“…much that was human and natural found no expression.”

Fall of Giants
I discovered Ken Follet only recently, historical fiction not normally being my cup of tea. Right now I’m reading Fall of Giants after enjoying The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. Follet has, I think, a bit of Stephen King’s ability to make you care what happens to his characters, and he plays the long game, with subplots sometimes taking taking generations to play out. Religion plays an important role in his writing, as it must given the setting. His characters include skeptics and true believers, who are inspired by their beliefs to do evil as often as good. Anyway, I thought the last part of this quote might resonate with the godless heathens that frequent this site:

[Read more…]

Rediscovered after two thirds of a century: Pleodorina sphaerica

Pleodorina sphaerica

Figure 1 from Nozaki et al. 2017. Pleodorina sphaerica.

There really aren’t enough people looking for volvocine algae. There’s a suspicious tendency for the geographical centers of volvocine diversity — southern Africa, central North America, southeast Asia — to include the home institutions of phycologists studying volvocine diversity — Mary Pocock, Richard Starr, Hisayoshi Nozaki, respectively. I find it much more likely that this is an artifact of sampling effort than that, for example, central Africa and Central and South America are depauperate of volvocine algae.

[Read more…]

Dissent on Bangiomorpha

Bangiomorpha pubescens

Figure 5 from Butterfield 1990. Bangiomorpha pubescens.

In my post on Bangiomorpha, I said

…Bangiomorpha was probably a red alga. This conclusion seems to be accepted by most everyone in the field. In fact, I don’t know of any dissenters, and that kind of consensus is rare for fossils this old.

I guess I didn’t look hard enough, because reader not the FTB Stewart commented

Cavalier-Smith dissents (dissented?) from the consensus

[Read more…]

Look what came in the mail yesterday!

Biological Individuality

A project started five years ago has finally borne fruit. In May, 2012 I joined a group of philosophers, historians, and biologists in Philadelphia for the Cain ConferenceE pluribus unum: Bringing biological parts and wholes into historical and philosophical perspective.” The meeting was organized by Lynn Nyhart and Scott Lidgard, with the goal

…to pursue the question: How can historians, philosophers, and biologists help each other to understand part-whole relationships in biology, both today and in the past?

[Read more…]

Sorry about the ads

I use an ad blocker. Two of them, actually. I’m willing to add a website to my whitelist(s) if their ads aren’t obnoxious, but if it’s flashing in my face, popping up new windows, or autoplaying audio, forget it.

So I didn’t know; that’s my only excuse. I had actually never seen the ads on Fierce Roller until a friend messaged me on Twitter [Pg-13 below the fold]:

[Read more…]

Two more tools for (legally) avoiding paywalls


Most of the articles published in scientific journals report publicly funded research. You can see this in the acknowledgments section, where the authors list their funding sources, which will often include the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, NASA, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, etc. (this is obviously a US-centric list, but most countries have similar funding mechanisms). Even if the work isn’t supported by a government grant, much of it is done at public universities, meaning that the facilities and possibly researcher salaries are government supported. And government-supported means taxpayer-supported.

[Read more…]


When I was putting together my post about Rafatazmia, the 1.6 billion-year-old fossil tentatively interpreted as a red alga, I searched Fierce Roller to see what I had written about Bangiomorpha, the previous record-holder for the oldest red algal fossil. I was surprised to find that I never have published anything about Bangiomorpha. This is a serious oversight!

Bangiomorpha was described by Nick Butterfield back in 1990, from a series of fossils collected on Somerset Island in Nunavut, the northernmost territory in Canada:

[Read more…]