Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Diane Douglas Unsuccessful at Limiting Evolution in Arizona Public Schools

Ars Technica is reporting that Diane Douglas, who had campaigned on editing the Arizona public school science standaards, has lost a primary race to another Republican challenger, scuttling her attempts.  John Timmer writes:
As we noted in our earlier coverage, Douglas has in the past suggested that schools teach intelligent design, which is the idea that life arose and diversified due to the intervention of an intelligent agent rather than evolution. It's an idea that was generated for religious purposes, and its teaching has been ruled an imposition of religion by the courts. She has also misunderstood the status of a scientific theory in suggesting that it reflected the idea that our knowledge of evolution is uncertain. These beliefs seem to have motivated her intervention into the science standards.

In September, however, Douglas' attempts to inject her beliefs into Arizona's classrooms ran into a couple of problems. To begin with, she faced a number of challengers during the Republican primary for her position; two of them received more votes than she did, meaning she won't have her party's nomination for re-election. Then, at a state school board meeting, the Arizona Science Teachers Association suggested a number of changes that restored details of climate change and evolution to the proposed standards.
Once again, I think that it is absolutely essential that people who are running for these positions should have to pass a basic test in scientific knowledge.  That is the only way to weed out the nonsense.

Hat Tip to Rob Mitchell.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Neandertal Teeth 450Ky Old Found in Italy

The Smithsonian is reporting that excavations in Italy have uncovered teeth dated to 450 thousand years ago that have Neandertal characteristics.
A fossil tooth study published today in the journal PLOS ONE analyzes some of the oldest human remains ever found on the Italian Peninsula. The teeth, which are some 450,000 years old, have some telltale features of the Neanderthal lineage of ancient humans. Dating back to the Middle Pleistocene, the fossils help to fill in gaps in an intriguingly complex part of the hominid family tree.

The species Homo neanderthalensis shares an unknown common ancestor with our own species, Homo sapiens, but it’s unclear exactly when the lineages diverged. Homo sapiens evolved perhaps 300,000 years ago, according to the fossil record, while Neanderthals’ evolutionary timeline has proven even trickier to pin down. Some genetic studies suggest that their lineage split from our own as long as 650,000 years ago, but the oldest definitive fossil evidence for Neanderthals extends back only about 400,000 years.
Conventional wisdom is that Neandertals emerged around 200 thousand years ago, in Europe. The Atapuerca Sima de Los Huesos remains, which show pre-Neandertal characteristics, are about the same age as the Italian remains. It has been suggested that Homo heidelbergensis is the common ancestor to both Neandertals and modern humans but this is far from clear. The genetics suggests that Neandertals and modern humans split around 600 thousand years ago but interacted as recently as 60 to 70 thousand years ago and interbred.Modern Europeans have between 3 and 6% Neandertal genes. 

This pushes back the origins of Neandertals and further muddies the picture of when and where these groups were and how they interacted.  More puzzle pieces.