Devolution isn’t a thing


Yesterday I volunteered as a Meeting Mentor at the AbSciCon meeting. It’s not a big commitment; essentially all you have to do is hang out with a high school student for half a day, going to talks and enjoying the meeting as you normally would.

During a break, I was chatting with my mentee about Betül Kaçar’s research, and he surprised me by pointing out that (as he put it), “Devolution isn’t a thing.” The student I was paired with is interested in physics and space exploration, but his comment showed an insight that not even all professional biologists really own. From what I’ve seen, it’s an insight that very few creationists own.

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AbSciCon 2017 day 1

AbSciCon logo

Yesterday was the first day of AbSciCon 2017 in Mesa, Arizona.

Phoenix is not my favorite town; it’s got all the brutal heat (and then some) that Tucson gets, without a tenth of Tucson’s charm. That said, it’s been fairly pleasant so far, only getting into the 80’s yesterday. The hotel restaurant is pretty lame, but there is decent food about a ten-minute walk away.

Yesterday started with a bizarre plenary talk about planetary protection. This is a big deal in the astrobiology community, the concern that sending probes to potentially habitable worlds such as Europa and Enceladus could contaminate them with Earth life. It’s also a harder problem to solve than it sounds like, partly because advanced electronics of the sort that are likely to run a probe don’t get along well with the things we typically use to sterilize equipment: bleach, extreme heat, radiation, and the like. The talk used a real-time interactive system, allowing the speaker to ask a question and display the results on the screen in real time. Multiple choice questions displayed as bar graphs, fill-in-the-blanks as word clouds, both changing from second to second as new answers came in.

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Another failed prediction

Poison the well much?

In a post that calls participants in the March for Science “spoiled brats,” “full-time complainers,” and “crybullies,” David Klinghoffer stopped just short of predicting that the March would become a riot:

The March for Science website includes a “Statement on Peaceful Assembly and Nonviolence,” …Why the need for a statement that you don’t “condone violence” if you’re not concerned that participants in your event will get violent?…

The crybullies, as [Daniel Greenfield] calls them, specialize in anger. Like small children throwing fits, they are liable to lash out physically, as recent incidents on college campuses have shown.

If violence occurs on April 22 on the National Mall, or hundreds of satellite protests elsewhere, that’s where it will come from.

I witnessed the rage myself, and it wasn’t pretty. [Warning: this gets pretty graphic below the fold]

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Invasive Pleodorina indica in Poland

Figure 3 B-I from Knysak and Żelazna-Wieczorek 2017. Pleodorina indica (Iyengar) H. Nozaki 400x.

Figure 3 B-I from Knysak and Żelazna-Wieczorek 2017. Pleodorina indica (Iyengar) H. Nozaki 400x.

A new paper in Oceanological and Hydrobiological Studies reports a massive bloom of Pleodorina indica in a reservoir in central Poland. Piotr Knysak and Joanna Żelazna-Wieczorek sampled the reservoir on the Olechówka River in Łódź during the summer of 2015 and found that P. indica made up ~95% of the algae collected.

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New fossil proves plants are younger than previously thought

That’s not a headline you’re likely to see again. Hopefully it made you think something along the lines of “how does that work, exactly?” Because it doesn’t. If your estimate of the age of a taxon is based on its oldest known fossil, finding a newer fossil isn’t likely to change that estimate. If it’s an extinct group, a newer fossil might show that it stuck around later than you thought, but not that it originated later. Paleontologists recognize that fossil-based estimates of ages are almost always underestimates, since the fossil record is spotty (and generally spottier the further back you go).

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Pandorina(?) in The Atlantic

In The Atlantic, not in the Atlantic. A new article in The Atlantic is making the rounds on social media, “Scientists Brace for a Lost Generation in American Research.” The article speculates on the likely long-term effects of President Trump’s proposed ~20% cut to the NIH budget. Which is fine, because what has the NIH ever done for us? Okay, there was the whole genetic code thing, plus

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