Lonicera X bella

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Honeysuckle, by Richard Meiss.

Photography contest, Finalist.

Meiss-Honeysuckle_Second_Flowering.jpg

Lonicera X bella – Asian bush honeysuckle. Mr. Meiss writes, “This photo shows the coexisting ripe berries and new flowers of the Asian bush honeysuckle, an invasive species in the American midwest. This ‘second flowering’ in mid-September was induced by the very hot and dry summer of 2012. The phenomenon, an adaptation to environmental stress, was also widely noted in the British Isles; its prevalence is likely related to global warming. In this case, it may give a ‘leg up’ to an already-troublesome invasive species.”

The scare quotes are my gloss, but that is the headline of a credulous Dallas Morning News article on the “research” being conducted at the Institute for Creation “Research.” The article quotes Pat Robertson to the effect that it is silly – or, rather, looks silly – to deny the clear geologic record, but mostly the author appears to take the “research” seriously. Indeed, he makes the point that Charity Navigator gives ICR a 3-star rating, which, to my mind, means only that they waste contributions efficiently.

Buried at the tail end of the article, no doubt for “balance” (using a lot of scare quotes today; sorry), the author interviews Ron Wetherington, an anthropologist at Southern Methodist University. Professor Wetherington observes, correctly, that ICR puts the cart before the horse:

The problem is, they’re not scientists. They cherry-pick data in order to use it to justify the Genesis account of creation.

Sure enough, the ICR scientists claim that spiral galaxies, ocean salinity, and the (surprising) existence of soft tissue in dinosaur bones are clear evidence against what they call evolutionary naturalism. Real scientists, notes Prof. Wetherington, constantly test their hypotheses, rather than simply “line up facts to support a hypothesis.”

Professor Wetherington is careful not to disparage anyone else’s religion, which I suppose is a laudable position. But frankly when a scientist’s religion teaches something that is contrary to known fact and by his own admission prevents that scientist from getting a real job in a real research laboratory, then maybe it is time to admit that it is the religious view, not the science, that needs drastic modification.

Acknowledgment. Thanks are due again to Alert Reader for providing the link.

A dam at a toxic waste pond burst last week and spilled 10 Mm3 of water and about half as much presumably toxic sludge into a tributary of the Fraser River in British Columbia. If you want to see what 10 Mm3 of water looks like, watch the video posted by The Guardian.

The Fraser River empties into the newly named Salish Sea at Vancouver, B. C.

The Guardian article barely mentions salmon, but the Seattle Post-Intelligencer calls it British Columbia’s Exxon Valdez and suggests that over 2.5 million salmon could be affected. Although the water is apparently safe to drink now, no one knows what the long-term effects might be, after the toxic sludge enters the food chain. NBC news reports that the spill has already destroyed spawning beds for endangered Coho salmon, and there is fear that chinook and sockeye salmon, which are running upstream right now, may also be in danger.

The Provincial government is minimizing the danger.

The Cartwright Lab at Arizona State University is looking for a Software Application Associate to design, construct, test, document, and maintain software packages. We currently have software development projects involving phylogenomics, mutational genomics, and evolution.

Essential Duties

Work in a collaborative environment to design, construct, test, document, and maintain software packages. Typical projects involve implementing high-performance algorithms for the statistical analysis of large genomic datasets for studying questions related to evolution and population genetics. Ability to translate software prototypes from Perl, Python, Java, etc. into C/C++ is preferred.

Minimum Qualifications

Bachelor’s degree in Statistics, Mathematics, Computer Science or related field AND two years of experience in software application development, including writing computer code in one or more programming languages; OR, any equivalent combination of experience and/or education from which comparable knowledge, skills and abilities have been achieved.

To Apply

See the full ad: http://phoenix.jobing.com/software-[…]/job/4746091

Eclipse

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Photograph by Keith Barkley.

Photography contest, Finalist.

Barkley.Eclipse.jpg

Solar eclipse, May 20, 2012. Mr. Barkley writes, “I lucked out that the eclipse was still going on during local sunset. One of the few eclipse images you will see that was taken without a sun-viewing filter on the lens.”

A blogger in the Daily Kos reports that Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks people should “chill out” regarding genetically modified food. Tyson argues, as I have for years, that all our food is genetically modified, but it took on the order of 10,000 years to get where we are now.

The pseudonymous blogger, SkepticalRaptor, notes that GM foods are to many on the left as global warming is to many on the right: It is an article of faith that genetic modification is bad, and no amount of evidence can be adduced to change that opinion.

I would add, though, that there are valid reasons to oppose at least some genetic modifications, such as corn that is immune to glyphosate (Roundup) or plants laced with insecticide (Bt). Additionally, you could reasonably argue (as does SkepticalRaptor) that, whereas it may be legal to sell seeds that cannot reproduce themselves, it is certainly immoral to sell them to farmers in developing countries. Finally, I seem to recall that there have been occasional problems introducing, say, fish genes into tomatoes. None of these problems speaks against genetically modified food in general, though they surely militate in favor of considerable caution.

SkepticalRaptor concludes with the observation that Tyson is correct in following the evidence to its conclusion rather than denying the evidence in order to support a preordained conclusion. I could not agree more.

Aeshna multicolor

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Photograph by David Cox.

Photography contest, Finalist.

Cox.Aeshna_multicolor.jpg

Aeshna multicolor – blue-eyed darner.

Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet was born on 1 August 1744 in Bazentin-le-Petit, Picardy, France. He was from a family of impoverished nobility, so he came to have the title Chevalier de Lamarck. He died at the age of 85 on 18 December 1829.

Jean-baptiste_lamarck2.jpg

He was probably the greatest invertebrate biologist, clarifying the classification of invertebrates greatly. For that matter he is the one who coined the terms “invertebrate” and “biology”. He also was the first major evolutionary biologist, arguing that species had evolved from common ancestors and putting forward his own theory of the mechanisms – an inherent complexifying force combined with inherited effects of use and disuse of organs. One thing he did not do was introduce the notion of inheritance of acquired characters. Everyone already believed it; he just made use of it. So it should not be called “Lamarckian inheritance”.

Happy birthday to Lamarck, not a crackpot, not a quack, but a great evolutionary biologist.

The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority, in a unanimous vote, gave preliminary approval to $18 million in tax incentives for the Ark Park.

In what you might call an unusual piece of reverse evolution, Lawrence O’Donnell last night made a monkey of Ken Ham, Biblical literalists, and the Tourism Authority. The “tape” is 8 min long and worth every moment.

Unfortunately, it will not be the last word on the Ark Park.

Phalacrocorax harrisi

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Photograph by Dan Moore.

Photography contest, Second Place.

Moore.Galapagos_Flightless_Cormorant.jpg

Phalacrocorax harrisi – flightless Galápagos cormorant. Mr. Moore writes, “Having made its way to a small set of islands we now call the Galápagos and given sufficient food and no predators, the cormorant had no need to fly, so over the years lost its full-feathered wings. Its bright-orange companion is Grapsus grapsus – the Sally Lightfoot crab.”

What we got from NCSE:

We’re gearing up for this month’s webinar, which will cover how to use online petitions as an organizing tactic, and how to make the most of them. We’ll demo some of the software people use, talk about how to write a great petition, and talk about how to use the resulting list of supporters to grow your groups and fight science denial. We’ll talk a bit about building and maintaining email lists, and converting those contacts into more active participants.

You can find more info and register here.

It’ll be Wednesday, at 2PM Eastern, 11 Pacific. I hope you can join, or watch online afterward. And please do share that information with your groups.

A big story in the press today. Scientists – mechanical engineers and physicists, one working for Boeing with his office only a few miles from my home – show that the evolution of airplanes works the same way as the evolution of organisms:

The evolution of airplanes

A. Bejan, J. D. Charles and S. Lorente

J. Appl. Phys. 116, 044901 (2014);

http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4886855

(fortunately this paper can be downloaded for free).

They make allometric plots of features of new airplane models, log-log plots over many orders of magnitude. The airplanes show allometry: did you know that a 20-foot-long airplane won’t have 100-foot-long wings? That you need more fuel to carry a bigger load?

But permit me a curmudgeonly point: This paper would have been rejected in any evolutionary biology journal. Most of its central citations to biological allometry are to 1980s papers on allometry that failed to take the the phylogeny of the organisms into account. The points plotted in those old papers are thus not independently sampled, a requirement of the statistics used. (More precisely, their error residuals are correlated). Furthermore, cultural artifacts such as airplanes do not necessarily have a phylogeny, as they can borrow features from each other in massive “horizontal meme transfer”. In either case, phylogeny or genealogical network, statistical analysis requires us to understand whether the points plotted are independent.

The paper has impressive graphs that seem to show trends. But looking more closely we notice that neither axis is actually time. If I interpreted the graphs as trends, I would conclude that birds are getting bigger and bigger, and that nobody is introducing new models of small airplanes.

At least we may rejoice that the authors are not overly shy. They make dramatic statements on the implications for biology:

The engine mass is proportional to the body size: this scaling is analogous to animal design, where the mass of the motive organs (muscle, heart, lung) is proportional to the body size. Large or small, airplanes exhibit a proportionality between wing span and fuselage length, and between fuel load and body size. The animal-design counterparts of these features are evident. The view that emerges is that the evolution phenomenon is broader than biological evolution. The evolution of technology, river basins, and animal design is one phenomenon, and it belongs in physics.

and

Evolution means a flow organization (design) that changes over time.

Thanks, now I finally know what evolution is. And that biologists should go home and leave its study to the physicists and engineers.

[Note: I will pa-troll the comments as aggressively as I can and send trolling and troll-chasing to the Bathroom Wall.]

Contrails

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IMG_2292Contrails_600,JPG.jpg

Contrails, in the general direction of Denver International Airport, as seen from Boulder, Colorado, August, 2011. Jeff Mitton, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, in an article in the Boulder Daily Camera, reminds us that contrails reduce diurnal temperature fluctuations and may have a significant effect on climate.

By David MacMillan.

8. New perspective. I think there are several different varieties of creationism activists. Some are obsessed with the presumed negative effects of evolution and secular humanism. Some are driven by suspicion for science and the certainty that a conspiracy must be afoot. Some use creationist apologetics to make themselves feel smarter and better-informed than the general public. Some are genuinely interested in science and want to know the truth.

I’d be lying if I said my motivations for arguing creationism were firmly in the last camp. I wasn’t much of a conspiracy theorist, but I certainly believed that there were inevitable negative consequences from the acceptance of evolution. I was definitely stuck-up about my “special” expertise. But deep down, I really did want to know the truth about the world. I loved being right, but I loved learning new things more.

Acharia stimulea

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Photograph by Al Denelsbeck.

Photography contest, Winner.

Our congratulations to Al Denelsbeck, the winner of the latest Panda’s Thumb photography contest with his remarkable photograph “Parasitized moth larva.” “Flightless cormorant,” by Dan Moore, was second. We will award Mr. Deneslbeck a book generously supplied by NCSE.

Denelsbeck.Acharia_stimulea.jpg

Acharia stimulea – saddleback caterpillar moth larva, which has been parasitized by a species of Braconid wasp, of the superfamily Ichneumonoidea. Mr. Denelsbeck writes, “Darwin, of course, made a comment in a letter to a colleague regarding the nasty life cycle of the Ichneumon family. The wasp has laid eggs in either the caterpillar itself, or in the eggs that would hatch the caterpillar, and the wasp’s larva hatched and commenced eating the caterpillar from the inside. Seen here, the larva have come to the surface and spun their cocoons outside the caterpillar’s body to pupate within, soon to emerge outside as adults. The caterpillar, already ravaged internally, will live only a few more days.

“Also of note is the normal appearance of the caterpillar, an example of aposematic coloration, or ‘keepaway’ signals. The spikes are assisted by a significant irritant, and the combination of the two traits serves to protect the caterpillar from predators such as birds; the irritant chases them off, while the coloration is memorable enough to form the association in the unlucky bird’s mind so they will not make another attempt on any member of the species. This mechanism, however, doesn’t impress the wasps.”

heartland-disco-institute.jpg

Because of the cognitive dissonance required to buy into pseudoscientific beliefs, it’s not surprising when an adherent of one pseudoscience is sucked into believing another one. For example, there is considerable overlap between advocates of 9/11 Truth beliefs and advocates of anti-Semitic causes, or between young-earth creationists and climate change deniers. The Discovery Institute has been engaging in climate-change denial for some time (see here and here, for example), so it’s really not surprising to see today’s banner article on the Heartland Institute’s news page by Discovery’s Casey Luskin. (Last we saw, Luskin was was attacking Neil deGrasse Tyson and COSMOS with straw-man misrepresentations.)

Luskin’s July 10th article in Heartland’s site is titled “Nation’s Schools Targeted with Mythical Alarmist ‘Consensus’ Program.”. The post is

… the first in a two-part column on how the National Center for Science Education is targeting the nation’s schools to enforce a mythical consensus on global warming alarmism.

Discuss.

By David MacMillan.

7. The religion of evolution.

The final set of creationist misconceptions about evolution surrounds its supposed religious, moral, and ethical implications. These objections prove difficult to address, simply because they have little or no objective basis and are almost purely philosophical or religious. This section will concentrate mostly on explaining the relationships and connections between these arguments, as systematically refuting them would delve deep into philosophy and theology and is far beyond the scope of a single post.

Michael Zimmerman reports today in the Huffington Post that the Presbyterian Church (USA) has declined to endorse the Clergy Letter Project and declare the second Sunday in February to be Evolution Sunday. Specifically, Reverend John Shuck, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton, Tennessee, and his congregation are longtime supporters of the Clergy Letter, and Reverend Shuck proposed that the General Assembly of the church vote to support Evolution Sunday. A subcommittee voted the proposal down by the astonishing margin of 47-2. Why am I not surprised?

Opposable thumb

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Photograph by Helena Insko.

Insko.hand_600.jpg

Opposable thumb. Ms. Insko submits this photograph of a fully opposable thumb as evidence of evolution and writes, “My mom and I have been voting in the photo contest as long as I can remember (I’m 10). When my mom told me the theme was how we know evolution is correct, this is my answer (and my hand).”

While searching for the source of this cartoon, I ran across the website of Samuel Varg, a Swedish magician and skeptic. Mr. Varg has posted an interview with Kenneth Miller on YouTube and promises interviews with Candida Moss and John Safran.

Mr. Varg and his colleague Anders Hesselbom were unusually well prepared. Professor Miller, in turn, was an excellent spokesperson for theistic evolution, though I had to take issue with his claim that the universe is “overflowing” with the possibility for life. His position seems to me to be very close to deism, but you can listen to the interview and decide for yourself.

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Recent Comments

  • DS: Lack of reason is faith’s greatest ally. When you refuse to walk by reason you substitute faith unreasonably. read more
  • DS: Can we look at a syllabus for that course? It would certainly be interesting to see how many things Behe has done wrong, even though he should obviously have read more
  • Rikki_Tikki_Taalik: Let’s not leave out the possibility he was simply tapping a memory he had of Joe Cartoon’s “Frog In A Blender” read more
  • Dave Luckett: That quote is brilliant, in its way. Reason, as far as it can take us, makes faith unnecessary, so the quote is both true and, from the fact that read more
  • Keelyn: Translation: “We are unenlightened twits and by god we mean to stay that way!” read more
  • https://me.yahoo.com/a/JxVN0eQFqtmgoY7wC1cZM44ET_iAanxHQmLgYgX_Zhn8#57cad: How very close (like exact) to the number of credits I would think that Behe’s course on “responsible conduct of science” should be worth. Glen Davidson read more
  • SWT: I should have noted that Behe’s section of CHM 371 is listed “for graduate students only”. read more
  • SWT: According to the Lehigh Fall 2014 course schedule, Behe is responsible for three classes in the upcoming semester: BIOS 408 RESPONSIBLE CONDUCT OF SCIENCE (0 credits) CHM 371 ELEMENTS read more
  • DS: I smell legal action brewing. Make sure to bring this up the next time some numb skull starts whining about “discrimination”. read more
  • stevaroni: I saw that too. call me an eternal optimist, but I forsee an endlessly embarrassing legal morass as Lexingtons fearless leaders have to spin an ever more convoluted story read more

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