Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, and does not respect the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies. Many, O Lord my God, are your wonderful works which You have done; and Your thoughts toward us cannot be recounted to You in order; If I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.
Science April 29 had three articles on the ATP synthase rotary motors that inhabit all living cells.1,2,3 Using creative techniques of extreme microscopy and crystallography, research teams are beginning to get more focused images of the carousel-like rotating engines of both F-type and V-type motors. (V-type enzymes pump ions into the cell to regulate acidity; see 2/24/2003 entry. F-type ATP synthase enzymes produce ATP, the energy currency of the cell; see 09/18/2003 entry.)
The rotors look like elegant circular rings of helical units arranged at angles to the axis. From the side, they look like concave barrel with a pronounced waist in the middle, and an inner septum that is probably filled with and electrically sealed by membrane lipids in vivo. Scientists are still trying to figure out how the ions get into the active-site pockets in the subunits of the ring, and how they create torque to make the carousel go round. It may result from harnessing Brownian motion in a ratcheting manner that only allows rotation in one direction. All the researchers seem surprised that the gear ratio is not an integer, but rather 10:3 in some species, and 11:3 or 14:3 in others; it may be necessary that these motors have a non-integer ratio between the bottom carousel and the top catalytic engine for torque generation and catalytic activity (see 08/10/2004 entry). They are also beginning to understand the nature of the camshaft attached to the carousel that induces ATP production in the top.
Whatever their mechanism, these little engines, only 12 nanometers tall, are effective. The review by Junge and Nelson says these motors can generate an acidity of pH 2 in lemons and 250 millivolts of electricity in insect guts. We humans also run on electricity. The constant action of quadrillions of these tiny generators running day and night in our bodies keeps all our energy systems humming at about 116 watts (see 02/05/2003 story).
In another molecular-motor story, Current Biology4 reported about how actin and myosin work during cell division to pinch the two daughter cells apart. David R. Burgess in a review5 states, Myosin II is the motor for cytokinesis, an event at the end of cell division during which the animal cell uses a contractile ring to pinch itself in half. New and surprising research shows that myosin, either through light chain phosphorylation or through its ATPase activity, also plays an important role in both the assembly and disassembly of the actin contractile ring.
1Wolfgang Junge and Nathan Nelson, Structural Biology: Natures Rotary Electromotors, Science Vol 308, Issue 5722, 642-644 , 29 April 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1112617].
2Murata et al., Structure of the Rotor of the V-Type Na+-ATPase from Enterococcus hirae, Science, Vol 308, Issue 5722, 654-659, 29 April 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1110064].
3Meier et al., Structure of the Rotor Ring of F-Type Na+-ATPase from Ilyobacter tartaricus, Science, Vol 308, Issue 5722, 659-662 , 29 April 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1111199].
4E. D. Salmon, Microtubules: A Ring for the Depolymerization Motor, Current Biology, Volume 15, Issue 8, 26 April 2005, Pages R299-R302, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2005.04.005.
5David R. Burgess, Cytokinesis: New roles for myosin, Current Biology, Volume 15, Issue 8, 26 April 2005, Pages R310-R311, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2005.04.008.
None of these five papers mention evolution once, nor make any attempt to explain how the motors of life could have arisen by an unguided process of chance or natural law. Muratas paper says Eukaryotic V-ATPases contain 13 different polypeptides. Since getting just one usable polypeptide (protein) is astronomically improbable (see online book), it is utterly out of the question to assume that the complete set of these specialized functional molecules could have arisen by chance. Even getting a few of them would be useless; all of them have to be in the same place, at the same time, in the same arrangement, together simultaneously for the system to work. ATP synthase is a classic example of an irreducibly complex system that defies evolutionary explanation. Since even the simplest organisms depend on these motors for life, and since Charlies magic wand of natural selection cannot be used at this stage (see online book), we have here a convincing case for intelligent design. Similarly, since the actin/myosin operation is essential for cell division (e.g., replication, an essential prerequisite for natural selection), evolutionists have only chance as an explanation for the origin of these exquisite molecular machines. To any thinking person, that would be absurd. The Kansas school board (see 04/29/2005 entry) should hold up the pictures of ATP synthase from these papers and challenge the Darwinists to explain how such complex systems at the beginning of life could ever have arisen by chance.Is a Darwinian Tree Visible in the Genes? 04/30/2005
Current Biology1 has an article on the status of searching for Darwins tree of life via comparative genomics. The expected simple picture has become complex and difficult to decipher:
The traditional view of animal evolution is one of gradually increasing complexity. The earliest-branching flatworms lack the body cavity known as a coelom, which is a characteristic feature of the two traditional groups of higher animals: deuterostomes, including echinoderms and chordates, and protostomes, such as annelids, molluscs and arthropods. Between these two extremes, according to the traditional view, lie the pseudoceolomate worms such as the nematodes, the body cavities of which lack the refinements of a true coelom. This hierarchical view was shaken in the mid 1990s by a phylogenetic study of small subunit ribosomal (r)RNA genes. This work elevated the acoelomate flatworms to a close relationship with the coelomate annelids and molluscs, in a group called the Lophotrochozoa, and pseudocoelomate nematodes moved close to the coelomate arthropods, creating a group called the Ecdysozoa.Long branch attraction is a pernicious effect they say. When some species in a phylogenetic analysis have evolved much faster than others, it makes them long branch species and confuses the tree. What is the net effect? The result of this relatively common phenomenon is a tendency for all methods of tree reconstruction to group the long-branch species together regardless of their true relationship.
They provide examples of how the choice of outgroup (the distant species) and the tree-building method can produce radically different or counterintuitive results. For example,
In common with previous studies Philippe et al. found that, using yeast as an outgroup, nematodes are located at the base of the tree with high statistical support. The flatworms are long branched too, and they are also found at the base of the tree. The change when short-branched Hydra is used instead of yeast is dramatic: both nematodes and flatworms jump up from the root of the tree to a position adjacent to the arthropods, strongly suggesting it was long branch attraction that placed them at the base.The authors describe efforts to counteract the effects of long branch attraction, some of which appear hopeful. But much more data will need to be analyzed before any conclusions can be drawn. Of the 28 animal phyla to be placed in the tree, only eight so far have genetic sequences available for analysis.
1Maximilian J. Telford, and Richard R. Copley, Animal Phylogeny: Fatal Attraction, Current Biology, Volume 15, Issue 8, 26 April 2005, Pages R296-R299, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2005.04.001.
What if the pieces of this huge puzzle dont fit the picture Darwin drew on the box? The very term long branch attraction comes from evolutionary assumptions. When the organism should be on a certain branch in their a priori evolutionary mindset but the software puts it farther up, they can just assume it evolved much faster than its relatives. But what if it did not evolve significantly at all? What if animals are not related by common descent from a single cell? It could be a complete exercise in futility.Media, Journals Alarmed at Rise of Intelligent Design Movement 04/29/2005
The number of articles in the news about the Intelligent Design (ID) Movement is rising, partly because of the upcoming hearings before the Kansas school board. National Geographic news asked, Does Intelligent Design Threaten the Definition of Science? in an April 27 article, but at least author John Roach got the definition of ID correct, said John West on the EvolutionNews blog. MSNBC News, on the other hand, portrayed ID as a religious movement and quoted pro-evolution attorney Pedro Irigonegaray exclaiming, I feel like Im in a time warp here. To debate evolution is similar to debating whether the Earth is round. It is an absurd proposition. The source of this story appears to be Reuters news service. In addition, NPR Science Friday also presented another one-sided view of the debate.
Science magazine this week joined Nature (see 04/27 entry) in alerting the research community about the rise of ID. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee reported1 updated the earlier story posted on ScienceNow (see 04/21 entry) about the pro-evolution strategy in Kansas. The plan is to argue that ID will hurt the economy:
Last week more than 100 people opposed to making ID part of the science curriculum held a meeting in a liberal church here to test a new rallying cry: A high-quality science education means more jobs and a stronger economy. By attracting business, civic, and religious leaders, supporters hope to erode IDs traditional base and stave off changes that they believe will make Kansas an undesirable location for high-tech companies, academics, and other knowledge-based workers. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Science also printed a letter to the editor called A cry for help from Kansas.2 Eric Reynolds appealed to fellow readers to wake up to the possibility that what is happening in Kansas could soon come to their states. Claiming that the very foundation of science in the United States is at risk, he said, What a shame it would be if unqualified politicians succeed in undoing centuries of scientific progress in both the publics perception of science and its continuing advancement. There must be heretics among the ranks of Science readers, however; the prior week, there were four letters to the editor about ID: two for, and two against.
Part of the anti-ID strategy appears to distance evolution from atheism. Bhattacharjees article shows Steve Case making his case from a pulpit, with the caption, Steve Case and other Kansas scientists hope to make religious leaders allies in the debate over intelligent design. Twice it is noted that their allies are liberal churches. The religious image may just be a cloak, however. The pro-ID website KansasScience2005 found a letter posted by the anti-ID group Kansas Citizens for Science that said:
My strategy at this point is the same as it was in 1999: notify the national and local media about whats going on and portray them in the harshest light possible, as political opportunists, evangelical activists, ignoramuses, breakers of rules, unprincipled bullies, etc.The letter was from Liz Craig, said to be a spokesperson for Kansas Citizens for Science. John West on EvolutionNews wonders whether journalists in the national news media will be credulous enough to allow themselves to be manipulated by Ms. Craig and her colleagues. Mark Hartwig commented on Access Research Network that her loose lips gives occasion for ID supporters to shout, like teens catching someone in the act, B-u-u-u-sted!
1Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, Kansas Gears Up for Another Battle Over Teaching Evolution, Science, Vol 308, Issue 5722, 627, 29 April 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.308.5722.627].
2Eric Reynolds, A Cry for Help from Kansas, Science, Vol 308, Issue 5722, 631, 29 April 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.308.5722.631b].
It is really quite amusing to see the paranoia of the Darwin Party hacks. You know they are on the wrong side of history when they have to resort to fear mongering, faulty analogies, non-sequiturs and straw man arguments. We offer them a secret weapon that is sure to demolish ID in one fell swoop like a nuclear bomb, without all the guerrilla warfare. It is called scientific evidence. Show the world evidence that undirected natural processes could indeed build the most efficient molecular machines and programmed guidance and control mechanisms known to man. Build a better irreducibly complex mousetrap without appeal to design, and the worldview will beat a path to your door.The Origin of Specious Ideas: Did Darwin Explain Speciation? 04/29/2005
Even though Darwins best seller was titled On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection, Albert and Schluter in Current Biology1 claim his title was deceptive: Darwins book is about adaptation and the origin of varieties and has surprisingly little to say about selection and the origin of species that mystery of mysteries. Is the mystery better understood today, 146 years later? This is their primer article, Selection and the origin of species.
Natural selection is the differential survival or reproductive success of individuals differing in phenotype within a population. Sexual selection, by contrast, is the differential mating success of phenotypically different individuals. These two processes are the most potent drivers of evolutionary change within populations. Here we shall consider some of their contributions to the buildup of reproductive incompatibilities between populations the origin of species. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)They argue that, surprisingly, natural selection and sexual selection actually have little to do with speciation (the divergence of a population into non-interbreeding groups), but rather only with morphological differences within populations or between individuals. Instead, speciation is environment driven, they claim, with selection only incidental to the process. It can modify traits that lead to reproductive isolation (and thus, speciation). They provide some examples of populations that have diverged into non-interbreeding groups, including Darwins finches, fruit flies and flowering plants.
Geneticists try to detect reproductive isolation in the genes (bottom-up approach), and biologists try to determine it from morphology (top-down approach). Do these approaches meet in the middle?
Our understanding of the process of speciation has increased greatly since Darwin first proposed a central role for natural selection. Much of what we now know has come from research conducted over the past two decades. The picture emerging is that speciation is a process that results from the same forces responsible for most change within species: natural and sexual selection. Nonetheless, there are still many areas that require investigation.
1Arianne Y.K. Albert, and Dolph Schluter, Primer: Selection and the origin of species, Current Biology, Volume 15, Issue 8 , 26 April 2005, Pages R283-R288, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2005.04.015.
Who needs the primer, the readers or the authors? This is nothing more than another checks in the mail whitewash like the one on 04/15/2004 and many others. Articles like this should make the peasants who have suffered under the Darwin monarchy angry enough to revolt. Here we have tolerated the intellectual revolutionaries who swept into the scientific institutions in the 1860s, promising a new age of enlightenment, and while tolerating a few extremists along the way (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot--see 04/22/2004 entry), we kept thinking that at least the new leaders had science on their side, that they were making policy based on reality and scientific evidence. But when the evidence is always nothing more than promises of future discoveries, how much longer do we give them till calling time out? We cant, because they built future promises into the very definition of science. In essence, we handed the Darwinists a blank check to run Big Science with no accountability, with no obligation to produce the goods (see 12/22/2003 commentary and footnote*).Evolutionary Psychology Wrong in Almost Every Detail 04/28/2005
Seems like Darwinism cant get anything right about the human psyche. Sharon Begley, writing in the Wall Street Journal, discussed David J. Bullers new book, Adapting Minds (MIT Press, 2005), and found it the most persuasive critique of evo psych I have encountered. Buller details why evolutionary psychology, despite its bravado, fails to explain rape, child abuse, and even normal sexual attraction. Begley was so convinced, she said, After Adapting Minds, it is impossible to ever again think that human behavior is the Stone Age artifact that evolutionary psychology claims.
The Darwinian explanatory edifice is being dismantled before the eyes of the watching world, one crumbling mud brick at a time.Extinct Woodpecker Found in Arkansas 04/28/2005
One of the worlds largest woodpeckers, the ivory-billed woodpecker, thought for over 50 years to be extinct, has been spotted alive in the remote woods of Arkansas. See National Geographic News, New Scientist, and MSNBC for details.
Update 07/21/2005: The good news may be premature. News@Nature says that some experts believe the observers were mistaken, and that what were seen were a related species, the pileated woodpecker. The final verdict is still out, therefore.
If a breeding population of a species of bird this large and colorful could escape detection for almost 60 years right in Americas back yard, how can scientists be sure that other large animals are truly extinct? Remember the video of a mammoth-size elephant found in Thailand a few years ago? Its good to have this woodpecker back, but it raises interesting questions about what other assumed-extinct species may just be hiding behind a tree somewhere. Every once in awhile one shows up alive and well, some thought extinct since the age of dinosaurs: the Wollemi pine, the tuatara, the coelacanth, and others. Keep your eyes open. Maybe a brontosaurus will come strolling down Sunset Boulevard. Sightings of stranger creatures have been reported there.Nature Alerts Researchers to Threat of Intelligent Design Movement 04/27/2005
It cant be ignored anymore, reported Nature in two articles this week. Geoff Brumfiel1 asked academic researchers, Who has designs on your students minds? He reported on the rise of IDEA Clubs (Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness, such as the first one at UC San Diego), highlighting the story of Salvador Cordovas prospering IDEA club at George Mason University (Virginia). Noting that the turnout was surprisingly good at a cold March meeting, he discussed the rise in student interest in intelligent design (ID) and delved into the reactions of scientists and some theologians who are opposed to it.
Although ID leader Stephen Meyer got a few words in the article, most of those quoted were critical. Bruce Alberts, head of the AAAS, got several sentences in, including this one: To me it doesnt deserve any attention, because it doesnt make any sense. The criticisms centered around supposed connections of ID to creationism and the Christian Right. While mentioning problems with the fossil record and complex molecular machines, Brumfiel allowed critics to dismiss them with claims that science is making progress explaining them, whereas ID supposedly stops further investigation by invoking the supernatural.
The lead editorial in Nature2 made no attempt to give a balanced presentation; it assumed ID is a threat to science. It flashed a red alarm to the science community and discussed strategies to deal with ID. Rather than ignoring it, scientists need to understand its appeal and help students recognize the alternatives. (Emphasis added in all quotes.) The old strategy of pretending it will go away wont work, the editorial says:
Scientists tend to tune out when they hear the words intelligent design. The concept, which endeavours to show Gods hand shaping the course of evolution, is being promoted in parts of Europe and, more significantly, has recently become popular among Christian fundamentalists who want religion taught in US secondary schools. To most researchers it sounds like politics rather than science, and like someone elses problem.The editorial portrays ID as antique rather than cutting-edge: the concept is a throwback to the days when natural philosophers pursued pseudoscientific disciplines such as alchemy, it continues. But scientists should not ignore it, Nature says, because it is gaining popularity on many campuses. The editorial is convinced it stems from religious beliefs of students, but feels ID is more insidious than creationism (bad news for researchers), because of its scientific rather than Biblical arguments. This approach makes it less theologically heavy-handed than its predecessor, but it also poses a threat to the very core of scientific reason. This is because Most contemporary researchers believe that it is better to keep science and theology firmly separated.
So what strategy does Nature recommend? Certainly not a frontal assault: attacking or dismissing intelligent design is likely to aggravate the rift between science and faith that causes students to become interested in intelligent design in the first place, it continues. Though Some will be troubled by the suggestion that they discuss these issues in the classroom, it must be dealt with:
Scientists would do better to offer some constructive thoughts of their own. For religious scientists, this may involve taking the time to talk to students about how they personally reconcile their beliefs with their research. Secular researchers should talk to others in order to understand how faiths have come to terms with science. All scientists whose classes are faced with such concerns should familiarize themselves with some basic arguments as to why evolution, cosmology and geology are not competing with religion. When they walk into the lecture hall, they should be prepared to talk about what science can and cannot do, and how it fits in with different religious beliefs.This gentler one-on-one discipleship could be more fruitful than engaging in campus-wide Darwin vs. Design debates, Nature suggests, because ill-prepared scientific lectures can sometimes lack the superficial impact of design advocates carefully crafted talking points. Influencing individual students in the classroom setting can be powerful:
Indeed, it is not the job of a science teacher to meddle with the way their students are brought up or to attack their core personal beliefs. Rather, the goal should be to point to options other than intelligent design for reconciling science and belief.
1Geoff Brumfiel, Intelligent design: Who has designs on your students minds?, Nature 434, 1062-1065 (28 April 2005), doi: 10.1038/4341062a
2Editorial, Dealing with Design, Nature 434, 1053 (28 April 2005), doi: 10.1038/4341053a.
3Martin Jones and Mark Blaxter, Evolutionary biology: Animal roots and shoots, Nature, 434, 1076 (28 April 2005), doi: 10.1038/4341076a.
This should be read as a victory for the ID movement, akin to Sennacheribs boast that he had Hezekiah locked up in Jerusalem like a bird in a cage when in fact his army had been decimated. Its a victory because ID is finally getting beyond the stage where the scientific establishment can just ignore it, and more importantly, because it demonstrates that the opposition has no answers. Like Sennacherib, the Kingdom of Charlie boasts great things, but falls flat before the power of design arguments. Retreating, it has to change its strategy. Rather than addressing the evidence and facing the issues squarely, it resorts to propaganda tactics and empty boasts.Genes Must Be Expressed in the Right Order 04/26/2005
A team of scientists in Switzerland made neural cells switch on a transcription factor earlier during the embryos development. The result? Axons (long branches of nerve cells) refused to grow to the spinal cord and to the peripheral target. To the mice, this meant they couldnt feel things on the skin due to stunted nerves. The paper is published in PLOS Biology.
Building an embryo is like building a house: everything has to be done at the right time and the right place if the plans are to be translated faithfully. On the building site, if the roofer comes along before the bricklayer has finished, the result may be a bungalow instead of a two-story residence. In the embryo, if the neurons, for example, start to make connections prematurely, the resultant animal may lack feeling in its skin.
1 Hippenmeyer, Arber et al., A Developmental Switch in the Response of DRG Neurons to ETS Transcription Factor Signaling,, Public Library of Science Biology Volume 3 | Issue 5 | MAY 2005, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0030159.
This sounds remarkably like the illustration made in the film Unlocking the Mystery of Life as an argument for intelligent design. Its not just the molecular machines themselves that are irreducibly complex; the ways they are constructed the assembly instructions and developmental processes are themselves irreducibly complex. Like Jonathan Wells quips, what you have is irreducible complexity all the way down. Undoubtedly the journal didnt mean to make a case for intelligent design, but it sure didnt make a case for naturalism; neither the authors of the paper nor the synopsis mentioned evolution once.Titans Atmosphere Is a Hydrocarbon Factory 04/25/2005
A press release from Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced the discovery of complex hydrocarbons in Titans atmosphere. Some molecules have up to seven carbon atoms. The discoveries came from the recent flyby on April 16, the closest yet, at just 638 miles above the surface. Swooping into the upper layers of the atmosphere, the spacecraft came close enough for the ion and neutral mass spectrometer (INMS) to sample the chemical mix. Hydrocarbons (H and C) and nitriles (N, H, and C) were detected, but the location was a bit puzzling: it is surprising to find the plethora of complex hydrocarbon molecules in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, the article states. Titan is very cold, and complex hydrocarbons would be expected to condense and rain down to the surface.
The press release could not resist holding up the primordial soup can again: Scientists believe that Titans atmosphere may be a laboratory for studying the organic chemistry that preceded life and provided the building blocks for life on Earth. Read the 04/22 entry again. Get past the chemicals, and talk about the information.Hubble Telescope Celebrates 15th Birthday with Stunning Images 04/25/2005
Fifteen years old this month, the Hubble Space Telescope showed off new images of the Whirlpool Galaxy and Eagle Nebula (see ESA press release). Engineers at JPL who built the WFPC-2 (Wide Field and Planetary Camera), the camera that took most of those famous images that adorn our walls and calendars, took great satisfaction today during a slide show of famous images and astronomical discoveries that Hubble has beamed to earth. Though built under time pressure and political pressure to save the Hubble from its original optical flaws, WFPC-2 was installed during a risky shuttle rescue operation right as planned, and has worked perfectly for 15 years longer than any other part of the telescope.
Though Hubble usually takes the spotlight because its vision is like ours, two other space telescopes are filling in knowledge about the wings of the optical spectrum: Spitzer in the infrared, and GALEX in the ultraviolet.
Hubble is a great American success story that deserves far more press coverage than the usual daily retinue of crime stories and celebrity trials. HST has brought us not only knowledge and science, but art. Take this occasion to tour the Hubble Site and feast your eyes on things Galileo could not have dreamt of. Congratulations to all the Hubble team: the universe will never be the same in our eyes thanks to this wonderful true story of intelligent design.Bacterial Hydrogen Fuel Cell May Yield Cleaner World 04/24/2005
Scientists at Penn State are working on a new, improved fuel cell. Its secret? Bacteria that can be coaxed with a little electricity to produce four times as much hydrogen directly out of biomass than can be generated typically by fermentation alone. Will you someday be able to harness hydrogen from organic waste to drive your car? Their new electrically-assisted microbial fuel cell can theoretically be used to obtain high yields of hydrogen from any biodegradable, dissolved, organic matter human, agricultural or industrial wastewater, for example and simultaneously clean the wastewater.
If this dream ever comes true, be thankful for those little germs. The lot of them often gets a bad rap from the few that went delinquent. Notice how the scientists didnt build nano-scale hydrogen factories from scratch. They had to harness the skill of molecular machines in bacteria to get this promising result.Giant Carnivorous Amphibians Found in African Fossil Deposit 04/23/2005
Meat-eating amphibians shaped like crocodiles? Be glad you didnt live in West Africa 250 million years ago, say scientists at McGill University. Two species were described, one with large and small fang-like teeth, and another with curved horns on the back of its head.
The fossils didnt come with dates on them, and since amphibian phylogeny is a mess anyway (see 09/13/2004 entry, for example), well just leave that part out and pause to wonder again at the richness of extinct biodiversity compared with that of today.In the Beginning, Hydrogen: Was It Miller Time? 04/22/2005
A press release from University of Colorado says that the spark-discharge experiments of Stanley Miller in the 1950s (see 05/02/2003 entry) might be relevant again. Why? Researchers used new models to estimate the amount of hydrogen in the early earths atmosphere, and came up with numbers 100 times higher than before. If hydrogen did not escape as fast as scientists have thought, it might have composed 30 to 40% of the earths atmosphere.
After the initial enthusiasm of the Miller experiment, scientists began to realize that the early earths atmosphere was not reducing (hydrogen rich) and contained more carbon dioxide. Nitrogen and carbon dioxide do not produce the amino acids and other building blocks of life in Miller-type experiments. But if the model of these scientists is correct, hydrogen might have stayed around long enough to contribute organic molecules to the early oceans. This would mean the old primordial soup icon may be back in business. In Science Express, their abstract states, The organic soup in the oceans and ponds on the early Earth would have been a more favorable place for the origin of life than previously thought. (Emphasis added.)
Give them a universe filled with organic soup. Concentrate it and stir it and feed it lots of energy. It wont help. Life will not crawl out. To convince yourself once and for all, read our online book that climaxes in chapter 7 with the calculation for getting just one simple, usable protein molecule by chance under ideal conditions, even with incredibly generous concessions to make it easier for chance to succeed. This is not just one contrived calculation by one individual: the same conclusion has been reached repeatedly, independently, by numerous scientists, including Fred Hoyle and even Carl Sagan. Those who continue to believe it realize that it is hopeless to expect a primitive cell by chance alone, so they jump to the next fallacy by inserting natural selection where it doesnt belong: i.e., before a complex, self-replicating system existed (see ch. 5).Evolutionists Plan Secret Weapon for Kansas Debate 04/21/2005
Pro-evolution scientists have changed their mind and decided to join the hearings about the Kansas science standards, but havent released a list of witnesses. Those in favor of the new standards, which call for critical thinking about evolution, have published a complete list.
On March 31, Geoff Brumfiel in Nature1 reported, Biologists snub kangaroo court for Darwin, claiming that the hearings were rigged as a political smokescreen for a predetermined outcome, and they didnt want to lend an air of credibility to the intelligent design movement. That was the decision of Harry McDonald, president of Kansas Citizens for Science, a pro-evolution lobby. Now, according to the Lawrence Journal-World, in a surprise move, it appears that supporters of evolution will present their side May 12 through May 14 the week after the other side has their say. But to the consternation of John Calvert (pro-ID lawyer) and the pro-ID members on the board favoring the new science standards, pro-evolution attorney Pedro Irigonegaray said he would not reveal whom he may call as witnesses, according to reporter Scott Rothschild.
The Wichita Eagle highlighted a spirited interchange between the combatants. Calvert said You cannot cross-examine an expert witness without preparation. Im a little bit perplexed about why these witnesses need to be kept secret, especially in light of the boycott. When fellow board member Connie Morris remarked that they need to know the list so they could be praying over their coming decision, Irigonegaray leaped on the statement like Huxley on Wilberforce: Did you say praying over? he asked, adding, Im just very disturbed that one of the reasons I have to do this is so the board can pray about it. The Wichita Eagle gave the last word to John Burch, a private investor concerned that Kansas bioscience industry will suffer if the anti-evolution push continues, said his side cant play Mr. Nice Guy any more: We cant afford to be nice about this anymore to religious partisans. Weve really got to get serious.
Supporters of the new standards have been very up front about their plans. KansasScience2005.com displays the complete list of witnesses to be called May 5-7, and the proposed revisions to the science standards. Irigonegaray said his side would spend no public funds for the hearings. The Board had agreed to give Calvert up to $5000 to cover the cost of bringing in witnesses; in justifying the expense, Calvert said, This is one of the most important issues facing education in the entire country. During the teleconference in which the latest decisions were made, the combative Irigonegaray countered, We would object to the use of a single penny to conduct what we believe is a political process as opposed to a legitimate issue regarding science.
Meanwhile, in California, Larry Caldwell is asking for a retraction from Eugenie Scott (National Center for Science Education) and the California Academy of Sciences for alleged false and defamatory claims about him during his year-long attempt to get the Roseville School District to permit criticisms of Darwins theory. John West on the blog EvolutionNews remarked, Has Scott found it so difficult to locate someone who actually fits her preconceived stereotype of a Bible-thumper trying to ban evolution that she must now resort to reinventing someone to fit her stereotype? It will be interesting to see whether Scott and the California Academy of Sciences have the decency to correct the record.
Update 04/22/2005: Some details of the Darwinist strategy were just revealed by Science Now, a pro-Darwin news source for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. A news item entitled, Scientists Gear Up to Battle Intelligent Design, reveals that scientists and educators opposed to the new science standards plan to focus on the possible economic impact of the new standards. This was the emphasis at a public meeting in Kansas on Thurs. 4/21:
Yesterdays meeting focused on the economic consequences of downplaying evolution in school curriculums. Most industries today want workers with analytical skills, says microbiologist Charles Decedue, executive director of the Higuchi Biosciences Center at the University of Kansas (KU), which is dedicated to the development and transfer of bioscience technologies. ID does not foster analytical thinking because its arguments are faith-based. Leonard Krishtalka, an evolutionary biologist who directs the Biodiversity Institute at KU, predicts that ID instruction would also turn away potential investors. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)The meeting was part of an effort by John Burch to build a broad coalition behind Darwins teachings, the article states. Interestingly, it gives the last word to Don Covington of the Intelligent Design Network, one of half a dozen ID supporters at the meeting. He was not impressed with the economic arguments. Corporate executives dont discuss Darwinism, he countered. When kids find out that they are going to learn the truth, they might be excited to come here, he argued, and it would make the state a magnet for families.
1Geoff Brumfiel, Biologists snub 'kangaroo court' for Darwin, Nature 434, 550 (31 March 2005) | doi: 10.1038/434550a.
This is turning into a contest to watch. The most amazing thing about the Darwinist response is that it is a red herring strategy. They want to scare the public into thinking anything other than 100% pure Darwin might hurt the economy. That is really funny. Apparently, they dont want to touch the scientific case for ID with a ten foot strand of DNA. This has all the earmarks of a desperate ploy by special interests who know they have a weak case. Analytical skills? Take this bacterial flagellum and analyze it. Faith-based arguments? No devotee is as incorrigible as a 33rd-degree Charlie worshiper (see 11/14/2004 entry about Priest Dawkins). Covington should argue that Darwinists are bad for the economy, because they believe evolution made us liars (see 11/23/2004 and 11/19/2004 entries) and criminals (see 03/04/2005 entry). If its embryonic stem cell research they have in mind thats going to make Wichita the new boom town, do Kansans really want to gain the whole bandwagon and lose their own soul? (See 02/08/2005 entry.) Kansas will do just fine economically without obligatory naturalism, just like Britain did after Faraday and Maxwell, both creationists. Nobody on the board is proposing downplaying evolution, anyway read the standards. If anything, students will get more than before, this time fair and balanced.Ichthyosaurs Suddenly Appeared in Triassic Oceans 04/20/2005
Ichthyosaurs were a group of Mesozoic marine reptiles that evolved fish-shaped body outlines, begins Ryosuke Motani (UC Davis) in the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences,1 in a paper on Evolution of Fish-Shaped Reptiles... in Their Physical Environments and Constraints. But while much is said about their environments and constraints, little is said to explain their evolution. It is not even certain they were reptiles: The sister group of ichthyosaurs is unknown, he says, resulting in taxonomists proposing conflicting ideas of where to put them within the vertebrates: Many different hypotheses have been proposed as to where ichthyosaurs belong in the tree of vertebrates, and all major groups, including mammals, amphibians, and osteichthyes [bony fishes], have been proposed. The majority view is that they are reptiles that diverged before the dinosaurs, though It is unknown whether they are outside or inside the saurian clade. The classification problems continue inside the clade. Even though there seems to be a consensus regarding the basic phylogenetic relationship among major groups of ichthyosaurs, None of the published phylogenetic trees is uncontroversial, he notes.
Ichthyosaurs are characterized by narrow snouts, usually conical teeth, and a bend in the vertebra near the tail. They apparently ate fish and squid. Some of them had enormous eyes, much bigger relative to body size than any other animal. The number of fin digits varied from one to twenty. Ichthyosaurs were a diverse group, with various body forms and sizes, writes Motani, an expert on this unusual group of swimmers.
The first ichthyosaur was described in 1814, long before Darwins theory. Despite such a long history of scientific study, Motani says, our knowledge of the evolution of the group was limited until recently because interest in the group flagged, especially after the recognition of the Dinosauria (Owen 1842). It was not until the late 1980s that the ichthyosaurian study was revitalized, and many of the noteworthy facts listed above were recognized during the past decade. Summarizing the latest discoveries and discussing future perspectives are the purposes of Motanis review.
The first definitive records of ichthyosaurs appear suddenly and almost simultaneously over a wide range of the Northern Hemisphere, including Canada, China, Japan, and Spitsbergen, in the upper Triassic, he says, making it difficult to discuss the geographic origin of the group. The earliest forms look like a long-snouted lizard with flippers and a small caudal fin..., with a relatively small skull, an elongated trunk containing approximately 40 vertebrae in front of the pelvic girdle, and a short tail (emphasis added in all quotes). These were 1-3 meters in length. Two other groups appear in Middle Triassic strata, one large (9m) and one small (2m), that disappear in the Late Triassic. A group of tuna-shaped ichthyosaurs called Parvipelvia shows up in Late Triassic strata and became the dominant type in those rocks. Ichthyosaur fossils appear throughout the Jurassic into the Cretaceous, when they all went extinct. More fossils of new species are being found all the time. Some finely-preserved, articulated specimens found recently in China are proving very interesting. Yet putting all the diversity of ichthyosaurs into an evolutionary timeline is made difficult by gaps:
The evolution of the intermediate grade ichthyosaurs during the Middle and Later Triassic is poorly understood at this point, and the diversity of ichthyosaurs in the Early Cretaceous requires further investigation. Middle and Late Jurassic are also important, given the scarcity of materials known at his point.Motani speaks often of evolution in his review, yet points more to species diversity than to any particular trends in morphology. For instance, discussing the flippers, he claims it is possible to trace the continuous evolutionary transformation series for the forelimb, but then says, Although the series is continuous, it is difficult to single out a feature that is shared by all ichthyosaurian front flippers. His elaboration presents a somewhat confusing picture:
Ichthyosaurs initially had five digits as in many amniotes, including humans. Some time in the Late Triassic, a form without the first digit, or the thumb, appeared..., and this lineage eventually gave rise to the Parvipelvia. Extra digits started to appear in some species of Norian ichthyosaurs, and many Jurassic ichthyosaurs added digits both anteriorly and posteriorly in the forelimb (Figure 4), a phenomenon referred to as hyperdactyly. Ichthyosaurs also added extra finger bones, or phalanges, to their digits. Such hyperphalangy was present even in the most basal ichthyosaurs, such as Utatsusaurus ....So the earliest forms already had multiple phalanges and digits; some later forms had more, some had fewer. Neither is there an evolutionary pattern in size: There was no simple trend in ichthyosaurian body sizes through geological time, he writes. Large as well as small ichthyosaurian species seem to have coexisted from the beginning. Most were under 10m, but a giant species possibly 20m was found near British Columbia.
Motani says that ichthyosaurs were the first tetrapod to evolve a fish-shaped body profile with a well-demarcated caudal fluke, long before cetaceans came up with a similar design some 150 million years later, but merely assumes that three very different groups reptiles, mammals and fish all converged on the multiple structural and physiological features necessary for streamlined swimming. He claims ichthyosaurs evolved the largest eyes of all vertebrates without saying how; later, he mentions, It is not known why such an extensive bony coverage of the eyeball evolved.
Motani also discusses that ichthyosaurs have one of the earliest records of live-birth in amniotes without mentioning the transitions necessary to make it possible; in fact, this capability seems to have appeared abruptly in this group: Given that ichthyosaurs did not appear until very late in the Early Triassic, live-birth clearly evolved early in the ichthyosaurian evolution, at least during the first few million years or possibly less, of their 150-million-year evolutionary history i.e., this complex adaptation suddenly appeared in the first 1% of their timeline and persisted unchanged throughout 150 million years, while other major changes in body shape evolved, including significant reductions in the pelvis.
Motanis only specific reference to a transitional form is Californosaurus, which is one of the transitional forms between the fish-shaped and more basal ichthyosaurs, it is clearly seen that the change of the orientation of the neural spines corresponds to the position of the tailbend. Yet that change seems to represent only a rather minor difference in shape. In another place, he admits that The exact phylogenetic position for the appearance of the fish-shaped design in ichthyosaurs is controversial. The only other reference to transitional forms is: The evolution of the group during the Early Jurassic can be considered as continued experimentation along the fish-shaped parvipelvian design that appeared in the Norian, yet he does not elaborate on which descended from which, or which could be considered more fit or better adapted.
However confusing the interpretation of ichthyosaurs remains, this diverse group of marine animals became an early icon of evolution: ichthyosaurs were the first major fossil collected by Mary Anning in the 1800s (McGowan 1991), and, together with the plesiosaurs that she discovered later, they symbolize the early phase of scientific movements in England that cultivated the grounds for Darwins evolutionary theory.
Some of the most remarkable ichthyosaur fossils show the young in the process of being born. At least six genera show embryos inside adult individuals.
1Ryosuke Motani, Evolution of Fish-Shaped Reptiles (Reptilia: Ichthyopterygia) in Their Physical Environments and Constraints, Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Vol. 33: 395-420 (Volume publication date January 2005) (doi:10.1146/annurev.earth.33.092203.122707)
Ichthyosaurs were a remarkable group of swimming animals. Motani knows a lot about them, but he doesnt know much about their evolution. Despite his bluffing assertions about phylogeny, there is not a single point he makes that is without controversy or problems. Even accepting the evolution-biased geological dates, he has to admit that the basal (earliest, presumably most primitive) ichthyosaurs already had five digits in functional flippers and gave birth to live young. No subsequent evolution could be anywhere near as dramatic as having a full-fledged ichthyosaur appear in the fossil record without ancestors.How to Get Asteroid Dust Ponds in Mere Millennia 04/19/2005
A team of U. of Colorado and MIT scientists modeled the formation of the smooth dust ponds found in some of the craters on the asteroid Eros by the NEAR spacecraft (see 02/13/2001 entry). They calculated that micrometeoroid settling from impacts was too slow a process, and instead ran experiments with electrostatic levitation of fine particles. Their calculations suggested this process could deposit a monolayer of micron-size particles once a day. That would lead to the observed pond formation in 2,000 years or less; maybe as little as 100 years. Their paper is published in Icarus.1
1Colwell et al., Dust transport in photoelectron layers and the formation of dust ponds on Eros, Icarus, Volume 175, Issue 1, May 2005, Pages 159-169, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2004.11.001.
If that process is so efficient, why arent the craters overflowing with dust after 4.5 billion years? The dust is found coating only the bottoms of some of the craters. Explore the pictures on NASA Photojournal and see for yourself. Calculations like this are always based on assumptions and limited data, but it seems harder to imagine so little ponding after billions of years. Explaining the dust away seems to require more ad hoc elements in the story. Maybe Eros just hasnt been drifting out there all that long.Butterflies Really Know How to Fly 04/18/2005
The path of a butterfly may appear haphazard to us, but there is a method to the fluttering. A UK team of scientists put transponders on butterflies and monitored their flight paths. They found that the looping paths appear to help with orientation and food detection. The rest of the time, they flew straight at speeds up to six miles an hour. They appeared able to detect hazards from 200 meters, and food sources at 100 meters. See the BBC News story for more information.
MSNBC News reported that the largest migration of painted lady butterflies is underway in California. From the southern desert and coastal areas, they fly through the Central Valley and some make it all the way to Oregon. See also the press release from UC Davis.
What kind of engineering and programming must a tiny butterfly brain possess to engage in navigation, orienteering, and long distance flight? The most delicate of small creatures shows capabilities that would stump robotics experts. Help your kids appreciate not just the beauty but the technical abilities of these beautifully-decorated small wonders.Temple Mount Debris Yields Artifacts from Solomons Temple 04/17/2005
Israelis were shocked and outraged when Palestinians undertook an illegal construction project in 1999 on the Temple Mount, and threw the debris into the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem, but there was little they could do about it. Though this archaeological disaster caused irreparable damage to the site, the holiest place for the Jews, some Israelis tried to salvage some of the wreckage. A respected Israeli archaeologist, Dr. Gabriel Barkai, spirited away 70 truckloads of the debris to a nearby location where it could be sifted and studied, according to Israel National News, which reported on some of the spectacular finds coming out of the rubble during the project over the past six months.
Among artifacts identified were coins, shards, figurines and other materials from the periods of the Crusaders, the Romans, the Hasmoneans (before Christ) and earlier. Arrowheads from Nebuchadnezzars army were found, and some figurines and shards appear to date from the First Temple of Solomon. Animal bones from sacrifices were also discovered. The Palestinian Arabs have consistently denied the existence of Jewish Temples on the site of the Temple Mount, now the site of the Muslim Dome of the Rock.
How could Muslims get away with treating arguably the worlds most religiously valuable real estate like garbage? The article explains, During the illegal excavations and dumping on and from the Temple Mount, the police and the government Antiquities Authority refused to interfere, citing concerns of violence by Muslims who deny that Temples ever stood on the Temple Mount.
The salvage operation was undertaken with private funding, but the money is running out, threatening to leave the work uncompleted. This was the first ever archaeological examination of the Temple Mount, the article claims. Though the archaeological remains were no longer in their original contexts, they held enormous potential to shed light on the undocumented human history of the Temple Mount, as systematic archaeological excavation or scientific study have never taken place there. The mounds of dirt in the Kidron Valley therefore contained the only available data from the Temple Mount to which modern archaeologists have ever had access. See also the Jerusalem Post article on this story.
How the Muslims could have wreaked this havoc without an international outrage and condemnation is beyond belief; this site is one of the most sacred to Jews and of great interest to Christians around the world. The discoveries made here by this rescue effort are all consistent with the Biblical record of the Temples of Solomon and Herod. They hint at the tremendous potential for archaeological research if more of the Mount could be excavated.Dinosaur Fossilized in the Act of Laying Eggs 04/15/2005
Two eggs, with shell material still attached, were found inside the oviducts of a theropod dinosaur, a Chinese team reported in Science.1 This first-time discovery of intact eggs in the body of the female suggests that theropod dinosaurs had two functional oviducts (like crocodiles) but that each oviduct produced only one egg at a time and that an entire egg clutch was laid through multiple ovipositions (like birds). The suggestion that the fossil provides an intermediate egg-laying structure between reptiles and birds was made on the basis of the position of the eggs. It is improbable two eggs would be found in the ovary when the animal was fossilized, they explained:
Unless sequential egg formation and shelling was very rapid and/or there was an extremely prolonged period of egg laying, the preservation of only two tightly juxtaposed eggs in the specimen strongly indicates that each of the paired oviducts simultaneously produced a single egg. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)The fossilization process appears to have retained the shape and texture of the eggshells. See also the popular writeups on this story in National Geographic, BBC News and MSNBC News.
1Sato et al., A Pair of Shelled Eggs Inside A Female Dinosaur, Science, Vol 308, Issue 5720, 375 , 15 April 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1110578].
The science reporters all seem to be jumping on the spin that this might represent a transitional form, and ignoring the remarkable fact that this animal was buried and fossilized within minutes or seconds of laying eggs. The missing-link angle depends on interpretation of positions of the eggs relative to the pelvis and oviducts. Notice how the paper said unless sequential egg formation and shelling was very rapid a reference to how quickly this mother dinosaur was buried. Could the rapid fossilization of this dinosaur been contemporaneous with a worldwide event that entombed a T. rex in Montana (see 03/24/2005 entry), leaving blood vessels intact? If so, both these specimens were living much more recently than tens of millions of years ago.Gorilla or Hominid? Toumaï Controversy Continues 04/14/2005
Michel Brunets controversial Toumaï skull (Sahelanthropus tchadensis) made the cover of Nature last week,1,2 but rivals contend it was not part of the human line. The skull he found in Chad in 2002 (see 07/11/2002 and 10/09/2002 entries) was badly disfigured and needed reconstructive surgery, leading to criticisms that any interpretations were subjective.
News sources like MSNBC, BBC News and National Geographic immediately pounced on the clay reconstruction featured on the cover of Nature, a gorilla-shaped face with a smooth head and thoughtful-looking eyes. National Geographic printed a large image of the reconstruction but made no mention of the controversy surrounding its classification. It stated, Now new fossil finds and a high-tech skull reconstruction (not shown) strongly suggest the species was human, after all. This would make it the oldest known human ancestor.
The BBC News article, by contrast, included statements by other anthropologists who disagreed. It quoted Mary Pickford (National History Museum, Paris), for instance, who said that it is an ape-like animal and is unconvinced that Toumaï was a hominid at all. The BBC also pointed out the ramifications of Brunets claim that this was in the human line:
If Toumaï really does belong on the human branch of the evolutionary tree, its discovery calls into question certain assumptions about our prehistory.
1Michel Brunet et al., New material of the earliest hominid from the Upper Miocene of Chad, Nature 434, 752 - 755 (07 April 2005); doi:10.1038/nature03392.
2Zollikoffer, Brunet et al., Virtual cranial reconstruction of Sahelanthropus tchadensis,
Have we forgotten? Brunet wants to be top dog in the paleoanthropology olympics, so he found his own contestant in his own turf. He dug up a gorilla skull that was badly deformed, gave it a mythical date, and fashioned it according to his own beliefs (see 03/28/2003 caution by Tim White). So Brunet got his prize the cover of Nature which says absolutely nothing about the validity of his claim that his specimen lived millions of years ago, but more about the gullibility of Darwinist-controlled journals. Now the other teams are angry that he scored and are out to topple him in this king of the hill game by disqualifying his contestant.Whos Afraid of the Big Bad Academic Bill of Rights? 04/13/2005
Why would Nature claim that academic freedom is a threat to academic freedom? In the April 7 issue,1 Emma Marris titled her news item, Professors bristle as states act to mould lecture content Academics are fighting right-wing bills of rights. The academic freedom the professors want is their own freedom to control lecture content, not freedom for other points of view to be heard. Since the universities are predominantly Democrat (see 12/02/2004 entry), any intrusion into the status quo is viewed as a right-wing conspiracy. One Florida opponent calls such attempts to bring a balance of viewpoints back into academia a right-wing political takeover of the universities.
David Horowitz, a former Marxist radical now turned conservative activist, has proposed an Academic Bill of Rights (see FrontPage Magazine description). This includes the right of students to have their work graded on content and not religious beliefs, fair hiring practices for professors, tenure based on performance rather than beliefs, a call for professors to abstain from presenting controversial material unrelated to the curriculum, administrative neutrality, and balance in presentations on controversial issues. Why should such apparently fair proposals generate such a negative reaction on campuses where Horowitz is making his case?
Marris gives her explanation: Critics say that these Academic Bills of Rights, which are written to make sure that each side of an issue is presented in lectures at public universities, could in fact stifle academic freedom and disrupt the teaching of science in contentious fields such as evolution and global warming. How could this be, when the intent is the opposite? One opponent of the Academic Bill of Rights says, It will waste a lot of time in the classroom because you will have to spend time covering a bunch of extraneous stuff every crazy idea out there, referring to alternatives to Darwinism.
In the same issue of Nature,2 Geoff Brumfiel defended the decision of pro-evolution scientists to boycott the Kansas board of education hearings. The board wanted to hear both sides argue over proposed changes to standards that would include language that is friendly to intelligent design, but the evolutionists wanted no part in what they considered a kangaroo court.
David Horowitz, meanwhile, is taking heat at university campus lectures with his Academic Bill of Rights. The American Association of University Professors called it part of a larger pressure on higher education to politicize the agenda.
1Emma Marris, Professors bristle as states act to mould lecture content, Nature 434, 686 (07 April 2005); doi:10.1038/434686b
2Geoff Brumfiel, Biologists snub 'kangaroo court' for Darwin, Nature 434, 550 (31 March 2005); doi:10.1038/434550a.
Have you seen a worse case recently of the pot calling the kettle black? The agenda is already politicized to the far left. When you are at the south pole, everything appears north. Horowitz is somewhere in the midwest latitudes calling for balance at the equator. To those at the extreme south pole, his views appear radically northern. Thats only because they fail to see their own extreme position.Molecular Motors Do Ballet 04/13/2005
Scientists at University of Illinois studied dynein and kinesin the tiny molecular trucks that ferry cargo inside the living cell and found that they are not just individualists: they cooperate in a delicate yet effective performance.
Some scientists had thought that the two machine types, which travel in opposite directions, were involved in a constant tug-owar with each other. Instead, reports the universitys news bureau, The motors cooperate in a delicate choreography of steps.
Using high-speed imaging techniques, they determined that multiple motors can work in concert, producing more than 10 times the speed of individual motors measured outside the cell. The machines move by walking on rails called microtubules in steps 8 billionths of a meter at a time. The team is measuring the force produced by the motion to further understand these marvelous little machines. There was no mention of evolution in the report.
Someone should put an animation of these machines to the Blue Danube Waltz. It would be quite a show. Darwinists could be allowed to buy tickets as long as they do their smoking outside.Go to the Roach, Thou Robotics Designer 04/13/2005
Most of us cant step on them fast enough, but of cockroaches, engineers at Johns Hopkins say the pesky critters are excellent role models for robotics. Classroom exercises include building obstacle courses for cockroaches and observing how they use their antennae to navigate, even in the dark. Said one student, experienced in trying to build robots that can navigate based on perception, Every time I looked at the images of the runs, I was in awe of the cockroaches agility and speed.
The story by Stefan Lovgren in National Geographic News says engineers want to learn how the insects achieve rapid locomotion control. Cockroaches can sweep their antenna up and down and side to side when standing still to survey their surroundings, but hold them steady when running. Like radar, the antenna give them a continuous status report on their surroundings.
Some day, artificial cockroachbots may be able to crawl inside collapsed buildings looking for trapped people, or explore battlefields for missing soldiers. Actual robotics applications mimicking the antennae are extraordinarily limited to date, the article says: But scientists are increasingly looking at some of natures solutions to help them overcome several of the problems that hamper progress using traditional engineering methods (emphasis added).
By the way, a team at Northwestern is using a different biological model system for study: rats whiskers.
The vermin have become our role models sounds like something a cynical talk show host might say. But in the context of this story, its an interesting insight into design right under our feet. Who would have thought that lowly and despised critters scurrying about in our yards (and, to our disgust sometimes, our homes) are providing scientists with a sense of awe over their engineered capabilities?Solar Eclipse Probabilities Calculated 04/13/2005
The probability, on average, that the spot you are standing on will see a total solar eclipse is once every 360 to 375 years, says Joe Rao, a lecturer at the Hayden Planetarium, writing for MSNBC News. Some cities, though, like Los Angeles, have to wait 1565.9 years, and some rare spots may not see one for 36 centuries. About 28% of solar eclipses are total. On average, an eclipse occurs somewhere on Earth every 18 months. The one happening Friday in the South Pacific is a hybrid, mostly annular (ring-like), but total only in the middle of the path for 42 seconds. The article contains a table of 25 cities and their average wait between eclipses.
As a young astronomer, Guillermo Gonzalez was struck by the beauty of a total eclipse he saw in India. This became the subject of an article called Wonderful Eclipses that grew into a thesis that Earth was a special place, a Privileged Planet that resulted in a book and film with that phrase as the title. Gonzalez and Jay Richards found that solar eclipses were just the tip of the iceberg of a class of phenomena that illustrated an uncanny relationship between the factors that make Earth habitable and the factors that make Earth an ideal platform for scientific discovery. Order this beautiful and thought-provoking film once you watch it, you will be loaning it to everyone you know.Bobble-Head Birds See Straight 04/12/2005
Anyone who has fed pigeons in the park has probably wondered why they bob their heads forward and back when they walk. It not only looks comical to us, it seems like it would give them a very confused sense of sight. Leave it to scientists to go find out why birds bob their heads. Strangely, nobody seems to have studied this before.
A team of Maryland biologists decided to investigate, and just published their results in Current Biology.1 They found that the head bobbing actually maximizes the amount of time the eyes see a stationary picture. The stable phase of bird head-bobbing movements is particularly interesting, they say, because the behavior, unique to birds, clearly contributes to visual gaze stabilization. (To make this all sound scientific, they had to give it the highfalutin name gaze stabilization.)
Many species of birds move their heads forward through a series of successive, fixed positions when walking. This unique head-bobbing behavior stabilizes visual fields during body movement, preventing motion blur of the retinal image. Gaze stabilization could be required for successful visual search, particularly for moving objects, but the time available for stabilization varies with walking speed. No direct evidence has been published showing that birds favor the stabilization phase while foraging either for moving or immobile food. We examined head-bobbing behavior in foraging whooping cranes, Grus americana, as they searched the ground for food, and found that they walk at speeds that allow the head to be immobilized at least 50% of the time. This result strongly suggests that, in cranes and probably many other birds, visual fixation via head stabilization is necessary for object detection and identification during visual search. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)They chose Big Bird the whooping crane because its head, with eyes nearly five feet off the ground, makes the bobbing easy to observe. Watching male and female cranes feed in a pen, they recorded their movements with a video camera, and analyzed the motion mathematically. Think of the two extremes: At a slow pace, fixation is possible almost all the time, but the area that can be searched is limited, they write, but At near-running speeds, much more ground can be covered, but head thrusts dominate the thrust-fixation cycle. (For the rest of us, that means that while the bird is running, its head would bob so often the vision would be blurry.)
Birds forage at a walking pace that gives them the best of both: a large search area, and stable eyes to detect prey. Their preferred walking pace allows them to see with tripod-steady intervals about 50% of the time, giving them occasions to change their head angle and fixate new objects of visual interest, they say. Pigeons bob their heads when landing, they noted, and herons assume a rigid gaze, even if the perch moves under their feet. These observations suggest that a steady gaze is important to a bird. In conclusion, they say, The observation that foraging whooping cranes favor visual fixation strongly implies that for them, and probably many other species of birds, stabilization of vision is necessary for object detection, recognition, and localization.
1Kronin, Kinlock and Olsen, Head-bobbing behavior in foraging whooping cranes favors visual fixation, Current Biology, Volume 15, Issue 7, 12 April 2005, Pages R243-R244, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2005.03.036.
For this to evolve, the neck muscles had to adapt to fast controlled motion while the brain simultaneously found a way to interpret the motion. Additional structural support might be needed to keep the eyes from popping out. Does the brain tune out the jerky part of the motion and stitch together a seamless set of still images? Perhaps so. It would be interesting to project on a screen how the smart bird brain (see 02/01/2005) interprets its visual input. This story illustrates how even the simplest everyday phenomena in the living world around us have a purpose. Investigating such things with careful observation and analysis often reveals an amazing set of parts working together harmoniously for the big picture.Whose Side Is Unenlightened? 04/12/2005
Heres an opportunity for readers to compare arguments on both sides of the debate about origins and the nature of science. Donald Kennedy, Editor-in-Chief of Science, wrote an editorial last week that claims the sunrise of the intelligent design movement threatens twilight for the Enlightenment.1 He wrote that the retrogression to the pre-Darwinian zoologist William Paley is undermining the heritage of David Hume and developing conviction that substituted faith in experiment for reliance on inherited dogma.
Chuck Colson in his Breakpoint commentary for April 8 puts the shoe of enlightenment on the other foot. He countered that the Darwinists have been in the business of suppressing the weaknesses of their theory. He quotes Rodney Stark, who wrote that evolution has primarily been an attack on religion by militant atheists who wrap themselves in the mantle of science in an effort to refute all religious claims concerning a creatoran effort that has also often attempted to suppress all scientific criticisms of Darwins work.
1Donald Kennedy, Twilight for the Enlightenment?, Science, Vol 308, Issue 5719, 165 , 8 April 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1112920].
Kennedy could enlighten all of us by explaining how molecular machines, DNA transcription and replication with all its error-correcting mechanisms, and the human brain arose from mindless, undirected process of chance and natural law. He could further explain how refusing to hear honest questions about Darwinian evolution exemplifies a conviction that substitutes faith in experiment for reliance on inherited dogma.Astrobiology: Much Ado About Nothing So Far 04/11/2005
The mood at a NASA Astrobiology Institute conference is very upbeat, according to Leonard David at Space.com, reporting from the meetings in Boulder, Colorado. The participants have set their goals high:
Consider it nothing short of the cosmic quest for all time: Understanding the origin, evolution, distribution, and fate of life on Earth and in the Universe.Much of the excitement comes from a flood of data about Mars, Titan and extrasolar planets. But these objects provide only information about solid, liquid and gas no biology yet. Thats enough, though, to get Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute promoting astrobiology like a high-energy TV commercial:
What a fabulous opportunity to think about the boundaries of what that life might be like, Tarter said. The planets are there. We cant deny that anymore. Its really setting the backdrop and driving forward everybodys thinking. So it just gets more exciting to think about how nature might have generalized biology and geology, she said.Much of the excitement also stems from prospects for discovery in the future, from the Kepler, Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) and Space Interferometry Mission (SIM) projects, and NASAs Moon, Mars and Beyond initiative.
One participant seemed like a wet blanket in the party. Nick Woolf (U of Arizona) echoed the feelings of Fritz Benedict earlier this month (see 04/04/2005 entry): I started off expecting Earth-like planets to be very common . . . and have become steadily more cautious. That does not mean that my change of opinion is correct. I believe that the attitude we should adopt at the present is agnostic.
Astrobiology is like futureware on back order. None of the actual data returned by MER or Cassini, and none of the exoplanets so far detected, provide any hint that life exists, or has existed, or is even possible at any of these places. Remember the realistic lab tests of amino acid survival in a Martian environment? (See 01/28/2005 entry.) The poor molecules were destroyed within hours. We have seen nothing but rocks, ice and gas so far, but these scientific charlatans are already claiming to be experts about the origin, evolution, distribution and fate of the universe.Variable Constants Dept. 04/11/2005
Is nothing sacred? EurekAlert reported that the fine structure constant alpha may have changed from its once-thought invariable value, based on new observations from the Keck telescope. Sacred constant might be changing, it says.
Another study, by contrast, shows no change in the fine structure constant, according to a press release from UC Berkeley.
Too early for any conclusions. The measurements are very difficult to make. The consequences of any change, if confirmed, could be cosmic. That might be a reason it couldnt have changed: we wouldnt be here wondering if it could.Titan May Have Erupted Ice Recently 04/08/2005
Large features on Titan resemble volcanic calderas. The fact that no impact craters appear on the flows indicate that they are young. But these are no ordinary volcanoes. If the findings are confirmed, they erupted ice.
Richard Kerr reported the scuttlebutt from last weeks Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas. Titan may have enough rock in its interior to produce heating by radioactive decay, unlike Enceladus, Kerr comments (a smaller Saturnian moon showing signs of recent resurfacing: see 03/04/2005 entry). That internal heat could have melted the ice tens or hundreds of kilometers down, scientists think, and ammonia in the crust could lower the melting point of ice to allow slush to flow on the surface but not forever, worries Caltech planetary physicist David Stevenson:
But Stevenson does wonder how Titan could still be flooding its surface with cryolavas this late in its life. No impact craters have been seen on any cryovolcanic features, implying that they are relatively young. Yet, notes Stevenson, billions of years of volcanic activity would have extracted the interiors reservoir of ammonia. Without that antifreeze, cryolavas could not flow. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)The only way Stevenson could suggest a solution to this problem is if Titan is somehow recycling its ammonia back into the interior.
1Richard A. Kerr, Icy Volcanism Has Rejuvenated Titan, Science, Vol 308, Issue 5719, 193 , 8 April 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.308.5719.193a].
This is just one of the conundrums about Titan if it is 4.5 billion years old as assumed by conventional wisdom. The atmosphere is another problem. It seems ad hoc to get the ammonia out to melt the ice, then plunge it back inside to reuse it later. How many times could that cycle repeat? Long enough to save face for scientists billions of years in the future when Titan was explored by humans?Stupid Evolution Quotes of the Week 04/06/2005
Evolution is blind and brutish but, every now and then, it stumbles across a truly stunning innovation that rewrites the rules of life, says New Scientist in a caption for the cover story article, Lifes top 10 greatest inventions. (Emphasis added in all quotes.) The inventions are a mixed bag of nasty and nice: multicellularity, the eye, the brain, language, photosynthesis, sex, death, parasitism, superorganisms, and symbiosis. Each entry is described by a different writer, all of whom assume evolution was up to the job of creating any spectacular innovation needed. This article provides many quotes vying for the prize. Take your pick:
Picture yourself stopping by a red wagon thats promoting the Cult of Tinkerbell (03/11/2005). You decide to stop and join us listeners for a moment and watch the silly devotees, all wearing conical hats and pink tassled slippers (04/01/2005) doing their best to win us over. Moving right along, after weve sufficiently yucked it up over these groaners, we can only hope that Kate is right: that this is the last word on evolution, and now we can move beyond the realms of the purely bi-illogical.Active Adolescents Are Leaner, Fitter 04/07/2005
The intuitively obvious sometimes holds up to experimentation. Researchers at Medical College of Georgia found that, indeed, young people who are physically active are less likely to be obese. Most adolescents need to double their physical activity, the researchers said, preferably an hour or more a day and it needs to be vigorous. In most cases this time could easily replace television watching.
Give them some motivation by taking them hiking in beautiful places, like on Creation Safaris (picture). Ever wonder why you dont find many fat people on mountain trails? Or bored ones?No Excuses: Nazi-Era German Scientists Had Bloody Hands 04/07/2005
A six-year, $5 million (US$) project in Germany to investigate the extent of scientific involvement with the Nazi regime completed its final report last month, reports Nature,1 with uncomfortable truths. It can no longer be claimed that (1) there were only a few rotten apples involved, (2) the work was pseudoscientific, low-quality work with meaningless results, (3) that Hitlers regime held science in low esteem, such that scientists tried to wait out the dark period, or (4) those who collaborated with the Reich did so under duress.
On the contrary, the report found that scientists in the Kaiser Wilhelm Society (now named the Max Planck Institute, or MPS) often participated knowingly and willingly.
The MPS has found that a large part of the most criminal research conducted was not pseudoscience in fact, it followed conventional scientific methods and was at the cutting edge of research at the time. It has also demonstrated that the Nazis held basic research in high esteem, increasing funding for it during the war years without requiring scientists to join the Nazi Party. And it found that, far from being subjected to force, many scientists voluntarily oriented their work to fit the regimes policies as a way of getting money and of exploiting the new resources that Nazi policies made available through, for example, the invasion of other countries. Most researchers, it turns out, seem to have regarded the regime not as a threat, but as an opportunity for their research ambitions. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)One Nobel prize winning scientist, for instance, knew that his lab was using blood samples from Auschwitz; others voluntarily came up with many projects to improve weapons systems. One reason for the cooperation seems to have been the attitude that Germany was in a new era for the long term. In hindsight, we know of the rapid collapse of the Third Reich and subsequent worldwide condemnation for a science twisted to support egregious violations of human rights, crimes against humanity that to many represent the ultimate icon of evil. But picture yourself back then in 1936 and consider how the world might have looked to a research scientist working in a successful, forward-looking, nationalistic, advancing country:
In the 1930s and early 1940s, it seemed to those living under fascist flags that fascism was immortal. Until 1942, few Germans or Italians, for that matter imagined that the ruling regimes would be overthrown, or be replaced by a democratic system that would judge many of the actions they considered loyal, patriotic, or simply getting on with their job, as unacceptable support for a criminal regime.Some of the findings were not known at the Nuremburg trials, because important Russian documents did not become available till the end of the cold war. Nature commended the MPS for producing this serious, dispassionate reanalysis that will help us learn the lessons of this dark period. The findings are available on the website of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. See also the 06/12/2001 entry about MPS president Markls apology for the victims, that characterized Nazi-era science as built on a materialistic, Social Darwinist, dehumanized form of biology. (For the Darwin-Hitler connection, see this book review and article pertaining to research by historian Richard Weikart).
1Editorial, Uncomfortable truths, Nature 434, 681 (07 April 2005); doi:10.1038/434681a.
The editorial says that the conventional wisdom stemming from the Nuremberg trials, which condemned the heinous crimes of high-ranking Nazis, but did not enquire into the behaviour of less notorious individuals, including rank-and-file scientists, was politically correct for the time. It allowed Germany to rebuild its infrastructure and justified the allies supporting West Germany to restrain the advance of communism.Late Stars Found Early On 04/06/2005
A press release from the Spitzer Space Telescope team reports that the oldest, most distant galaxies ever seen already had well-developed stars. It claims that the light has taken 13 billion years to reach us.
It seems that in a couple of cases these early galaxies are nearly as massive as galaxies we see around us today, which is a bit surprising when the theory is that galaxies start small and grow by colliding and merging with other galaxies, said Dr. Mark Lacy (Spitzer Science Center).The release was echoed on News@Nature which claims these galaxies were born a mere 700 million years after the big bang. Whether small galaxies were also present at that epoch is hard to tell, because only the largest tend to be detectable. BBC News reported that a new instrument named DAZLE (Dark Age Redshift Lyman Explorer) on the Very large Telescope in Chile may soon be able to observe objects at redshift (z) 7.8, corresponding to 650 million years after the big bang in cosmological models. The technology may eventually reach back to z=8.8 or, in principle, even z=15, less than 300 million years after the big bang.
This is another sob session in a long lament. The farther back they look in time, and the farther out they look in space, the more mature structure they see contrary to evolutionary expectations. For examples, see 03/10/2005, 01/08/2002, 03/03/2003, 12/16/2002, 07/08/2004, 01/23/2004 and 01/04/2004 entries and work back through the cosmology chain links. Its uncanny how similar this looks to the Cambrian Explosion in biology: the abrupt appearance of structure without precursors. Observations from multiple telescopes, by multiple teams, seem to be converging on the conclusion that the universe was already well developed at an early age. If this trend keeps up, they might soon find mature galaxies on the fourth day.Darwinians Looking for Forgiveness in Apes 04/06/2005
Forgiveness, a seemingly distinctive human trait, must have its roots in ape social behavior, believe some evolutionary biologists. According to MSNBC News, the state of Iowa got a lot of money for researching this topic:
Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, lead scientist, said the four-month project studying bonobos [pygmy chimps] will be funded by a $125,000 grant from the Richmond, Va.-based Campaign for Forgiveness Research....She believes that forgiveness cannot be understood deeply only by studying humans, because we are too close to these processes in ourselves to objectify them.
To an evolutionist, patterned interactions among individuals of a species are an emergent property of patterned interactions of molecules. Since Ms. Savage-Rumbaugh appears to be operating with a naturalistic paradigm, forgiveness, to her, has its roots ultimately in hydrogen. She could save a lot of money by looking for forgiveness among bacteria in a petri dish; its only a pattern of interactions, anyway, with no moral connotations. Since morals have no absolute existence in the Darwinian mind (see Morality without religion? by Dave Miller on Apologetics Press), forgiveness is only a game that populations of organisms play (see 02/10/2004 entry). No moral laws have been violated when a fungus or an elk or a pigeon have played the part of defector and other individuals punish it, or reward it with a behavior called forgiveness when it changes its strategy and decides to cooperate.Flagellum Described in High-Performance Lingo 04/04/2005
The bacterial flagellum, a virtual icon of the intelligent design movement, has been studied by many researchers, notably Howard Berg of Harvard, an expert on chemotaxis (the attraction of bacteria to chemical stimuli). Berg was interviewed in Current Biology1 and talked like a race car mechanic when discussing this molecular machine, though he is not involved in the ID movement and believes in evolution. Here are some excerpts:
1Q&A: Howard Berg, Current Biology, Volume 15, Issue 6, 29 March 2005, Pages R189-R190, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2005.03.003.
And yet he says, Chemotaxis evolved so that cells can locate nutrients.... Who would have imagined, indeed. But then, when entering the high-performance world of microtechnology, imagination is what keeps the evolutionary story lubricated. Alcohol helps, too (see 08/12/2004 entry); some evolutionists seem to have converged on that form of chemotaxis after watching Unlocking the Mystery of Life.Panel Majority Agrees: Our Solar System Is Special 04/04/2005
All five observational and theoretical planetary scientists on a panel last week agreed that our solar system is a special place, reports Space.Com. At the 5th annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Panel Debate, held at the American Museum of Natural History, the topic was whether our solar system is special, why it looks the way it does, and how others thus far detected differ. All five panelists concluded that, because of the approximately 150 extrasolar planets detected so far, none of which resemble Earth, solar systems like ours may be rare in the universe. Neil deGrasse Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium moderated the event that was attended by about 700 people.
A contrasting view was reported in National Geographic News. A computer study shows that a Goldilocks zone of habitability could exist in many of the known extrasolar systems. No earthlike planets have been found in them, though, and indeed could not be detected with current technology. Its still philosophical at this point, but Im an optimist, said James Kasting, member of a JPL team building the Terrestrial Planet Finder for launch a decade away. In contrast to the Space.Com article that emphasized the uniqueness of Earth gauged from observations, NG optimistically titled its report, Many Earths Are Out There, Study Says.
This is why observational science is necessary and important; it keeps speculation in check. Poor Dr. Tyson (would-be heir apparent to Carl Sagan--see 09/29/2004 entry) must rue the fact that the stubborn data are, so far, contrary to his masters fresco of our Earth as an ordinary planet around a humdrum star, lost in a galaxy, tucked away in a forgotten corner of the universe in which there are far more galaxies than people. The search is in its early stages, but the data so far appear statistically significant.Gentle Darwin and the Evolution of Joy 04/03/2005
You may not be able to really enjoy a good laugh any more, because the evolutionists are now claiming that joy and humor are just evolutionary artifacts of gene mutations in our animal past. Jaak Panksepp (Bowling Green U) opens an article in Science Now by twisting the opening words of the Apostle John into what he assumes is a witty remark: In the beginning was the word... but was the word funny? Whether Christians will laugh is doubtful, considering the next lines:
Research suggests that the capacity for human laughter preceded the capacity for speech during evolution of the brain [see next entry]. Indeed, neural circuits for laughter exist in very ancient regions of the brain, and ancestral forms of play and laughter existed in other animals eons before we humans came along with our hahahas and verbal repartee. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)How does he know this? Panksepp refers to anecdotal studies of animal play, and assumes that rat humor and horsing around are of the same substance and essence as human joyfulness; the obvious conclusion, therefore, is that human laughter evolved from animal play. After all, everything in our humanness is tied to our animal past and was not designed, he assures us, because a certain exalted master told us so:
Many still believe that emotional feelings, from joy to grief, are special capacities of the human brain, but as Darwin taught, it just aint so....Having dismissed intelligent design with a summary judgment, he must announce the verdict: humor and joy are only relics of natural selection acting on random mutations. News sources like MSNBC and BBC are throwing in a lot of one-liners to soften the blow.
With polka-dotted conical hats and pink tassled slippers like these, need the Darwinists wonder why the rest of us give them strange looks? (See 04/01/2005 entry). Notice how their Great Leader, dear Charlie the Gentle, is treated like a god by the cult of Darwin. Whatever he said is so, and whatever he said aint so, aint so. Its surprising they dont give chapter and verse each time. If you are having trouble catching the irony of their explanation, read the next entry, and also the one from 12/30/2004. Given this background, notice how it is totally outside the box for them to even consider that maybe human joy and animal play both had a common Designer instead of a common ancestor. Since evolution is the starting presupposition, even things as fun as fun have to be retrofitted into the randomness machine (and destroyed in the process). To those sad sacks in the Darwin camp, we say chill out, lighten up, and get a Life. Joy has no naturalistic explanation. If it did, it wouldnt be joy. You cant get joy out of molecules: it had to come from a sufficient cause intelligence. So listen to John: in the beginning was the Word. Laughter is a gift, and the Giver wants your joy to be full. Start out by noticing how silly your bearded buddha looks as an idol. To think people actually believed this mere mortal knew how all life originated ha! It makes you laugh so hard, you want to cry.Do Neurologists Understand Brain Evolution? 04/03/2005
Jane Bradbury wrote a feature piece for PLOS Biology recently,1 entitled, Molecular Insights into Human Brain Evolution. Help us find the insights. First, she marvels on how humans sit on top of the pile when it comes to relative brain size. Then she marvels at how quickly the human brain apparently evolved compared to apes. Next, she complains that we dont have good maps of the differences between ape and human brains, so it is hard to make meaningful comparisons between our brain and that of chimpanzees. She calls on Karl Zilles (Germany) to explain:
Already, Zilles has discovered that there is much more interindividual variation in human brain organisation than anyone suspected. This means, says Zilles, that a general statement like the neocortex is bigger in human brains than in ape brains actually tells us very little. It gives us the general direction that evolution has taken but not whether an ape brain is different because of its sensory, motor, or association areas. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)Still hunting for insights, we find Bradbury finding an apparent case of convergent evolution between whale brain evolution to human brain evolution, but that assumes the brains evolved rather than providing insights into how they could have. Next, we find Bradbury wondering how a large brain could have evolved, because it costs a lot to run it. Worse, it would have had to simultaneously get reorganized as it grew bigger:
For one thing, a big brain is a metabolic drain on our bodies. Indeed, some people argue that, because the brain is one of the most metabolically expensive tissues in our body, our brains could only have expanded in response to an improved diet. Another cost that goes along with a big brain is the need to reorganise its wiring. As brain size increases, several problems are created, explains systems neurobiologist Jon Kaas (Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, United States). The most serious is the increased time it takes to get information from one place to another. One solution is to make the axons of the neurons bigger but this increases brain size again and the problem escalates. Another solution is to do things locally: only connect those parts of the brain that have to be connected, and avoid the need for communication between hemispheres by making different sides of the brain do different things. A big brain can also be made more efficient by organising it into more subdivisions, rather like splitting a company into departments, says Kaas. Overall, he concludes, because a bigger brain per se would not work, brain reorganisation and size increase probably occurred in parallel during human brain evolution. The end result is that the human brain is not just a scaled-up version of a mammal brain or even of an ape brain.Still hunting for those elusive insights into brain evolution, we find Bradbury wondering how natural selection could have done the job. For natural selection to work, she explains, the costs of brain evolution must be outweighed by the advantages gained in terms of fitness. So were they? She quotes those who speculate about possible selection pressures, such as the need for better diet and more social group coherence, but provide no data to explain why apes are sociable and physically fit but retain small brains. Whatever selection pressures there might have been, though, she is sure were not guided: they had to work on the raw material of random gene mutations, she reminds us.
Here Bradbury provides a smidgeon of data. Several teams have suggested that a gene named ASPM, which is implicated in the shrunken-brain disease microcephaly, might have been a factor. But then again, one researcher said, we really have no idea yet how or even if ASPM is involved in brain evolution. Some other candidate genes are being studied, but functional studies on genes are difficult to do, she cautions, so there are only suggestions at this point.
Considering how much must have changed since humans made their first evolutionary strides from apes, some genes show no clear evolutionary pattern, according to a surprise announcement by the Max Planck Institute. They recovered DNA from a Neanderthal skull said to be 75,000 years old, and discovered that the gene for osteocalcin was identical to that in modern humans. Furthermore, they found a marked difference in the sequence for this gene in gorillas compared to other primates in mammals. All they can promise is that the possibility of additional gene comparisons from fossils might help better understand the phylogenetic relationships between primates (implying that they are not well understood now).
But then again, maybe it is not just the genes, but the way they are expressed, that became important sometime in the human evolution saga. One team has found 100 genes so far that are differentially expressed in human and chimpanzee brains. That led Todd Preuss (Emory U) to remark, All told, it seems that the human brain may be more dynamic than ape or monkey brains. The human brain seems to be running hot in all sorts of ways. This still begs the question of how or why that should be so.
We finally reach her last paragraph, subtitled, Scratching at the Surface. Just when we were hoping for a surprise treasure chest full of insights, we find ourselves empty-handed:
As far as understanding how our brains evolved, more questions remain than have been answered. One problem is that we dont really know enough about how our brains differ from those of other mammals and primates, although work by Zilles and others is helping here. We also know very little about how the areas of our brain are physically linked up, and we need to understand that before we can see how we differ from our nearest relatives. And as far as identifying the gene changes that were selected during evolution, although we have several candidates, we dont know how or if these gene variants affect our cognitive abilities. It is one thing, concludes Dunbar, to identify genetic or anatomic differences between human and ape brains, but quite another to know what they mean in terms of actual cognitive processes.
1Jane Bradbury, Feature: Molecular Insights Into Human Brain Evolution, Public Library of Science: Biology, Vol. 3, Issue 3, March 2005.
We want our money back. We were promised some insights, and all we got were excuses. Pay up, Darwin Party, or we are going to the ID show across the street, where all the crowds are gathered.You Can Help Find Life on Mars 04/02/2005
Astronomy Picture of the Day pulled a fast one for April Fools Day, humorously suggesting viewers might help scientists find water on Mars. (The Mars in the picture was the candy kind.)
The joke was on them, because they got baloney all over their faces with this line: Finding water on different regions on Mars has implications for understanding ... the possible existence of past life... By linking to an evolution-assuming site, they showed themselves to be either unaware or unconcerned about the many and major problems with abiogenesis (see 02/06/2005 entry and work backward on Origin of Life chain links). They also failed to see the irony in the fact that their staged picture showed intelligent design. The biggest fool is the one who fools himself.
A master of adroit sarcasm (Jonathan Witt on the EvolutionNews blog calls it delicious), David Berlinski is not the stereotypical undereducated foggy-faith emotional religious right anti-Darwinist, and neither is William Dembski, whom he defends. That must make it awfully hard for the Darwin Party to pigeonhole them into the group they wish to patronize, marginalize and euthanize. How disconcerting for the doctor when the patient diagnoses him as being in a PVS, and the judges are listening. No wonder he wants to change the subject to something more congenial, like following a balloon. He should count his blessings. Anti-Darwinists believe altruism is real, not virtual (see 03/16/2005 entry), and apply survival of the fittest only to ideas, not individuals.More Convergent Evolution Claimed for Dino-Era Mammal 04/01/2005
A chipmunk-size mammal with Popeye-like forearms and beaver-like teeth resembling an armadillo? Thats how the discoverers are describing the fossil they named Fruitafossor, a small mammal found near Fruita, Colorado and reported in Science.1 They think it dug burrows and ate termites. Of special interest were the open-root teeth like those of the beaver. Lead researcher Zhe-Xi Luo told National Geographic News, These peculiar teeth in an otherwise very primitive Jurassic mammal were puzzling, as these teeth werent supposed to appear until much later, when the armadillos evolved 50 million years ago, and again still later in form of the African aardvark.
They claim this lineage was unrelated to later burrowing and gnawing mammals. It went extinct, without leaving the instructions for their specialized teeth and claws for the latecomers, who had to figure it out all over from scratch. MSNBC echoed this explanation without question: The discovery shows that anteaters, armadillos and other creatures that dig up insects evolved their specialized abilities several times during the history of the world, it regurgitates. This is known as convergent evolution.
1Zhe-Xi Luo and John R. Wible, A Late Jurassic Digging Mammal and Early Mammalian Diversification, Science, Vol 308, Issue 5718, 103-107 , 1 April 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1108875].
Science reporters can be such toadies. They accept whatever a Darwin Party priest croaks like it is the message of the gods, and just dish it out sans jargon for the masses but with all the baloney left in. Why dont they ever grill the priesthood with hard questions like they do with politicians? A skeleton was found in Colorado of an extinct small mammal. Thats it. The rest of the tale about 150 million years and convergent evolution is all made up. Suppose students turned this trick on their teachers. How did all three of you come up with nearly identical term papers, she asks? Your explanation: convergent Googlution. Good luck on your report card.
Teach Evolution, Lesson II, cont.