Thursday, May 31, 2012

Women Are the Key to Male Choices

This simply doesn't come as much of a surprise. Sergey Gavrilets, just down the road at the University of Tennessee, has researched the role of female choice in evolution and how it led to the modern family structure. Science Daily writes:
The "sexual revolution" entailed males first competing with other males for dominance, as a way to get matings. However, low-ranked males—and eventually all males except those with the highest societal stature—began supplying females with provisions in what is called "food-for-mating" to get a leg up on the competition. Females showed preference for the "provisioning" males, leading males' energy to be spent on providing for females and females becoming increasingly faithful. This spurred self-domestication and the modern family as we know it today.
One cannot help but wonder if this change coincided with the expansion of the braincase that began to take off around 1.5 million years ago, the time in which we first encounter stone tools and the first inferences of some form of rudimentary culture. With the increase in the strong pair-bond, you have the basis for providing the offspring with the stability of a strong nuclear family. This, then appears to be the natural order of things. It is ironic that this nuclear family structure has, for many aspects of western society, broken down in recent years in the face of “free thinking” and lack of personal responsibility.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Barbara Cargill and Ken Mercer Win Texas School Board Re-elections

I am Disappointed:
For the District 8 spot in Southeast Texas, social conservative Barbara Cargill, chairwoman of the board, had almost 69 percent of the vote with 38 percent of the precincts counted.

Her challenger, Linda Ellis, had 31 percent.

And in District 5 in Central Texas, incumbent Ken Mercer had 71 percent of the vote with 37 percent of the precincts tallied. Mercer, a software engineer from San Antonio, was defeating physician assistant Steve Salyer, who had 29 percent.
As I wrote in my post on the Garden State, people on school boards who don't have the first clue what evolution is present as much of a problem as organizations like the ICR and AiG. Barbara Cargill never did respond to my letter.

Now playing: Genesis - Entangled (2007 Remaster)
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Jeff Meldrum on Taking Sasquatch Seriously

Jeff Meldrum, associate professor of Biological Sciences at Idaho State University is presenting a talk in Montpelier, Idaho on June 2 called “Sasquatch on the Oregon Trail.” He writes:
Ancient tribal artists of the Intermountain West were not overt in their depiction of these creatures, but cryptic petroglyphs from the red sandstone cliffs of Wyoming to the basalt columns of the Snake River Plain depict footprints and caricatures of the wildman of the woods. Modern tribal artists, such as Willie Preacher of Fort Hall, depict traditional stories with oil and canvas.

Once the pioneers arrived in Oregon’s verdant Willamette Valley flanked by the Cascade and Coastal ranges, or the mountain-surrounded gold fields of northern California, they would hear more stories of mountain devils and giant hairy man-like monsters. It would be a century later before footprint casts and films and photos would introduce the world to the Pacific Northwest’s wildman of the woods – Bigfoot or sasquatch; yet an additional half century before science would begin to consider the evidence seriously.
Ah, the power of the local doesn't matter that there is not and has never been a shred of physical evidence of these creatures anywhere on the planet in recent memory. If these creatures were shot at by Lewis and Clark and chased by the Shoshone Indians, we would have remains. We do not. If they had any time depth to the region, we would have remains. We do not. Remember the big rubber suit from last year?

These are nothing but stories that have migrated east from fossil sightings of Gigantopithecus in China and Vietnam. There hasn't been anything around like this for five hundred thousand years.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New Explanation for Brain Evolution in Australopithecines

Science Daily is reporting on new examinations of the famous Taung brain endocast that provides insights into human evolution. They write:
"These findings are significant because they provide a highly plausible explanation as to why the hominin brain might grow larger and more complex," Falk said.

The first feature is a "persistent metopic suture," or unfused seam, in the frontal bone, which allows a baby's skull to be pliable during childbirth as it squeezes through the birth canal. In great apes -- gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees -- the metopic suture closes shortly after birth. In humans, it does not fuse until around 2 years of age to accommodate rapid brain growth.

The second feature is the fossil's endocast, or imprint of the outside surface of the brain transferred to the inside of the skull. The endocast allows researchers to examine the brain's form and structure.
The argument is that the metopic suture stays open in hominins longer to allow the brain to grow more postnatally, something we have known for some time. It is the new imaging techniques that have allowed us to get a better handle on this. The endocast has been around for almost ninety years and has been subject to all kinds of studies, some of which have led to riotous disagreements between researchers. More pieces of the puzzle.

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Richard Leakey is Optimistic

PhysOrg profiles Richard Leakey, who thinks that the debate over evolution will be over soon. They write:

"If you get to the stage where you can persuade people on the evidence, that it's solid, that we are all African, that color is superficial, that stages of development of culture are all interactive," Leakey says, "then I think we have a chance of a world that will respond better to global challenges."

Leakey, a professor at Stony Brook University on Long Island, recently spent several weeks in New York promoting the Turkana Basin Institute in Kenya. The institute, where Leakey spends most of his time, welcomes researchers and scientists from around the world dedicated to unearthing the origins of mankind in an area rich with fossils.

I have seen this unbridled optimism before, in scientists (including myself) who cannot possibly understand that, despite the amazing amount of evidence, there are still those who do not accept evolution and that the reasons they do so are not scientific. They continue:

"If you don't like the word evolution, I don't care what you call it, but life has changed. You can lay out all the fossils that have been collected and establish lineages that even a fool could work up. So the question is why, how does this happen? It's not covered by Genesis. There's no explanation for this change going back 500 million years in any book I've read from the lips of any God."

Leakey, like many atheists, has little understanding of how tenacious religious belief is, and young earth creationism is wrapped in a particular understanding about how the universe was created that doesn't accord with modern science. Richard Leakey is optimistic.

Me, not so much.
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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Meanwhile, Over in the Garden State...

Apparently, half of those polled in New Jersey don't accept evolution. According to Shannon Mullen of MyCentralJersey:
Support for the idea that humans evolved from lower forms of life stands at 51 percent in New Jersey, according to a new Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll. (The Courier News is a sister paper of the The Press.) Forty-two percent said they didn’t believe in evolution, while 7 percent said they don’t know.
This further argues that the pathetic state of science education in this country knows no bounds. It, along with general scientific knowledge, is probably this bad everywhere. This information came in the context of a poll on a larger set of questions and the results can be found here. The question asked was:

I’m going to read a list of items. Please tell me whether or not you personally believe in each one. Just a quick yes or no:
The theory of evolution – that humans evolved from lower life forms
The results were predictable in other ways: For those who had a high school education or less, 37% answered yes, some college 52% and at least a college education 69%, while Democrats polled ten points higher than Republicans (I thought this would be a larger margin). Oddly, men answered yes eight percentage points higher than women, 55& to 47%. The authors make no comment as to why this last point might be.

As a comparative note, they point out:
New Jerseyans with a Darwinian bent may despair at the 42% of their fellow Garden State residents who cannot countenance the idea that humans may have evolved from lower life forms. However, they may take solace from the fact that recent polls in other places put that number significantly higher. For instance, large majorities of Republican primary voters in Southern states do not believe in evolution – 60% in Alabama and 66% in Mississippi, according to a March 2012 PPP Poll. However, that number was a much lower 43% among Illinois Republicans. Here in New Jersey, 49% of Republicans do not believe in evolution, compared to 41% of independents and 39% of Democrats.
42% is still way too high.

Now playing: Glass Hammer - Time Marches On (Performed Live At ProgDay 1997)
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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Abominable Snowman Search Goes Hi-Tech: Update

But just in case you find one, it is legal to shoot it in Texas, but not in California.

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Abominable Snowman Search Goes Hi-Tech

At least it is not our tax dollars at work. The Daily Mail reports that a group from Oxford University has begun using DNA samples from around the world to track, oh, I had better let them explain:
An Oxford college is to analyse samples of Yeti hair and teeth in one of the most serious attempts yet made to track down the elusive and possibly mythical species.

Wolfson college is asking for samples of hair and teeth of 'cryptids' - unknown animals such as the Yeti - and is to use the latest DNA technology to analyse samples from around the world.

'As part of a larger enquiry
[sic] into the genetic relationship between our own species Homo sapiens and other hominids, we invite submissions of organic material from formally undescribed species, or ‘cryptids’, for the purpose of their species identification by genetic means,' says the college.
According to the story, individuals can submit their samples anonymously. That sounds like a recipe for disaster. Wonder how many Neandertals will turn up?

Now playing: Chris Squire - Run With the Fox
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Alan Thorne Has Died

Alan Thorne, one of the principle architects of the multiregional evolution model of modern human origins has died. ABC News reports:

Dr Thorne is best known for his research on the Mungo Lake skeletons found in western New South Wales, and his theories on the regional development of early humans.

The research on 'Mungo man' dated the skeleton to 40,000 years ago.

ANU research colleague Colin Groves says the death of Alan Thorne is a big loss for Australian archaeology.

This is a very sad loss and a big one for the palaeoanthropological community.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

“Critical Thinking” Bill Fails in Missouri

Another bill couched in science language but aimed solely at evolution has failed in the Missouri legislature. The text of the bill reads in part:
The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, superintendents of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues, including biological and chemical evolution.
Whenever I read these bills, I wonder, how is it that these legislators have concluded that every single other branch of science has got it completely right and yet the biologists have somehow completely gotten everything wrong? I am just astounded that none of these bills are ever aimed at the discrepancies between traditional Newtonian physics and quantum physics, for example. Are there not theoretical issues in that field that are controversial? Of course there are. But as long as we have legislators who don't know better, and there is always a well-funded young earth creationist machine behind it, these anti-evolution bills (for that is what they are) will keep coming.

Hat Tip to Robert Luhn
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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Crocodile From Hell, East African Version

Again from Discovery News, it turns out that there was a horned crocodile that lived around the time of the Australopithecines and likely ate more than a few of them for lunch. Jennifer Viegas writes:
Remains of the enormous horned croc, named Crocodylus thorbjarnarsoni, were unearthed in East Africa. The impressive aquatic reptile exceeded 27 feet long and is described in the latest Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The croc was the dominant predator of its ecosystem, so there is little doubt that it preyed upon our distant ancestors, especially since remains of
Australopithecus (a now-extinct genus of hominids) were found nearby.

These relatively tiny individuals would have had no choice but to enter the crocodile's territory for much needed water.
These early hominins had to contend with large cats on the savanna as well so survival was never guaranteed.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Turtle From Hell

What is it with the Cerrajon Formation in Colombia? First we had the Snake from Hell, then we had the Crocodile from Hell and now we have the Turtle from Hell. Jennifer Viegas of Discovery News writes:
Remains of an enormous turtle, which was the size of a Smart car, have been unearthed in a Colombian coal mine.

The shell alone of the 60-million-year-old turtle, Carbonemys cofrinii aka "coal turtle," is large enough to be a small swimming pool. Its skull is roughly the size of a regulation NFL football. The coal mine where it was found is part of northern Colombia's Cerrejon formation.

"We had recovered smaller turtle specimens from the site," Edwin Cadena, a North Carolina State doctoral student who discovered the turtle, said in a press release. "But after spending about four days working on uncovering the shell, I realized that this particular turtle was the biggest anyone had found in this area for this time period -- and it gave us the first evidence of giant-ism in freshwater turtles."
How nasty was this turtle in relation to modern ones?
Turtles today are usually seen slowly chewing plants, but this prehistoric species had massive, powerful jaws that would have enabled it to eat anything nearby, from mollusks to smaller turtles or even crocodiles.
Not a nice place to live, I don't think.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips & Andrew Skeet - Sojourn
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Credit for Creationism Class Bill

Glenn Branch of the NCSE has shown light on a bill in the Alabama legislature that has, mercifully, died. This bill would have allowed local school districts to allow students to take a class in creationism and receive credit for it. According to the NCSE:
House Bill 133, if enacted, would have authorized "local boards of education to include released time religious instruction as an elective course for high school students." Its sponsor, Blaine Galliher (R-District 30), explained his purpose in introducing the bill to WAFF in Huntsville, Alabama (February 5, 2012): "They teach evolution in the textbooks, but they don't teach a creation theory ... Creation has just as much right to be taught in the school system as evolution does and I think this is simply providing the vehicle to do that."
I guess my take on this is that you should always allow students to take courses that involve religious instruction since it is such an integral part of the framework of American life. Such a course would, ideally, fulfill a credit in the social sciences and might be a benefit to the individual students, especially as a discussion forum.

But that is not what is going on here. It is evident from the words of representative Galliher that he envisions such a class to count as a science credit. Such a position is absolutely indefensible. There is no validity to the young earth creationist position and to teach it in public schools as legitimate science would be tantamount to miseducation. Young earth creationism should only be taught as an object lesson in science as a theory that has been discarded in favor of new knowledge. To suggest a course swap like this is simply ignorant. The students of Alabama dodged a bullet this time.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ken Ham: Horse Expert

This occurred during the first couple of days after my surgery so I couldn't comment on it then but I thought it mighty amusing at the time. It seems that, during the running of the recent Kentucky Derby, there was a display on the evolution of the horse at the International Museum of the Horse.

Not to be outdone by the spectacle of the Kentucky Derby, Ken Ham, head of the Kentucky Creation Museum, just to the south, complained about the evolutionary aspects of the exhibit. As reports:
Ham contends the idea of horse evolution is false, and he particularly disputes the line of prehistoric horses that scientists link to the modern horse.

Ham writes that in the display, two early horses, Miohippus and Merychippus, grow steadily bigger.

“What's the problem, though, with the belief that horses somehow evolved into larger and larger animals? If that were true, shouldn't we see only very large horses today? But we don't — horses vary in size from the Clydesdale to the much smaller Fallabella (just 17 inches tall).”

Ham concludes: “This example of a poor, unscientific display at the Horse Park is just another good reason why you need to visit a place that will tell your children the truth — the Creation Museum!”
His persistently poor grasp of evolutionary theory is really quite astounding. Given the amount of time that he has spent opposing it, you would think that he would have learned at least something about it. Apparently not.

And I bet the display has quite a bit to say about recent artificial selection which is responsible for the differences in the size of the horses just as it is for the size differentials in the different breeds of dogs and cats. Did this never occur to him??

But beyond the artificial selections issues, just because you had small horses in the past and larger horses today doesn't mean that ALL horses are going to be large, just as it doesn't mean that all cats are going to be large. Selection operates on the animals living in certain environments. In India and Siberia, it is optimal for the tiger to be large and, likely due to Bergmann's Rule, the Siberian tigers are slightly larger than the Bengal tigers. It is optimal for a lynx or a bobcat to be small in the dry, southwestern U.S.

Horses diversified and the modern Equus genus dates to around 3 to 4 million years ago. Between about 5 million years ago (end of the Miocene) and 12,ooo years ago (beginning of the Holocene), there was a gradual cooling and horses generally got larger. That came to a crashing halt with the end of the Late Würm glaciation when the climate began to warm substantially and most of the large horses disappeared. The domestication of horses appears to have begun as early as 6,ooo years ago and the modern horses that race are the result of that.

With his completely ignorant understanding of horse evolution and his blatant plug for his own for-profit creation museum, Ken Ham demonstrates that there are, in fact, more horses asses in the world than there are horses.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips & Andrew Skeet - Credo in Cantus (Instrumental)
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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Injecting A New Idea Into the Debate

Ow. Still hurts to type. Charles Haynes suggests a new tactic in the effort to educate students about the vacuity of ID and creationism in the classroom. Working off the passage of the new “monkey bill” in Tennessee, he writes:
Under the new law, Tennessee teachers apparently get to decide what counts as science (and what counts as "weakness" in scientific theories) -- even if most scientists disagree. Critics of the law see this as a green light for teaching creationism or other religiously based ideas as science.They may be right. What Tennessee lawmakers tout as academic freedom (a freedom, by the way, denied to teachers in every other subject), is very likely to be used as a Trojan horse for inserting religious convictions into the science curriculum.
A far better approach would be to address the religion-science debate up front by preparing teachers to teach students something about the history and philosophy of science, including the interaction between religion and science over time. Helping students understand the context for the culture-war fight over evolution may help them accept what modern science has to say.
I think this is a good idea. When I teach my Introduction to Human Origins class, I include a section on the history of science and where some of the young earth creationist ideas came from. One of the best books I have recently read is Davis Young's The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church's Response to Extrabiblical Evidence which he excerpted here. It is a great case study in the struggles of geologists and their attempts to understand the new evidence that the earth was revealing and why flood geology was abandoned 150 years ago. That it is still accepted by young earth creationists after all this time is a sad testament to their lack of scientific credibility. There is more evidence that the earth is flat.

I wonder if my idea that simply teaching creationism in science class would expose the stinkweediness of it is a good idea. It would only work if every teacher to a man or woman were honest about the scientific evidence but, as we have seen from recent polls, one in nine high school science teachers accepts creationism. Somewhere, an entry-level quiz is systematically being omitted. I would expect that if you want to teach science in a science class, you would have to have a basic understanding of what is science and what is not. I guess not.

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