A squid too far


People are so cruel. I was busy all evening with this talk (which went well, I think), and lots of people flood my mailbox with news of the giant squid at the NHM.

You know I can look out my window and see everything covered in over a foot of snow. You know I’m about as far from any sea as you can get. And you know you can get me pining for abyssal pelagia with this kind of thing—you all must love to torment me. Could you at least send tickets to London with this kind of news?

Oh, well. It is a thing of beauty at any rate, and I will just have to worship it from afar.

Open Thread: are we having fun yet edition

While I am intensely distracted—I’m freaking out a little bit over this Cafe Scientifique presentation I have to do in a couple of hours, and since I’m also the organizer I’ve also got to set up all the AV gear in a new venue and miscellaneous other mundane tasks—I’ll let everyone talk among themselves for a while.

(My problem with this talk right now is that I put together all kinds of stuff and had 130 slides to show…I’ve had to be ruthless and rip at it savagely, since I really want this to be an easy going 30-40 minute presentation. But there’s so much I could say!)

Hey, an important reminder: send those Tangled Bank entries soon: go here for the address. This is your last chance!

Life will find a way

Creationists sometimes try to argue that what we consider straightforward, well-demonstrated cytological and genetic events don’t and can’t occur: that you can’t get chromosome rearrangements, or that variations in chromosome number and organization are obstacles to evolution, making discussions of synteny, or the rearrangement of chromosomal material in evolution, an impossibility. These are absurd conclusions, of course—we see evidence of chromosomal variation in people all the time.

For example, A friend sent along (yes, Virginia, there is a secret network of evilutionists busily sharing information with one another) a remarkable case study of a radical chromosome arrangement in a mother and daughter. When you see how these chromosomes are scrambled, you’ll wonder how they ever managed to sort themselves out meiotically to produce viable offspring…but life will find a way.

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It’s not just Phelps


Followers of that hateful lunatic, Fred Phelps, have been making the news for picketing military funerals in Minnesota. Apparently, because the US tolerates (sorta) homosexuality, they feel that they should hit up random funerals and cuss out the dead for dying for homosexuality. Now our state legislators are considering laws to block that kind of behavior, because it “flies in the face of Minnesota values.” The values they’re talking about aren’t tolerance, though, but simply an opposition to meddling with the military.

Eva makes a very good point: the Republican leadership in this state seems to share Fred Phelps’ values. She has photos of a rally at the capitol in support of Michele Bachmann’s anti-gay amendment, a rally that was approvingly attended by our Republican governor. Those signs aren’t being carried by crazed Kansans, but by people of our state with good ol’ “Minnesota values”.

I can’t see any significant difference between Bachmann and Pawlenty, and the nutjobs of the Westboro Baptist Church.

The pitiful output of the Discovery Institute

The DI has long had this goal of getting their work published in mainstream science journals; unfortunately, they don’t want to bother with that unpleasant business of trying to do real research. Give Up Blog has examples of their prodigious output: 5 abstracts that have been published in science journals. That’s it.

They’ve managed this feat by exploiting a loophole. Here’s how to get published in a major journal: 1) Write an abstract about just about anything. 2) Send the abstract and your registration fee to a conference organized by the scientific society behind the journal. 3) Watch your abstract get accepted and published in an issue of the journal that lists presentations at the meeting.

That’s it. There’s no peer review involved, except that, ideally, people at the meeting will come by your poster or talk and critique it. Everything is open and not monitored for quality at all, which is exactly how the crap the DI does can get in.

I’m going to disagree with Give Up a bit here: I think this is a good thing, and I don’t want the journals to tighten up the standards. Meetings like that are very helpful, especially for students, because you can show preliminary results (stuff that would be very difficult to publish) and get immediate feedback from your peers, criticisms of what’s wrong in your work, and suggestions about new approaches to take. This is incredibly useful.

The real test is whether a presenter pays attention and uses that feedback to improve and polish the work to make it suitable for formal publication. The work by Nelson and Wells that I’ve seen at these meetings is terrible, so bad that most of the people attending might gawk incredulously at it, but don’t bother to make suggestions, or as I did with Nelson at the DB meetings, might just stop to tell the author that he is completely wrong.

Rather than changing the culture of these meetings, I think we just have to inform the public that the publications in a meeting list are meaningless and do not represent any kind of legitimization of their work…and that actually, their work gets razzed at these events.

Watch out, Janet Reitman

I’ve followed some of the doings of the Scientology cult, and it wasn’t that long ago that criticizing the Religion That Elron Built would win you a lifetime supply of harrassment; they have long memories. Back in our naive youth, my brother and I made the mistake of taking one of their “tests” when we were on a stroll in Seattle, and that earned my brother years of obnoxious junk mail offering him their path to perfection.

So I was a little surprised that Rolling Stone is willing to wrestle with the brutal beast and has published an article by Janet Reitman on the religion.

It’s not bad. It’s not as hardhitting as the stuff you’ll find on the Operation Clambake site, but heck, it’s in a major publication. I suspect there are lawyers growling in the darkness of Clearwater, FL.

Another black mark for the Bush administration

We shouldn’t be surprised when the Bush administration jiggers the scientific books:

In short, Oregon State University scientists reported in Science magazine that some logging practices may contribute to forest fires, rather than curbing them as conventional wisdom leads us to believe. The report ran contrary to current federal policy under the Bush administration, and the funding for the research group was suspended.

When reality conflicts with your ideology, it must be reality that’s in error.

An anti-science carnival…what a hoot!

Unbelievable. Orac and Matt have found an amazing carnival: Darwin is Dead. It’s short; you can read all 5 entries in about 5 minutes, and I promise, it won’t kill more than a few thousand brain cells.

My favorite entry is the same as Orac’s, but for a different reason. He seems to have missed this jewel of creationist illogic:

So here goes. To the evolutionists: First, evolution claims that humans and apes have a common ancestor. But since apes are not still evolving into man that notion is debunked without performing a single experiment. Science is the study of things obervable, and man evolving from apes has not been observed. Since both creatures still co-exist, something such as this WOULD be obervable if it were true.

Yep, it’s the old “if we evolved from monkeys, how come there are still monkeys?” argument. I laugh every time I see it.

OK, rifle Jesus, I’ll answer that one. Apes are still evolving, and have been evolving in the roughly 6 million years since humans and chimps diverged. There is no inherent tendency for apes to evolve towards humans, though—we are the product of chance—so every lineage has gone in its own direction.

We do have a darned good record of human evolution. We have the observable evidence, there is documented pattern of organic change in our history, other apes have also been evolving, and of course both creatures co-exist—if diverging species couldn’t simultaneously exist, there’d only be one species on the whole planet.

Darwinian theatrics

This sounds fun: a music theatre production illustrating Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Based on Haydn’s The Creation, Darwin’s Dream
imagines the founder of evolution meeting modern children and
challenging them to explore how his theory has advanced since his
death in 1882. Their quest takes them from the oceans where life is
believed to have begun, to Africa to meet a fossil hunter looking
for evidence of the earliest humans.

It’s also got a dance about DNA. Unfortunately, it’s in London…let’s at least have some of the music put on the web!