“The last time it infected anything was more than 30,000 years ago, but in the laboratory it has sprung to life once again.” (From Sarah)
“Among the people I do know who have done PhDs, I have seen depression, sleep issues, eating disorders, alcoholism, self-harming, and suicide attempts.” (Sarah)
” ‘A lot of people, when they see these fossils, don’t believe they’re real,’ said Dr. Huber, who is 54, fit from years of fieldwork, and proud that the state fossil of his native Ohio is a trilobite. ‘They think they must be artists’ models.’ ” (Noah)
“Earth’s Land Mammals by Weight.” And, the 2014 Mammals Suck March Madness Bracket! (Amy)
“What’s creepier than a worm rearing up on its tail to snag a passing insect? A thousand worms uniting into a single living, writhing, waving tower to snag a passing insect.” (Jeremy)
“Nye is widely viewed as having won that debate, but Ham may have gotten the last word: on Thursday he announced that his Creation Museum’s proposed Noah’s Ark theme park, including a 510-foot replica of the Biblical vessel, had against all odds secured a last-minute $62 million municipal bond offering.” (Jeremy)
The Life Sciences building at the University of Idaho. Photo by jby.
Academic freedom is a bedrock principle of higher education—part of the point of having classes taught by working scholars is that, at the university level, students should be exposed to the interplay of ideas at the cutting edge of each field of study, and so professors should have latitude to explore controversial topics and defend their own perspectives.
But there are limits to that principle. Common sense, and the need to organize prerequisites across a multi-year curriculum, dictates that even a tenured professor would get into trouble if she devoted her entire introductory chemistry course to a critical reading of The Lord of the Rings. In a (maybe) less extreme example, a professor who spent an astronomy class arguing that there is a scientific basis to the Zodiac would, at the very least, get a talking-to from his department chair. In order to meaningfully teach a given class, there are topics that need to be covered—and there is material that has no legitimate place in the syllabus.
This is why I was so surprised to learn, a few weeks ago, that the University of Idaho—the institution where I earned my Ph.D., where Noah earned his Master’s degree and Sarah earned both her B.S. and Master’s—has hired someone who believes that the Earth was created over the course of six days about six thousand years ago, to teach an introductory microbiology course.
This being the 12th of February, the birthday of Charles Darwin, here’s an excerpt from his autobiography (pages 62-63), about the inordinate fondness for beetles he had, as a student at Cambridge:
But no pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles. It was the mere passion for collecting, for I did not dissect them and rarely compared their external characters with published descriptions, but got them named anyhow. I will give a proof of my zeal: one day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as well as the third one.
I was very successful in collecting and invented two new methods; I employed a labourer to scrape during the winter, moss off old trees and place [it] in a large bag, and likewise to collect the rubbish at the bottom of the barges in which reeds are brought from the fens, and thus I got some very rare species. No poet ever felt more delight at seeing his first poem published than I did at seeing in Stephen’s Illustrations of British Insects the magic words, “captured by C. Darwin, Esq.”
The Darwin Correspondence Project, which is digitizing Darwin’s entire collection of letters—basically turning the Victorian version of e-mail into the more current format—notes that the specific species of beetle that young Darwin “could not bear to lose” was probably the Crucifix Ground Beetle, Panagaeus cruxmajor. A good 30 per cent. of the Wikipedia page for P. cruxmajor consists of this very anecdote.
Flowers that rely on animal pollinators
to remix their genetic material have evolved a tremendous diversity of strategies for attracting those pollinators—from beguiling scents
to elaborate visual displays
to pretending to be a lady pollinator
But there’s a downside to making a big, showy display to attract pollinators—you might also attract visitors who have less helpful intentions than gathering up some pollen and moving on to the next flower. Showy flowers might attract animals that steal the rewards offered to pollinators—or they might attract animals that eat the flowers themselves, or the developing seeds created by pollination. So the evolution of attractive floral displays might very well be a compromise between attracting the right visitors, and attracting the wrong ones.
This is a guest post by Reid Brennan, a Ph.D. student studying the genomics of adaptation in response to environmental stress as part of Andrew Whitehead’s lab at the University of California, Davis.
Ken Ham hates evolution. Bill Nye hates creationism. After Nye released the great video “Creationism is not appropriate for children“, Ham decided to personally respond in a number of videos (link, link). Eventually Ham challenged Nye to a debate, a challenge that Nye accepted.
For those of you not closely following the creationist crowd, Ken Ham is the founder of Answers in Genesis, the anti-evolution organization responsible for the Creation Museum and Ark Park (That’s right, an amusement park featuring a full sized ark on which all the animals of the world were saved from the flood). On February 4th at 7PM ET, Ham and Nye will meet to debate the following topic/question: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?”
Via Joe Hansen: the Royal Institute is celebrating the season with an online Advent calendar in which they “unwrap” the biology of one human chromosome, and the mitochondrion, each day until Christmas. Here’s today’s entry on chromosome 2, which tackles the genetic differences between humans and chimps:
We don’t know about you, but we’re sleeping off the aftereffects of too much pumpkin pie, and then we need to strategize some holiday shopping. See you next week!
Here’s what we’ll be talking about while we wait in line for a latte.
From Sarah: Is is possible that Archaeopteryx was actually losing its ability to fly? Pink fairy armadillos are way cuter than the “regular” kind.
From CJ: Slowing cricket calls down to the frequency range of human voices makes for some trippy tones. And it looks like a virus that has been killing hundreds of dolphins off the U.S. east coast may be striking whales, too.
From Amy: DNA from the body of a boy who died during the last ice age includes markers linked to modern European and American Indian populations.
From Jeremy, a whole raft of stuff this week about antibiotic use and abuse: U.S. states with higher rates of antibiotic prescription have more obesity. The evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria could dramatically restrict modern medicine. Here’s what working physicians are doing to prevent that.
Here’s what we’ll be talking about while we’re waiting in line for a latte. And maybe some pie?
From Jeremy: Is it time for science communicators to find a model besides Carl Sagan? And is human (adaptive) evolution to blame for allergies?
From CJ: Honeybee colonies may be collapsing because of chronic exposure to fungicides as well as insecticides.
And finally, via Robert Krulwich, here’s why there’s always a ring around your glass of wine.
Here’s what we’ll be talking about while we’re waiting in line for a latte:
From Sarah: The National Zoo is taking a vote on what to call its new panda cub.
From CJ: How many ways are bats cool? Lots. How appropriately is the fuzzy bunny moth’s name? very. And, sadly, it looks like the western black rhino is extinct.
From Amy: Want to feel less bad about that experiment that just exploded? Wash you hands of that failure.
And from Jeremy: Behavior doesn’t fossilize, except when it does: The oldest-known fossils of insects in copula have just been unveiled.