One Hundred and Fifty Years without Darwin are Enough

This story, if true, is rather sad. 2009 will be a major date for evolutionary biology, both the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, and the 150th of the publication of the Origin (note to self: must publish earth-shaking treatise on 50th birthday to make future commemorations simpler*.) Apparently, the political issues may mean that American scientific institutions will not mount any major celebrations. And of course, we have to get this news from a British publication.

Even more depressing, G.G. Simpson made this same complaint about the deficiencies of the American public’s education in basic biology 50 years ago, in his essay One Hundred Years without Darwin are Enough. Nothing has changed. The situation may be even worse than in Simpson’s time.

The editorial from The Independent is below the fold.

*100th birthday might work better…that’ll give me time to come up with something.

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That helps

Yesterday was a long, busy day of driving, ferrying offspring about, and I listened to a lot of NPR. All I heard, over and over again, was talk about Henry Paulson and his new position as Treasury Secretary. Not a contrary word was spoken: I heard all about his pro-environmental stance (good, but I don’t see how the Treasury Secretary’s opinion on a subject outside his responsibility was going to help), and there was much vague handwaving about how he was a feather in the Bush administration’s cap. There was nothing about what his position on economic issues was, which was a little weird.

My one thought all the time Paulson’s praises were being sung on that mouthpiece of the liberal media was, “If he’s so brilliant and impressive, what the heck is he doing signing on with the most incompetent administration ever? Why wasn’t anyone saying anything about his actual qualifications, other than chanting ‘Goldman Sachs, Goldman Sachs, Goldman Sachs’?”

Score one for the blogosphere. Max dares to be critical. Now if only our media would put something of substance together.

Birdnow is back

I’d almost forgotten Timothy Birdnow. He’s the embarrassingly ignorant property manager who claimed to have refuted Darwin, but instead made a whole series of foolish blunders; I pinned him down on one point he’d made, and asked him to address it…which he answered even more foolishly. It was actually gut-bustingly funny: he got rather upset and accused me of “destabizing [his] blog’s formatting.” That’ll teach the creationists. Cross me, and I’ll give your blog the evil eye.

Anyway, Birdnow is babbling about Darwin again, as ignorantly as ever. I guess he likes to make up stories about history as well as science.

For those of you who are unaware, Darwin turned against Christianity after the death of his non-believing father and brother, calling it “a damnable doctrine“ because Christian dogma consigned them to hell. He then went on to create a purely mechanistic theory of evolution which could be used as a weapon against the Church.

I wouldn’t want to destablize his blog again, so this time I’ll let John Pieret do the honors. Every word of Birdnow’s claim is factually incorrect—he doesn’t even have the chronology of events right, an error which makes his argument temporally impossible.

Even funnier, Birdnow says he was thinking of writing up his dubious ideas for publication. It’s almost too bad Pieret has shredded them so thoroughly and so prematurely.

Evo-devo wars

Fellow scienceblogger Evolgen has seen the light—evo-devo is wonderful. He’s attending a meeting and listening to some of the bigwigs in the field talk about their work, in particular some research on the evolution of gene regulation. While noting that this is clearly important stuff, he also mentions some of the bickering going on about the relative importance of changes in cis regulatory elements (CREs) vs. trans acting elements, transcription factors. I’ve got a longer write-up of the subject, but if you don’t want to read all of that, the issue is about where the cool stuff in the evolution of morphology is going on. Transcription factors are gene products that bind to regulatory regions of other genes, and change their pattern of expression. The things they bind to are the CREs, which are non-coding regions of DNA associated with particular genes.

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Maybe she has a really good saving throw, though

I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news for Clara Jean Brown.

Worried about the safety of her family during a stormy Memorial Day trip to the beach, Clara Jean Brown stood in her kitchen and prayed for their safe return as a strong thunderstorm rumbled through Baldwin County, Alabama.

But while she prayed, lightning suddenly exploded, blowing through the linoleum and leaving a blackened area on the concrete. Brown wound up on the floor, dazed and disoriented by the blast but otherwise uninjured.

She said ‘Amen’ and the room was engulfed in a huge ball of fire. The 65-year-old Brown said she is blessed to be alive.

The bad news is that God hates her and is trying to kill her. The good news is that he’s gotten incompetent in his dotage. I mean, lightning and a fireball? And both missed? Hey, God, here’s a suggestion: next time, use Magic Missile. It doesn’t do as much damage, but it never misses, and heck, she’s a little old lady—she probably doesn’t have much in the way of hit points.

(via Phil)

Is there a teratologist in the house?


Call me perverse, but my first thought on seeing this kid was that I desperately want to see an x-ray of the pectoral girdle. It looks to me from this one picture that the lower arm must lack a scapula or a clavicle, or at best have fragments with screwy and probably nonfunctional connections. I don’t understand why the doctors are even arguing about which arm could be more functional, if the article is correct. Or why they’re even considering it important to lop one off: if there aren’t circulatory defects or it isn’t impairing the function of the ‘best’ arm, why take a knife to him?

Poor kid. It does look like a very weird and fascinating developmental aberration, though, and it sounds like there are other internal asymmetries that are going to make life rough for him.