Aggregating Skeptical Thought

More Junk in the Vertebrate Trunk

I apologize for the lame title but it made me laugh, and I think we all realize how important that is.

Here’s another article, “Junk” RNA May Have Played Role in Vertebrate Evolution, that details recent research that finds that formerly designated “Junk” RNA (similar to “Junk” DNA but different) may have actually assisted in the evolution of vertebrate species from their invertebrate pre-cursors.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the term “Junk” DNA or RNA is such an arrogant, self-damaging statement that it literally irritates me. Now I will say I see the term Junk DNA is now being used with quotes, perhaps this is the beginning of the move away from the term, also all of the quotes from the scientist do not use the term Junk DNA so perhaps my irritation should be directed at the journalist instead, however the meme has been started and it will take time for it to end.

Filed under: Environment, Evolution, , , ,

On the Origin of Species

I just completed the very brief book by Janet Browne called Darwin’s Origin of Species: A Biography. She basically gives a brief outline of Darwin’s life but focuses most of the book on the actual publication and resulting controversy of Darwin’s seminal work.

I thought she did an excellent job showing the political, religious and social impact that Darwin’s work had on not only Victorian life but on the scientific community at large. I greatly appreciate how she did not shy away from the way in which Darwin’s work (and Darwin to a lesser extent) influenced many social policies particularly eugenics, the subjugation/genocide of “primitive” cultures and anti-poor laws that were popular. To many Darwin’s natural selection provided a biological justification for many of these social policies.

I thought she did an excellent job of showing that Darwinian evolution for the most part was the dominant theory in biology until the early 20th century but had fallen out of favor until it’s resurgence with what is now called “the modern synthesis”.

I had read a biography on Darwin recently that spent most of its time talking specifically about Darwin, this book in contrast is a biography of his book, On the Origin of Species.

 Check out what else I’m reading over at Brain Food.

Filed under: Evolution, Reviews, ,

The Hobbit

I know this isn’t recent news, Flores wrist bones and their impact on Hominin evolution, but I wanted to make a point to say that I have been lurking on lately and find it fascinating. It is a very cool site that finds some of what appears to be the most random things on the ‘net that I happen find endlessly fascinating. You will be seeing a number of posts regarding items that I have found on this site.

Filed under: Evolution, , ,

More Evolution News?

I wish I could read the full article on this, Could Huntington’s mutation make people healthier?, but New Scientist has this one gated. sigh…

 In case you don’t know what Huntington’s disease is (and I didn’t) here’s the wiki

Filed under: Evolution, Health, ,

Evolution News?

I’m not one to be too politically correct but “It’s No Delusion” as the title to an article about the surprising results of research regarding schizophrenia seems a bit insensitive to me. If Scientific American keeps it up they might start making people think they are being laughed at or persecuted…. sorry.

Anyway, the research seems to support a natural selection for schizophrenia, sort of. Or perhaps schizophrenia is perhaps an unfortunate by-product. Here’s a good quote…

One [proposed theory] holds that schizophrenia is a “disorder of language” and that the illness is an unfortunate consequence of the development of human speech, expression and creativity. “Whenever you get strong selection, it’s like a big plus, and you can drag along a lot of minuses,” he says. “You can think of schizophrenics as paying the price of all the cognitive and language skills that humans have—they have too many of the alleles that taken individually…might have positive effect, but together they are bad.”

Filed under: Evolution, Health, ,

My son’s first racist comment

Just to clarify my son didn’t make the racist comment but he heard one and the circumstances of it are highly disturbing. I only found out later when I couldn’t create a “scene” which was probably a good thing.

I will recount the details briefly. Memorial Day found my family and I at my brother and sister-in-laws cabin. My sister-in-laws family was there with their trailers (I’m not making this up). One morning around the campfire my wife and 10-year-old son were hanging out with the other early risers (hence the reason I wasn’t there).

Two of our family friends were talking about the recent immigration bill being debated, nothing terrible there are at all. When suddenly my sister-in-law’s father chimes in with a tirade about how “filthy Mexicans are all theives”, you can quote that. My wife quickly gets everyone off the subject. My wife chose to not make a fuss since we were guests.

Later that evening when we are home Angela recounts this story to me. I was unhappy that I only found out after we left but it was probably best in the long run. So Angela and I had to decide what we were going to say to our son. Clearly he heard and we couldn’t let that information get filed away in his brain somewhere without at least having an opportunity to explain the rights and wrongs.

We sat our son down in his bedroom shortly before bedtime and I asked him what he thought about what he had heard. He said, “Well I thought to myself I better watch out for these people called Mexicans because they might take my wallet or something.” How sad I felt for him. Here he thinks that there is a band of roving, thieving people called Mexicans.

I explained to him first of all what a Mexican is (people from the country of Mexico) and the difference between how the real definition works (similar to American) and how it was being used (as a derogatory word toward anyone of Hispanic descent). I then explained to him that we have several friends that are Mexicans who came here for a better life and that some of his friends are children of at least one Mexican parent.

“They’re not thieves”, says my son. And that’s when you know your kids get it. I used this as an opportunity to put a little evolution into the mix. Explaining how we all come from a common ancestor and that some people with light-skin developed that way as an adaption to their environments and that some developed darker skin for the same reason. I explained how when groups get isolated from each other they can begin to develop different physical characteristics.

I then took it a bit of step/stretch further and asked him after all of this what was the biggest difference between light-skinned and darker-skinned people. Obviously that was a leading question, “The color of our skin” says my son. “Exactly. Do they love their fathers or sons any differently?” “No” “Does their skin color make them bad?” “No Dad that doesn’t make any sense.” What a perfect response.

Let me repeat and highlight that. “No Dad that doesn’t make any sense”.

I sure hope it never does make sense to him.

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Evolution

I’m surrounded.

The majority of Republicans in the United States do not believe the theory of evolution is true and do not believe that humans evolved over millions of years from less advanced forms of life.

That is the money quote from a recent Gallup poll that surveyed Americans in response to a recent Republican presidential debate in which the candidates were asked if they do not believe that evolution was true. This is a very unfortunate thing especially when you live in Indiana. I’m surrounded by Republicans. The majority of Hoosiers are Republicans, the majority of whom do not believe that evolution is real and the majority of which believe that God literally created the Universe and everything in it in 6 days.

 Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Evolution, Politics

Overcoming evolution

Paul H. Rubin writes over at about Evolution, Immigration and Trade. The article makes the point that seeing larger “moral” groups is difficult because it goes against our evolutionary programming and the traditional “small-group societies” that most of humanity is brought up in. He goes on to say,

As products of evolution, humans cannot help but be born with certain biases. But we are not condemned to this evolutionary programming; we can identify the biases and recognize when they lead us astray in the modern world.

and an excellent analogy

A useful analogy is between speech and reading. All humans growing up in a normal environment learn to speak, but reading must be taught because it does not come naturally.

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Evolution

Creation Museum Roundup

Pharyngula has a huge round up of 75+ posts from the blogosphere and news sites detailing the travesty that is known as the Creation Museum. A huge kudos to PZ Meyers for all the time and effort he has put into this. Make sure you Digg the article when you get there.

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Evolution

Fins and Fingers and Fossils and Frauds

SciAm article, How Fins Became Fingers, I wonder if the Tiktaalik fossil (half-fish, half-tetrapod) mentioned at the end of the article would qualify for Ray ‘Banana-man’ Comfort’s $10,000 transitionary fossil prize.
Here’s the $10,000 offer as quoted from the website

The $10,000 Offer

A transitional form (or missing link) is an example of one species “evolving” into another species. Excited scientists thought they had found one when they discovered “Archaeopteryx.” The fossil led to the theory that the dinosaurs did not become extinct, but rather all turned into birds. The Field Museum in Chicago displayed what was believed to be an archaeopteryx fossil on October 4-19, 1997. It was hailed as “Archaeopteryx: The Bird That Rocked the World.” However, Dr. Alan Feduccia (evolutionary biologist at the University of North Carolina), said, “Paleontologists have tried to turn Archaeopteryx into an earth-bound, feathered dinosaur. But it’s not. It is a bird, a perching bird. And no amount of ‘paleo-babble’ is going to change that.” [Science, February 5, 1993]. So here’s my challenge: I will give $10,000 to the first person who can prove to me that they have found a genuine living transitional form (a lizard that produced a bird, or a dog that produced kittens, or a sheep that produced a chicken, or even as Archaeopteryx—a dinosaur that produced a bird). Species do not cross, no matter how long you leave them. The whole of creation is proof that evolution is truly “a fairytale for grownups.”

But I’m going to guess not from his apparent fundamental lack of understanding on evolution. By the way, any reason Dr. Feduccia is being quoted from 1993 (4 years before the Field Museum’s display that it’s implied that Feduccia is commenting on)?

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Evolution


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