Just after my conversation with Jackson Wheat, R. J. Downard invited me to his weekly live stream, Evolution Hour. We talked about the evolution of multicellularity, heritability, and, of course, intelligent design.
Last year I wrote a series of posts on convergent evolution and misrepresentations of the history of the concept by proponents of intelligent design including Günter Bechly, Lee M. Spetner, Granville Sewell, and others. I didn’t intend for there to be a two-month gap before the final installment (nor am I sure this is the final installment), but here we are.
The Discovery Institute is producing a revisionist history. To hear them tell it, convergence is something that evolutionary biologists have either barely heard of or that they “invented” or “made up” to hide problems with the tree of life. Convergence “destroys the tree of life,” it “contradict[s] the [modern synthesis],” and it is “quite unexpected” to evolutionary biologists. All of that is a big, stinking pile of wrong. In reality, biologists since Darwin, and including Darwin, have always appreciated the importance of convergence, have written thousands of papers about it, and have included it in every evolutionary biology textbook I’m aware of.
I explained why the argument that convergence is evidence against common descent is daft, and I gave a spectacular example of convergent (or parallel) recruitment of life cycle genes in plants and brown algae. I also promised that I would write about convergent evolution in Volvox, which I have so far failed to do.
For those of you who don’t use a feed reader, I have set up a Facebook page for Fierce Roller: facebook.com/FierceRoller. If this works the way I think it should, all you have to do is go there and hit the “Like” button, and you’ll get an alert each time I publish a blog post. If you do use a feed reader, you can follow the blog by adding freethoughtblogs.com/fierceroller/?feed=rss2.
The Thompson lab at University College London is looking for a postdoctoral researcher to study the evolution of multicellularity:
The Thompson lab, based at University College London, is seeking a Research Fellow to work on understanding how gene network heterogeneity affects the evolution of multicellular development.
Recently, we found that cell-cell variation in cell cycle position facilitates symmetry breaking during development, as it primes cells to respond to different differentiation cues (Gruenheit et al, Developmental Cell, 2018).
I listen to NPR nearly every morning, and on Saturdays that means Living on Earth, at least on my local station. This Saturday I tuned in partway through a segment on “forest bathing,” also known as Shinrin-Yoku. As the host, Steve Curwood, describes it, forest bathing is a practice popular in Japan and China “in which practitioners spend meditative time breathing in nature.” The interviewee, Moshe Sherman, throws out several red flags typical of the evidence-challenged alternative medicine crowd, but he also makes some pretty specific health claims that he says are backed up by empirical evidence.
I’m going to argue that a lot of this is baloney. I want to be clear up front, though, that I’m not saying that walking in the woods and meditating in nature aren’t good for you. What I am saying is that the evidence that there’s something special about Shinrin-Yoku, something that provides benefits beyond those of exercise and relaxation, is lousy.
But I can promise you this: it is the world’s foremost source for micrographs of Volvox aureus printed on canvas. It is truly one-stop shopping if the only thing you need is micrographs of Volvox aureus printed on canvas (what else could you need?). If you are in the market for micrographs of Volvox aureus printed on canvas, you need look no further. Unless you can convince Piotr or Katrin to give up theirs, it is probably the only source for micrographs of Volvox aureus printed on canvas.
As I have mentioned now and then over the last year and a half, the narrative that American embassy personnel in Cuba were subjected to “sonic attacks” is bullshit (Sonic stupidity; “It may seem the stuff of sci-fi novels”; More acoustic credulity; Cuba’s “magical sci-fi sound gun”; No means, no motive, and no suspect; More Cuban science fiction; Sonic weapons on Skeptoid; FBI dismisses sonic weapons in Cuba “attacks”; Asking the wrong questions: still no evidence of a sonic weapon):
There is no evidence that U.S. embassy officials in Cuba were subjected to any kind of attack. There are a bunch of reported symptoms that are not clearly related and mostly subjective. The symptoms are consistent with lots of other explanations; the only reason they’re being attributed to attacks is assertions by unnamed government officials. To my knowledge, none of these assertions are backed by evidence.
Happy New Year, everyone!
I’ve been doing this for about two and a half years now, and no one’s more surprised than me to find that I’m still at it. I feel a bit like the Dread Pirate Roberts about the whole thing:
Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely stop blogging in the morning.
Westley’s still ticking, but no promises.
I published 121 posts in 2018, not too far from my goal of three a week. The most read by far was also my all-time most read, “Research Features: seems sketchy to me.” The reason, I think, is that that post appears not far from the top when “Research Features” is searched on Google. I had a colleague try it for me once, and my post was the third hit. So when the “magazine” contacts researchers, and they Google it to see if it’s legit, they get some criticism along with the magazine’s own self promotion. Several commenters wrote that this saved them time.