Here at Nothing in Biology, we are big fans of making stuff up (but, uh, not on the blog… or in our scientific publications… or on our tax returns… or, well, you get the point). So a few of us are thinking of entering some of our fantastical(ly bad) evolutionary theories to the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses. This festival is dedicated to “well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect evolutionary theory”. To get an idea of what it’s about, see the video below. If you’re in or near the Bay Area or Cambridge, Mass this October, think about checking it out!
We’re big fans of Emily Graslie’s natural history video series The Brain Scoop. The latest episode goes right to the source of the museum specimens that usually take center stage—a fossil hunting expedition.
Watch the whole thing, and you’ll learn some nifty paleontology jargon, like:
“It’s called the 18-inch layer.”
“Is it because it’s 18 inches?”
When he’s not dismantling racist pseudoscience, Chris Smith studies the evolutionary ecology of species interactions. Willamette University sent along a videographer on Chris’s last field trip to study Joshua trees and the moths that pollinate them in central Nevada, and the result is now posted on Vimeo. It’s mainly geared toward showcasing how Willamette undergraduate students participate in the fieldwork, but I’d say it makes the desert look mighty good, too.
Here at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense, we’re fascinated by all the weird, baroque ways that living things influence and coevolve with each other—so Ed Yong’s new TED talk about mind-controlling parasites is right up our alley. Just like his writing—currently on display at National Geographic‘s Phenomena, among many other venues—it’s a compendium of nifty natural history punctuated with highly educational gross-outs and the occasional black-belt level pun.
BAHFest , the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses, is a competition to develop “well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect evolutionary theory.” The whole thing was originally proposed in a Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strip proposing that human infants have been evolutionarily optimized for long-distance dispersal by catapult.
Coming up with “obviously wrong” scientific hypotheses is clever because it helps us think about why, exactly, we choose to believe the hypotheses that we do, and how we use (and misuse) evidence to make those judgements. My personal favorite example is a 1983 article, published in the journal Evolution, which evaluates all the possible reasons that natural selection has made offspring smaller than their parents [PDF]—smaller offspring are easier to hide, cheaper to make, easier to disperse, and easier to control in the event that their interests conflict with their parents’—but completely (and deliberately) misses the obvious, actual reason.
Last year’s BAHFest winner, Tomer Ullman, proposed that babies cry because the irritating, high-pitched noise helps prepare their caretakers for battle:
The next iterations of BAHFest are scheduled for 25 October in San Francisco, and a date to be announced in Boston.
Ellstrand NC. 1983. Why are juveniles smaller than their parents? Evolution. 37(5): 1091-4. doi: 10.2307/2408423.
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:
Via Slate’s Brow Beat blog: Today, Google’s homepage logo honors the 93rd birthday of Saul Bass, who designed the credits sequences for some truly excellent classic films. And, since his work is a major inspiration for the look of this very site, how can we not include the tribute here?