True confessions

Oh, I hate these difficult questions.

If you’re a professor and you want to change the world, what do you do? In 1993–quit and become an activist. In 2007—start a blog.

Or so it seems. PZ Myers blogging at Pharyngula is probably doing more for evolution than PZ Myers publishing papers in scientific journals. Is that true PZ?


Hmmm, I guess it wasn’t so difficult after all!

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Twisty maze of duck oviducts

I’m sure you’ve already heard about it, so I’m a little redundant to bring it up — Carl Zimmer has a spiffy article in the NY Times about duck phalluses. No, that’s not quite right; the most interesting part of the story was the bit about duck oviducts. Female ducks have been evolving increasingly convoluted oviducts to baffle the efforts of duck rapists to inseminate them, and male ducks have been evolving concomitantly long phalluses to thread the maze and deliver sperm to the ovaries.

I’d heard about these huge intromittent organs in ducks before, but this is another fascinating revelation: it took a woman scientist to suggest that maybe, just maybe, they also ought to look at what’s going on in the female ducks, and then the whole wonderful story of coevolution of these structures emerged. It’s actually a rather embarrassing instance of a scientific blind spot, where the biases of the investigators led them to overlook an important component of the story.

Tsk, tsk, Random House: don’t lump the garbage with the good stuff

When I checked my mailbox this morning, I discovered a common sort of delivery, a pamphlet from a publisher listing their releases in a specific subject. What was unusual is the subject of the list from Random House: Evolutionary Theory & Intelligent Design. Bleh — that dignifies ID far too much, and I was feeling a bit peevish about the bogus category. Then I opened it up, and it’s even weirder. The section titled “Evolutionary Theory” lists books like David Sloan Wilson’s Evolution for Everyone, a selection of books by Darwin, Darwin’s Ghost by Steve Jones, etc., all perfectly respectable stuff.

There is no section titled “Intelligent Design.”

Instead, there’s a section called “Evolution and the debate over science and religion.” It contains dreck — McGrath and Unwin and Hamer, for instance — and notably, Rocks of Ages by SJ Gould (which in my opinion is the worst book he ever wrote, and is ridiculous from page one onwards), and the only actual ID book, Creation by Grant Jeffrey. The latter is amusing because the ad copy claims that it contains “new information that supports the theory of Intelligent Design”, but the subtitle is “Remarkable Evidence of God’s Design.” I thought ID wasn’t a religious theory?

I hate to encourage Random House in their unwarranted promotion of ID with evolutionary biology, but I may have to pick up a few of their titles, so I can add them to my Shelf of Wretchedness, where I keep my little collection of the bad guys’ work.

Mitt Romney flaunts his taste

Romney was asked to name his favorite novel, and what does he say? Battlefield Earth, by L. Ron Hubbard — that monstrous lump of pulp with the absurd Mary Sue plot. Admittedly, it wasn’t as bad as the Eye of Argon, but still … maybe it’s just that someone who can swallow the goofy mythology of the Mormon church is a little more open to the goofy mythology of the Church of Scientology founder (or ghost-writer). I would have at least expected him to have slightly higher literary standards, though.

Future nostalgia

Dream of the future, and you’re sure to get something that tells you more about the past. Here is a set of postcards from 1900, illustrating what they thought life would be like in 2000. It looks like a kind of steampunk opium dream, with everyone dressed in Victorian fashion, either puttering about outside with parasols or standing about in cluttered drawing rooms. All of the inventions are weirdly off in a charming way.

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Compact Fluorescent Lights are gonna kill you … NOT.

Steve Milloy, junk science peddler and loser, has a new crusade: he is opposed to compact fluorescent light bulbs.

How much money does it take to screw in a compact fluorescent light bulb? About US$4.28 for the bulb and labour — unless you break the bulb. Then you, like Brandy Bridges of Ellsworth, Maine, could be looking at a cost of about US$2,004.28, which doesn’t include the costs of frayed nerves and risks to health.

Sound crazy?

Yes, Steve, it does sound crazy. It doesn’t help that it’s coming from you, either. Can we get more details on Brandy Bridges’ story?

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