidence of that, Falk points to what she says are several advanced features of LB1's brain that are unlike those of modern humans or any other known hominid species.

"What we have is a little tiny brain that has four features that you can see with your eyes that are advanced and distributed from front to middle to back," Falk said. "In other words, this thing appears to be globally rewired. Those are really advanced features. They're not like humans, they're not like anything.

Some are not convinced:

Robert Martin, curator of biological anthropology at the Field Museum in Chicago, is not convinced by the new evidence.

One of his major criticisms has to do with the sample of microcephalic skulls the team used. "They're being a bit naughty about this," Martin said in a telephone interview. "Four of the nine microcephalics were not adults."

Falk's team maintains its inclusion of young skulls is justified because microcephalics are generally believed to achieve maximum cranial capacity by around four years of age. Martin, who criticized a similar comparison done by Falk's team in 2005 as flawed, again disagrees. "What we're saying is LB1 was definitely an adult. If LB1 was a microcephalic, he was one with a mild condition who managed to survive into adulthood," he said. "So the proper comparison is with microcephalics with a mild condition who were adults."

"I don't have any problems with having new hominid species," Martin added. "I just don't think this is one of them."

I am looking forward to how this plays out. We have not seen the last of this controversy, given the significance of the H. floresiensis remains.

Forward into the Palaeocene!

New primate fossils have been found pushing the existence of these critters back to the Palaeocene. In an article in Foxnews, two new skeletons of plesiadapiforms have been found. These forms were originally thought to be primates but then reclassified as primate-like mammals. Now it seems, that designation may have been wrong.

[Jonathan] Bloch recently caught a lucky break when he made the rare discovery of nearly complete skeletons of two plesiadapiform species, now named Ignacius clarkforkensis and Dryomomys szalayi, embedded in limestone outside Yellowstone National Park.

By analyzing the skeletons and comparing them to more than 85 modern and extinct primate species, the researchers showed that plesiadapiforms look a lot more like primates than paleoanthropologists had imagined — and look nothing like flying lemurs, Bloch said.

This is exciting because it addresses the origin of our first precursors at a time when the dinosaurs had finally given way to the mammals. The article goes on to say:

Primates must have acquired their traits gradually, because plesiadapiforms have some, but not all, of the characteristics of later primates, Bloch and Sargis said.

"In the past, people had hypothesized that all of these kinds of primate features evolved as a single complex of features at one time, whereas what we're finding is throughout those first 10 million years of primate evolution, these features were evolving piecemeal, kind of one-by-one, accruing through time," Sargis said.

Bloch and Sargis's skeletal analysis shows that flying lemurs and another modern, non-primate mammal, the tree shrew, are primates' closest living relatives.

DNA studies of all three types of mammals — primates, flying lemurs, and tree shrews — confirm Bloch and Sargis's finding.

"So all three of those groups," Sargis said, "you can trace back to a single common ancestor.

Islamic Creationism

Apparently, there is a new movement afoot in France, Islamic creationism. According to a story in Direland, a gentleman by the name of Harun Yahya has written a book on the evils of Darwinism:

The book's pseudonymous author, a Turk named Harun Yahya ( photo left -- real name: Adnan Oktar), makes a number of astonishing claims -- including that Charles Darwin is "the real source of terrorism." For example, a photo of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers carries a caption reading, "Those who perpetuate terror in the world are in reality the Darwinists. Darwinism is the only philosophy which validates and encourages conflict." Yahya also pretends to portray "the secret links between Darwinism and the bloody ideologies of fascism and communism."

It is creationism with a twist, however:

Contrary to the fundamentalist Christian Creationists in the U.S. who have been attacking the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution in local school boards and many state legislatures, and demanding with an alarming degree of success that Creationism be taught in the public schools, Yahya's Qur'an-based attack on Darwinism does not claim that the world and those who inhabit it were created only 6,000 years ago. Instead, Yahya admits that Earth is really 4.6 billion years old, but his "Atlas" uses hundreds of photos of fossils found over several centuries to "prove" that "the species have never changed" [sic]. This pseudo-scientific clap-trap, says noted French biologist Hervé Le Guyeder, makes this "new form of creationism even more insidious than the Christian-inspired one wreaking havoc in North America."

One wonders how the mainstream media, which typically handles anything Islamic with kid gloves, will handle this.