Updates to the Volvox carteri Wikipedia page

The last time I looked at the Volvox carteri page on Wikipedia, it was pretty sad:

V carteri

Volvox carteri Wikipedia page as of December 12, 2018.

That was it; just a short intro and a section on sexual reproduction. I also had an undergraduate researcher, Sophia Sukkestad, who needed an end of semester project. I thought that if she worked on the V. carteri page, she’d learn a bit about Volvox, gain some familiarity with the relevant literature, and improve this resource for everyone.

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Stephen Meyer’s definition of intelligent design is unfair, according to Barry Arrington

A while back, Barry Arrington challenged critics of intelligent design to define intelligent design, claiming that

I have never seen a fair summary of ID theory come from one of our opponents.

Several ID critics(including me) weighed in with our definitions, but Arrington called all of them “superficial and contemptuous” (my answer was apparently so superficial and contemptuous that it got me banned from commenting at Uncommon Descent). I pointed out at the time that some of these answers were virtually identical to the definitions given by prominent ID proponents.

Stephen Meyer, author of Darwin’s Doubt, founding member of the Discovery Institute, and occasional contributor to Evolution News and Views, has cleared things up for us. Here’s his definition of intelligent design (around 1:58 in this recording):

The theory of intelligent design is the idea that there are certain features of life and the universe that are best explained by a purposive intelligence, rather than an undirected material process such as, in the realm of biology, natural selection acting on random mutations.

Stephen C. Meyer

Dr. Stephen C. Meyer. Discovery Institute press photo from http://www.discovery.org/p/11.

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Volvox: a colony of cells

In 1950, a young assistant professor at Princeton University published an essay about Volvox in Scientific American, “Volvox: a colony of cells.” The essay touches on several themes that will be familiar to regular readers of Fierce Roller, including cellular differentiation, inversion, and what it means to be an individual.

The author was John Tyler Bonner, whose (much) more recent work I’ve written about previously (“Chance favors the minute animalcule: John Tyler Bonner on randomness“).

John Tyler Bonner

John Tyler Bonner, ca. 1957. Image from the Guggenheim Foundation.

Among many other contributions, Bonner was a pioneer in the development of the social amoeba (or cellular slime mold) Dictyostelium discoideum as a model system for multicellular development and cell-cell signaling. A member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he has published over twenty books and mountains of peer-reviewed papers.

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A quiet backwater

David Kirk‘s book is an essential resource for anyone who wants to study Volvox, even twenty years after its publication. It includes thorough but succinct reviews of volvocine diversity, ecology, genetics, development, and cell biology, along with original insights into all of these topics.

Volvox book cover

I was just returning to it for the many-th time to find a reference for a manuscript revision, and I (re-)discovered that a quote I’ve paraphrased many times comes from the Preface:

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I don’t exist!

David Klinghoffer has outdone himself. For a guy who thinks the discovery of an extrasolar planet is a challenge to materialism, the bar for the dumbest thing he’s ever said is already high, but he has cleared it with room to spare:

In a sense, there are no atheists.

He’s right, in a sense. In the sense that we can arbitrarily redefine words to mean whatever the hell we want them to mean. Let’s look at some equally valid examples:

In a sense, all mammals are descended from snakes.

This is true, in a sense, because I define snakes as small Triassic insectivores.

In a sense, there are no dump trucks.

This is true, in a sense, because I define dump trucks as wine bottles that magically refill themselves.

In a sense, David Klinghoffer is a ghost.

This is true, in a sense, because I define ghosts as human beings who occasionally say monumentally stupid things.

A Ghost Story

David Klinghoffer, in a sense. Image from A Ghost Story, downloaded from IMDB.

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A quick question for Douglas Axe

Intelligent design proponent Douglas Axe says,

My recent book, Undeniable, makes the case not just that life is designed but also that this is obvious — you need no special training to see it. And yet, as with other obvious truths, some people prefer to deny this one than to fully embrace the attending implications.

For atheists to be in denial here isn’t surprising. Short of recanting, they have no option. [emphasis added]

Douglas Axe

Douglas Axe

But intelligent design proponents have said many, many times that ID, being a scientific rather than religious theory, does not identify the designer. According to Michael Behe,

Possible candidates for the role of designer include: the God of Christianity; an angel–fallen or not; Plato’s demi-urge; some mystical new age force; space aliens from Alpha Centauri; time travelers; or some utterly unknown intelligent being.

So here’s my question: if ID is agnostic to the nature of the designer, why can’t an atheist believe life is designed?

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Jeffrey Beall, academic terrorist!

I’ve been fairly outspoken about my support for open access publishing (On paywalls, F paywalls), so you might think that I would naturally be at odds with probably the most prominent critic of (paid) open access publishing, Jeffrey Beall. I’m not, though. I despise scammers of all stripes (This should be interesting, What good is a washing machine on Arrakis?I think Tina/Nora has given up on me), and I think predatory open access publishers are loathsome parasites.

Did Beall miss the mark with his criticism of Frontiers publishing? I think he did. I THINK he did. I hope he did, because I recently agreed to serve as a ‘review editor’ for Frontiers in Plant Science [that’s my full disclosure, folks]. From everything I can tell, they are completely above-board. If someone can convince me otherwise (and I AM listening), I will turn on them like Trump on Cohen. That said, Beall only ever claimed to have identified “potential, possible, or probable” predatory publishers. I think his website was a valuable resource, and I miss it (Say it ain’t so! Beall’s list shuts down).

Beall’s list is archived at https://beallslist.weebly.com/, but of course it’s not maintained, which is crucial given the rate at which predatory publishers spawn. I was looking for that the other day in response to a colleague’s question, and I thought, I’ll just check to make sure the original site is still down. I’m glad I did, because I came across one of the most egregious (and hilarious) examples of cybersquatting I’ve ever seen.

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Aquatic science orgs oppose changing WOTUS

The Trump administration is expected to announce reductions to the waters protected by the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule in a couple of hours. The change is expected to remove at least some wetlands, ephemeral streams, and headwaters streams from the waters covered by the rule.

According to MSNBC,

Mark Ryan, a lawyer at Ryan & Kuehler PLLC who spent 24 years as a clean water expert and litigator at the EPA, said water systems called headwaters in high regions of the country could lose protections under the new definitions being proposed by the Trump administration.

“I think the mining is going to benefit from this because mines tend to be up in the mountains near headwater systems,” Ryan said.

Miners may no longer need to apply for a permit before pushing waste from operations, such as rubble from mountain-top coal mining in the eastern United States, into some streams.

Howe Brook

Headwater stream in Baxter State Park, Maine.

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Reminder: last day to enter the Volvox wall art giveaway

Today is the last day to enter the drawing for a ready-to-hang print of Volvox aureus on canvas. There’s no catch; all you have to do is go to freethoughtblogs.com/fierceroller/?p=5256 and leave a comment with your favorite species (of anything). That’s it!

Right now there are only a dozen entries, so your odds of winning are pretty good. The winner will be announced on Monday.

Volvox aureus

Volvox aureus by me

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